29 Feb 2012

472-479kHz available Jan 1st 2013 in UK

G3XBM's 500kHz transverter. Ideal for 472-479kHz.
OFCOM are now going to renew NoVs for the 501-504kHz band for existing permit holders and this will be possible via an on-line webform on the RSGB website.
"Following the agreements concluded at World Radiocommunication Conference 2012, Ofcom has started discussions with the RSGB and others about the timescales for implementation of the new secondary allocation to the amateur service between 472 and 479 kHz which, it was agreed at the Conference, would be effective from 1 January 2013.
Ofcom has therefore determined that, to allow these discussions to be completed, the current NoVs to allow experimentation between 501 and 504 kHz should have their validity extended to 31 December 2012. This notice confirms this fact."
See http://www.rsgb.org/operating/novapp/500.php. So plenty of time to get an antenna up and a TX or transverter ready. You might like to start by looking at http://sites.google.com/site/g3xbmqrp/Home/500k where I describe my 5W QRP transverter which will work on 472-479kHz. I've plans to make a Mk2 version of this during the summer with higher power and other improvements. It would be nice to make a PCB this time so that others could build it.

27 Feb 2012

A very tiny Chirpy from Eldon WA0UWH

WA0UWH's version of Chirpy
Eldon WA0UWH has built an SMA version of my 10m Chirpy transceiver on a VERY tiny PCB. He is currently debugging it. See Eldon's blog at http://wa0uwh.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-xbm-10-2-chirpy.html for more details.

Optical RX schematic

Schematic of the G3XBM optical RX
Several people have asked for the schematic of the optical receiver used in the recent "over the horizon" red LED 481THz tests. Here it is. The BPW34 photodiode does not have any bias and is connected directly (in the air) to the gate of the FET. I have tried reverse biasing but it made little noticable difference to sensitivity. The cascode "head" is from KA7OEI and this is followed by an op-amp buffer and gain stage which feeds the PC. There is an additional stage of gain to drive a small crystal earpiece. I am sure the circuit can be further simplified and optimised but it has allowed me to copy a baseband scatter signal at 8.63km by ear and is as sensitive as any receiver I have yet tried.

26 Feb 2012

Successful 481THz NLOS test (8.63km)

8.63km non line-of-sight reception of 481THz optical beacon
Bernie G4HJW set his high power optical beacon running a 1.082kHz tone this evening pointing in the Burwell direction on a non line-of-sight path from his home QTH at Little Wilberham. He then came over to Burwell to compare his RX and my own from a test site on the edge of the village clear of the village lights. Distance was 8.63km.

Both on Bernie's RX kit and my own we got solid copy by ear of the beacon at a distance of around 8.63km NLOS using 100mm optics. Once found, the signal was solid.  I then set up the optics on the tripod and fed the signal into Spectran where the signal was 30dB over noise in a 0.17Hz bandwidth. Listen here for a recording (best played back using Spectran with 0.17Hz bandwidth settings)

G4HJW's beacon TX
There was hardly a cloud in the sky, so this was largely by scatter from the mist/dust in the air. Bernie says signals have been stronger on other nights. Best reception was with the RX aimed just above the horizon, maybe 5-10 degrees at most above.

This was very gratifying as it is the furtherest NLOS signal I have copied and it verified my RX kit is now working at good sensitivity.

When I got back home I did try to copy the beacon by ear out of the bedroom window but the tree cover and lights made copy not possible. However I will try again later in the week with Spectran running and narrow bandwidth.

23 Feb 2012

Failed cloudbounce 481THz optical test (7.6km)

Possible weak 481THz reception at 7.6km NLOS
This evening I tried a 7.6km non line-of-sight (NLOS) path between Burwell and Newmarket Heath with the 0.7W input red LED beacon running QRSS3 on an 820Hz subcarrier (at home) and modified KA7OEI receiver at the RX end, both with 100mm optics. My PC was running Spectran.

The best I can say is reception was very doubtful:  the screen capture above shows a signal at the correct subcarrier frequency in the right direction, but too weak to identify CW characters. The recent 3.6km NLOS test produced good 10dB S/N signals in 0.67Hz bandwidth - much easier.

With a largely clear sky, few clouds and a slight haze, not ideal conditions for cloudbounce testing. This test will be repeated when cloud cover is better and visibility is clearer. QRSS30 would give me another 10dB so this may be worth a go if QRSS3 doesn't work on a second try. There are several variables that make weak signal forward scatter detection difficult: (a) what vertical angle to use at both ends, especially with few clouds (b) amount and height of cloud cover, (c) horizontal direction of aim.  With QRSS3/30 modes it is a case of small aiming increments and wait to see if a signal appears on the screen. It is quite hard work.

The result is disappointing, but there will be plenty of other occasions to repeat this test and do others. All good  fun.

22 Feb 2012

Some 160m AM QRP rig links

Looking around for some ideas for a local natter box, I came across these links for simple AM transmitters and receivers so far:


If you are aware of other, simple, ideas for 160m QRP AM rigs please let me know.  I've still to go through my old SPRATs to see what is there and there have also been some ideas in Practical Wireless.

21 Feb 2012

A 160m AM local natter rig

Further to my post a few days ago about possible bands to use for a very local "natter link" over a 3km path between G6ALB and here, my thoughts are turning to 160m, partly for nostalgic reasons. This is where I first started my ham radio operating with a small 400mW AM transmitter from Practical Wireless (Dec 67 I think).

Although 160m is VERY noisy now, especially at night, I figure that 100mW AM will be enough to kill the QRM/QRN over such a short distance. So, I am gathering ideas for something incredibly simple to build.

For the TX the most sensible rig would be a crystal oscillator (or ceramic oscillator) followed by a buffer and series modulated PA using the modulation circuit from the 2m AM Fredbox. On receive, either a regen receiver (operating just out of oscillation) or even an MK484 (like the ZN414) single chip receiver are worth a try.

This would be no DX rig, just a very basic transceiver to get me into the next village and not much further. I'll keep you posted. Incidentally I am unable to do much building right now as my house is in the middle of some redecoration. I can't find anything!

40m regen receiver kit from OK land

OK1CDJ's version of my simple 40m regen receiver
Ondra OK1CDJ has been in touch again recently and he mentioned that he had built a version of my 40m regenerative receiver and is now supplying a kit of parts in the Czech Republic via www.hamshop.cz. There are some nice photos of Ondra's version built into a small tin box.  My original circuit is at https://sites.google.com/site/g3xbmqrp/Home/regen although I admit I was inspired by W2UW who used this circuit before me in his amazing FET-1 transceiver.

20 Feb 2012

Commercial QRP: KX3 or FT818?

CQ Ham Radio Book
As I've said before here,  I just can't understand why an FT817 successor has still not yet appeared. The KX3 pre-release spec (now nearly 12 months old) gives a good idea of what is needed and Yaesu surely could beat Elecraft on price. Also, Yaesu's alternative is likely to win on size and looks.

Here in the UK, once import duty and tax are added, the KX3 will be expensive, so I am still hoping the FT818 will appear soon and be a more cost effective alternative. I love Elecraft kit but not sure that too many over this side of the pond will shell out over £1000 for a commercial QRP radio. An FT818 at, say, £599 would be a more cost effective investment. I say investment as my FT817 is now 11 years old and been the best amateur radio investment I have ever made.

So, I am still on the look-out for some HARD news from Yaesu Japan i.e. specs, price and release dates. If there are any leaks I promise you that the news will appear on this blog as soon as I get wind of anything. And of course, unlike the KX3 I expect an FT818 would be available as soon as an announcement is made.

The image above is linked from http://www.cqpub.co.jp .

17 Feb 2012

Optical cloudbouncing (stage 2)

With my QRSS3 success last weekend over a 3.6km non line-of-sight path at 481THz (red light) I've been looking at other possible NLOS cloudbounce paths that start from my home QTH where I can set up my 100mm optics 0.7W input beacon pointing out of a bedroom window.

There are several different paths out to around 8km away that will be tried shortly.  I need to do a quick check at the RX locations to see that there are no issues e.g. trees very close and that I can safely park the car off the road at night. The tests can't start for a few days as I have grandchildren with us over the weekend. Maybe the first test will be on Tuesday evening.

Simple local ragchewing rigs

The Sixbox 40mW AM transceiver for 6m. Maybe a Fourbox will follow?
The experiments last week by G6ALB and I confirm that to talk over a few kilometres, very little power is needed. Indeed, below 1mW is all that would be needed on any mode, at least on 144MHz. Andrew and I are now thinking about rigs that we can use to simply keep in touch whilst we get on with other QRP tests on bands from VLF to light. One idea is a 4m version of my Fredbox/Sixbox QRP AM transceivers to be called the Fourbox. This would be extremely simple to build and ideal for communication between a couple of stations in adjacent villages. Activity levels on 4m are not that great so we would be unlikely to suffer much interference issues if a super-regen receiver was used as on the original designs. A simple wire dipole in the loft would be fine for an antenna at each end. At 6m I was able to use T37-6 toroids, but at 70MHz I think these would be just beyond their intended design limits. Small airwound coils would probably be OK.

14 Feb 2012

How little power do you need to communicate?

Last night G6ALB and I did a test on 2m to see how little power was needed to communicate between the two of us. Andrew is 3km from me. We both use V2000 triband vertical antennas. We started the test with Andrew using about 0.5mW pep from a simple DSB rig. We then switched to CW (from a decent low leakage signal generator) and G6ALB reduced power in 10dB steps. The lowest level I could still copy his signal was -55dBm which is around 1.8nW. The screenshot above, taken from Spectran, shows his signal at that level.

This sort of power level could be generated by power harvesting, even rectified RF from the HF antenna. Now there's a thought - a free power TX.

Non line-of-sight optical path profile

This is the path profile of my successful 3.6km QRSS3 cloudbounce non line-of-sight 481THz (red light) test on Feb 12th 2012. Sorry it is in feet and miles. The vertical scale is exaggerated, but it shows how non line-of-sight the path was. I used http://www.heywhatsthat.com/ to produce the data. This is a very useful site.  It is fascinating that such paths can be used successfully for optical frequency communications.

A new MF ham band agreed at last

472-479kHz was officially agreed as a new secondary allocation for radio amateurs at WRC-2012 today.  See http://www.arrl.org/news/amateur-radio-gets-secondary-mf-allocation-at-wrc-12 .

It may be some months, or even a year or so, before the band is available in the UK. I already have kit to use on the new frequencies (my 500kHz tranverter) but may update it with a better antenna and a bit more power.

7kHz doesn't sound much but it is much better than the 3kHz available by NoV around 500kHz currently. Also it is likely to be available in most countries with EIRP somewhere between 1 and 5W depending on footnotes and location.

13 Feb 2012

Simple Home-Built Radio Projects page

The website of Rick Anderson KE3IJ is one of my favorites as it is filled with simple circuits, mainly simple receivers, that can easily be reproduced and that work well. See http://www.ke3ij.com/radios.htm. What I like is that on many pages there are little extra bits of circuitry that can be used in other projects too.  Lke me, Rick loves the humble 2N3904 transistor which is useful from audio to VHF.  They appear all over the place in his novel circuits.

12 Feb 2012

The universal scale of things


This quite wonderful website brings to life the scale of things in our incredible universe from the smallest strings and branes to the largest galaxies and nebulae in the cosmos. And we are somewhere in the middle of all this.  Zoom in both directions (smaller and larger) and be amazed.

Successful non line-of-sight 481THz test tonight by cloudbounce

QRSS3 signal at 3.6km by non line-of-sight cloudbounce
Armed with my simpler QRSS3/CW beacon (see earlier post) I did a very successful non line-of-sight (NLOS) cloudbounce test this evening using my 1W red LED in 100mm optics (run at 340mA). TX was my "G3XBM" message in QRSS3 (3 second dots CW) at 820Hz subcarrier.

With the beacon aiming out through the double glazed shack window at nearby Burwell windmill (as an aiming point) I set off for a road at Landwade which was 3.6km away "over the hill" and on a NLOS path from here. At Landwade I set up the 100mm optics and my variation of the KA7OEI head feeding into my laptop running Spectran. Immediately I got a good signal from the beacon 3.6km away. Signal was around 10dB S/N in 0.67Hz bandwidth. The signal was neither visible as a red glow nor audible in the earpiece despite listening quite hard and panning around for best signal.

This was my first proper NLOS test and it is extremely encouraging. I did try to elevate the RX to higher points in the sky but best reception was with the optics aiming at the lights of Burwell village in the distance i.e. as low as was possible in elevation. At the TX end I was aiming to just clear the slight rise in ground to the east of me near Burwell windmill.

Weather conditions were light patchy low cloud with pretty decent visibility. I did notice QSB as cloud cover varied.

I'm really lucky finding this test path as I can put the TX beacon on the bedroom shack windowsill and fire towards the windmill. In daytime I would be able to align the RX better as I was having to guess the best direction with only Burwell church visible. I had to tweek the alignment to what I thought was the right direction. I did not spend a lot of time trying to peak the signal and better copy is possible.  In all honestly I did not expect this test to be successful.

Simpler 481THz beacon TX

This afternoon I built a simpler CW/QRSS3 beacon for lightbeam experiments. Rather than use a crystal divided down in a 4060 IC I simply used my K1EL keyer IC's sidetone output to drive an IRF640 which drives the 1W LED. 10wpm CW or QRSS3 beacon message is therefore produced on an 800Hz subcarrier. The stability of the sidetone from the PIC keyer is quite sufficient for QRSS3 although not good enough for QRSS30 or 60.

11 Feb 2012

Homemade 45rpm disc recording

Handmade disc recording made on a coffee tin plastic lid
Whilst clearing out a cupboard the other day I chanced upon a piece of my history in the form of a small 45rpm disc recording that an old school friend and I made in 1969. Using an old record turntable with a very large horn as the acoustic microphone we recorded me saying some words and poems onto the polypropylene lid of an old coffee jar. Shouting VERY loudly, the sound is imprinted onto the disc in just the same way old gramophone records were made back in the 1800s. The metal foil inner lids of cocoa tins were also quite good for this as I recall. Francis Wood, my school friend went the whole hog and put the record into a homemade sleeve (with suitable handwritten text) with inner cover and the disc finally inside. I did play this disc some years ago and it was still intelligible (just) but nowadays I have no 45/78rpm kit to play it on. I remember the first time we made such a disc back in 1962 how amazed I was that it worked.

10 Feb 2012

Cambridge Club Talk - a good turn-out

This evening I gave my talk "VLF Amateur Radio" to the CDARC in Cambridge. The turn-out was excellent, especially considering the very cold weather here at the moment. It was -10deg C coming home in the car.  At the end of the talk there were plenty of interesting questions. It was fun to share my enthusiasm for VLF things with such an appreciative audience. Click on the link if you'd like to see a copy of the slides I used this evening.

9 Feb 2012

Reliability of radio gear

Tin Whiskers on an IC contact
When I mentioned the eHam review of the KX3 on the GQRP reflector last night most of the replies focused on the reliability of complex modern electronics equipment. Some people believe that with fewer parts and SMA components reliability is higher today than in earlier times. Others, including me, were more circumspect and feel that, unless production processes are well controlled, the danger of failure is higher. There are also potential issues with leakage in small geometry ICs as well as the dreaded "tin whiskers" issue where metal dendrils can grow over time between IC balls. My own experience in mobile radio design and manufacture may have coloured my views. We got it right in the end i.e. getting production processes well honed, but you cannot take process control for granted, ever. The slightest drift in quality can spell disaster, field failures and a ruined reputation.

One thing many people agreed on was this: if you want to be sure of the reliability of your amateur radio equipment then build your own. A simple QRP transceiver, easy to make from many published designs in QRP books, should last a lifetime and will be easy to fix in the unlikely event of something going wrong. There is also nothing quite as satisfying as making contacts with something you have built. Even a simple crystal controlled TX and direct conversion receiver are likely to give FAR more satisfaction than a rig costing £1000 with all the bells and whistles. I still recall the thrill of my first ever hombrew contact across the Atlantic with 800mW CW on 15m using my little Pipit transceiver with 7 transistors total and a handful of parts. This rig was so effective that it was my main station rig for many months. Every QSO, and there were lots, meant something special.

8 Feb 2012

KX3 review on eHam


This is the first ever review of the Elecraft KX3 by one of the field testers using SN-0006 sample fitted with internal batteries and the optional roofing filter. The field tester was mightily impressed.

Optical cloudbounce propagation theory

Bernie G4HJW and I are interested in carrying out some "cloudbounce" tests using our 481THz optical kit and we both are none to clear about the physics of scattering of signals from water droplets and dust in clouds or the sky. However, today a new tool to help our understanding was shown to us on the UKNanowaves Yahoo Group in a posting by Barry Chambers.

The free software is available at  http://www.philiplaven.com/mieplot.htm and allows us to work out the intensity of a scattered optical signal as a function of scattering angle, droplet size and wavelength. Scattering is best when the angle of incidence is at grazing incidence and the droplet size is small. If I've understood the results correctly, aiming at the underside of a cloud at 45 degrees would result in a scattered signal some 50dB weaker than if at grazing incidence. So, depending on how far apart the 2 stations are and the angle at which the optical signal hits the underside of a cloud then signals can be quite strong or extremely weak. This is why weak signal modes like QRSS60 may be needed to work a given path by cloudbounce.

A novel QRP power source

FreeCharge 12V is a small, portable generator, similar to that used in portable hand-cranked torches. The output is regulated to give 12-14.2V DC although the product datasheet does not state the available current. I suspect it is in the low milliamps as its main use appears to be to power/charge mobile phones in an emergency.

This could make a novel power source for low power QRP transceivers as no batteries would be required, just a few seconds or minutes of cranking.  Figures given are 360 turns (approx. 3 min wind) gives 9-11 minutes of mobile phone talk time and a 60 second wind gives 2-4 minutes of talk time. Price is £19.99 and it is available from Freeplay or via Amazon UK.

The sales blurb says:
"The Freecharge 12V provides emergency power to a mobile phone, PDA, iPod, GPS receiver, or any other electronic device for which you have (or can get) a cigarette-lighter adapter. Wind its hand crank to generate electricity and put power straight into your device. Never be unable to use your mobile phone, or other important device, just because its battery has run down."

Weak signal modes compared

There has been quite a bit of debate recently about just how good certain weak signal modes are when compared against similar modes. So, ON7YD has done some research and straw polling to compare them and published the results on his wonderfully informative website. He asked people to try to decode some weak QRSS signals by eye - these were at defined S/N ratios and compared the results against OPERA at various speeds and WSPR.

Amongst his conclusions is that "Opera8, QRSS10 (or DFCW10) and WSPR should have a more or less equal performance."  This is very much as I have found from practical experience on 136kHz where QRSS3 does not perform as well as QRSS30 which is somewhat better than WSPR. So, WSPR being much the same as QRSS10 seems spot on. The advantage of WSPR is of course the internet database reporting which allows you to see where you have been received. QRSS reports depend on someone decoding the signals by eye and then manually sending you a report, which rarely happens. So, WSPR remains my favourite weak signal beaconing mode.
ON7YD's graph showing the effectiveness of various weak signal modes

472-479kHz secondary allocation

From the RSGB's website today comes the latest news from WRC-2012 about an amateur secondary allocation to replace 500kHz with something more permanent. It needs ratifying but it does now look very likely indeed to happen.

Agenda Item 1.23 – 500kHz
Progress through Committee 4 (COM4) was a little easier than expected and the frequency band 472-479kHz will be allocated to the amateur service, on a Secondary basis. This is subject to no further objections being received during the two final readings through the plenary meetings, of which the first ‘blue’ reading is expected to be during the plenary this coming Friday, late afternoon.

7 Feb 2012

Free power radios

KE3IJ's always excellent website has a novel receiver circuit that derives its DC power from AC mains hum and noise it picks up on its antenna.  It uses a single 2N3904 in a regenerative circuit. Ideally the circuit would be better with a lower Vbe device i.e. a germanium transistor.

Taking this one stage further, I know from my experiments at VLF that the AC mains hum between a pair of grounded electrodes can be pretty high. There is certainly enough 50(or 60)Hz energy going free in the ground to power something useful. I keep wondering if I could get a few uWs of HF RF power from a low voltage crystal oscillator that would be enough to work some local stations on CW? My nearest station is 0.3km and the next nearest 3km. Now having a QSO using free power from my back garden would be rather fun.

6 Feb 2012

New Elecraft KX3 Photo

The new KX3 HF-6m 0-10W Elecraft All-mode transceiver
N1RX, who has been a field tester for Elecraft's new KX3 QRP rig, posted a photo on the KX3 Yahoo Group today showing the latest version of the transceiver. Deliveries are due to start shortly and it does look a very high specification radio, albeit quite a bit more expensive than the FT817. However it offers SO much more by way of features. It is more like a small K3 transceiver.  A look at its specification and features set is worth it. The guys at Elecraft do know how to design some very elegant QRP products. A copy of the user manual is expected to be available for down load within a few weeks.

5 Feb 2012

Remarkable "all diode" transceiver QSO

DL3PB's "all diode" transceiver
Today I got this most interesting email from Peter DL3PB. Peter must be congratulated on this excellent achievement.
Hi folks,
I'd like to share with you a long-cherished dream, that recently came true, fourty years after I came to read about hams using tunneldiodes to make QSOs when I was aged twelve or so:
Finally I managed a first skywave QSO with my PARASAKI-transceiver, an 'all diode' rig:  Christophe/F8DZY replied to my very first call on 20m band in REF-contest last weekend. I was running 2mW into a temporary vertical dipole on my balcony. Distance between us is  918km - obviously OM Christophe has excellent ears.
Those interested in the cruel details of my circuit, please find attached a schematic and a photo of the pretty ugly setup. The circuit is designed straight-forward with exception of the parametric VXO, derived from Mike/AA1TJ's famous Paraceiver design. (see  http://fhs-consulting.com/aa1tj/paraceiver.html)

The low impedance of the high peak-current tunneldiodes make it very difficult to built a really crystal controlled oscillatorrather than an LC-oscillator, synchronized by the crystal more or less, at least on the higher SW-bands. The Parametric VXO provides a crystal-stable, chirp-free signal on expense of an output power of two milliwatts only instead of ten, but with an amazing spectral purity, no need for a low pass filter or such. Of course it sounds pretty cool making a QSO with a 'bunch of diodes' and a parametrically excited crystal, but believe me or not, I'd preferred to bring that full ten milliwatt into the air - on the other hand that approach allowed  to tune the rig a bit ( ~ 5kHz/per xtal ), which turned out to be much more valuable than a few milliwatts more while being 'rock-bound'.
The receiver in its 'gain-less' version works fine for strong signals - while listening to QRP(p) stations, the moderate gain of the audio amplifier helps a lot. A comfortable frequency shift between receive and transmit is realized by the 5┬ÁH inductor at the LO-port of the mixer, with little effect on sensitivity.

Thanks for the bandwidth, OMs, won't bother again you with such mails, unless I make a cross-pond QSO with that rig ( not that likely ) or any skywave QSO with homemade semiconductors ( probably impossible )...

481THz optical treebounce and skyscatter

Optical treebounce (0.3km total path) 10wpm CW 0.501kHz 35dB S/N
This evening I did some further tests with optical treebounce and what I'd loosely call skyscatter. The sky was cloudless, but a little hazy. My test kit was as follows:  TX (250mA high brightness red LED, 100mm optics in one room of house), RX in another room KA7OEI based head (doors closed, no light leakage) with 100mm optics.  PC running Spectran positioned to minimise light pollution to RX head.

First test was 10wpm CW off the tree (0.3km path length total) with strong signals received 35dB S/N in 5.4Hz bandwidth. Signal v.clear in the earpiece too. I could just make out the red light glow in the distant tree branches. Aiming critical.

Weak QRSS60 signal received by aiming at clear sky
Second test: TX and RX elevated to aim at roughly same patch of clear sky. QRSS60 signal sent from TX. Signals detectable in Spectran in 0.17Hz bandwidth, weakly, but definitely there. It is less clear on the capture than on the real screen. For this second test I made no great attempt to optimise the RX aim,
just aimed at what I thought was roughly the same patch of sky. Now I can't be sure whether the signal is purely from scattering off mist/dust particles or what, but I think it is unlikely signals are coming off other objects as I am aiming quite high into the sky (about 45 degrees up) clearing nearby stuff.

These tests suggest that with very slow QRSS I may be able to get a non line-of-sight optical signal to G6ALB in the next village 3km away. When the weather improves I'll go out /P with the PC and RX and see if I can detect the "forward" scattered optical baseband signal at much greater range (1-3km). With proper cloudbounce it should be better I think.

This reference looks like it should be interesting (about scattering) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayleigh_scattering

A 472-479kHz band?

Latest reports from the WRC2012 conference suggest the possibility of a secondary amateur allocation between 472-479kHz look "promising" although this hinges on a crucial meeting on Tuesday Feb 7th. Some countries remain against an amateur allocation, but the majority do support one, with caveats. A 7kHz wide worldwide allocation would be a good outcome, so keep fingers crossed for a few more days.

4 Feb 2012

QRP and S Points

This very useful little diagram was posted on Wim PC4T's blog today showing how little effect going QRP usually has on operating effectiveness. Going from 100W to 500mW is just 4 S-points, so if your signal is strong you'd still be a decent signal. Of course, when conditions are marginal 100W may be helpful, but QRP is so much more fun.

Optical receiver noise floor measurements

A PC with some simple free software makes a very useful piece of test gear.

For example, today I wanted to check the noise floor of my optical receiver head between 0-20kHz in total darkness and in daylight and compare this with the noisefloor of the PC with the head turned off. SM6LKM's excellent little software receiver designed to listen to SAQ's transmissions on 17.2kHz was ideal. This tunes from 0-22kHz. Here are the results (see plots) which show noise goes up by about 5dB in the daylight, although noise at 0-2kHz seems to go down in sunlight. By connecting the optical receiver head to the PC I was able to use this little package to see the noise floor changes.  G4JNT thinks the FET is possibly being biassed to a less optimum position, or it is saturating, in daylight. By changing the bias I may be able to get a lower noisefloor and better sensitivity. That I shall try tomorrow.

481THz update: 1.6km test

Today I did my first test beyond the end of my street and in daylight.  I set up my 1.082kHz subcarrier CW beacon and 100mm optics pointing out through my double glazed bedroom window and aimed it at a local feature called the Devil's Dyke which is 1.6km (1mile) exactly from home. This is the furtherest line-of-sight (LOS) path I have from home.

Then I went up to the Devil's Dyke and started looking with my handheld 100mm optics receiver. Much to my joy and surprise I heard the beacon before I spotted it by eye. The beacon could be copied over a stretch about 50m along the path. S/N I'd guess at around 20dB (by ear) in speech bandwidth in daylight. Next time I'll take the laptop and measure S/N with Spectran.  1.6km is my best distance so far. I'm using a BPW34 detector with some reverse bias with the PIN diode's anode connected directly to the FET gate in a KA7OEI optical head. This feeds into a feedback biased common emitter stage into a crystal earpiece. Recovered audio was a bit low in the wind.

Some progress in the right direction.

2 Feb 2012

More Sixboxes and Fredboxes

Joe Milbourn has a nice photo of his version of my Sixbox QRP 6m AM transceiver. It looks he's made some changes including the addition of a beefier audio stage on receive, perhaps to drive a loudspeaker.  It also looks like he has added a mic pre-amp. Click the link for Joe's original size image. Incidentally, there are some great photos on Joe's picture site.

Then I noticed a version of my 2m AM Fredbox on a Romanian website. See http://www.garajuluimike.ro/electrice/emitator-receptor-144mhz.htm . This version also uses an LM386 audio amp to drive a loudspeaker.

Latest Solar Data

Jan Alvastad's excellent page on solar data shows that for the last couple of months the trend in solar activity is downwards, not upwards. Now it is not uncommon for solar cycles to show more than one peak, with the second being greater than the first, but I hope that was not "it" and that we are now sliding down to the next minimum already! The image below is on Jan's site and I hope he does not mind me linking it here.

More on the German "Chirpy"

Today I got this email from Martin about his build of Chirpy:
Hi Roger,
Somehow the text of my email got lost when I send it from my phone. I like your blog very much, especially your homebrew projects. Yesterday I took the time to get the chirpy from the breadboard into a nic enclosure. I have plenty of this tins since my xyl likes to eat some paste that comes in them. My rebuild of chirpy puts out 210 mW and has a lot of chirp. Perhaps we can have a chirpy qso when the band is open.
Thank you very much for the design and your nice blog.
73 de Martin, DL8MAR

Slight progress towards a new 500kHz band

The latest reports from WRC2012 about a possible new allocation just below 500kHz sound slightly more hopeful than a few days ago with China and Russia softening their positions, but unfortunately the Arab group seems dead set against an allocation at all.  We'll have to wait until Working Group 4C (next level up) discusses it.  In the meantime let's keep our fingers crossed.

1 Feb 2012

VLF Talk - Cambridge Club Feb 10th

On Feb 10th I have been invited to talk to the Cambridge and District Amateur Radio Club on VLF through the ground although I intend to widen the scope to include all aspects of amateur radio communications experiments below 9kHz. In the last year or so this aspect of our hobby has come on leaps and bounds and what was once thought of as impossible being achieved. Surprisingly, this is a very accessible part of the spectrum in which to experiment. If you want to come along and are not a CDARC member I am sure you'd be made welcome by club members.

Another 10m Chirpy

Martin Spreemann (callsign not known) in Berlin has sent me a picture of his version of Chirpy, the minimal component transceiver for 28MHz CW. I wonder what results people who have made this (rather chirpy) transceiver have obtained? Please let me know if you have built and used one. Remember the design uses a fundamental crystal for 28MHz, not a 3rd overtone. The design should work equally well on 24MHz (slightly less chirp too) and 21MHz, although I suspect broadcast breakthough will start to become more of an issue.