Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The death of VHF

Olga and I have returned from a long weekend in London. I took my VX-8GR along, hoping to see some APRS activity or even make some contacts. But I heard absolutely nothing, nada, zilch, not a braap on the APRS frequency nor any signs of life on the simplex or repeater frequencies.

Twenty years ago I lived in London, in Charlton SE7 and I seem to recall that in those days there were four London repeaters on 2m and plenty of activity. I also seem to recall that some of the repeaters were plagued with abuse. Last weeked even a kerchunker or a pirate playing music would have been a welcome sign that someone was using the amateur frequencies.

I took a laptop with me - the small Eee PC running Ubuntu Linux, with APRSIS32 under wine - to monitor activity and see if my RF beacons were heard. I received a greeting from G5YC via the APRS-IS internet network and that was that. What a contrast to Prague, where I was a month ago, where the APRS activity just didn't stop.

Tim, G4VXE, posted yesterday about creating APRS objects for repeaters using OpenAPRS.net. I commented that it was all very well, but these internet created objects are never transmitted on RF so they never fulfil the intended purpose of the mode which is to inform visiting mobiles of the local repeater frequencies. Unfortunately with the lack of radio activity here in the UK one cannot deny that APRS works much better as an internet application than it does over RF. Anyone who has a computer can call up aprs.fi and see the local picture - if anyone has taken the trouble to create the objects. If they were transmitted on RF, would anyone hear them?

I could say much the same about 2m FM. If I'd had an iPhone I could have made some contacts using the newly released Echolink app, which again is more than I was able to do using my Yaesu. What has happened to ham radio that one can't find any activity even in the UK's biggest city? It seems to me that we have all decided that cellphones are a much better tool for contacting our ham buddies. If we lost the use of the VHF and UHF bands would anyone actually notice?

12 comments:

Richard G3CWI said...

Julian

Maybe everyone has adopted your Stealth techniques?

73

Richard
G3CWI

VE3WDM said...

Good morning Julian, The 2m party is about as well attended here in Toronto. I drive an hour to and from work each day and the 2m band dead. My Yaesu FT-1900 has a CW trainer therefore my time is well spent getting my code up to and over 30wpm. I do have the IPhone and am going to look into that app.
Cheers

Tim said...

VHF activity is quite patchy, I think. Oddly, I think London is quite poor! I did see G4ILO on the APRS map in SW London and wondered what you were doing there - I should have said hello and doubled your APRS 'contacts'!

Where we are, between Swindon and Oxford, we are quite lucky with our two repeaters, one on 2m, one on 70cms getting at least moderate activity, around drive times anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the South Coast and there I found plenty of activity on both 2m and 70cms, with local simplex nets and busy repeaters.

Activity certainly breeds activity, but I can't deny that there are areas of the country where the VHF bands would be very quiet indeed.

Theodore said...

A common situation everywhere, but with the emphasis on APRS "contacts" who can be blamed for ignoring this band where APRS seems to be hailed as ham radio.
Perhaps if hams went back to talking to each other instead of acting like glorified GPS man/machine hybrids, more people would be inclined to use VHF and UHF frequencies for socially enriching discourse.

Julian said...

Hi Theodore. One of the purposes of APRS is actually to facilitate voice contacts by advertising the frequencies used by repeaters or individuals who are listening. For it to be effective, of course, you need a critical mass of users which we just don't have. Because of that, I doubt it has much of an effect, positive or negative, on anything.

Alex Hill said...

I took my VX-3 to Milton Keynes a few months ago and only heard one QSO on the journey down, whilst there and back again.

I actually thought it was my handheld that was the problem!

I have also listened in to the only 2 repeaters I can hear from my QTH GB3DG & GB3GD. Most of the time not a bean. Shame really.


I'll be off to Guernsey shortly. I wonder if it'll be any better there

Keith said...

People were saying exactly the same thing when I got my ticket back in 1982. Nothing has changed.

73
Keith.

G4NKX said...

Interesting - I'd often monitored 2m/70cms lately and there's just nothing on apart from the odd local net -repeaters are hardly used, I know some frequencies are used for satellite up/downlinks (the reason I bought my HT) 15 years ago there was plenty going on 2m, local nets, working dx repeaters, tcpip, packet - and whatever happened to that?
I guess eventually these bands will be lost.

Theodore said...

In a way VHF/UHF ops are a mirror of the range of the signals on these bands. Since it is mostly local contacts on VHF/UHF (forgetting about internet aided stuff - not real ham radio), it is prone to the same cliques and parochialism that every closed society contains.
This is why I mainly work HF - it broadens your outlook and is much more interesting.
This is not to say that there are not interesting qso's to be had on VHF/UHF, its just that hams seem much more reticent to engage with others who live in their vicinity for some reason.
Perhaps it is a reflection of the loss of conversation skills in society as a whole, with legions of citizens now unable to talk without having smiley faces and LOL placed in speech bubbles over their heads.
On the other hand, some of the elder statesmen of ham radio are impossible to stop once they get started, so it is a double edged sword. :) LOL
73s

SimonF said...

It might be dead but if you dare to have more than 1 over on the calling channel someone will admonish you for blocking!

Anonymous said...

It's like that when I moved from Penzance to Plymouth, their was absolutely nothing locally, so when i moved up here I brought my FT817 and 2m HT with me, the repeater is hardly ever used, no one uses simplex, I know Plymouth is not as big as other cities but with 220,000 people and approx 60,000 Radio hams in the UK you would think the airwaves would be more active.. 73 good luck.

Steve Bunting said...

As the sysop of two APRS gateways in London I am a little surprised that you heard nnoting at all. MB7UBP in North London sees about 15 packets a minute during the day, although the centrally located G5YC station sees little traffic - mainly due to the S5 local noise from the hundreds of PCs and other electronics within a few hundred metre radius.

The problem for APRS in the UK is simple - as you know it is tough to get a licence for a digi! Too tough, IMO which forces folk to the Internet. The problem for central London in particular is site cost. I cannot move G5YC from a J-pole in my office window as I can't find a suitable host at low/free costs. Don't forget that the police pay £30K+/yr for a tetra site in the square mile. This has also hit the repeaters with south and west london 2m sites all lost over the last few years. Only the north London repeater remains on analogue 2m.

The only option really for central London now is GB3LW on 433.150 which has recently been put back on air (thanks to my club mate g4rfc), but the site there is also under threat.

Cheers
Steve