Thursday, May 13, 2021

Activating the 4 Metre Band

The Four metre band was always referred to as the "Gentleman's Band" due to the relatively small community of operators who were on first name terms with one another. These were real radio hams as they either built their own equipment or modified existing ex commercial equipment. During VHF NFD, the norm was to work all the stations in CW during the first half of the contest and then in voice for the second half.

Until recently the Four metre band was not hugely popular in Ireland mainly because there were very few commercial black boxes and it was "just another VHF Band". For the more serious and dedicated operators, there was the option of a transverter, allowing SSB and FM operation, and, for general use, many would delve into the innards of Low Band ex-commercial equpment and align it onto the Four metre band. Some resourceful operators converted existing Six metre equipment for use on Four metre band, whilst many others designed and built their own transceivers. Twiddling with radios on the bench is primarily what we do, as radio amateurs, because it is part of the hobby and is cost effective. 

Many operators from the 60s - 70s would have modified the old Pye Cambridge AM version although it did come in an FM version also. The Pye Cambridge would have been in use by the Police and Taxi Services. They had a great receive audio and were reasonably sensitive.

Many Commercial radios such as Pye, Tait, Motorola, Maxon, Kyodo, Cleartone, Ascom, Simoco, and Philips, to name but a few, were ideal for conversion. 

Two old favourites - Top ASCOM SE-550 and bottom the Philips FM-1000

 

In the last few years, more and more countries have allowed operation on the Four metre band although the actual band allocation varies in some countries. As a result of this, the amateur radio manufacturers have offered radios which include the Four metre band. Anytone, Wouxun and Retevis have produced some dedicated Four metre transceivers which perform admirably on the band.


 
Retevis have recently introduced the RT9000D to the market and several YouTube videos have given it good reviews. Recently, three operators in the West of Ireland purchased the RT 90000D and there have been others on the IRTS Facebook page who took an interest.
 

Some countries do not have the Four metre allocation but will operate cross band from 6 metres and receive on 4 metres.

The ICOM 7100 was probably the first transceiver to offer 4 metre operation as standard. They have more recently included Four metres in their ICOM 7300 and the ICOM 9700. There is an added bonus of D-Star in the ICOM range. Subsequent ICOM models included Four metres. Nowadays, Yaesu have included the 4 metre band in their newer models. Obviously SSB and CW operation will give excellent results.

The Irish allocation for Four metres is 69.9 - 70.500 MHz although ComReg opened up a huge chunk of spectrum of which there is a band from 54 - 69.9 MHz. Many of the dedicated Four metre transceivers will cover from 66 - 70.500 MHz.  The segment from 66 - 69.9 MHz is permitted as a result of the recent allocation by ComReg.

The Propagation characteristics of the Four metre band make mobile operation more interesting as the distance covered is generally superior to Two metres. Auroral, Sporadic E and Tropospheric Propagation often result in some vast DX openings. Sometimes a DX station will appear on the operating channel out of the blue.

Normally Sporadic E season is noticeable from the end of April until the end of August. Recently there have been strong openings around 9 am Local time. Moving into the Summer Sporadic E is most noticeable around 5pm. 

One of the most reliable tools for establishing Ionospheric Conditions in the Ionogram. The Chilton Ionogram can be accessed from >> Here<<.

 
A good indication of a Sporadic E opening is shown in the Ionogram above. A dense area of Ionisation at approximately 100 Km above the Earth's surface is a good indicator that there will be exceptional conditions from the 10 metres - 4 metres.

Consulting DXmaps.com >>Here<< will show the the MUF over the European area. A typical opening from this site is illustrated below.
 
 

The squares are colour coded: the Green squares show propagation from 30 - 50 MHz, the lighter green from 50 - 70 MHz, the Yellow from 70 - 90 MHz, the Orange from 90 - 110 MHz, the darker Orange from 110 - 130 MHz and a Red colour from 130 - 150 MHz.

Another display can be obtained from >>Here<< which plots uploaded logged contacts between stations giving a good representation of activity. 

As illustrated, Sporadic E can produce some excellent results. By selecting different tabs, contact paths may be shown for 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 metres and 70cms. Forget those silly Ham Prop programs as the Ionogram and DxMaps is by far the best indicator for serious VHF operators. 

Many years ago Dick Madigan, EI9Q from Waterford, used to be heard in South East London as regular as clockwork around 7 pm on Four metres CW. This was due to the SPoradic E openings at that time of the evening. Remember the Spanish TV interference on RTE1 (Band 1 TV)

Four Metres will produce good DX via tropospheric propagation. Aircraft scatter is particularly noticeable on this band with sharp rise and falls of signal strength. My home QTH in the UK was on the flight path into Heathrow so this was noticeable almost every day. 

The Four metre band shares many characteristics with the neighbouring Six metre band. However, as it is somewhat higher in frequency it does not display the same propagation mechanisms via the F2 ionosphere layer normally seen at HF which occasionally appear in Six meters, leastwise not at temperate latitudes. However, Sporadic E is common on the band in summer, tropospheric propagation is marginally more successful than on the Six meter band, and propagation via the Aurora Borealis and meteor scatter is highly effective.While Sporadic E permits Europe wide communication, it can be a mixed blessing as the band is still used for wide bandwidth, high power FM broadcasting on the OIRT FM band in a declining number of Eastern European countries. Although this has lessened in recent years, it can still cause considerable interference to both local and long distance (DX) operation.

Antennas

A quarter wave antenna for this band is approximately 108 cms long which is a convenient size for mobile operation. Most amateur radio retailers now stock Four metre band mobile antennas, however a homebrew version should be easy to make. For base station use, a variety of beams and verticals are also available from retailers, but once again, a homebrew beam or vertical should prove easy to construct and even easier on the wallet.  

Consider making a Halfwave Vertical or a Slim Jim Antenna which will only cost a few Euro to make and will give as good a result as any of the commercially made verticals.

Local Operations

Tests were conducted on many bands, by members of the Galway VHF group, especially in Connemara which has a very rugged and mountainous terrain. Bands from 70cms to 10 metres were included. Surprisingly, as VHF Bands go, the Four metre band actually gave the best signals over distances. 4 metres managed to circumvent many obstacles. It was concluded that the 4 metre band would always give better results whilst mobile in most areas. Tests over a given path from Salthill (3m Above Sea level) to Headford found a greater signal strength for a given power level over a fixed path on Four metres vs Two metres. Not surprising really, as the wavelength is longer than Two metres. From Salthill, there appeared to be a slight “flutter” noticeable on the signal. After much thought and ruling out the presence of aircraft in the area, it was decided that this may be due to reflections from the traffic on the M6 motorway

In conclusion, the Four metre band is likely to give surprising results due to the unpredictable nature of the Sporadic E opening. Some interesting results can be obtained via Tropospheric propagation. One instance often quoted was a cold frosty morning with a light mist at ground level. One operator maintained a QSO with another in Ballyhaunis whilst driving from Castlebar, Co Mayo to Shannon Airport.  

With the availability of more transceivers which include Four metres, it is certain that he level of activity will increase.  Put out an occasional call on 70.450 and 70.2625. These are both calling channels so please QSY once the contact is established and do try not to hold nets on recognised Calling Channels. Park the car on a high location and put out a call - you will not be disappointed as the Four metre community is growing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Hamshack Hotline


Hamshack Hotline is a dedicated Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) network that is free to amateur radio operators around the world. The purpose is not to replace traffic carried over RF, but augment it when conditions are poor or otherwise busy.

Originally conceived by John Rogers, K1WIZ, Hamshack Hotline is a network exclusively allocated to Ham Radio Operators. It has been widely used by Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Operations Centres and individual operator's shacks. Apart from voice calls, Hamshack Hotline will also support the faxing of documents.

The age-old cry of "its not real radio" does not apply here. We all use a telephone when we can't raise our fellow operator on the radio and this system is simply available to do just that. We are experimenters in communications and any system whether it be RF or landline or a combination of both does have an appeal. VOIP will never replace radio communications but it will enhance it in many ways. Telecomms, and Internet are integrated into many commercial radio systems so why not ours? Hamshack Hotline provides another dimension in the hobby.

The Hamshack Hotline will support links to RF Repeaters and Gateways - Allstar and Echolink systems immediately spring to mind.

Hamshack Hotline has its own phone directory which lists individual phone numbers and a list of bridges that link into RF systems. It is not just a one-to-one system as it is possible to set up conference lines. Some of these may be closed and for  members only although there are many which are open and welcome all to participate.

Hamshack Hotline is made up of three networks:

HHUS - United States

HHEU - Europe

HHAP - Asia and Pacific

There is an additional Experimental Network HHX

All of these networks are integrated so the operation is worldwide.

Supported Phones

Support is provided for various VOIP phones, some of which can be purchased for as little as £25.00 but considerably more if purchased brand new. CISCO SIP (Session initiation Protocol) Phones are used on this network and the following are compatible:

CISCO SPA-514

The Cisco 514 phone needs to be connected to a router via an Ethernet cable. It can be powered by a Power over Ethernet supply or alternatively can be powered with a 5V plug in unit. Some phones will only allow the Power over Ethernet connection

   CISCO SPA-525G2

The Cisco 525G2 phone may be connected via Ethernet or WiFi. If using on WiFi, it will need a 5V power supply. The phone can also be connected via a Power over Ethernet unit. 

Other Compatible Phones include:

CISCO SPA-112

CISCO SPA-303

CISCO SPA-504

CISCO SPA-514

CISCO SPA- 941/942

Be advised that second-hand phones may have been locked into a system and will need to be UNLOCKED and RESET before they can be used on any other system. This is generally stated in their description but if it is not you may encounter difficulties setting it up.

Obtaining personal Hamshack Hotline Number

Go to this url and fill in the requested details open a new ticket with a new line request

 https://apps.wizworks.net:9090/open.php

All fields should be filled in. The MAC Address will be found on the underside of the phone and must be copied correctly otherwise the system will not interface.

The process of registration may take up to 48 hours before you receive an email.

Once you have received your confirmation Email Follow the steps below:

  1. Connect the phone to the internet.
  2. On the router, find thu Intenet> Network Security> DMZ
  3. Enable DMZ for phone Remember to go back in to disable DMZ after it is installed. Note: Some security is disabled while installing the phone. 
  4. A set of 4 green signal strength bars will appear if the WiFi Connection is sucessful.
  5. Using another device such as a Laptop or mobile phone on WiFi connected to the router, type in the IP address you found in Step 2 into the x.x.x.x part of the url http://x.x.x.x/admin/resync?http://apps.wizworks.net:2443/spacfg-$MA.cfg (The phone will reboot and Hamshack Hotline will configure it for you)

So here is my phone following the connection to the system. It was ready to use straight after reboot. The unit next to the phone is an "Attendant Console" (sidecar)on which one can program up to 32 speed dial settings. The green LEDs show that the phone is connected and on the Attendant Console the Green LED is showing that the listed line is active.

By Typing in the phone's IP address into the url box, it is possible to access all the set-up functions of the phone. Be advised - if you don't know the consequences of changing any of the funtions, it is best to leave well enough alone in case you brick the phone!

Whilst it is possible to contact users on a on-to-one basis, it is possible to set up a conference (Bridge) area for your own club and group (a Conference Area where several can join at once). This will allow individuals to dial up the conference and they will be issued with a PIN number to dial in before joining the conference. Some conferences are open, but, the majority are dedicated to individual groups and may only be joined by invitation. 

So give a few Practical Uses for this system

In the shack it can be used as a hotline to a fellow radio operator. Many are the times when you want to test out some equipment and there is not a soul to be found and this will provide a one touch access to organise a sked. 

How many times have you initiated a call on the Landline and found yorself still chatting after two hours about a project and associated ideas. The cost of the call can be expensive!

A superb system for EMCOMM. Set up your three independant base stations and link all three to Net Control via Hamshack Hotline. There is many an occasion where net control can save air time by speaking direct to a base station in the field. It will aid the tactical side of the operation to leave the main controller deal with the emerging situation over the air whilst expediting the more mundane tasks over the Land Line.

What about the resilience of the system will be heard in the background. Well this really is only a system to augment the operation. The primary operation in EMCOMMS is handled over the air but much of the non-urgent traffic can be handled through this system. If the proverbial does hit the fan, then this system will provide another means of one to one traffic handling between the localised net controllers. they can pass anything of relevance over the air as required or directed. 

How reliable is the Internet or cellular network? In the majority of cases the internet and cellular network is excellent and providing communications during sporting events in Connemara is hardly going to overload the system. Used wisely, and with the usual caution one never puts all the eggs in one basket. for every system there is always an alternative and backup. The Hamshack Hotline does just that job; it is a backup form of communications to >>augment<< the radio network. There is always plenty of room for backup and this is just one of those systems that can be repidly deployed if required.

Is this Network Secure?

The network is secure and one can enjoy privacy on personal calls from person to person. Conference rooms are unique to a group and only those who are issued with a pin number may enter. If you give this pin to all and sundry, then the Conference is no longer unique to your group!

Does this system facilitate Voice Mail?

Yes! All Hamshack Hotline numbers have a voicemail box.

Can I set up a Conference (Bridge) for my Group or Club?

Yes! Send a copy of your Club Call, and Hamshack Hotline will provide a private ot public Bridge for your club or group.

Can My Phone be set up in another location?

The phone can be set up in any location with internet. You may have to reconfigure the network on your phone. 

Can this system be Bridged into the Allstar Network?

It is possible to bridge this system to an Allstar Node.

Further Information may be acquired from:

https://hamshackhotline.com/

https://apps.wizworks.net:9090/index.php

http://k0lwc.com/hamshack-hotline-the-ham-radio-bat-phone/

https://apps.wizworks.net:9091/index.php

https://www.facebook.com/groups/hamshack

https://www.k4rc.net/about-waarc/hamshack-hotline/

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Peanut App for Android and Windows

Peanut is an App for Android or Windows, developed by PA7LIM, that allows VOIP communication on unique Rooms of which some are connected to D-Star, C4FM or DMR and output via Gateways or Repeaters. This is an excellent system for those who do not have VHF/UHF, DMR, C4FM or D-Star equipment. Peanut provides the perfect meeting place for Radio Club members and allowing those on the C4FM Repeaters and gateways to join in.

Firstly, it is necessary to Register your Callsign with D-Star and DMR so that the system will recognise you. It is wise to have a PDF or snapshot of the first page of you licence handy as this will be requested for the DMR registration.

For D-Star registration go to   https://icomuk.co.uk/News_Article/2/1052/

For DMR registration go to     https://radioid.net/#!

To register for the Peanut app go to  https://register.peanut.network/

The process to apply is relatively painless but the Peanut and DMR I/D require a copy of the front page of your licence. It may take 24 Hours to receive confirmation of the I/Ds

The peanut app for Android phone or tablet may be downloaded from the Google Play store – it is called Peanut for Android.

The version of Peanut for windows maybe downloaded from  https://software.pa7lim.nl/peanut/STABLE/

1)     Assuming all of the registrations have been completed, install and run the Peanut App.

2)     Go into set up and fill in the boxes with Call sign, Peanut code from PA7LIM and DMR I/D

3)   The app will require you to establish the PTT key – in some cases you press a bar showing on the screen or alternatively press a key on  a keyboard. If you have an internet radio then press the PTT.

4)     Press submit, and your system is set up and ready to go.

On the android version there is a slider that needs to be pressed to log in. Windows has an On/Off slider located at the top left of the screen.

Assuming all is working, and the app is running:

There are two dropdown menus that will enable selection of the country e.g., IE and the other will allow selection of the Room so in the case of Ireland select IE for country and there are two rooms to choose from IRELAND or YSF-IRE

IRELAND is a chat Room confined to Peanut and does not connect to any Repeater or Gateway. Conversations will not be retransmitted anywhere.

YSF-IRE is connected to YSF-Ireland, DMR TG 2724 and CQ-IRELAND this will retransmit on the Galway Repeater, TG 2724 on DMR and YSF-IRELAND.

This is the perfect App to allow those with no Digital or VHF/UHF handhelds to actually operate through the Galway Repeater on 145.625. It is possible to hold a Digital net on the Galway Repeater and have input from operators using DMR and Peanut in the same net. The Perfect system for getting all club members on the Galway repeater for a net.

 


Of course, there are many countries that can be accessed via Peanut. These may be selected from the drop down menu for rooms

Another option in the countries list is ALL and this will real every single room accessible from Peanut.

Any of the following rooms will come out on RF

YSF – C4FM

TGF, HBL, DMR  – DMR

DCS, XLX, XRF, REF – D-Star

Anything with just a Name e.g., English,English 1, or Ireland are individual Peanut rooms.

What are the advantages?

Programmed into a Mobile phone or tablet with access to internet or internet via cellular, it is possible to communicate back into Galway via the Repeater on C4FM or via TG 2724 via DMR.

It is possible to establish a net on the IRELAND Room which will give an area for a group to chat. Please note that others have access and can monitor.

It is possible to operate a D-Star radio into one of the D-Star reflectors utilised by Peanut and come out on the tablet, mobile phone or internet radio. Great for those who don’t have D-Star.

It is possible to operate via peanut to DMR users.

Irrespective of what part of the world, and provided that there is cellular coverage, it is possible to maintain communication with the Galway repeater or any other service via the Peanut App.

Perhaps we may be able to establish a net on the Galway Repeater, TG2724, and CQ-IRELAND and Peanut where ALL members of the locality can join in together with on or other of the modes listed.

To Recap the following systems will be linked together:

1)     DMR via any of the Galway DMR Repeaters on TG2724

2)     CQ-IRELAND via the Galway Repeater on C4FM

3)     C4FM via YSF-IE (usually via a local Gateway of Hotspot)

4)     Peanut Using the YSF-IRE via Android PHone, Tablet or Windows Computer

If you have absolutely no radio gear you can use your Android Phone, Tablet or Windows Computer to access your local network and join in local radio club nets or QSOs. From here it may spark an interest in Digital Radio further down the line.