Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sign of things to come?

I finally got caught up with things so I could find time to experience the HF band conditions everyone has been talking about. I put the K3 on 10m WSPR while I was doing my computer jobs. I missed some chances of being heard because the WSPR rig control doesn't switch the K3 into DATA mode and in SSB mode only the microphone is live not the line input. My apologies if the sound of typing affected anyone's WSPR reception! After spotting the error and correcting it I was received by five VK stations, which is quite pleasing for 20 watts to an attic dipole!


When I was finished with the computer I had a listen around the 10m band. There wasn't as much happening as the WSPR results would suggest so I tried 12m, where some PSK31 was heard. After making one contact there (ER1RY, Moldova) I went back to 10m and saw some faint traces. I worked several Russians and heard but didn't work three South African stations. I was also spotted from Madagascar by someone on the PSK Reporter site. That would have been a nice contact! I checked the SSB end from time to time but only heard a handful of signals too weak to work.

Ten metres is one of my favourite bands so it is great to see some signs of life. But I fear that improved propagation is going to bring problems for digital mode enthusiasts. As Paul, PC4T complains in his latest blog post, when you get good propagation people operate wherever they can within the band plan so the weak signal modes get trampled over by the wide, loud modes.

Unfortunately there is no "gentleman's agreement" that says PSK has exclusive use of 14.070 - 14.072 or that only JT65A can be used from 14.076 to 14.078. Here in Europe, even the band plan separating CW, digital and voice modes is only a gentleman's agreement. The frequencies mentioned above, like the QRP frequencies and others, are just "watering holes" that benefit people who operate those modes but can be ignored by others with no fear of any official penalty.

There has been an explosion in the use of digital modes over the last few years as more hams connect their computers to their radios and discover sound card software. The effect of this has mainly been that you could often find PSK31 activity when nothing else could be heard. Poor conditions have prevented the bands from getting too overcrowded.

But with better propagation people are going to be fighting for space. PSK is going to need to spread beyond its usual 2kHz on the most popular bands, as will JT65A. The "modes du jour" most of which offer no significant benefit over those that already exist will cause confusion by operating on top of one another. And the outmoded, inefficient RTTY, for which no technical justification for its continued use exists, will stomp over everything running the legal limit just as it always has, only this time more people are going to have their contacts spoiled and get angry about it.

It's going to be a fun few years!
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