With this magic FT-8 box and a little power bank, all you need to make FT8 in SOTA expeditions is your smartphone.
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Best 73′ from Switzerland,
Lab599 Discovery TX-500 Covers
Many thanks to Mike (KG4MTN) who writes:
I have just received a nice set of 3D screen/keyboard covers from KB7MDB for my TX-500. Along with these covers he included 5 screw-on plug covers. All appear to be nicely made and fit my rig just fine. Cost was $15, which includes shipping. I have the 2-cover set, I believe he also makes a single-cover unit. Mine is black but I think he also makes them in orange. Shipping is very prompt. His Etsy site is Brewer 3D Design LLC.
Many thanks to Ray (K8DRT) who reminds us of an ongoing sale at Maxpedition’s main website. The sale includes a number of popular Organizer Pouches including the Fatty which I use for my Elecraft AX1 antenna, and their smaller EDC organizer that I’ve used for a number of radio accessories, logging pads, and EDC items over the years.
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.
QRPGuys has just introduced a new Multiband DSB Digital Transceiver for FT8.
At $40 it introduces a new price point for such Rigs as it includes band modules for 40/30/20 Meters! For those wanting to experiment with different Bands extra bare boards are available for sale.
The rig as it comes is crystal controlled for FT8 but fear not the main board includes connections for an external VFO. As an example one could use one of the very popular Si5351 VFO Kits and be able to QSY to operate the different modes available to the Amateur Community today.
Let the fun begin 🙂
Thanks so much for the tip, Pete! What a great little project!
Many thanks toPete (WB9FLW), who shares the following:
Don’t know if you are familiar with this project, a full blown 5 watt HF SDR Transceiver for less than $300!
No sound cards, DUC/DDC architecture.
Here’s the project description by Steve Haynal via YouTube:
The Hermes-Lite is a low-cost direct down/up conversion software defined amateur radio HF transceiver based on a broadband modem chip and the Hermes SDR project. It is entirely open source and open hardware, including the tools used for design and fabrication files. Over 100 Hermes-Lite 2.0 units have been successfully built.
The FOSSi Foundation is proud to announce Latch-Up, a conference dedicated to free and open source silicon to be held over the weekend of May 4th and 5th in Portland, Oregon, USA. Latch-Up: a weekend of presentations and networking for the open source digital design community, much like its European sister conference ORConf. Produced by NDV.
Thomas, Adam of CR Kits is now taking orders for his FT8 Transceiver Kit and the price is very reasonable.
From Adam at CR Kits:
FT8 transceiver kit
Folks, I start to take email order now. The introductory price is 39 USD for kit including shipping to worldwide. As in the introductory period, you will get audio cable options for free. The earliest possible shipment date is now improved to May 13.
You can directly PayPal to email@example.com and let me know 40m or 20m (80m not ready yet). I will ship based on the sequence of receiving your payment. I may delay shipment for one week or two due to workload.
This is the spec so far:
Summary: Crystal controlled single frequency DSB transceiver for 20m (14.074MHz), 40m (7.074MHz) or 80m (3.573MHz), other frequencies could be added per requestPower supply: 10-14V DC regulated power supply or battery pack, 12V is recommended, center positive, reverse polarity protection availableCurrent consumption in RX: about 15mA at 12VCurrent consumption in TX: about 300mA at 12VRF output: about 1W for 40m band at 12V, and a bit less for 20m bandSpurious suppression: no worse than -50dBcAntenna connector: BNC connector, 50 ohmAudio in connector: 3.5mm mono, at least 600mV to activate VOX, connects to headphone connector at PC sound card, no dedicated PTT connector is requiredAudio out connector: 3.5mm mono, connects to microphone connector at PC sound cardAmber LED: TX statusGreen LED: RX statusFrequency accuracy: -600 Hz ~ + 200 HzFrequency stability: Okay for FT8 mode per test. If the optional heater resistor R20* is added, after warm up, long term frequency stability in 10 min will be improved at the cost of acceptable short term frequency stability sacrifice in 30 sec. Thanks, Adam
Joe Taylor K1JT has announced a new digital mode, FT4, which is 2.5 times faster than FT8
FT4 is an experimental digital mode designed specifically for radio contesting. Like FT8, it uses fixed-length transmissions, structured messages with formats optimized for minimal QSOs, and strong forward error correction. T/R sequences are 6 seconds long, so FT4 is 2.5 × faster than FT8 and about the same speed as RTTY for radio contesting.
FT4 can work with signals 10 dB weaker than needed for RTTY, while using much less bandwidth.
FT4 message formats are the same as those in FT8 and encoded with the same (174,91) low-density parity check code. Transmissions last for 4.48 s, compared to 12.64 s for FT8. Modulation uses 4-tone frequency-shift keying at approximately 23.4 baud, with tones separated by the baud rate. The occupied bandwidth (that containing 99% of transmitted power) is 90 Hz