Thursday, March 04, 2010

What is a contact?

As someone who has quite often used WSPR, I have often said that it would be nice to be able to exchange reports with other stations and confirm the "contact". I felt this simply because the WSPR network is a friendly community and it feels right somehow to be able to do that, just as you would confirm an enjoyable contact on another mode.

Modes like the little used WSPR QSO mode and JT65A on HF offer the chance to make two way QSOs using similar power levels to WSPR. But my recent experience using JT65A on HF, and more recently watching a station in Iceland take half an hour to try to exchange a signal report and confirmation with a station in Brazil using a certain other weak signal mode led me to wonder if in trying to make it possible to make "contacts" using the least possible power we have thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Communicating via moonbounce (EME) on VHF has always been about exchanging the barest minimum of information, because even doing that is a major achievement. But on HF it is always possible to have a proper contact, even if it means using a bit more power or waiting until propagation is a bit better. So why are we endeavouring to use modes designed for EME on the HF bands? What is actually being achieved? Someone's computer is able to pick a few characters of information out of my barely audible signal, with the help of heavy error correction and the fact that the message format is known. My computer is able to do the same with his. Is this actually a contact?

Yesterday I tried for the first time in several years to use the Olivia digital mode. Before I did, I Googled up some information about it, and came across a Yahoo group containing a post by Waldis, VK1WJ. He wrote: "Yesterday I had a sked with DJ2UK on 20m in JT65A. Bert came in with around -17dB but he couldn't decode my signal. After a while I saw in SPECJT that he had switched to Olivia 8/125. So I did the same, and we had quite a long error-free QSO. Olivia 8/125 is not exactly fast, but it still beats JT65A hands down. May be we could entice our JT65A friends to try Olivia instead?"

According to Waldis, instead of exchanging a couple of numbers using JT65A, you could have an actual (if slow) conversation using the 8/125 variant of Olivia. But the JT modes are currently in vogue, whereas Olivia - being developed in 2003 - is yesterday's news. People are raving about the capabilities of a certain other mode that is making a lot of news recently. Have all these people actually tried some of the forgotten modes? Because I think if they did they might wonder what all the fuss was about and whether the newcomer really justifies its use of bandwidth.

What was I saying about reinventing the wheel?
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