Thank you so much for sharing this and for the kind words, Jim! It’s strange, but I’ve yet to dive into the world of WSPR. I actually have a QRPLabs QCX+ transceiver kit I purchased specifically to explore WSPR. I just need to find the time to build it now!
If you’ve read my field reports or watched any of my activation videos, you’ve no doubt noticed that I rely very heavily on automatic spotting via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) for both POTA (Parks On The Air) and SOTA (Summits On The Air).
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to use the RBN functionality for both SOTA and POTA, so thought I might clarify (in very basic terms) how the system works and how you can take advantage of it.
Note: CW and Digital Modes Only
Keep in mind that Reverse Beacon Network spotting only works with CW and some digital modes.
I, personally, have only used it for CW activations.
The system does not currently recognize voice transmissions (although as voice recognition becomes more accessible and effective, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if something like this is offered in the near future!).
Here’s how the RBN works
The RBN is essentially fueled by a global network of volunteer receiving and decoding stations that feed information into the RBN spotting system. This system is running 24/7 and recording spots constantly.
If I hopped on the air right now and made at least two generic CQ calls with my callsign–barring any abnormal propagation–the RBN would no doubt collect my information and spot me automatically to their network.
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.
By Evgeny Slodkevich, UA3AHM/OH5HM, and Dieter Kuckelkorn, DL1DBY
When going to an outdoor camping trip, we will find that in many parts of the world there is no cell phone service avail able in the back country. To make matters worse, in these areas there is almost never a VHF/UHF ham radio repeater in range when we need wide-area coverage. Apart from strictly local communications using VHF/UHF simplex radio, how do we send messages to friends and family over great distances? How do we call for help? A similar problem can even arise in an urban environment if a major disaster strikes like the break-down of the power grid.
In activities like back country trips in areas without cell phone coverage or in a widespread emergency with the loss of our normal means of communication we can use satellite phones, but this technology is very expensive, requires subscriptions and there is no guarantee that the complex infrastructure of satellite communications will work under all circumstances. The obvious solution for Ham Radio operators will be to switch to shortwave communication using battery operated radios and often NVIS modes of operation. NVIS stands for Near Vertikal Incidence Skywave, which means transmitting with special antennas straight up to communicate with other stations 30 km to 300 km (20 to 200 miles) away with low power – which would be the most useful communications distance if help is needed. We could use SSB voice communications, but this requires that the person we want to reach is sitting constantly at his or her radio to be able to receive the message. This can be a problem: In a real emergency we probably won’t have time for this. We could instead use capable digital modes with automatic message handling capabilities like JS8Call, but these require notebook computers or other complicated setups in the field which consume a lot of energy and can be difficult to recharge off-
grid on a reliable basis.
Evgeny UA3AHM/OH5HM and Sergej UA9OV have developed another mode of digital shortwave communications, which aims to be easy to use, capable and – most importantly – friendly to the operator’s resources. Apart from a low power battery operated transceiver and a small digital interface, only an Android smartphone is needed, which can be recharged with cheap and readily available consumer-grade solar chargers. Evgeny and Sergej have created an app called “HFpager” which allows to use the smartphone’s sound chip to encode and decode audio signals in the SSB audio passband of the transceiver – similar to PC based modes like FT8 and JS8Call. It uses rates of transmission of 1.46, 5.86, 23.44 and 46.88 Baud. Modulation is 18-tone Incremental Frequency Shift Keying (IFSK) with forward error correcting Reed-Solomon code RS(15,7) and a superblock by 4 RS blocks with interleaving.
Adam BD6CR of CR Kits is getting close to releasing the FT8 DSB Transceiver. Below is some preliminary information:
D4D: A simple QRP transceiver for FT8
Adam Rong, BD6CR
D4D stands for DSB transceiver for Digital modes. It is a Double Sided Band transceiver kit designed for digital modes, especially for FT8. If have chance to try FT8, you will be amazed by the strong decoding capability offered by the communication protocol, digital signal processing and software. I still remember clearly a YouTube video by W6LG who communicated with bulbs. I started to think how much the transceiver could be simplified if you have a moderate antenna like a full sized dipole or EFHW.
A DSB transceiver is much simpler than a usual SSB transceiver, however it was never used for FT8 as far as I know. I did some experiments on my Choc perf board. I started with a direct conversion receiver for FT8 and it worked okay. Then I made a DSB transmitter and the transmitted signal can be decoded. By referring to the designs of AA7EE, VK3YE and ZL2BMI, I combined them using only one NE602 and a PTT switch and it gave me success to make a few FT8 QSO’s.
Personally I really enjoyed it because a manual PTT switch will save power consumption and circuit complexity, but you will need to well sync with computer, although it was not really a problem for me. Per request from a few hams, I found a VOX control circuit and modify the hold time to be compatible with FT8, and I put them together and made a few improvements on the signal purity and frequency stability, and it became our D4D. Do we have to worry about the unwanted Lower Side Band? Maybe, but for a transmitter of 1-watt, it is not really a big problem. Is it just a toy for a transmitter of 1-watt and only half of the power will be effective? Not really, as I can easily make a few QSO’s as far as 1500 miles range for 40-meter band.
Here is the brief specifications I have measured (subject to change without notice):
Summary: Crystal controlled single frequency DSB transceiver for 20m (14.074MHz), 40m (7.074MHz) or 80m (3.573MHz), other frequencies could be added per request Power supply: 10-14V DC regulated power supply or battery pack, 12V is recommended, center positive, reverse polarity protection available Current consumption in RX: 15mA Current consumption in TX: about 260mA(?) at 12V, and about 300mA at 13.8V RF output: about 1W for 20m band at 12V, a bit more for lower bands like 40m and 80m Spurious suppression: no worse than -50dBc Antenna connector: BNC connector, 50 ohm Audio in connector: 3.5mm mono, at least 600mV to activate VOX, connects to headphone connector at PC sound card, no dedicated PTT connector is required Audio out connector: 3.5mm mono, connects to microphone connector at PC sound card Amber LED: TX status Green LED: RX status Frequency stability: Okay for FT8 mode per test. If the optional heater resistor R20* is added, after warm up of about 3 min, long term frequency stability in 10 min will be improved at the cost of acceptable short term frequency stability sacrifice in 30 sec.
Let us briefly go through the circuit: The input audio will activate the VOX circuit of D2 (1N4148), Q5 (2N3906), Q6 (2N3904), Q7 (2N3904) and Relay. The relay is a DPDT type and controls both antenna and power supply. The LPF consists of L2, L3 and surrounding capacitors, and it is switched to either transmitter output or receiver input. The power supply is polarity protected by D1 (1N5817) and switched to either receiver circuit or transmitter circuit. The receiver circuit is only for audio amplifier consists of Q1 (2N3904) and optional heater resistor R20*, while the transmitter circuit is for RX muter Q8 (2N3904), TX driver Q3 (2N3904) and TX final Q4 (BD139). X1 is a filter in the receiver front end to help eliminate strong broadcast interference, and X2 is the crystal for the built-in oscillator in U1 (NE602). U2 (78L05) is the 5V regulator for U1, and Q2 (2N3904) is a buffer amplifier in the TX chain.
Thanks for sharing this, Pete! What a simple transceiver concept!
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