# Link to SARL VHF, UHF & MICROWAVES DX TABLE Click here
Focus on VHF and Above 19 August 2018
Audio version here
In today’s tutorial we will be talking about beacons and activity on VHF and above.
There are beacons running in the Southern parts of Africa, but they are all over the VHF spectrum, so for a beginner or someone who wants to monitor beacons this is now a difficult problem. Could this be a reason for the lower activity on the VHF spectrum?
When we go back many moons ago, we can remember when Hal Lund, ZS6WB was lobbying for a single frequency beacon on each band. He also mentioned that time synchronizing was needed as well, otherwise we do not know who is who.
A new system was adopted by the IARU Region 1 meeting held in South Africa a few years ago. This accepted a total new standard for beacons to be utilized all over Region 1. Looking at the concept it is a very well thought through concept, but we as hams know the money is always a major factor implementing something.
Yes, with the latest explosion in technology it is now easier to assemble a beacon that can accommodate this new standard but, who is paying for this? We come back to the money issue as only a few hams actually operate beacons in Africa. With WSPR a lot of HF beacons suddenly went up to create more RF, and we can see the results. Unfortunately, WSPR is not a good idea for VHF and above because we talk about absolutely frequency accuracy on both the transmit and receive side, and most hams don't have very accurate radios on the VHF and above bands.
What is the purpose of a beacon, and let's also look at a beacon antenna.
Most beacons operate with a gain antenna. Yes, we need gain to reach somewhere, but we loose the reason for a beacon in the first place.
What is the purpose of a beacon pointing North or South when there are also propagation conditions in the bigger part of the 360 degree circle. A beacon has to be omnidirectional in radiation pattern. Now all will think that a vertical antenna with gain will solve this issue. It is a start but, the best propagation over long distances is horizontally polarized because one of the reasons is that all man made noise is mostly vertically polarized, unless you stay right next to a noise generator.
The IARU Region 1 Beacon Policy states that the new generation beacons all operate on the same frequency portion. This means you register your beacon and a specific time slot on a specific frequency in that portion of the band will be allocated to that specific beacon.
We are talking money again because now GPS and very stable transmit units are involved.
We in Southern Africa are slowly moving in that direction and first we need to decide where are we going to operate our beacons until we gradually change over to the new technology.
This is going to be challenging as some would have to provide funding, others building the beacons and others running it from their QTH 24/7.
Team work needed
So teamwork is needed. We can ask for funding and expertise from the SARL and members for such a project. Remember this was a discussion long before IARU Region 1 finalized the beacon project in the meeting at Sun City and this is not something new that we are putting on the table right now. We need to get things finalized and get direction.
Back to the antenna design. We need horizontal polarization, and we need omni directionality to successfully study propagation across Southern Africa.
We need a system that operates on a PC, Laptop or Raspberry PI to monitor for these beacons 24/7 and get this to a server where the people with the experience can actually analyse this propagation information that has been gathered.
Firstly, do we need to start with an elaborate GPS timed system? No, we need to get RF into the air first.
CW is the standard protocol for beacons since beacons started. Most of the beacons, actually all of them are operating CW, so we have a start already.
Where are we going to operate them in the spectrum? Well someone decided that all analogue beacons move up to the top of the spectrum because the new generation beacons are going to occupy the bottom or pre historic CW Beacon portion.
Here is some information for those not familiar with propagation and openings on the VHF and above bands.
When a band opens up, it starts from the lowest frequency and slowly or quickly moves up in the band.
Where does it put beacons now that are all high up in the band because they are still CW only or maybe a digital FT8 beacon. Yes, correct, the beacons mean nothing for band opening conditions.
Locally if Sporadic E or Tropo conditions do appear then of course the band is wide open and the Maximum Usable Frequency locally suddenly rises because of the e-Cloud above us or whatever happened. This normally happens very fast and these openings are also not very often, but they do happen with absolutely no warning. If we monitored the beacons we would have picked up the opening immediately.
Coming back to the immediate issue. Beacons are all over the bands. Some or most don't even know where to listen for a beacon because there is a beacon list on the SARL web page, but in case of an opening who goes to the beacon list first to see where does he listen for an opening. Most are at work and most don't even listen anyway and when the opening is over everyone is suddenly active and hoping for another opening while the radios are switched on.
So back to beacons again. We need to get them organized, Pieter, V51PJ’s suggestion is CW and all in a specific portion of the band. If the same frequency is used, then so much better because if you hear a beacon or beacons then at least you know there is a band opening in Southern Africa and will start calling on the specific USB or FM frequency. At least everyone will then be monitoring for a beacon as well as the FM and SSB calling frequency. There are only three frequencies you have to actually scan on your radio so no list of beacon frequencies will be required.
The existing beacons running on other portions of the spectrum can all be changed to operate on this single frequency and maybe the original frequency too. The same antenna will be able to occupy both frequencies. All that is needed is a radio that can transmit on channel 1 and then channel 2 and then back to channel 1 and this is the sequence. Sequencers can be easily built, and we used to call them flip-flops in the pre IC era. Suddenly cost is not an issue any more.
We can decide to either operate dual frequency depending on the radio used or changing and adding a second radio or a second channel. With this idea I think we can definitely contribute to the propagation study because now you also only have to monitor one frequency.
What we need next is software with time stamping that actually monitors the frequency using the sound card input. These files can then be saved in one hour recordings. We will leave this for the programmers amongst us. Again we ask for them to help us in this project.
If you have picked up a beacon or beacons with either Meteor Scatter pings or bursts and Tropo Scatter or Ducting then only those files need to be sent to a server of some kind. If a Sporadic E opening does occur at least we will have the actual data with the correct time stamps to know where and where to these openings occurred. Accurate timing may help us in working out what conditions are required to create the opening. Now if we can also send a decoded call sign immediately to the DX clusters worldwide we can immediately get the Maximum Usable Frequency information from these sites that will help us call on the other bands too. If for example the Maximum Usable Frequency is 94 MHz we will be able to listen on 4m as well and if it goes higher, then 2m may also be possible.
We saw in Europe this summer where the Maximum Usable Frequency went up to almost 200 MHz and even 23cm records were broken.
The biggest success story of a beacon project can be seen in the latest success of the D4C beacon project. A 2m beacon with only 14 W output into an omni-directional horizontally polarised antenna heard over a distance of 4800 km.
I used to have CW beacon monitoring software but I lost it due to a hard drive failure. With this I could time stamp CW beacons heard at my QTH and a lot of beacons were logged at the time.
CW or FT8 or the suggested PI4 digital mode can be used for beacons. The main thing here is to standardize and get a system in place for Southern Africa. We want to generate interest further up in Africa, and we need to decide on something that will be easy for them to use as well as cost effective and simple.
Pieter’s suggestion is a single frequency at the bottom of each band for a universal CW beacon, and we already have our standard calling frequencies. The existing beacons can add a channel or stay as it is. We just need a single frequency to monitor for openings locally down South of the Equator.
This information was provided by Pieter Jacobs, V51PJ, and sent to me via Winlink 2000 which we have discussed in the past. Pieter lives on a farm in Southern Namibia and does not have the luxury of a stable Internet.
Let us now look at some news about VHF and Above bands...
Pieter, V51PJ reports that his 2m system is up and running again. Wind vibration causes the nuts and bolts to loosen even though they were tightly fastened. Everything that flashed over has been replaced and repaired and the antennas have been retuned with no change in the SWR when the power is increased.
Everyone has most probably read about the new Region 1, 2m Tropo record setup by D4Z on Sunday 5 August 2018 when Mark Turner EL3KD and D4Z made contact on CW over a distance of 4800 km.
EL3KD used an 11 element F9FT antenna, 7 m above ground with a receiver pre-amplifier and 400 W transmit power.
The D4Z Beacon Antenna is 3 horizontal dipoles spaced around a mast to give an omnidirectional pattern and 100 W transmit power.
What is amazing is that the beacon of D4C running at 14 W on this same antenna array was heard over this distance of 4800 km. The success of the D4C Beacon network is because of team spirit and the fact that VHF is still an unexplored spectrum for radio amateurs and that all share the same passion called VHF and above.
Because we do not know where the signals will pop out we need to keep monitoring and also be active on the spectrum as well.
Yes, cold weather does have a massive impact on VHF and above activity. Not because of propagation conditions but because a hot bed is much more comfortable than a cold shack.
With September or should we say Spring around the corner we must keep an eye out for 6m and above activity towards Europe as the TEP or Trans Equatorial Propagation Season is in the air. Keep an ear out for those very faint call signs in the background of the Italian wall of noise. Those are the ones that are TEP with enhanced Sporadic E propagation that do give you that extra boost reaching up to the Scandinavian countries.
Do not forget to also monitor 4m and 2m during TEP season. You don't know what can happen. Do not forgot to log onto the ON4KST web page to see and announce if you hear something or want to call in a Northerly direction towards Europe. Also remember that the US and Japanese openings occur in an Easterly direction and South American openings towards the West.
The second leg of the SARL VHF/UHF Competition is also around the corner. Hopefully we may experience an active E-Cloud above South Africa that may provide very interesting contacts on VHF and above around Africa. or lots of Tropo ducting and Meteor Scatter activity.
Let us not forget the dream to get VHF activity going in our neighbouring countries and further north to the Equator.
When talking to a ham in Africa on HF please share that we want to get VHF activity boosted in Africa and tell them about the various types of propagation such as Meteor Scatter, Tropo Ducting, Tropo Scatter, Aircraft Scatter, Lightning Scatter, etc.
If you are yourself not familiar with the various modes possible on VHF and above please contact any VHF operating radio amateur on the SARL Forum and let’s discuss it or arrange skeds.
Do not forget to also try FM 2m Rigs on Digital modes. You might be surprised at what you may achieve during a sked.
Pieter says, as the sun is rising earlier I am available for skeds as well on 6m, 4m, 2m and 70cm. 23cm is still in budgeting phase. The linear is here but a good transverter and antenna is still in the pipeline. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any skeds. Don’t forget the //WL2K at the start of the subject line of the email. During the daytime I am available on 7.090 MHz monitoring for SOTA/POTA/RADAR/QRP activities and my grid square is JG82ie for those who also want to activate a GRID for the Worked All V5 Grid Square Award. There is also a very special grid added to this Award. Please visit the NARL website for further info. Will it not be nice to do it all on VHF instead of HF?
Conditions along the coasts will return to normal again once the cold fronts have passed, but we do need the rain too.
Well that is all the VHF and Above news for this week.
Thank you again Pieter, V51PJ for all your contributions to Focus on VHF and Above.
Please send your news snippets and information about activities on VHF and Above including information for the tutorial to email@example.com.
Focus on VHF and above is edited and presented for Amateur Radio Today by Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ.