13 March 2012

About Hams and Beacons

What is a beacon?

Not an easy question considering what the beacon stands for. He stand and emits something and everybody who comes by can see and interpret the signs. This can be a message or a warning or just a statement: Here I am.

Im Wolkenmeer   ©  Joachim Lehrer
And if you are a ham operator consider yourself also as a beacon.

You certainly want a communication with someone else. But first you have to hit the keyer and ask: Is there somebody out there who wants to answer my call?

So you sit and wait and hope that there will be an answer, but no signals are returning. You get self-doubts:

  • Is my transmitter working?
  • Do I use enough power?
  • Is the antenna tuned to the maximum?
  • Is there any propagation?
  • Is there nobody listening?
  • Does nobody like me?
  • ...
No one can answer these questions but youself. 
  • So you check the rig with the SWR-meter. Yes there seems to be output.
  • Oh, I have only 5 watt output. But that was enough power in the last 20 years to establish world wide contacts.
  • My antenna, a look out of the window, is still hanging between two trees. There seems nothing wrong about that. OK, it is not the best antenna in the world, but better than nothing.
  • Propagation: I check my site. Sunspot number is high. Oh, that is an interesting part of the hobby. I have to dig deeper into propagation. And I can make my own predictions or using the software Ham Cap. But still I am sure that today the sun and the space weather works for me.
  • Or perhaps all other hams are at work or lying in the sun or swimming in the sea.
  • Or the om do not like to speak with a German ham.
So let us try it again and play a beacon.... No one is answering.

Shut the station down for today. No way. So I turn over the bands. Indeed not very much traffic on the bands. Aaah, there is a DX-Station with some hundred DX-chasers, but the rest of the band silence.

So let's look at the other beacons world-wide. They send from all over the world every three minutes and they send with different power levels: 100 watts, 10 watts, 1 watt and 100 milliwatts.So you need about 10 minutes to get a picture about the propagation to your place.And you do not have to do it by yourself. You can use e.g. Faros.

I forgot: Let's look at the DX-Clusters and see what is going on. Oh, there seems to be some traffic around the Big Guns using hundreds of watts and sky high antennas. No match. My last had been the wspr-net. You see communication ways between real people with low power. You can zoom in in your region and see if there is another ham near you making a two-way contact.

Still: I live between to hills, down by the river, and ... I found a solution.

RBN- Reverse Beacon Network

So again consider yourself being a beacon. So do it and transmit and you will be heard by this network. How does it work? Everywhere there are hams with antennas, receivers and a special program called CWSkimmer. This program analyzes depending on the power of your receiver  (SDR) and computer a part of the band and listens for CW signals. It translates the signs into readable words: "Hey there is DL1SDZ calling CQ" and I heard him in VK. Another piece of software sends this message to the website of the network and it is displayed in a table and on a map. And I can tell you: If that program gets your callsign, it will post the receiver, the sender the time, the SNR and the tempo.

So what you get: I real time propagation situation from your side, with your conditions and your power output. You can see into which direction the antenna and the propagation works. You see which chances you have on a special band. You can change your power, your antenna, whatever you like and directly see what effects are the result of your modifications. A great way to optimize your station and your behavior ;-).

And if you play again beacon and nobody answers you but the RBN has you on the screen, then ... it is not your fault when nobody answers you.

How can you contribute to the Reverse Beacon Network?

Easy.You have nearly everything you need: 
  • A rig: If you have a simple rig you can watch only a small portion of the band ~2,7 kHz. If you got an SDR you can cover up to 96 kHz. 
  • An antenna The more the merrier.
  • A computer:  
  • They only thing you need additionally is CWSkimmer. But you can try it out for 30 days for free.
Big guns and contest stations have: For every band one computer, one Perseus and you can be sure: They do not miss a single CQ-Call. On my side it is more on the normal side: An old laptop with an external soundcard, so that I can plug in the I/Q signals from the PMSDR with a stereo plug.

So give it a try to be a reverse beacon. Other hams will thank you and you can see on the monitor what's going on on your place.

Playing together but with different intonations is like the real world of hams. The sound is not spectacular. sorry, but the music worth listening.

Stay Tuned!