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Weak Signal Propagation Reporter

and
Some of the things you can do with it!

Copyright © 2009, 2010 Stu Phillips – K6TU


Woodside, CA
November 4th, 2010
First presented September 2009
Stu’s Background
 Engineer, now Venture Capitalist & Business Consultant
 Systems, Software & Communications
 ICL, Logica, Tandem Computers, Cisco Systems
 First licensed as G8HQA in UK, 1973
 Lived in California since 1984
 US license in 1988 – N6TTO
 Changed call in 2009 – K6TU
 Ham Interests
 Weak Signal Propagation
 Contesting
 Ultra accurate time & frequency
 Combining computers & radio (digital modes, SDR…)
Weak signal operation on HF
 Bottom of the Solar Cycle
 Propagation is “bad” – but how bad?
 Test the limits of what can be done
 Low power (QRP - < 5W, QRPP – mW)
 RX signal often too weak to copy by ear
 Use DSP software to recover signals below noise
 Spectran, Argo, Spectrum Lab
 Operating modes
 QRSS – very slow CW (3 second dit or longer)
 Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR)
WSPR
 Designed by Joe Taylor – K1JT for weak signal propagation operation
 Implemented as a Windows program using PC sound interface for A/D and D/A
 Combines
 Slow data rate (1.46 baud)
 Forward Error Correction
 Redundant coding & integrated timing symbols
 4 level FSK at 1.46 Hz shift per level
 Recover signals to ~ -28 dB SNR
 Too weak to hear, barely visible on waterfall
 Simple message payload
 Call sign, Maidenhead locator, Transmit power in dBm
 Uploads received signal “spots” to WSPRnet.org
 Freely accessible
 Central Database for WSPR spots (www.wsprnet.org)
 Set frequencies for WSPR operation to maximize chance of “spots”
WSPR – the program
Uploads spots
Spots from the database
WSPR operation
 Low power, 5 watts – preferably less
 5 W will generate spots across the world on 30m
 Transmit, check database for spots
 Receive, upload spots of received stations
 Addictive!
So… what can you use it for ???
WSPR uses
 Entertainment!
 Testing different antennas
 Validating propagation predictions
 …
The challenge
 How far could I get on 200 mW or less?
 Built home brew WSPR transmitter
 QRP crystal controlled transmitter
 PIC controller
 Generates WSPR signal
 Timing control via GPS
 Crystal oven controller for stability
 Switches external attenuators
 Transmit WSPR signal on 10.140 MHz
 200 mW (23 dBm), 50 mW (17 dBm), 10 mW (10 dBm)

 See http://1vc.typepad.com/ethergeist for details


How I got into this…
2009-04-03 23:52 WB3ANQ 10.140191 -29 0 FM19rc 0.005 VK6DI OF88cd 18609 301
 WSPR spot from database
 VK6DI reports hearing WB3ANQ at -29 dB SNR
 Distance of 18,609 Km (short path)
 WB3ANQ transmitting at FIVE MILLIWATTS

 My best spot from VK6DI


2009-03-17 08:46 N6TTO 10.140186 -25 0 CM87vk 0.05 VK6DI OF88cd 14720 258
 -25 dB SNR at 14,720 Km on FIFTY MILLIWATTS

How the heck did WB3ANQ do that????


Must be the antenna
 N6TTO
 Inverted L (160m full size) loaded with remote ATU
 Sub-optimal radial screen

 WB3ANQ
 Force12 Sigma-40 vertical dipole

How differently do these antennas behave on 30m????


Antenna modeling
 Computer modeling and analysis of physical antenna design
to predict
 Radiation pattern
 SWR
 Feed impedance
 Easy to use – graphical interface
 Fast - seconds to try different configurations
 Inexpensive
 EZNEC (http://www.eznec.com/) $139
 4NEC2 (http://home.ict.nl/~arivoors/) FREE
EZNEC analysis – Inverted L
 Describe antenna as a series of wires

Graphic view of
constructed wires
EZNEC analysis – Inverted L
 Run SWR analysis

 Plot the results for SWR and Far Field radiation


EZNEC Analysis – Inverted L
SWR analysis for 1.8 MHz

Main radiation lobe at 25 degrees


Elevation angle
EZNEC analysis – Inverted L
 But how does it radiate on 30m?

 Looks like a cloud warmer!!!


 Peak radiation angle 35 degrees towards VK6
EZNEC analysis – Force12 Sigma40

 Low angle of radiation


 17 degrees over normal
ground
 Must be the antenna!!!
The “solution”
 Build a 30m vertical and try it out
 Cheap and cheerful approach
 Wire antenna hung from tree
 Use X shaped end loading to fit into available space

16 degree radiation angle – sweet!!!!


Comparing two antennas with WSPR
 Use the same transmitter (200 mW)
 Run each antenna for a week
 Solar minimum an advantage – little variation in propagation
 Extract the data from the WSPR database
 Plot the results

Better test would have been alternating transmissions on each


antenna but this was quicker to get going!
Results – Inverted L
14000-16000

12000-14000

10000-12000
16000
8000-10000
14000
6000-8000

12000 4000-6000

10000 2000-4000

0-2000
8000

23:42
22:18
21:00
19:42
18:18
17:18
6000

16:30
15:54
15:06
14:18
13:36
4000

13:00
12:18
11:42
11:00
10:18

2000
9:42
8:54
8:06
7:18

0
6:18
5:00

WSPR Spots for N6TTO


(<= -29)

4:12
Series5
Series9

1:30

23 dBM to 160m Inverted L


(4 - 6)
0:12

3/1/09 0000Z -> 3/10/09 23:50Z


Results – Vertical Dipole
14000-16000
12000-14000
10000-12000
16000 8000-10000
6000-8000
14000 4000-6000
2000-4000
12000 0-2000

10000

8000

6000

4000

2000 WSPR Spots for N6TTO


23 dBM to 30m Vertical Dipole
0
3/11/09 2350Z -> 3/22/09 19:26Z
Surprise!
 The “cloud warmer”
works better at long
ranges than the Vertical
Dipole
 Could be terrain – path
to Australia from my
QTH goes straight into
rock
 Higher radiation angle
an advantage but
results in more hops
(weaker signal at
distance)
Could it be propagation?
 Propagation can be modeled too!
 Modeling tools can predict
 Number of hops for a given path
 Receive signal to noise levels for given power & antenna combinations
(TX and RX)
 PC based software – inexpensive or free
 Graphical UI
 Learning curve a little steeper (more variables)
 Fast – 10‟s of seconds
 Inexpensive to moderate price
 VOACAP (http://www.voacap.net) FREE
 PropLab Pro (http://www.spacew.com) $240
VOACAP
 Developed by US Government for coverage predictions of Voice of America radio
broadcasts
 Extensive help/tutorial information available on the Internet
 Three propagation models
 VOCAP (original)
 ICEPAC (modified to include effect of K index)
 REC533 (ITU RS Recommendation 522)
 Point-to-point or Area coverage calculations
 Area coverage gives SNR or other parameter maps – easier to interpret!
 Basic input data
 Solar weather
 Transmitter & Receiver locations
 Transmitter power & antenna
 Receiver antenna & local noise level
 Parameters to be calculated (SNR, received signal level…)
 Required reliability – CRITICAL!!!!
Combine modeling tools
 Use ICECAP – takes into account planetary K (Kp) as well as SSN
 ICECAP models propagation taking into account the transmitter and
receiver antennas
 Uses a form of antenna description that specifies antenna gain, radiation
angle by direction (azimuth)
 EXNEC and 4NEC2 can both save described antennas in the file format
(type 13) required by VOACAP
 For EZNEC
 Define the type of ground
 Select 3D plot mode
 Set step size to 1 degree
 Run Far Field analysis
 Save modeled antenna as type 13 file to VOACAP folder
 Critical – model Y axis is the NORTH-SOUTH axis
Prediction run for WB3ANQ
 Model the WB3ANQ Force12 vertical dipole
 Save in type 13 file
 VK6DI located in a very quiet (remote!) area of Western
Australia
 Antenna at VK6DI is a horizontal dipole
 Determine Lat/Long coordinates for each station
 Determine the ground conditions at WB3ANQ
 Pick date/time for run
 Use Solar weather data for that date
 Configure ICEAREA & run the model
WB3ANQ Ground
 WB3ANQ located in
Pasadena, MD
 Close to river estuary
 Water table at 2 to 3
feet below ground
 VERY good ground
Ground effect on Force12 Vert. Dipole
 Normal ground – radiation angle 17 degrees

 Very good ground – radiation angle 10 degrees


Setup ICEAREA
Plot the results and scale
 VOACAP limitation – won‟t calculate for powers below 0.1
watt – calculate for 0.1 watt and scale result
 Have to convert WSPR SNR (db in 2.5 KHz bandwidth) to
SNR in 1 Hz bandwidth for VOACAP
 WSPR -28dB in 2500 Hz = -62 dB in 1 Hz
 Then scale SNR levels to accommodate power reduction
from 0.1 watt to 5 milli-watts
 Need 13dB better SNR than VOACAP predicts
 -62dB + 13dB = -49dB or better
VOACAP results for WB3ANQ spot
 Not enough at 90% reliability!!!
 WSPR -28 dB SNR corresponds
to -49 dB SNR for VOACAP
prediction at 0.1 W scaled to 5
mW
VK6DI
 Possibly benefitted from some
form of anomalous propagation?
VOCAP result for WB3ANQ spot
 Reduce path reliability
to 1% - anomalous!!!
 Close enough!
 Wait long enough and
even the blind squirrel
gets a nut!
VOACAP run for my VK6DI spot
 Prediction run for
N6TTO spot by VK6DI
with specific Solar
weather
 WSPR -25 dB SNR
corresponds to -62 dB VK6DI
SNR for VOACAP
prediction at 0.1 watt
scaled to 50 mW
 Prediction close against
reported spot
SV8CS to California
 SV8CS spotted on 5/13
with -23 dB SNR
running 10mw!
 Antenna Moseley Pro-
67 at 100‟ – looks like a
horizontal dipole at
30m
 Corresponds to a
prediction of -65
dBW/Hz in VOACAP
 Good correlation
between prediction and
observed results!!!
SV8CS antennas
30m antenna!!
California to Scotland
 GM4JYB spotted me at -24
dB SNR running 200mW
 Very remote & radio quiet GM4JYB
location using low Vertical
Dipole
 -24 dB SNR at 200 mW
scales to -61 dBW/Hz in
VOACAP
 Good correlation between
prediction and observed
result
GM4JYB antenna
 Very quiet and remote location
 Close to the sea and an unobstructed
takeoff
Conclusions - 1
 Combining antenna modeling and propagation prediction software
generates results that can be verified against real world
observations
 General agreement – doesn‟t explain all observed cases but an
excellent tool for determining antenna choice, frequency for
operation and time of day
 Can be a strategic weapon for contest operation IF you make
realistic assumptions
 Model using your antenna configuration
 Assume the average station has a horizontal dipole or vertical
 Assume the remote station runs 100w so adjust your expectations
about received signal strength in your receiver accordingly
Conclusions - 2
 Free software generates good results and enables the learning
curve to be climbed before deciding to jump into
commercial software
 For me, I‟ve added EZNEC and PropLab-Pro to my must
have tools – to go with an antenna analyzer and „scope
 Provides a basis for experimentation
 Fast to try and decide whether to commit to an implementation
Conclusions - 3

I still haven‟t been able to duplicate Larry‟s spot!

VK6DI has moved to Eastern Australia so I guess I‟ll never will!

Chalk up another one to life‟s mysteries!

Always learning, always something new!

WSPR is seriously good FUN!!!!