As reported here in this blog, the Lost Island DX Society has been missing in action for over a year. Various rumors propagated around the internet and amateur radio community concerning what happened to these LIDS. Recently, the Fi-Ni Report came to life and reported that the LIDS are actively planning (or at least discussing) working the CQ Worldwide DX Contest. Of course, this is the SSB version of the contest.
No explanation has been given for the year long absence of the LIDS and the Fi-Ni Report.
73, Bob K0NR
Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Pacificon amateur radio convention in Santa Clara, something I have been trying to do for several years now. It is a great event, with good technical programs and a super venue.
The most interesting presentation I saw was the one on digital voice (DV) technology by Bruce Perens K6BP. The presentation was mostly about the digital voice known as FreeDV, an open source approach to DV that uses the Codec 2 voice codec for digitally processing/compressing speech.
I won’t cover all of the technical details here but you can follow the links above to go deeper on the topic. The initial FreeDV efforts are focused on the HF bands, using the sound card plus computer approach to implementing DV. This is a good approach since it is a relatively easy way to adopt this technology. (Compare this to VHF/UHF where you need to solve the repeater infrastructure problem to make progress.) FreeDV operates with a bandwidth of 1.25 kHz, narrower that the standard 3 kHz or so SSB signal. FreeDV also has the benefit of degrading gracefully as the signal-to-noise ratio is decreased, with less of a digital dropoff that we see with D-STAR and other DV technologies.
Like many hams, Bruce pointed out the concerns and limitations of the proprietary AMBE chip used in D-STAR, DMR and now the new Yaesu DV system. I totally get this point and support the idea of a an open source codec. On the other hand, this work is coming more than a decade later than the creation of D-STAR. I like to refer to this phenomenon as “our ideas are better than their products.”
Bruce introduced Chris Testa KB2BMH to talk about the “HT of the Future”. This is a handheld transceiver implemented using Software Defined Radio (SDR) and inspirations from the world of smartphones. As Bruce said, “Why isn’t your HT as smart as your smart phone?” This is similar to the Android HT idea that I blogged about a while back. See Chris’s blog and this HamRadioNow video for more information.
Another presentation that I attended was about D-STAR with several speakers, including Robin AA4RC. The innovation continues to happen in the D-STAR world with a strong theme of using Raspberry Pi computers to create D-STAR hotspots and repeaters. Robin described the “DV Pi” being developed…a DVAP-like daughter board that plugs into a Raspberry Pi. Jim Moen K6JM talked about the many ways you can implement a D-STAR Hotspot. For more info on that see his D-STAR Hotspot page.
There’s much innovation happening in the area of Digital Voice. It got me thinking about it again so I dug out my ICOM D-STAR HT and put my DVAP back on the air.
73, Bob K0NR
Whenever you get a bunch of guys together to build, fix or mess with something, duct tape seems to be a universal tool. Sometimes though, one of The Guys chimes in with the comment about “well, duct tape is OK but gaffer tape is much better.” See the Wikipedia entry for Gaffer Tape.
Well, I finally listened to those guys and bought some gaffer tape on Amazon.com. I used this at a recent ham radio event to secure cables, support various masts and lash things together. You know, basic duct tape stuff.
I have to admit that this gaffer tape is really, really good. It is more cloth and less vinyl than duct tape and the adhesive does not leave a residue. Yes, it is more expensive than duct tape. Funny, how that always seems to be the case for higher quality products.
- 73, Bob K0NR
Today, Joyce K0JJW and I decided to hike Midland Hill (W0/SP-117) near Buena Vista, CO (otherwise known as “BV”) and do a SOTA activation on VHF. I call this a “classic SOTA hike” because it is a real hike that requires some exertion, a well-maintained trail to the summit and some great views at the top. By my GPS, it was 2.4 miles one way, with 1600 feet elevation gain.
This hike starts at the trailhead on the east side of BV, where a footbridge crosses the Arkansas River. The SummitPost trail description is very helpful, so be sure to check it out. I checked quite a few topo maps of the area and most of them do not show the trails accurately. I found them more confusing that helpful. I’ve included my GPS track on the map below.
We started at the trailhead, immediately crossing the footbridge to the east side of the river. Then we followed the Midland Bike Trail which parallels the river. Very soon after the bridge, there is a trail leading off to the left (east) uphill that is tempting but we stayed on the main trail that parallels the river. At about 0.5 miles in, we crossed County Road 304 (38.843508 deg N, 106.112297 deg W) onto the clearly marked 6032 trail, which goes up to Midland Hill. Just follow the trail and do not turn onto 6032A trail as it goes off to the left.
If you are pressed for time, you can start the hike where 6032 intersects CR 304, but that only saves 0.5 miles. You’ll miss the bridge and great views of the Arkansas River.
Once we reached the summit, I set up on 146.52 MHz using my VX-8G connected to the 2M Arrow Yagi. Joyce stayed back outside of the activation zone, so I worked her as soon as I made the summit. Then Walt WZ0N came up on frequency and gave me a second contact. I contacted a couple of mobile stations: Ryan KD7OHA on Highway 50 near Texas Creek and Bud NP2CT on Highway 285. Other contacts where with some of the local hams: N0OFQ near Nathrop, Jerry N0VXE and Skip W9GYA near Salida. Not bad for a Monday afternoon in the mountains. Thanks, guys, for the contacts!
Lately, some of the SOTA hikes I’ve done have involved bushwacking up the side of a steep hill to get to the summit. It was great to have a real trail this time. The 1600 vertical feet did get me huffing and puffing but that’s part of the experience. I highly recommend this summit!
73, Bob K0NR
Perhaps this should be called The Slacker’s Guide to Activating Pikes Peak since I am going to describe the easy way to do a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation on America’s Mountain. If you plan to hike up, you have my complete support but this post is not meant for you.
Pikes Peak (W0/FR-004) is about 10 miles straight west of downtown Colorado Springs. See the Pikes Peak web site for useful tourist information. At an elevation of 14,115 feet, the mountain towers over Colorado Springs and the other front range cities. (You may see the elevation listed as 14,110 but it was revised upward in 2002 by the USGS.) This means that is has an excellent radio horizon to large populated areas. On VHF, it is common to work stations in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico. See VHF Distance From Pikes Peak and Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels. On HF, you’ll do even better.
Access to the summit has three options: hike up, drive up via the Pikes Peak Highway or ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Most people will probably choose the highway since the cog rail only gives you 30 to 40 minutes on the summit. (Normally, you return on the same train that takes you to the top. You can try to schedule two one-way trips but that is a challenge.)
The highway is at a well-marked exit off Highway 24, west of Colorado Springs. There is a “toll” to use the highway (~$12 per person, check the Pikes Peak Highway web site for the latest information and a $2 discount coupon.) The road is now paved all of the way to the top and is usually in good shape. The only caution on driving up is that some people get freaked out by sections of the road that have steep drop-offs without guard rails. It is very safe but I know some folks just can’t handle it. The main caution driving down is to use low gear and stay off your brakes. There are plenty of signs reminding you to do this and during the summer there is a brake check station at Glen Cove where the rangers check the temperature of your brakes.
It takes about an hour to drive to the summit, assuming you don’t dawdle. It is best to drive up during the morning and avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. Once you get to the summit, you’ll find a large circular parking area, the summit house and a few other buildings. To do a qualifying hike, I suggest you proceed down Barr Trail which is the main hiking trail coming up from the east side of the peak. Do not try to walk along the road, as the rangers will stop you. The trail starts on the east side of the summit house (towards Colorado Springs) and is marked with a sign. You have to cross over the cog rail tracks to get to it. (Please try to avoid getting run over by the train as it scares the tourists and makes a mess.)
The summit of Pikes is broad, flat and rocky, so pick out a spot away from the buildings for your SOTA adventure. There are quite a few radio transmitters on the peak so expect some interference. Since this is way above treeline, your antennas will have to be self supporting. For VHF, giving a call on 146.52 MHz FM will usually get you a few contacts and sometimes a bit of a pileup. Be aware that on top of Pikes you are hearing everyone but they can’t always hear each other. It can get confusing. Some other VHF simplex frequencies worth trying are 147.42 MHz (The Colorado 14er frequency) and 146.46 MHz (a local 2M hangout frequency). If you have 2m SSB, call on 144.200 MHz USB. On the HF bands, pray for good ionospheric conditions and do your normal SOTA thing.
Your body and your brain will likely be moving a little slower at 14,000 due to the lack of oxygen. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble deciphering and logging callsigns. Take it slow and monitor your physical condition on the peak.
Bring warm, layered clothes even in the summer, since Pikes Peak can have artic conditions any time of the year. Keep a close eye on the weather since thunderstorms are quite common during the summer months. Lightning is a very real danger, so abandon the peak before the storms arrive.
73, Bob K0NR
Although I’ve operated a number of VHF contests from the summit of Mount Herman, I had not yet activated it as a Summits On The Air (SOTA) peak. Mount Herman is a 9063 foot mountain just to the west of Monument, Colorado, pretty much in “my back yard.” Steve WG0AT did the first SOTA activation of Mount Herman, back in May 2010, chronicled here in one of his famous videos. There is a sometimes rough Forest Service Road 320 that leads to the trailhead, then it’s a little more than a one mile hike to the top with 1000 feet of elevation gain. I call it a tourist hike, since it has just enough challenge to make it feel like a climb and there’s a great view at the top. At least on most days.
I was not expecting much of a view today since low rain clouds were dominating the sky. I was just hoping I would not get completely drenched by rain. The weather was definitely marginal but from my house I saw the clouds lift a bit, so I thought it was worth a try. The ARRL September VHF Contest is also this weekend, so it was a great combo opportunity: SOTA + VHF Contest.
I hopped in the Jeep and quickly made the drive to the trailhead. Then I scooted on up the trail, making it to the summit in about 30 minutes. Just as I reached the summit, the rain really kicked in. I set my gear down under a tree, got out my HT, attached the 1/2-wave antenna and started calling on 147.42 MHz. I wanted to bag my four SOTA qualifying contacts in case the weather turned worse. I quickly worked Frank K0JQZ and Steve WG0AT. Then George AB0YM, operating as a rover in the VHF contest called me from grid DM78, so I worked him as well.
I had my trusty Arrow Yagi antenna with me but I didn’t want to bother with assembling it in the rain. I got out the FT-817, put a vertical antenna on it and called on 144.200 USB. I found stations working the VHF contest and completed QSOs with them: WB0RRU and K3ILC.
The rain intensified so I abandoned the summit and headed back down. All in all, it was not a great hike but I was successful in activating Mount Herman.
73, Bob K0NR
We are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of the strange disappearance of the Lost Island DX Society (LIDS) as first reported on this blog. The LIDS were last heard from via the Fi-Ni Report on September 18, 2012, reporting on the Talk Like A Pirate Contest.
Most people have given up the search for the LIDS, given the extended period of time they have been missing. One consistent rumor circulating in the DX community is that the LIDS were trying to join the Amsterdam Island DXpedition (FT5ZM) for a January 2014 activation of that island. Unfortunately, the LIDS did not realize that the island is in the middle of the Indian Ocean and not in Amsterdam. As the story goes, they had already bought nonrefundable airline tickets to Europe before they found this out. It seems that they may try to recover with a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation, if they can find a hill high enough within walking distance of their Amsterdam hotel.
Fearing that the LIDS are simply lost somewhere in Europe, a group of hams is petitioning the White House to launch a surveillance drone to find them. As one ham said, “They’ve got them dang drones flying around spying on everyone, they might as well do some good.”
I agree completely. If nothing else, Do It For The Children.
73, Bob K0NR
Come join us on Saturday, September 14th, 2013 (9:00 AM to 2:00 PM) at the Prairie Winds Elementary School , 790 Kings Deer Point East, Monument, CO for Tech Day 2013. Tech Day is for beginner to intermediate hams who want to learn more and take that ‘next step’ in ham radio.
Everyone is welcome, no registration is required. Just show up with your bright smiley face, ready to learn something and have fun.
9:30 am – Getting started in QRP operating from Steve WGØAT of Rooster & Peanut fame [http://www.youtube.com/user/goathiker]
10:30 am – Mobile radio installation tips with James KDØMFO
11:30 am – Practical antennas made out of copper pipe by Al WBØTGE
12:30 pm - Ham Shack 101 - the basics of setting up a home station by Stu WØSTU
1:30 pm – Some Practical Antenna Theory – Bob KØNR
* Each presentation is approximately 20 minutes with Q&A at the end.
All day long, we’ll have these displays set up so you can get a hands on look at radio operating:
QRP operating, Flex Software Defined Radio (SDR), HF antennas, mobile radio installation
The local Boy Scout troop will be selling hotdogs and drinks in hamfest style.
Tech Day 2013 is proudly sponsored by the WØTLM Amateur Radio Club
I’ve tried out a number of mapping apps on my iPhone but only recently found one that I really like for hiking. Most of these apps access maps on the network when needed so they are not stored on the smart phone. When you fall of the edge of the network in the backcountry they don’t work. This is a non starter for most of my backcountry hikes. Even if I am close to civilization, I’ll typically drop down into a valley at some point on the hike, losing my network connection.
The MotionX GPS app solves this problem by allowing you to download and storing maps on your iPhone. This requires you to do a bit of planning on what maps you need but it seems to work pretty well. The map quality is good and includes topographic information. (Click on the map image above to zoom in.) No, you probably don’t want to download maps to cover the entire US as you’ll consume all available storage!
Besides mapping, MotionX supports a ton of other features such as tracks, waypoints, compass headings, etc. It is quite flexible and I am still learning all of its tools.
Oh, did I mention this app only costs $1.99? Amazing!
- Bob K0NR
At the Dayton Hamvention, I had picked up the Buddistick™ Deluxe Package portable HF antenna. This antenna is very popular with the Summits On The Air crowd and other QRP enthusiasts. Usually when I am doing SOTA activations, its all about VHF. But being a self-proclaimed HF Slacker, I might get on HF sometime from a summit, so having a Buddistick available seems like a good idea.
I decided I better check this thing out to see if I can make it work on our back deck.
After actually reading the instructions, I assembled the antenna and used the clamp mount to attach the antenna on our deck railing. I strung the single radial out on the deck to the recommended length and connected up the transceiver using a short length of RG-8X cable.
Then I used the “by ear” tuning technique to set the tap on the antenna coil. You basically just run the tap down the coil to find the spot that produces the highest noise level at the transceiver. I checked the match using the built-in SWR meter in the Yaesu FT-817 and verified that it was good.
At first, I tried 20 Meters and discovered an S6 noise level. Not good. Retuning the antenna, I moved up to 15 Meters and found the noise level to be much lower. I also heard a few strong stations working the North American QSO Party.
I tuned around on the SSB portion of the band and found Bob N4BP calling CQ Contest so I gave him a quick call. He came back to me right away and I gave him the contest exchange of name and state. QSL and I was in his log, no problem! I heard N8II calling and repeated the same exchange, no sweat.
Hey, this QRP stuff really works!
So that was a great first experience with the Buddistick. Now I need to try it from a summit.
73, Bob K0NR
Lately, I have been focusing on activating the SOTA (Summits On The Air) peaks near our cabin in the mountains. The basic idea is to identify a SOTA summit, hike to the top and make a few contacts on VHF. On Friday, my spousal unit (Joyce, K0JJW) and I decided to head out to an unnamed peak (W0/SP-099), southeast of Buena Vista, CO. By no coincidence, this summit had not been activated yet, so we’d get the esteemed honor and glory of being the first.
For lesser known summits, a bit of research is required to figure out the route. My first stop is to check the SOTA database for basic information on the summit. I’ll usually have to dig further using ListsOfJohn and SummitPost. ListsOfJohn is an incredible database of topographical information, listing every summit along with information such as elevation, lat/lon, rise, etc. (The Colorado SOTA information was gleaned from ListsOfJohn.) SummitPost will usually have more detailed information on a summit but only for the more popular ones. The SOTA Mapping Project is another excellent resource with very useful interactive topo maps. And, of course, I also dig out the US Forest Service map for the area, which often gives the best view of access roads.
We drove the Jeep to within a mile of the summit and started hiking up. I posted our route information on ListsOfJohn, so take a look there for that information. The summit is unnamed, so it is referred to by its elevation: 10123. I had my Yaesu VX-8GR burping out APRS packets which were plotted on aprs.fi when we reached the summit.
When we reached the summit, I spotted myself on the SOTAWatch web site using the SOTA Goat app on my smartphone. More importantly, the night before the hike, I sent an email to some of the radio amateurs that were likely to be within VHF range. That paid off and I worked Jim KD0MRC, Walt WZ0N and John K3NOQ on 146.52 MHz FM. Jim was hiking to Harvard Lakes above 10,000 feet, so it was special to be able to contact him on the trail. A little later, I caught KV4AL who was mobile near the top of Mount Evans. While only one contact is required to “activate” a summit, four contacts are needed to earn SOTA points, so I was happy to make these four QSOs. My gear was a Yaesu FT-60 driving a 3-element Arrow yagi antenna.
In addition, Joyce and I generally work each other on the SOTA the summit. The SOTA rules say that “QSOs with others within the same Activation Zone do not count towards the QSO total” which means that one of us needs to hike down a bit to get outside of the activation zone (75 feet vertical feet from the summit). We take turns doing this so that each of us activates the summit and makes a contact with the summit.
We took a round about path back to the Jeep and headed for Bald Mountain. At this point, we were both very tired and the thunderstorms were moving in. We decided to at least check out the access to Bald Mountain (Wo/SP-115) even if we didn’t climb it that day. It turns out that there is a 4WD road that goes to the top of the mountain, so we drove to the summit. The road is very rough in a few spots but the Jeep handled it nicely. At the top, we hiked back down a bit to meet the non-motorized ascent requirement for SOTA. We also did our “work each other” technique while on the mountain so that we each had a contact. I was not able to raise anyone on 146.52 MHz but I did catch Carl K5UK on the 146.745 MHz repeater and worked him on simplex. By this time, it was raining with lightning getting closer, so we abandoned the summit and headed back to the cabin.
Thanks to the guys that took the time to contact us on the two summits.
73, Bob K0NR
While digging through the archives, I came across some previously unseen video from the 2012 Colorado 14er Event. Joyce KØJJW and I operated from Mount Sneffels (SOTA W0/UR-001) and this video shows a radio contact with Mark KTØAM on Mount Shavano.
The 2013 event will be held August 4th, see www.14er.org.
There is a very jagged peak just east of Buena Vista, CO called Castle Rock (not to be confused with the city by the same name). I knew this was a SOTA summit (W0/SP-112) and I had my eye on it for a while now. It is extremely rocky and jagged near its summit, so I was not sure if it could be ascended without a technical climb. A little research revealed that it was climbable but quite steep near the top. SummitPost.org has a good description of how to ascend this peak.
My hiking partner and wife, Joyce K0JJW, joined me on the climb. We managed to get off the preferred route and got into some very steep rock scrambling. Good judgment prevailed and we regrouped and found a more reasonable path but probably cost us an extra hour of hiking. As advertised, it did get very steep at the top. (Study the SummitPost information more carefully than I did.)
Recently, I picked up an Arrow 3-element Yagi antenna for 2 Meters (Model 146-3). This antenna can be dismantled and carried inside a reasonable size daypack (or strapped on externally). The boom has two threaded holes for mounting the antenna on a camera tripod. I used a MountainSmith trekking pole that can double as a camera monopod and mounted the antenna on it.
For this SOTA activation, I kept it simple and just used my Yaesu FT-60 to work 2 Meter FM. Accordingly, I configured the Yagi antenna for vertical polarization. (There are two mounting holes on the boom, so you can choose vertical or horizontal orientation.)
The trekking pole is not self-supporting and does not provide much additional antenna height but it makes the antenna a lot easier to point for extended periods of time. I like to use a trekking pole for hiking, so this is a good way to get a little extra utility out of it. I am pleased with how this antenna system performed and will use it again.
73, Bob K0NR
I put my two presentations from HamCon Colorado out on the web: Practical Amateur Radio Measurements and Mountaintop VHF in the Colorado High Country . Also, check out Kelly N0VD’s blog posting on the event.
KB5WIA provides some good tips on EME operating.
Hans PD0AC addresses the question: What’s the Best Chinese Dual-band HT? For best price/performance, he selected Baofeng UV-B5/UV-B6 (and I agree).
The Noise Blankers continue to publish their Ham Hijinks. Remember: Do Not Take These Guys Seriously. Seriously. Do not do this. Seriously.
There’s lots of great ham radio events coming up this summer. This weekend is the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest, the only “true VHF contest” out there since only the 50 MHz and 144 MHz bands are used. Then there’s the Colorado 14er Event, which includes Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, on August 4th. (Don’t forget to check out the great new Colorado 14er Shirts!) The Colorado QSO Party is another great operating event, on August 31st.
Remember: There is no such thing as ground.
Think about it: an infinitely large electrical node with zero impedance able to sink an infinite current. Not likely.
73, Bob K0NR
Sat Oct 19 and Sat Oct 26 (8 AM to 5 PM) 2013
Location: Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Station 1
The Technician license is your gateway to the world-wide excitement of Amateur Radio …
- 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
- 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
There is a $25 registration fee for the class.
In addition, students must have the required study guide:
HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course $19.95
Advance registration is required (no later than one week before the first session, earlier is better!)
To register for the class, contact: Bob Witte KØNR
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Phone: 719 659-3727
Sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Radio Association
For more information on amateur (ham) radio visit www.arrl.org
Here’s a great set of Summits On The Air (SOTA) links from Steve WG0AT:
|Official SOTA Site||Web||SOTA UK||Gateway to all official SOTA resources|
|Rules & Guidelines||SOTA UK||General Rules & Guidelines for SOTA|
|WØ SOTA Site||Web||WØ Assoc.Mgr||A good place to start for SOTA info for the WØ region|
|WØ Association Reference Manual (ARM)||WØ Assoc.Mgr.||Defines all summits and rules for the WØ Association|
|SOTA Activator Guidelines||SOTA UK||The rules summarized on one page|
|SOTAwatch: Alerts||Web||SOTA UK||Create activation alerts for the world to see (You have to sign-up for a free account)|
|NA SOTA (Yahoo Group)||Web||3rd party: Yahoo||The NA-SOTA Group on Yahoo is a great place to meet fellow Chasers/Activators, announce activations and share experiences. You have to submit a ‘join’ request before getting access|
|Results & Summits Database||Web||SOTA UK||Submit activation logs, search for summits, view results etc.|
|Adventure Radio: Mapview||Web||3rd party: Mario/DC7CCC||Google map overlay. Allows to search for SOTA summits based on Assoc./Region or grid locator.|
|How to Activate a SOTA Peak||3rd party: Guy/N7UN||Guy/N7UN’s helpful 4-page summary of the steps involved from planning, posting an activation Alert, conducting the activation itself and post-activation activities.|
|WØ Summits||Web||WØ Assoc.Mgr.||Find a summit in your WØ region|
|Colorado 14er Event||Web||14er Event||The web site for the Colorado 14er Event (includes SOTA activations)|
|SMS Gateway||Phone||SOTA UK: Andy||SMS gateway for selfspotting. You have to register with Andy: mm0fmf_sota (at) intermoose dot com|
|SOTA Goat iPhone appy||iTunes||iTunes||Spotting app for your iOS device at the iTunes store|
|SOTA Spot Monitor App||web||Eric KU6J||SOTA spotting app for Windows PCs|
Thanks to Steve WG0AT, we now have a new design for the Colorado 14er Event Shirt. Steve gen’d up a new logo that has the Colorado 14er Event blended with Summits On The Air (SOTA), that is available on a variety of t-shirts, a coffee mug and maybe a few other items. The logo, shown to the left, is a fantastic graphic featuring Ham Radio at Altitude.
Go to Cafepress to view and purchase the items that are available.
73, Bob K0NR
Just when things were terminally boring on the amateur radio regulatory front, the ARRL reports that “The FCC is inviting public comments on a proposal from a Massachusetts ham to amend the Part 97 Amateur Service rules to permit the encryption of certain amateur communications during emergency operations or related training exercises.” The FCC is seeking comments on the Petition for Rulemaking RM-11699, submitted by Don Rolph (AB1PH). My email and twitter feed started filling up with passionate pleas to either support this petition or to kill it.
This idea has been around for a while but I don’t recall the FCC considering action on it. The issue is that “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning” are prohibited by Part 97 rules for the Amateur Radio Service. (Actually, that is not completely true since an exception exists for control of stations in space and radio-controlled models.) This rule has a very important role in enabling the “self policing nature” of the amateur radio service. That is, everyone can listen to the content of all radio communications, allowing improper use of the spectrum to be exposed. (Note to self: file a petition to require encryption when using 14.313 MHz.)
This rule can be a barrier when ham radio Emcomm organizations are providing communications for served agencies (e.g., the Red Cross, fire departments, medical response, law enforcement, etc.) These served agencies do not want sensitive information passed over the radio “in the clear.” Sensitive information includes items such as medical/patient information, location of emergency responders and supplies, damage assessments, door or gate access codes, etc.
A few weeks ago, I volunteered my time to help with communications for the Black Forest wildfire here in Colorado. So count me as someone that sees emergency communications as a key part of amateur radio. (Gosh, I think Part 97 even mentions this. See Part 97.1a) I also see that the prohibition against encryption is a does get in the way during some incidents.
But I am also worried about opening the door to significant use of encryption on the ham bands. The problem with encrypted messages is that…wait for it…you can’t decode the messages. So how do we maintain that self-policing thing? The fear seems to be that if we open the door at all to encryption, it will enable virtually anyone (amateur license or not) to transmit encrypted messages for unknown and inappropriate purposes.
The challenge is to figure out what limits could be put on encrypted operation to retain the self-policing nature of ham radio while enabling more effective emergency communications. Here are some ideas:
- Limit the use of encryption to actual emergencies and training exercises. (This is already in RM-11699.)
- Require that radio transmissions are properly identified “in the clear”, with no encryption. That way if encryption is used on a regular basis, steps can be taken to investigate further. (This may already be assumed by RM-11699 but I did not see an explicit statement.)
- Require additional information to be sent in the clear with the station ID when sending encrypted messages. For example, the name of the served agency, the nature of the emergency or drill, or anything else that would help a random listener to judge whether it is an appropriate use of encryption.
- Require archiving of encrypted messages (in unencrypted form) for some period time, available for FCC inspection.
- [Added 28 June]: Avoid international regulation issues by limiting encrypted messages to US stations only.
- <insert your idea here>
Still pondering this issue…what do you think?
73, Bob K0NR
Update 18 Sept 2013: The FCC dismisses the petition.
Attention all radio amateurs, this weekend is ARRL Field Day! Don’t forget to get on the air.
Field Day is a flexible event, so it can be anything you want it to be: camping weekend, stay at home, participate with your club, go mobile, whatever you desire. Remember to season to taste.
One more thing: Field Day is not a contest. But you can still keep score.
Oh, remember that the national simplex FM calling frequency of 146.52 MHz should not be used for making Field Day contacts. Like all contests…wait Field Day is not a contest. Whatever.
- 73, Bob K0NR
The results are in from the 2013 ARRL January VHF Contest, which includes the new Single Operator 3 Band and Single Operator FM Only entry categories.
There were 77 entries in the SO3B category, with Rich KV2R having the high score: 6368 pts. Breaking his contacts out by band reveals 50MHz:92 QSOs/18 Grids; 144MHz:83 QSOs/12 Grids; 432MHz:12 QSOs/2 Grids. I operated in the same category but with a lower score: 1311, broken out by band this way: 50MHz:27/12; 144MHz:24/8; 432MHz:3/3. As I recall, 50 MHz propagation was not really that great, which is going to be the major swing factor for scores in the SO3B category. Scanning through the top SO3B entries reveals a relatively consistent pattern of 50 MHz having the highest number of QSOs, with 144 MHz in the same ballpark and 432 MHz significantly lower in count.
There were only 23 entries in the SOFM category, which is probably not a big surprise. While there are pockets of FM activity during VHF contests, historically the fun mode has not been used that much for contesting. The whole idea behind SOFM is to open up contesting to the FM operator. It remains to be seen how effective this will be but if it does catch on, it will take some time to build momentum. Ev W2EV had the high score of 1080 in the FM category, broken out by band here: 50MHz:19 QSOs/4 Grids; 144MHz:27 QSOs/4 Grids; 222MHz:5 QSOs/4 Grids; 432MHz:8 QSOs/3 Grids. W2EV’s score shows just a few grids per band, indicating shorter distance contacts overall. With only 4 grids on 50 MHz, he probably did not benefit from sporadic-e propagation on that band. The second place entry was from Erich KC9CUK who only worked the 2 Meter band, producing a score of 441 with 63 QSOs and 7 grids. The remaining entries had less than 30 QSOs. Almost everyone had contacts on 144 MHz but the usage of the other bands varied significantly.
I have always been most interested in operating 50 MHz and 144 MHz, sometimes adding in 222 MHz and 432 MHz, so I find SO3B a nice addition to the contest. In this category, I get to operate my favorite bands but my score does not get compared with the guys that have built stations that do 50 MHz through light. I suspect there are plenty of other VHF contesters in this same boat.
I find the FM category very interesting, as I have always tried to encourage FM operating during the contests. Clearly, FM is less effective than SSB and CW, particularly when the signals are weak. I don’t know whether this category will attract new operators or not to VHF contests. FM operation needs to hit critical mass because activity generates activity. That is, if you are the only FM contester in your area, its going to be frustrating. Of course, it will help if the established SSB stations make it a point to also work FM.
Oh, one more thing… we still need to get rid of the rule that says no contacts on 146.52 MHz. This rule is counterproductive. Every time I talk with an FM op about “getting on during the contest” they say “OK, so I should just call on five two, right?” I have to explain that calling on the calling frequency is not allowed during the contest (uh, that’s only for FM, you see) and their minds start to wander to topics that make more logical sense.
73, Bob K0NR