FT8 Portable: Steve takes his Phaser Digital Mode Transceiver to the field!

Many thanks to Steve Allen (KZ4TN) who shares the following guest post:

FT8 QRP Portable

I recently finished my Phaser digital mode QRP transceiver kit and have had a hankerin’ to take it portable, and today was the day.

Temps were in the upper 60s with clear blue sky. About fifteen minutes from home is the Watauga Point Recreation Area on Watauga Lake in Carter County, Tennessee. It’s a day use area and is not an official POTA site, though it is in the Cherokee National Forest, which is. I opted to not make this a POTA activation as it was more of a first time “proof of concept” trip.

The Phaser is a small digital mode transceiver designed by Dave Benson, K1SWL with the enclosure the design of AA0ZZ, Craig Johnson. Phasers were available for most all of the HF bands, put out between 3 to 5 watts, and in addition to FT8, have the ability to program a second frequency to operation other digital modes such as PSK-31. They were sold and supported through Midnight Design Solutions, but unfortunately are no longer being offered. Occasionally I see them coming up for sale on the QRZ.com swapmeet forum.

In addition to the Phaser, I brought an FT-891, an LDG Z-11Pro 2 tuner, a netbook computer, and two batteries; a small AGM for the Phaser and a deep cycle lead acid power pack for the FT-891. I brought my W2LI magnetic loop antenna and a homebrew “NorCal Doublet” that sets up as an inverted V on a 20 ft kite pole as a backup antenna. The whole kit (excluding the batteries) fits in two wooden ammunition crates which make it really easy to drive, set up, and operate.

One note on using the W2LI mag loop. You need to first tune the antenna using the radio and listen for an increase in the background noise level. Using the Phaser while connected to my computer made that not possible. If I had brought a small set of earphones I could have plugged them into the audio out jack on the Phaser and tuned for max background noise. So, instead I connected FT-891 to the loop and used it to tune the antenna to 30 meters. Next time bring earphones.

After about fifteen minutes I had the station set up. The waterfall on WJST-X showed that the Phaser was receiving transmissions but no displayed text. Unfortunately I had neglected to synchronize the computer clock before I left the house. The netbook is pretty old and the internal battery needs to be replaced. What to do? First I tried to manually sync the clock to WWV but Windows 10 won’t let you set the seconds in the clock to 00. As I had cell service I figured I could use my cell phone as a hotspot. Never having set it up before I have to say that it was pretty easy. Thank you 21st century tech! This allowed me to sync the internal netbook clock, but it also let me log contacts on QRZ.com, and check my propagation on PSK Reporter.

The Phaser puts out around 3.5 watts, so I didn’t respond to a CQ that was less than -5 dB. While PSK Reporter showed reception of my signal up and down the East coast, contacts were scarce. I seemed to have a window open up into New England as I worked PA, MA, and CT. I was right in the middle of my fifth contact when the computer battery died so that was it. WSJT-X reported these stations on the +dB side for reception but my signal strength was always reported at < -10 dB.

The 30 Meter band was up and down with band conditions being reported as only Fair on the Solar-Terrestrial Data report on QRZ, and at one point for about a half hour there were no signals displayed on the waterfall.

With a loop antenna on a tripod and 3.5 watts I can’t complain. I’m thinking of building an RF amplifier to boost the output up to 10 watts which should help. My next step is to load WSJT-X on my tablet and see how portable of a kit I can assemble. As FT8 was designed as a weak signal mode, it’s perfect for QRP portable operating.

Steve Allen, KZ4TN

8 thoughts on “FT8 Portable: Steve takes his Phaser Digital Mode Transceiver to the field!”

  1. Dave Benson makes amazing kits. Thank you so much for sharing this, Steve! I like how you first approach this as a test operation/activity to really give it a good shake out.

    You might finds this pairs well with a 30M EFHW.

    I bet that was a fun kit to build as well.

    Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks John.
      The Phaser should interface directly to your PC using the laptop’s internal sound card. I couldn’t make that happen for some unknown reason so I used a USB sound card dongle. It plugs into a USB port and then the audio IN and OUT are accessible from two 1/8 jacks on the dongle. The dongle I use is manufactured by Sabrent (Amazon.com). WSJT-X and Windows 10 both recognized it right away.

  2. Nice write-up Steve,
    enjoyed reading about your setup and your day. Hope to try similar some day.
    Thank you and 73
    Ellis M5AEI

    1. Thank you Ellis, the Phaser is so small that it packs easily and draws less than 500 mA on transmit. I’m going to cut a wire antenna for 10.136 so I can dispense with the tuner.
      73, Steve

      1. Hi Steve,

        I have now read the QST article on the Phaser and looks a great bit of kit. On a similar path I may look into the QDX in the future for similar operating. Maybe one day we’ll make the connection across the pond. Sounds like a plan with the tuned antenna with the fixed frequency.
        Look forward to hearing more.

        73 Ellis M5AEI

        1. Ellis:
          With the exception of contesting I’ve been mostly on FT8 the last year plus. With the band conditions not so good, there’s still lots of contacts being made on the upper bands on FT8. Hope to work you in the future.

          73 Steve

  3. Just a quick update on 12-19-21; with the sunspots back and the the solar flux index at 121, I worked two stations in the Canary Islands this afternoon. Power out was 3 watts into an inverted L up about thirty feet. That was 1300 mile per watt. QRP rocks!

    Steve, KZ4TN

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