Where are Those New Hams Coming From?

The Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association just completed another successful Technician license class resulting in 21 new Technicians plus one person that passed both the Technician and General exams. We survey the class a week or two later to get their feedback and capture some demographic information. In recent years, our Technician class has consistently filled to capacity, causing us to ask the question “Where are those new hams coming from?”

The key relevant question on the survey is:

I’ve abbreviated the response choices so they read better on the graph. For example, “Comms during disasters/event” actually says “For communications during disasters or other major events” on the survey. These 18 responses represent over half of the students so they are representative of the class. However, it is a small sample size overall, representing just one class at one time at one location in the US. I will add that the survey results from our other classes are very similar.

The two highest responses, both with 67%, are Comms During Disasters/Event and Backcountry Comms. It was no surprise that communications during a disaster would be a prime motivation for getting a ham radio license. Per FCC Part 97, this is one of the stated purposes of the Amateur Radio Service.  Here in Colorado, many people have had the recent experience of wildfires disrupting communications causing them to look for alternatives. In general, the prepper movement is causing people to think in terms of disaster preparedness. Communications in the backcountry includes hikers, climbers, fishermen, dirt bike riders, four-wheel drive enthusiasts and anyone who spends time in the mountains. There are many locations in Colorado that don’t have cellphone coverage, so people are looking for alternative communications. This is likely a regional phenomenon…I don’t think you’d see “backcountry communications” on the short list of amateur radio interest in downtown Chicago.

Radio as a hobby gathers 50% of the responses, followed by 39% interested in learning about radio communications. This says that about half of the students are pursuing ham radio as a hobby. I wonder if this is different that the historical average from 20 years ago? I suspect it used to be higher but I don’t have any data to support that. This would likely be a leading indicator for how many of these new licensees get deeply involved in ham radio activities. I have seen students start out with a narrow focus on emergency preparedness but then discover there’s a lot more to ham radio that they choose to pursue.

What do you think about these results?

73, Bob K0NR

Winter SOTA on Monarch Ridge South

Joyce KØJJW and I were out for a little snowshoe activity near Monarch Pass in the San Isabel National Forest. Initially, we were headed to Old Monarch Pass when we noticed that the snow and weather conditions looked favorable on Monarch Ridge (also called Monarch Crest). Last winter, we tried snowshoeing Monarch Ridge twice, failing both times, once due to blizzard conditions that blew us off the summit.

There was quite a bit of snow on most of the route, so snowshoes were required.

Monarch Ridge South (W0C/SP-058) is the high point and a Summits On The Air (SOTA) summit, so of course it was a great idea to showshoe up there. In August of 2016, we road to the top using the tram. Take a look at that posting for more information on the summit.

For SOTA, Monarch Crest South is a versatile and very accessible peak. The slacker method is to ride the tram up during the summer months. It also can be an easy summer hike. Monarch Pass is at 11,312 feet in elevation and Monarch Crest South rises to 11,898 so the vertical gain is about 600 feet. In winter, it is a reasonable snowshoe trip. However, watch the weather carefully: you might get blown off the summit.

Here’s the view from the summit which did not have much snow on it.

We started from the Monarch Pass parking lot and snowshoed straight up to the summit, roughly following the tram line. This route is simple but steep. Near the top, the ground was bare, so we removed the snowshoes and hiked on bare ground and rocks. I had not really planned for a SOTA activation that day but I did have my Yaesu FT-1DR transceiver and a half-wave antenna for 2 meters. Rather minimal equipment, but sufficient. I did not have cellphone coverage at the parking lot but I did get “one bar” about halfway up the mountain. I used this to post a SOTAwatch alert and send an email notice to hams in the area.

I had minimal radio gear with me, so I made contacts on 2m fm using my HT and a half-wave vertical.

Just like last time, I did have some minor interference on 2m fm from the radio site at the summit, which seemed to peak up right around 146.52 MHz. Lovely. But it did not keep me from making contacts.

As you can see from the photos, it was a gorgeous day. The temperature hung around 35 degrees F with some wind at the summit, so no problem with that. Another great day in the mountains, playing with ham radio.

73, Bob K0NR

DMR Hotspot from SharkRF

Amateur adoption of Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) continues to increase, with a number of new innovations playing out. It was way back in 2012 when I wrote this article about DMR for CQ VHF Magazine: TRBO Hits the Amateur Bands. 

A few years ago, I picked up some used MOTOTRBO gear to use on our local DMR repeater system (MOTOTRBO is Motorola’s version of DMR). Here in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Ham Radio group has been instrumental in establishing a great network of DMR repeaters, a real asset for Colorado radio amateurs. See Rocky Mountain Ham Radio TRBO/DMR Network.  Worldwide, the DMR-MARC organization has created a robust network of MOTOTRBO repeaters in over 60 countries.

A more recent development is the establishment of the BrandMeister Network, which promotes more of a homebrew approach to DMR. This evening, the BrandMeister dashboard shows 634 industrial repeaters (commercial equipment), 263 homebrew repeaters and over 1300 hotspots of various types.  A variety of DMR hotspots are available, including the DV4mini. I’m not going try to list all of the hotspots available as I’m sure I’ll miss something.  The SharkRF openSPOT caught my attention because of this excellent review by John ‘Miklor’ K3NXU. Because of its popularity, the openSPOT is on backorder (price: 182.5 Euro).

This HamRadioConcepts video walks through the setup and basic operation.

I thought the openSPOT would be a good widget to have around the shack. It is a standalone hotspot, so I don’t have to dedicate a computer to it. Also, it is very turnkey…no assembly required…but some configuration to work out. Its user interface is a web page that you access via your local network…nicely done. I got it working in less than one hour and have been fiddling around with it ever since.

Hotspots are a funny item. They have very limited RF range, so their main purpose is to provide local RF access into the network (just like your Wi-Fi hotspot). One role they play is to provide fill-in coverage when no repeater is available. Another role they fill is being a personal device that can be connected to your favorite reflector or talk group.

I should point out that the openSPOT also operates as a D-STAR and Yaesu Fusion (YSF) hotspot. You just change the configuration of the modem and it starts speaking the selected modulation. More surprising is that I was able to use a YSF handheld radio to talk to the openSPOT which routed me to a DMR talkgroup. Yes, a Yaesu YSF radio talking on DMR.

The first thing I noticed when listening to some of the more active talk groups is that it seems like every person getting on the system said “I just got this Tytera MD-380 radio and you are my first DMR contact.” OK, sometimes it was a Connect Systems or Motorola radio but the MD-380 at around $100 is having a big impact. I picked up an MD-380 and while its not quite as nice as my Motorola, I really do like the radio. (Note that there are other low cost DMR radios that have serious technical issues.) There will be other radios on the market…the technology will keep improving and improved models will hit the market. Right now, everyone is wondering who will create a good dualband 2m / 70cm transceiver for DMR.

I see some very strong technology and market trends in play here that are going to impact the ham radio world. First off, DMR is a true industry standard (ETSI),  well designed and documented. Second, we are seeing multiple radio vendors offering competitive, low cost transceivers. Third, there is high quality commercial repeater gear available from land mobile providers such as Motorola and Hytera. But there’s one more thing that really tops this off: the number of ham-built products emerging that are focused on DMR. This is classic ham radio adaptation and innovation that leverages commercial gear for ham radio use.

Stay tuned…this is going to be interesting!

73, Bob K0NR

2017 Mt Herman Winter Activation

On Saturday, we returned to the Most Radio Active Mountain in Colorado, Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063), for a combination VHF contest, SOTA activation and winter hike. Our radio crew consisted of Steve/WGØAT, Caleb/W4XEN, Joyce/KØJJW and me. I’ve worked Steve forty times on various summits and often when he was activating Mount Herman, but this is the first time we did an activation together. What a treat be on the same summit as the Goathiker! Not only that, Peanut goat came along to supervise the entire operation.

Bob K0NR installs the SOTA flag under the supervision of Peanut (photo: wg0at)

My objective for the day was to chalk up another VHF SOTA activation, while also making some Qs in the VHF contest. For most SOTA activations, I just focus on 2 meters. During a VHF contest, I bring more gear to cover the other bands. The main rig for SSB/CW was my FT-817 driving an Arrow II dualband yagi for 2m and 70 cm. For 6m, I used an inverted Vee dipole supported by a crappie pole. I also had two FT-1D handheld radios listening on 146.52 and 446.0 MHz.

I made 21 contacts on 6m, 2m and 70cm, with 7 grids/mults and a Single Operator Portable score of 164. Not that great of a contest score but it was only a few hours of operating. From a SOTA perspective, this is an attractive number of VHF QSOs in a relatively short time.

Surprisingly, even during a VHF contest, most of the contacts were on FM with the usual SSB contest stations rather scarce. It was very handy to be able to use 146.52 MHz for the contest, finding a number of casual contesters on that frequency.

The high point of the day was working Jay W9RM on the other side of the state in DM58 using 2m CW on 144.210 MHz. The distance was about 170 miles on a path that went over or through several mountain ranges. Not too bad for QRP. (Oh, I guess it doesn’t hurt that W9RM has a serious weak-signal VHF station: 2M-5WL yagi at 50 feet.)  This contact demonstrates the advantage of CW and SSB on 2 meters. Most VHF SOTA action is on FM due to the convenience of a 2m FM HT. But FM has poor weak-signal performance so much better range can be achieved with both CW and SSB. When is the last time you made a 170 mile QSO with an FM handheld?

Caleb W4XEN running a pileup on 20m phone

This was the first SOTA activation for Caleb/W4XEN. Judging by the smile on his face, it won’t be his last one either. While I played on VHF, Steve did his usual thing on HF using CW, using a KX3 to drive an end-fed antenna. Caleb did a bit of both HF and VHF, managing to get a nice pile up going on 20m SSB, using a Yaesu FT-450 driving a BuddiStick antenna. Joyce made a few contacts on 2m FM but mostly took pictures and occasionally tossed GORP in my direction.

Bob K0NR and Steve WG0AT on their first ever joint SOTA activation (photo: k0jjw)

On my last winter activation, my iPhone quit in the cold, so I did not want to rely on it for logging this time. I had a clipboard with my paper log on it, also holding the dual-paddle key. The key moved around a bit and my Morse code sending was sloppy.  I don’t work a lot of CW for SOTA but it does come in handy at times, so I’ll be looking at improving my setup.

The 6m inverted Vee worked out OK but it was a little inconvenient to run the coaxial cable to the apex of the antenna. I’ll be looking to swap that antenna out for an end-fed half wave, which is so common on the HF bands for SOTA.

Steve brought along a large umbrella for use as an instant-up wind shelter. That looks like a practical way to block the wind.

Steve WG0AT operating his KX3 under the protection of the innovative hiking umbrella

The weather was not great…we had a few patches of blue sky but it was mostly overcast and cold (probably 25 degrees F). We lasted about 2 hours before the cold started to take its toll, then we scooted on down the mountain.

Peanut goat and Caleb W4XEN. (photo: wg0at)

Thanks to Joyce, Steve and Caleb for a great day playing radio in the mountains.

73, Bob KØNR

2017 North America SOTA Events

Here’s your handy list of North American Summits On The Air (SOTA) activities for 2017, as supplied by Guy N7UN:

Top Five K0NR Blog Posts For 2016

blog graphicAs we approach the end of the year, it is fun to look back to see which blog posts were read the most. It turns out these five blog postings were written in previous years but they are the ones that got the most hits in 2016.

The most read post on k0nr.com was Choose Your 2m Frequency Wisely, an article I wrote that explains the 2m band plan in Colorado. I wrote this one years ago after encountering quite a few folks that did not understand how the band plan is set up. (If you are outside of Colorado, see What Frequency Do I Use on 2 Meters? over on HamRadioSchool.com)  The second most read post concerns the use of amateur gear outside the ham bands: Can I Use My Ham Radio on Public Safety Frequencies? Actually, I have two blog postings that cover the same topic but I’ve linked to the one that is up to date.  This is a hot topic as many people still believe strongly that no ham gear is legal on Part 90 frequencies (read through the comments on that post). This is why I took the time to write about it, attempting to explain it and educate the ham community.

Another perennial favorite is: Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem. There is a really frustrating problem with how the Windows driver works with certain USB interface chips. Many folks who went out and bought low cost Baofeng (and other) radios got totally hosed up by this. Hence, the need for and the popularity of this blog posting.

Next up is my classic article FM/VHF Operating Guide, written many years ago and continually updated over the years. Mobile radio installations are always a bit of an exploration, so I try to share what I learn when doing one. People seem to appreciate this kind of article and often ask followup questions via email. For whatever reason, my 2012 Jeep Wrangler Radio Install post continues to be a popular post on my blog.

Hey, thanks for stopping by k0nr.com. Best of luck to you in the New Year.

73, Bob K0NR

GMRS: The Other UHF Band

I’ve always had a liking for the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). It’s a licensed radio service but does not require a technical exam so it works great for basic personal communications. When our kids were young we made good use of GMRS communications. This was back in the Pre-Cellphone Era, shortly after the dinosaurs left the earth. I still have my GMRS license: KAF1068

mxt100-with-mic
Midland MicroMobile GMRS Transceiver

GMRS uses frequencies in the general vicinity of 462 and 467 MHz. When the FCC created the Family Radio Service, they intermingled the FRS and GMRS channels, creating a real mess. See this page for a good explanation of how FRS and GMRS frequencies are arranged. Many of the low cost walkie-talkie radios sold in stores are combination FRS/GMRS radios.

I recently came across this really sweet little GMRS rig, the Midland MXT-100 Micro Mobile GMRS Radio. This thing is nice and small with an external mag-mount antenna for the roof of the car. It only has 5W of output power, which is not much more than a typical FRS/GMRS handheld radio but the external antenna should help a lot. (I’ve heard there are newer models on the way so stay tuned for that.)

I’ve encountered 4WD / Jeep clubs that use FRS radios for on the trail communications. This Midland radio would be a good upgrade for that kind of use, providing additional radio range. Some of these 4WD enthusiasts have gotten their ham ticket via our Technician license class. Ham radio provides a lot more capability but not everyone in their club is likely to get their ham license. GMRS is a great alternative…the other UHF band. It will work for other outdoor, community and club activities that involve “non radio” people.

FCC recently reduced the cost of the GMRS license to $65 for 5 years. I suspect that most people don’t bother with getting a license…but they should. For more detail on GMRS, see the FCC GMRS Page or for some good bedtime reading see the FCC Part 95 Rules.

73, Bob KØNR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #33

0511-0701-3118-0930Here’s some more good stuff flowing forth from the interwebz.

HamRadioNow has a video of Laura Smith’s (FCC) talk at Pacificon. There’s lots of good info here on FCC enforcement activity. Gary KN4AQ produces some of the most valuable amateur radio video content on the web. How else are you going to see someone from the FCC speak about ham radio?

Sterling/NØSSC and Marty/KC1CWF have started the Phasing Line ham radio podcast, talking ham radio with a younger person’s perspective. They are on episode two…give them a listen. Look for them on the usual podcast feeds, or go here: n0ssc.com

I was interviewed by Eric/4Z1UG on QSO Today. Yeah, probably boring as heck but you’re reading this blog so your standards must not be very high.

The ARRL is cranking up an initiative to encourage collegiate ham radio clubs. Good idea.

DX Engineering visited the new venue (Greene County Fairgrounds) for the Dayton Hamvention. See DX Engineering visits the NEW 2017 Hamvention® venue and the drone video by Greg/W8WW that provides an aerial tour of the fairgrounds. I am looking forward to attending Hamvention next spring, the first time in many years.

Use Phonetics: HamRadioSchool.com republished their classic article on the use of phonetic alphabets. Also, take a look at my Shack Talk article on the same subject.

While reviewing the Technician license exam questions, I noticed that SWR is referred to as “2 to 1” or “1 to 1”. I see this as old school terminology…a ratio can be expressed as a single number: “my SWR is 2.” This triggered some discussion and a KB6NU blog posting.

That’s it for now. Happy interwebzing.

73, Bob K0NR

Technician License Class – Black Forest, CO

Time: Sat Feb 25 and Sat Mar 4 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2017

Location: Black Forest Fire Station 1
(intersection of Burgess Rd. & Teachout Rd., Black Forest, Colorado)
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association

The FCC Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio, and the very best emergency communications capability available!

  • Earn your ham radio Technician class radio privileges
  • Pass your FCC amateur radio license exam right in class on the second day
  • Multiple-choice exam, No Morse Code Required
  • See live equipment demonstrations
  • Learn to operate on the ham bands, 10 Meters and higher
  • Learn to use the many VHF/UHF FM repeaters in Colorado
  • Find out how to participate in emergency communications

For more background on ham radio, see Getting Started in Ham Radio.

Registration fee: $30 adults, $20 under age 18

In addition, students must have the required study guide:

HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course
Second Edition, effective 2014 – 2018, $21.95

Advance registration is required (No later than two weeks before the first session, earlier is better, first-come sign up basis until class is full.)

To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR

Email: bob@k0nr.com  or Phone: 719/659-3727

The Cacophony of Digital Voice Continues (Part 2)

Digital transmissionThis post is a continuation of The Cacophony of Digital Voice Continues (Part 1), so you probably should read that one first.

All of the popular amateur digital voice (DV) systems (D-STAR, DMR and YSF) use the AMBE vocoder (voice codec) technology. This technology was developed by Digital Voice Systems, Inc. and is proprietary technology covered by various patents. The use of proprietary technology on the ham bands causes some folks to get worked up about it, especially proponents of an open source world. See my blog posting: Digital Voice at Pacificon and this presentation by Bruce Parens K6BP: AMBE Exposed. Codec2 is an alternative open voice codec developed by David Rowe, VK5DGR. David is doing some excellent work in this space, which has already produced an open codec that is being used on the ham bands. FreeDV is an umbrella term for this open codec work. Here’s a recent video of a presentation on FreeDV by VK5DGR.

It will be interesting to see if and how Codec2 gets adopted in a DV world already dominated by AMBE. After all, a new codec is another contributor to the digital cacophony. On the HF bands, it is easier to adopt a new mode if it can be implemented via a soundcard interface (which FreeDV can do). Any two hams can load up the right software and start having a QSO. The same is true for weak-signal VHF/UHF via simplex. (Note that Flexradio also supports FreeDV, showing how Software Defined Radio (SDR) has an advantage with adopting new technology.)  VHF/UHF repeaters are trickier because you must have a solution for both the infrastructure (repeaters and networks) as well as the user radios.

The vast majority of digital repeaters support just one digital format. For example, a D-STAR repeater does not usually repeat DMR or YSF transmissions. Interestingly, DMR and YSF repeaters often support analog FM via mixed mode operation for backward compatibility. It is definitely possible to support multiple digital formats in one repeater, but the question is will large numbers of repeater owners/operators choose to do that? With existing DV systems, the networking of repeaters is unique to each format which represents another barrier to interchangeability. In particular, most of the DMR infrastructure in the US is MOTOTRBO, which won’t ever support D-STAR or YSF.

In the case of a new vocoder, we can think of that as just a new format of bits being transported by the existing DV protocol. DMR, for example, does not actually specify a particular vocoder, it’s just that the manufacturers developing DMR equipment have chosen to use AMBE technology. So from a technical viewpoint, it is easy to imagine dropping in a new vocoder into the user radio and having it work with other identical radios. Of course, these radios would be incompatible with the existing installed base. Or would they? Perhaps we’d have a backwards compatibility mode that supports communication with the older radios. This is another example of putting more flexibility into the user radio to compensate for DV incompatibilities.

One objection to AMBE is the cost of the technology, especially when compared to free. When D-STAR radios first started using AMBE codec chips, the chip cost was rumored to be $25 to $50, but I don’t have a solid source on that. Now, I see that Tytera is selling a DMR handheld at around $100, including AMBE technology inside, so the codec can’t be very expensive. If a free codec starts to be a credible threat, it will put additional pricing pressure on the AMBE solution.

A potential advantage of Codec2 is superior performance at very low signal-to-noise ratio. We’ve all experienced the not-too-graceful breakup of existing DV transmissions when signals get weak. Some of the Codec2 implementations have shown significant improvement over AMBE at low signal levels.

Conclusions

Repeating a key conclusion from Part 1:

  • For the foreseeable future, we will have D-STAR, DMR and YSF technologies being used in amateur radio. I don’t see one of them dominating or any of them disappearing any time soon.

Adding in these conclusions for Part 2:

  • Codec2 will struggle to displace the proprietary AMBE vocoder, which is well-established and works. The open source folks will promote codec2 but it will take more than that to get it into widespread use. Perhaps superior performance at low signal levels will make the difference.
  • Repeater owner/operators will continue to deploy single-DV-format repeaters. This will make multiformat radios such as the DV4mobile be very attractive. In other words, we will deal with the digital cacophony by having more flexible user radios. This will come at a higher price initially but should drop over time.

Repeating this one from Part 1:

  • A wild card here is DMR. It benefits from being a commercial land mobile standard, so high quality infrastructure equipment is available (both new and used gear). And DMR is being embraced by both land mobile providers (i.e., Motorola, Hytera) and suppliers of low cost radios (i.e., Tytera, Connect Systems). This combination may prove to be very powerful.

Well, those are my thoughts on the topic. I wish the DV world was less fragmented but I don’t see that changing any time soon. What do you think is going to happen?

73, Bob KØNR

SOTA Activation: Ormes Peak (W0C/FR-052)

I’ve been thinking about activating Ormes Peak (W0C/FR-052) for a while now. It is not too difficult to get to and is not a difficult climb. After the Waldo Canyon fire (2012), the area was closed for several years, so I needed to be patient. Then I noticed that Don KØDRJ put an alert on SOTAwatch indicating that he was going to activate the summit, so I gave a listen on 146.52 MHz. Sure enough, around mid-morning I heard Don on the frequency and worked him without any problem from my home location.

Then I got to thinking. Joyce KØJJW and I had talked about going for a walk this afternoon, so I did a little checking on Ormes Peak and concluded that it was an option. My fractured ankle is still on the mend so I am not back to 100% of my hiking ability. Ormes seemed like a good next step that would keep me progressing.

bob-k0nr-ormes-peakWe hopped in the Jeep and headed to Rampart Range. To get to Ormes Peak, take USFS road 300 from the north (which is what we did, via Mount Herman Road) or from the south via Garden of the Gods. You’ll want to have a Pike National Forest map for this trip.

ormes-peak-mapTurn East onto USFS road 303 and then follow USFS 302 (these roads are easy 4WD, probably OK for high clearance 2WD). These roads go through the Waldo burn area so you see what a burned forest looks like. Ormes Peak was not directly affected by the fire but we did see a few burned trees on the mountain. According to the Summit Post info, the best approach is from the south but we continued on around to the east and parked at the marked parking area here: 38.948680 deg N, 104.929677 deg W. From there, we bushwacked westward up the side of the hill without too much trouble (about half a mile and 600 feet vertical).

Once on top, I started calling on 146.52 MHz using the FT-1D handheld transceiver. I assembled my 2m yagi antenna hoping to work Brad WA6MM headed up Mt Antero but I found out later he did not summit. We had excellent visibility in all directions: great view of Pikes Peak to the south, Mt Yale and a sliver of Mt Princeton to the west and Mt Evans to the northwest. This really is a great spot to just sit and enjoy the view.

After making 7 contacts on 2m fm, we packed up the gear and headed down the mountain. Ormes Peak is a good “close in” summit accessible from Colorado Springs area.

73, Bob KØNR

The Cacophony of Digital Voice Continues (Part 1)

Digital transmission

It wasn’t that long ago that I commented on the state of digital voice on the VHF/UHF ham bands: Digital Voice Balkanization. We have three main competing (incompatible) standards in the running: D-STAR, DMR and Yaesu System Fusion (YSF). At a high level, these three formats all do the same thing but there are significant differences in implementation (See Comparison of Amateur Radio DV by Roland Kraatz W9HPX.) All three of these are (arguably) open standards, allowing anyone to implement equipment that supports the standard. However, the reality is that D-STAR is still largely an ICOM system (with Kenwood joining the party), YSF is mostly a Yaesu system and DMR is…well, DMR is not deeply embraced by any large amateur radio equipment supplier. Instead, DMR is promoted heavily by Motorola for the commercial market via their MOTOTRBO product line. Another big factor is the availability of DMR radios from some of the low cost providers in the ham market: Connect Systems, Tytera MD-380. Baofeng has also announced a DMR radio but it has some potential shortcomings.

D-STAR has a clear head start versus the other DV standards and is well-entrenched across the US and around the world. DMR and YSF are the late comers that are quickly catching up. To put some numbers on the adoption of DV technology, I took at the digital repeater listings in the August issue of the SERA Repeater Journal. SERA is the coordinating body for Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. This is a large region that includes rural and large urban areas, so perhaps it is a good proxy for the rest of the country. I just considered the listings for D-STAR, DMR and YSF repeaters, some of which are set up as mixed-mode analog and digital repeaters.

D-STAR   161    39%
DMR      136    33%
YSF      121    29%
Total:   418   100%
SERA Repeater Journal - August 2016

I was definitely surprised at how the DMR and YSF numbers are in the ballpark with D-STAR. Of course, we don’t know for sure how many of these repeaters are actually on the air or how many users are active on each one. Still, pretty impressive numbers. (And I did not bother to count the analog FM repeaters but those numbers are way higher, of course.)

It is the repeater clubs and repeater owners that drive the deployment of infrastructure for new technology. To some extent, they are driven by what their users want but also by their own technical interests and biases. One of the positive factors for DMR is that most of these systems are Motorola MOTOTRBO. Hams involved in commercial land mobile radio are exposed to that technology and naturally port it into the amateur radio world. MOTOTRBO is actually not that expensive and it’s built for commercial use. YSF received a big boost when Yaesu offered their repeater for $500 to clubs and owners that would put them on the air. By using Yaesu’s mixed analog/digital mode, it was an easy and attractive upgrade for aging repeater equipment.

Disruption From New Players

Early on in the world of D-STAR, the DV Dongle and DV Access Point by Robin AA4RC allowed hams to access the D-STAR network without needing a local repeater. This basic idea has continued and evolved in several different directions. For example, the DV4Mini is a cute little USB stick that implements a hot spot for…wait for it…D-STAR, DMR and YSF. This is very affordable technology (darn right cheap) that lets any ham develop his or her own local infrastructure. We don’t need no stinkin’ repeater. DV MEGA is another hot spot, supporting D-STAR, DMR and YSF. Oh, and then there’s openSPOT…don’t want to leave them out. I guess somebody forgot to tell these guys they have to choose one format and religiously support only that one.

dv4-mobile-transceiver
DV4 Mobile Transceiver as shown in Dayton 2016

OK, so that’s one way to solve the babel fish problem…support all three formats in one device. And that’s what the DV4 mobile radio promises to do as well: “This DV4mobile is a tri-band VHF/UHF transceiver (2m, 1.25m and 70cm) that supports DMR, D-STAR and C4FM ( or “fusion”) all in one box.” Heck, let’s throw in LTE while we are at it, it’s only software. This site says the radio will be available Q4 2016. Well, it’s Q4, so maybe it will be here soon.

Conclusions

So let’s wrap up Part 1 of this story. What can we conclude?

  • For the foreseeable future, we will have D-STAR, DMR and YSF technologies being used in amateur radio. I don’t see one of them dominating or any of them disappearing any time soon.
  • Equipment that handles all three of those DV modes will be highly desirable. It is the most obvious way to deal with the multiple formats. Software-defined radios will play a key role here.
  • A wild card here is DMR. It benefits from being a commercial land mobile standard, so high quality infrastructure equipment is available (both new and used gear). And DMR is being embraced by both land mobile providers (i.e., Motorola, Hytera) and suppliers of low cost radios (i.e., Tytera, Connect Systems). This combination may prove to be very powerful.

SOTA Activation: Bald Mountain (W0C/SP-115)

On Saturday, I activated Bald Mountain (W0C/SP-115) for Summits On The Air. It was an awesome fall day here in the Rockies, so Joyce KØJJW and I were ready for some outdoor fun. When you say you are going to the summit of Bald Mountain, the usual response is “which Bald Mountain?” Fortunately, for SOTA purposes we can use the designator (W0C/SP-115) to drive out the ambiguity. Else, you have to deal with the fact there are 32 summits in Colorado known as Bald Mountain. And I am sure there are many more in other states.

SP-115 is a drive-up summit if you have a reasonable 4WD vehicle. For us, this meant taking the Jeep Wrangler to the top. (I am still recovering from a fractured ankle and just starting to hike a bit, so a drive-up opportunity sounded good to me.) Many maps do not show the road up Bald Mountain, so I included a portion of the latitude40smap.com map for the area (below). These recreational maps are excellent quality so I recommend you get one for exploring the area.

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Salida – Buena Vista Map latitude40maps.com

To get to this Bald Mountain, take Highway 285 south from Buena Vista, exit at Fisherman’s Bridge, then head towards FS road 300. (Refer to the San Isabel National Forest or Latitude 40 map for details.) We followed FS 300 east which is easy 4WD.  About 2 miles in, we took FS 300B (marked) to the north which winds its way up Bald Mountain.

At 0.6 miles from the intersection of 300 and 300B, an unmarked 4WD road leads off to the left and proceeds around the west side of the mountain. Taking this route provides a much easier path than the main route leading to the east side of the mountain. (We had taken the main route on our previous activation.) The preferred road does one big switchback out to the west and then returns east to the summit. This road is easy 4WD but is a bit narrow so a full size SUV or truck may have trouble. Of course, you can always hike to the summit…most likely just following the road.

bald-mountain I got out my trusty Arrow 2m yagi antenna, connected it to the Yaesu FT-1D and started calling on 146.52 MHz. It took a while to get my four contacts but I kept at it. Actually, I worked five stations on 2m fm: KEØDMT, KDØMRC, K5UK, KAØABV and NØVXE. Thanks for the contacts! I was hoping to work WGØAT who was on the summit of Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063), but I was unable to copy him.

The summit has awesome views of the Collegiate Peaks to the west and it’s worth the trip just for the view. Mount Princeton with some light snow on it is shown just left of center in the photograph.

73, Bob KØNR

Rehab for the KØNR Repeater

My UHF repeater has been operating on 447.725 MHz here in Monument for a couple of decades now. It started out as a classic “pet repeater” project and has been operating from my basement all this time. Over time it has picked up additional users and has turned into the de facto hangout for our local radio club.

The repeater system has gone through a number of revisions over the years, including the RF transmitter and receiver. I wanted to retire the pair of Motorola Mitrek mobile radios I have been using when they started to exhibit a few lose connections. Really though, I thought it was time for some synthesized, modern RF gear in a compact package.

k0nr-repeater3When Yaesu offered an attractive price on their DR-1X Fusion repeater, I jumped at the chance. Initially, I put it on the air in mixed analog-digital mode with the repeater automatically switching modes to handle either analog FM or C4FM digital. I used the internal controller of the DR-1X which is quite simple and has limited functionality. (The SCOM 7K controller got put on the shelf for a while.) The DR-1X supports using an external controller but implementing the mixed analog-digital mode is…well…challenging. (Various people have figured out ways to do it with modifications to the DR-1X or using additional hardware.)  After 10 months of operation, I decided to reinstall the full-featured SCOM 7K controller, enabling quite a few features including a 2m remote base, synthesized speech, automatic scheduling and weather alerts. This does mean giving up the C4FM mode but usage was minimal anyway.

The SCOM 7K repeater controller has been in service for decades, handling multiple receivers and transmitters, very configurable with programmable macros. SCOM has long since moved on to a newer, improved model but my 7K just keeps on ticking. The 7K has the voice synthesis and autopatch options installed, so, yes the repeater has an autopatch (not that anyone cares). A Yaesu FT-7800R is used as a 2m remote base and the duplexer is a classic Decibel Products. Not shown in the photo is a Bearcat WX100 weather receiver that is used to transmit weather information when an alert occurs in our area.

I’ve documented the wiring diagram and configuration used here: k0nr-repeater-construction-notes

This was a good opportunity to clean up some of the cabling and physical mounting that had degraded over time. (A kluge here, a kluge there and entropy takes over.) I am happy with the result.

73, Bob K0NR

Introducing The Android HT

rfinder-h1c-k0nr-edit
Photo: androiddmr.com

Some exciting news wandered into my inbox this past week concerning a handheld radio driven by the Android operating system. The RFinder H1 is an FM plus DMR radio to be released at the end of this month. Click to enlarge the photo to the left to get a better view. I had proposed a similar concept back in 2012: The Android HT, so this radio immediately grabbed my attention.

Details are still a bit thin on the RFinder H1 (pronounced “Ar Finder H 1”) but this video gives you a glimpse of its operation. The 70cm band radio apparently also supports GSM and 4G/LTE mobile phone formats.


There are a few other YouTube videos available, one of which emphasizes the easy programming of the radio using the RFinder online repeater directory. This makes perfect sense and is a great example of the power of a connected device. This feature would be very handy for programming up FM repeaters on the fly and outstanding for dealing with the complexity of DMR settings.

The RFinder H1 includes DMR capability, something I wasn’t thinking of back in 2012. That also makes perfect sense…embracing the growing amateur radio format that is based on industry standards.

Very cool development. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

NPOTA: Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain

arrl_npTo celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, the ARRL is sponsoring National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) during 2016. Joyce KØJJW and I happened to have a trip planned to visit several of the National Parks, so it was great opportunity to take along some radio gear and operate portable from the parks.

teton-mountains
Grand Teton National Park

First stop was the Grand Teton National Park (NP23) in Wyoming. I operated from Signal Mountain, which is also a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak. See my previous blog posting: SOTA plus NPOTA on Signal Mountain.

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Two of the 3700 buffalo that inhabit Yellowstone NP

We continued on to Yellowstone NP (NP57), where we saw lots of wildlife: buffalo, elk, deer, bear and antelope. (Click on any of the photos to get a larger image.)

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NPOTA station operating in Yellowstone NP.

As described in the Signal Mountain post, my portable station was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed halfwave antenna on 20m. I used a SOTABEAMS pole to support the antenna, lashing the pole to whatever posts I found available. It was not too difficult to find a suitable parking spot close to mounting post. I was prepared to operate on other bands but 20m seemed to be the best choice based on current band conditions. I made 48 contacts on 20m ssb in about 30 minutes.

As we headed back home to Colorado, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park (NP48). We entered the park from the west side and crossed over to the east entrance via Trail Ridge Road. Love that drive! But first we stopped on the west side to do another NPOTA activation. Again, 20m phone was the operating mode and I made 33 contacts with stations across the US and Canada.

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Rocky Mountain NP elk.

We took our time leaving the park around dusk so that we could spot some elk. The strategy paid off as we saw more than 20 elk in various locations.

Our top priority was enjoying the parks and viewing wildlife so we did not spend a huge amount of time doing NPOTA activations. Still, we activated three of our favorite National Parks, making 121 QSOs. We also worked in two SOTA activations on the trip as a bonus. All in all, it was a great trip with some fun ham radio activity included.

The SOTA and NPOTA logs have all been submitted (SOTA database and Logbook of The World, respectively.)

73, Bob K0NR

SOTA plus NPOTA on Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161)

Signal Mountain (W7Y/TT-161) is now my favorite spot in the Grand Teton National Park. The summit is well-marked on the Grand Teton NP map, on the east side of Jackson Lake. It has a paved road to the top and it provides excellent views of Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountains. Oh, and it’s a great location for ham radio.

On this summit, I did a combination Summits On The Air (SOTA) and National Parks On the Air (NPOTA) activation. Well, sort of. It turns out that when I packed for the trip, I included my usual SOTA gear, which is all VHF. For NPOTA, I loaded up my HF DXpedition gear that needs a pretty hefty power source. These means that the HF stuff uses my car battery, so it is not SOTA-compliant. Oh well.

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Bob K0NR works stations on 2m fm for a SOTA activation.

For the SOTA activation, I used the Yaesu FT-1DR and my 3-element Arrow yagi antenna to work a handful of stations on 146.52 MHz. I was a little concerned about finding enough stations listening on 52, but once again a little bit of patience payed off and I made my four QSOs.

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Bob K0NR using the “back of the SUV” operating position. The 20m end-fed half-wave antenna is supported by a SOTABEAMS pole.

Then I set up the NPOTA station to activate Grand Teton National Park (NP23). My equipment was a Yaesu FT-991 driving an end-fed half-wave for 20m from LNR Precision. I’ve tried a number of different portable antennas over the years but have found that a half-wave radiator up in the air is a pretty effective antenna. This could be a center-fed dipole antenna but that can be a challenge to support, depending on the physical location.

The end-fed half-waves (EFHW) from LNR Precision are easily supported using a non-conductive pole such as the 10m SOTABEAMS pole. The top two sections of the pole are too thin to support much of antenna, so I have removed them. This makes my pole about 9 meters in length which is still long enough to support a 20m halfwave.  (The antenna angles out a bit as shown in the photo but its pretty much vertical.) I attached the pole to a fence post using some hook/loop straps. I don’t fiddle with the length of the antenna, I just let the antenna tuner in the FT-991 trim up the match. This is the same configuration I used in Antigua (V29RW), where it worked great.

The FT-991 is a great little radio for this kind of operation. The SUV we were driving is not set up for HF operation so I just located the radio in the back of the vehicle and plopped down on a folding camp chair. For power, I clipped directly onto the vehicle battery with fused 10 gauge wires.

I started by making a few calls on 20m ssb. As soon as I was “spotted” on the usual web sites, I had a good pileup going. I worked 40 stations in about 40 minutes, so averaged one QSO per minute overall. Thanks to everyone that worked me; all contacts have been uploaded to Logbook of The World.

Oh, and it was a lot of fun.

73, Bob K0NR

Slacker SOTA Activation in the Tetons (W7Y/TT-061)

The Grand Teton National Park has plenty of mountains for Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, so I wanted to activate a few of them as we enjoyed the park. I am still recovering from a fractured ankle, so I was definitely looking for an easy-peasy summit to activate on our trip. It turns out there is a summit right at the top of the Jackson Hole Arial Tram that operates during the summer months (W7Y/TT-061). (This tram serves the ski area during the winter.)

The SOTA database shows this summit as unnamed and refers to it by elevation, 10450. The locals may refer to this as Rendezvous Mountain, not to be confused with Rendezvous Peak (W7Y/TT-035). For SOTA purposes its just “10450”.

The bottom of the Arial Tram is accessed in Teton Village and is easy to find. However, don’t confuse the it with Bridger Gondola, which goes to another peak.

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Joyce K0JJW at the top of the tram. Yes, that’s snow on the ground.

Well, this sounds pretty awesome…ride the tram to the top and play ham radio. Now the bad news: the ticket for the tram is $42. It’s an all day pass that gives you access to other lifts and plenty of hiking trails but still it is expensive. OK, slightly better news: if you purchase online you can get the pass for $32. There are senior and other pricing options, so check out the web site for the latest info.

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This map shows trails available for hiking from the tram and lifts. Click on this photo to see the detail.

The September weather was overcast and cold at the summit. I opted for a simple VHF activation using my Yaesu FT-1DR and a half-wave vertical antenna. I had my 3-element 2m yagi with me but I didn’t deploy it. I figured that my ability to contact folks on 2m fm would be limited more by who happens to be monitoring…signal strength would not be a major factor.

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K0NR using the innovative “sit on the ground” operating position. Note the Official SOTA hat.

It was cold at the top and I was glad that I packed my gloves, hat and a decent jacket. I made five contacts by calling on 146.52 MHz. Corbet’s Cabin at the top of the tram offers basic food and drinks and warm place to sit.

The tram ride was quite enjoyable with good views of the Jackson Hole area. However, this may go down in history as my most expensive SOTA activation.

73, Bob K0NR

General License Class (Black Forest, CO)

ft-991Ham Radio General License
Two-day Class

Black Forest, Colorado
Two class sessions on Sat Sept 24 and Sat Oct 1 (8 AM to 5 PM) FCC Exam session on Oct 8th
Location: Black Forest Fire Station
Intersection of Burgess Rd. & Teachout Rd.

The General License provides access to regional and worldwide communications on the HF bands via ionospheric skip, greatly expanding operational capabilities!

  • Upgrade from Technician to General Class radio privileges
  • Pass your FCC General Class amateur license exam Oct 8 *
  • Live equipment demonstrations and activities
  • Learn to operate on the HF bands, 10 Meters to 160 Meters
  • Gain a deeper understanding of radio electronics and theory
  • Take the next step with antennas, amplifiers, digital modes

Registration fee: $30
(No FCC exam fee required at Oct 8 exam session)

InGeneral Book addition, students must have the required study guide:

HamRadioSchool.com General License Course
Second Edition, effective 2015 – 2019, $22.95

Current FCC Technician License required for registration. Advanced registration is required by Sept 10th or earlier. First-come registration acceptance until class is full.

To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR

Email: bob@k0nr.com  or Phone: 719/659-3727

Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Radio Association.

Don’t Pound My Octothorpe

pound-sign-hashtag-numberIf you want to spark a conversation at your next social event, ask everyone the proper name for this symbol: #. Most North Americans will probably say pound sign or perhaps number sign. It helps to have an international audience, since a person from the UK will likely call it the hash symbol. Lately, the world of Twitter (and other social media) has made extensive use of # to tag keywords, referring to it as the hash mark used to create hashtags. A musician might claim that it is the sharp symbol from musical notation but closer examination reveals that the sharp symbol is quite different.

The AT&T engineers working on the original DTMF system adopted the name Octothorpe for this symbol. There are various explanations and anecdotes that have developed over the years concerning how this happened. Various forms of spelling show up in the literature (octatherp, octothorp, etc.). Doug Kerr’s story is particularly interesting and available on the internet (see below). There are US Patents that use the word “octothorp” to refer to the # symbol. Patent number 3920926 uses “octothorp” for # and “sextile or asterisk” for the * symbol. The term sextile never caught on at all.

For amateur radio usage (North America bias), I hear mostly pound for # and star for *. I suspect that will not change any time soon.

– Bob K0NR

Wikipedia entry for the number sign (#):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_sign

The Symbol on the “Pound” or “Number” Key (#) is Also Called an Octothorpe

The ASCII Character “Octatherp”, by Doug Kerr