Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking back on 2018...

Just like the propagation, my own levels of activity on the radio has been sporadic over the last few years. I was off the air from 2012 until October 2016 and then went off again in April of 2017.

At the start of 2018, my interest was renewed and I have managed to stay on for all of 2018. These are probably the main highlights of 2018 for me.

January 2018... DMR
In January of 2018, I purchased a DMR handheld radio and explored the world of digital radio. Between making up my own code plugs and using the radio, it has been interesting over the last year learning about the system.

April 2018... VHF Activity Nights
At the start of the year, it was very obvious that the levels of activity on the VHF bands in Ireland was very low. It seemed that it would make a lot of sense to try and have particular activity nights where there might be a better chance of making contacts.

I approached the IRTS to ask that they would help publicise activity nights on the Tuesdays of each month which they duly did in their publications and on their website. This became the EI VHF Activity Nights in April of 2018 and it has been a modest success to date.

After 6 months, we did a review of the activity net in Cork and this was refined to become the Cork VHF Net. This has certainly resulted in more activity locally in Cork on several VHF bands which is welcome.

April 2018... 40 MHz
When the IRTS announced at the start of the year that there would be new allocations at 40 and 60 MHz, it really grabbed my interest. There was however very little information to the found. To remedy this, I set up a special page on this site for all 40 MHz information so that others could find out about the band. By the end of 2018, it had been looked at 776 times according to the website stats.

May 2018... FT8
Since the start of May 2018, I have been monitoring FT8 signals on 28 MHz for most of the time and feeding the reception reports up to the PSK Reporter website. At the height of the Sporadic-E season, I was uploading about 6,000 to 8,000 reports per week.

For me as such, it was very low maintenance and required very little of my time. The radio just listened on the FT8 frequency on 28 MHz and I just checked the PC from time to time. Checking what I had heard out of curiosity was the difference between having the radio turned on or having it turned off completely.

Website Traffic...
The year ended with the website getting about 6,000 page views for the month of December. There are some spam clicks buried in amongst those so the number of real click is probably around 5,000. In the second half of 2018, the site has been getting between 4,000 and 10,000 page views per month.

And for 2019???
I'm not exactly sure but probably all of the above. I was reading another blog recently when I saw something which pretty much sums up the reality for a lot of radio amateurs. Many people are just more interested in experimentation rather than communication. Making a contact on the HF bands like 20m is no real challenge as is talking on a local repeater. A lot of people just want to experiment. To try out new bands, modes or new equipment. To build something rather than just use a black box. I'd guess that experimentation is the one facet of the hobby that is likely to keep me interested in the future.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz... Sun 30th Dec 2018

Another day listening to FT8 signals on 28 MHz. The interesting ones today were W2UH and W2VW in the state of New Jersey in the USA.

At 5000kms or so distant, they were interesting because they were East-West paths on 28 MHz which is much harder than the more usual North-South paths.

The other interesting thing was that I seem to be the only person in Europe that actually heard them according to the PSK Reporter website. This certainly wasn't due to my antenna but more likely due to my westerly location.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

FT8 Signals Heard on 28 MHz... Fri 28th Dec 2018

There was a modest opening on 28 MHz on the 28th of December 2018 with a mixture of Sp-E and some F2 signals.

The most interesting signal was probably J28PJ in Djibouti.

The solar flux is 69 which is very low and would suggest that the band would be closed.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

New VHF Repeaters & Simplexers Planned for the Midlands of Ireland in 2019

The IECRO Ireland Radio Club (EI0IPN), located in the Midlands Region of Ireland has big plans for 2019 with several repeaters and simplexers (parrots) in the pipeline for the VHF bands.

These include a Gateway on 2 metres, Simplexers (parrots) on 4 metres and 10 metres and a FM/DMR repeater on 70cms.

145 MHz... On 2 metres, there will be a Gateway with the call sign EI2SNG on 145.2375 MHz FM with a 88.5Hz CTCSS.  This will allow users access to the Allstar and Echolink networks online (AllStar: 48781, Echolink: 5224).

Using DTMF commands, the 2m gateway can also temporarily connect to both the 4m and 10m systems (thus creating a temporary triple-band service). This will provide (1) Maritime Mobile, (2) portable 2m HT operators, and (3) allstar+echolink users to access these bands with ease.

70 MHz... On 4 metres, there will be a Simplexer (Parrot) on 70.475 MHz FM with carrier access and it will use the call EI4SNR. As outlined above, it can be used in conjunction with the 2m Gateway or on its own as a Simplexer.

A Simplexer operates on a single frequency and records a block of received audio and then relays it again on the same frequency (i.e. like a parrot). This allows users who cannot hear other directly to make contact. It is also a valuable service for any other users in Ireland or overseas who want to check their signals under enhanced conditions.

29 MHz... Like the 4 metre unit, there will also be a 10 metre Simplexer on 29.610 MHz FM. A 67.0 Hz tone is required for access. The callsign will be EI0SNR.

Like the 4 metre unit, this can also be connected to the 2m Gateway. Considering how often the 10m band opens during the Summer months, this might be of particular interest to European stations.

DMR Repeater on 70 cms... It is also proposed to establish a new FM/DMR repeater on 70cms.
Output : 439.700 MHz / Input : 430.700 MHz
FM Access by CTCSS : 167.9 Hz

All of these units will be located near Mullingar in the midlands of Ireland and the map above shows roughly the coverage area.

Additional info from IECRO...
IECRO is keen to encourage increased usage of the 4m (70MHz) and 10m bands. As such, two parrot/simplexers operating on these bands will be linked together to form a cross-band mini parrot network. The 2m gateway mentioned above will be able to temporarily through user requests connect/disconnect to the 4m parrot as and when required, thus providing RF and AllStar/EchoLink
users to access all of the parrots too. What does this mean for the ham community? Well it means
the following dramatic improvements in terms of FM range across the middle of the country from East to West:
4m - 4m
4m - 10m
10m - 10m
2m - both linked parrots
(plus Allstar and Echolink services)

Thanks to Mark EI6HPB for the above info.

FT8 Signals heard on 28 MHz... Sun 23rd Dec 2018

Another day of FT8 signals on 28 MHz with a few strange signals.

At first, the big suprise was the signal on the map to South Korea! I knew that this had to be suspect. This is the trace from what I heard...

111700  -9 -0.6 1719 ~  G0JEI DS0DNX JO61
111800  -5 -0.6 1716 ~  G0JEI DS0DNX R-08

The JO61 suggests that it was someone in JO61 locator square which is the same one as for Berlin. Had someone in Germany made  a mistake putting in their call sign? A pirate? Whoever it was, it certainly wasn't Sotuh Korea.

The other two signals of interest was C5YK in the Gambia in West Africa and ZS5JES in South Africa.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz - Sat 22nd Dec 2018

In contrast to yesterday, there were plenty of FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz on Saturday the 22nd of December 2018.

I was a bit suprised to see so many as I had the radio on while I was working. I could hear some weak signals but nothing really caught my attention. Once I did check, it was a bit of "Wow, look at all them".

I suspect that maybe it was due to the 'weekend effect'. Maybe the conditions weren't that much better than yesterday, it was just that it was a Saturday and more people were on the radio.

Again, all those heard were using the updated version of FT8 so it looks like a lot of people have changed.

Friday, December 21, 2018

FT8 signals on 28 MHz... Fri 21st Dec 2018

After the big Sporadic-E opening on the 19th of December, it was back to the more usual conditions on 28 MHz on Friday the 21st of December. The map above shows the FT8 signals heard on 10m by listening all day (using WSJT-X Ver 2.0).

This is pretty much what it is like most days at the moment...just a handful of signals from around Europe. It might be worth noting that this was a Friday as opposed to the weekend so a lot of stations might be missing.

The one signal of note for me is G0OYQ on the east coast of England at a distance of about 580kms. I seem to hear him every single day with fail. It's probably not Sporadic-E so meteor scatter for me is probably the most likely mode of propagation.

The solar flux was 71 which is about as low as you can get at the bottom of the solar cycle.

EU Directive Requires All Cars To Have Digital Radio By 2021

In terms of radio broadcasting on the VHF Bands, FM still reigns supreme as it is firmly established and many people find little reason to upgrade to digital DAB / DAB+ services.

All that may be about to change though as a new EU directive says that all new cars must have radios capable of receiving digital radio broadcasts by 2021.

As of December 2019, each EU member country has two years to introduce national legislation in accordance with the EU directive. It is therefore expected that all EU member countries will put in place their respective national laws requiring all new car radios to be capable of receiving and reproducing digital terrestrial radio broadcasting by the end of 2020.

In Europe, the most common form of digital terrestrial radio is DAB/DAB+ and the new directive will mean that these new radios are more widespread.

In Norway, the first country to have switched off national FM services, 98 percent of new cars are equipped with DAB+ radios. In Switzerland, this figure stands at 85 percent, with a digital switch over scheduled to be completed no later than 2024.

Despite the new directive, it's likely that FM broadcasting will remain the mode of choice for many listeners and it's unlikely to be turned off any time soon.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz - Wed 19th Dec 2018

The conditions on 28 MHz for the last one to two weeks have been pretty awful with slim pickings. There was however a nice mid-Winter Sporadic-E opening to Europe on Wednesday the 19th of December.

It started quiet enough with VP8LP in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic appearing as the third station of the day.

114845 -10  1.6  678 ~  CQ MM0HVU IO85
114845 -14 -0.4 1337 ~  CQ G0OYQ IO93
114915 -20  1.6  678 ~  CQ MM0HVU IO85
123300 -19 -0.1 1865 ~  CQ VP8LP GD18

What was suprising about this was that the band appeared dead. I had the rig turned on and I heard nothing. I glanced at the screen at one point and noticed VP8LP had been heard.

In the afternoon at about 14:15 UTC, the band opened up with several hours of Sporadic-E to Europe.

What's interesting about all these signals is that they were all using the new version of FT8 i.e. WSJT-X Version 2.0. If they had been using the older versions like version 1.8 or 1.9, I wouldn't have heard them as the two systems are incompatible.

It just goes to show that a lot of people have upgraded already and are not waiting for the end of the year to change.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

FT8 - The Big Changeover

On the 10th of December 2018, the new upgraded version of FT8 was officially released. The new WSJT-X Ver 2.0 version replaces the earlier 1.8 and 1.9 versions which were hugely popular.

The BIG problem however is that the new FT8 protocols have been enhanced in a way that is not backward compatible with older versions of the program. i.e. those using the new version can't talk to those using the old version.

There is a three week window for users to upgrade by the start of the new year.

“The new protocols become the worldwide standards starting on December 10, 2018, and all users should upgrade to WSJT-X 2.0 by January 1, 2019.” ... Joe Taylor K1JT, WSJT-X home page.

Considering the huge number of people using FT8, it might seem at first like trying to herd some cats. Will everyone change over? Will there be people using both systems in 2019?

On the 10th of December, I adopted a 'wait and see' policy to see how many people changed. On the 12th and 13th of December, I noticed that I was hearing FT8 signals on 28 MHz and not decoding them. I checked the usual time and frequency settings and all was ok.

Perhaps the old 1.9 version might be ok on the lower HF bands like 20m where there are plenty of signals but there are very few signals on 28 MHz. If I can't decode a signal then it's a big deal.

On the 14th of December, I changed over to Version 2.0 and one of the first signals I heard on 28 MHz was VP8LP on the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

I have no doubt that there will be plenty of people using the old version for a while but upgrading to version 2.0 as soon as possible seems like the best option.

More info here...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

VHF net in Cork every Tuesday evening

Back in April and May of 2018, the idea of having an EI VHF Activity Night was born and Tuesday evenings were selected as they tied in with some of the 2m and 70cms RSGB contests in the UK.

Over the first 6 months, there was some activity on each of the Tuesday evenings in Cork and at the start of November of 2018, we did a review to see how things could be improved.

The main suggestions were...

1) Set a specific time and frequency for a net in Cork.
Having a general activity period like 7pm to 10pm is fine for a countrywide proposal where different groups might like to do their own thing. However for a specific area like Cork, we felt it would be better if we could meet up at a specific time on a certain frequency.

2) Reminders by e-mail.
We thought a reminder by email would help as people forget.

For November 2018, we tried the new format and it was certainly better. While the numbers are still small, we have had a good net every evening with each one lasting about 70 mins.

We also established an online White Board where a very brief record of what was discussed is kept with links for more info.


The VHF activity nights for Cork are now as follows...

1st Tues of the month - 8pm - 2m - 145.475 MHz FM

2nd Tues of the month - 8pm - 70cms - 433.475 MHz FM

3rd Tues of the month - 8pm - 4m - 70.2625 MHz FM
3rd Tues of the month - 9pm - 6m - 50.150 MHz SSB

4th Tues of the month - 8pm - Digital - DMR Talk Group 2724 / Echolink node 88269 / Fusion C4FM YSF node 04251 / Fusion C4FM Wires-x node 41411 / Allstar node 29884.


At the moment, we are looking to expand the net and if anyone would like to be added to the email list, they should contact ei7gl AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk.

Only one email per week is sent out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Shannon Basin Radio net on 145 MHz every Thurs night

The Shannon Basin Radio Club hold a net on 145.350 MHz  FM every Thursday evening at 8pm.  This initiative to promote more activity on the VHF bands started in late 2018 and has been pretty successful to date.

The net is not confined to club members and they welcome anyone that can hear them to call in, even if it's just for a signal report.

The Shannon Basin Radio Club website can be seen here...

Monday, December 10, 2018

40 MHz activity starts near Dublin

In the December edition of the IRTS newsletter Echo Ireland, Dave EI3IO wrote a short article about some developments on the new 40 MHz / 8 metre band.

On the 21 October 2018, Dave EI3IO and Tim EI4GNB made contact on the FM calling channel of 42.500 MHz. As Dave is in South Dublin and Tim is in Bray Co.Wicklow, the distance was only a few kms.

Both stations were using the Dragon SY-5430 which is pictured above. This FM transceiver is used as a CB in countries like the Ukraine and also in Italy where they have a CB allocation at 43 MHz.

Dave also reports that during discussions with ICOM Europe, they warned against modifying transceivers like the 7300 to operate at 40 MHz or 60 MHz. They state that any such modifications could void the warranty. Dave recommends the use of transverters instead.

Both EI3IO and EI4GNB have transverters that operate between 40.0 and 42.0 MHz. If anyone would like to conduct experiments with either station, they can be contacted via QRZ.COM

As outlined in a previous post in Nov 2018, there is already some activity on 40 MHz from the West of Ireland.

For more information on 40 MHz, have a look at this page...

Saturday, December 8, 2018

TX Factor Video - Episode 22

In this episode, the TX Factor team look at the 2018 RSGB Convention, Network Radios, the Icom IC-R6800 receiver and the latest satellite news from AMSAT.

Video guide...
01:20 to 04:30... Introduction to the 2018 RSGB Convention
04:40 to 11:10... Section on Network Radios
11:20 to 20:40... 1st part of the review of the Icom IC-R6800 general coverage receiver.
23::30 to 31:20... RSGB Convention misc & adverts
31:20 to 40:30... 2nd part of the Icom review
40:40 to 43:50... Quick look at the Yaesu FTDX101MP-D high end transceiver.
44:00 to 48:00... Latest news about amateur radio satellites by AMSAT.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz - Thurs 6th Dec 2018

After a poor enough week, the 10 metre band was pretty good today with plenty of FT8 signals heard.

Most notable were probably XT2BR in Burkina Faso and ZD7GWM on St.Helena Island.

The Solar flux today was 71 which is pretty low. Not a bad day though considering it was a Thursday and we are at the bottom of the solar cycle.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

December 2018 issue of Echo Ireland sent out to IRTS members

Echo Ireland is the journal of the Irish Radio Tranmitters Society, the national organisation for radio amateurs in Ireland. It is published 4 times a year and sent out to members in either PDF format by email or a printed version by post.

The December 2018 edition was emailed out to members on the 3rd of December.

As can be seen from the image above, it contains a wealth of info and gives a good idea of what various clubs and individuals are up to around the country.

I opted for the PDF version a long time ago as I just don't want yet another printed publication that I have to store or dispose of. I keep PDF versions of all the IRTS newsletters in my own private Google Docs folder online as outlined in this post from Dec 2016.

Getting the PDF version also means that I get the newsletter about 1-2 weeks ahead of the postal version and it reduces costs for the IRTS. Printing and posting the newsletter is currently the biggest cost for the Society and the more members that opt for the digital version, the bigger the savings will be and it ensures that the annual membership fee is unlikely to increase.

If you are interested then go to the IRTS website and tell the Membership Records Officer that you would prefer the PDF version by email instead.

Monday, December 3, 2018

FT8 signals on 28 MHz with the aerial on the ground

Living near the south coast of Ireland, one of the hazards at this time of year are the Winter gales. As Storm Diana passed over the country, I dropped my vertical antenna for 28 MHz as a precaution.

With the antenna resting a few cms horizontally above the ground and with the wind howling outside, I began to wonder if I could actually hear any FT8 signals on 10 metres? If it was a band like 20m or 40m then I would have assumed yes. But 10 metres? I assumed no.

What I heard over the next two days is shown below...

The big suprise on the 28th of Nov was hearing GW0PLP in West Wales, a distance of about 250kms. I can hear Don most of the time when the antenna is vertical but it was now just cms off the ground.

The big suprise on Thurs 29th was hearing Newfoundland! It just goes to show how well FT8 can dig weak signals out of the noise.

Galway Digital Net on Monday evenings

In an effort to generate more activity on the digital modes, a new net has been started in Galway on Monday evenings at 8:30pm. Activity of course is not confined just to operators in Galway and they welcome call ins from anywhere.

Activity is as follows...
DMR Talk Group 2724
CQ-IRELAND Wires-X (Fusion) Node 41411
YSF Node 04251
Allstar Node 29884
Echolink 883269 which MI0AAZ-L.

All of these are connected together so there is a range of options to get on the net. Please remember to leave a gap between overs to allow the network components to reset.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Video on DMR, DSTAR & C4FM Hotspots

Hotspots are generally used by those who don't have a local repeater and want to use their digital radios to get access to various online reflectors and talk groups.

Like many things, the features improve over time. This video shows what is on the market as of November 2018.