Saturday, November 25, 2017

Local Email with Winlink Express and VHF FM

              In the after action reports coming out of Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria, there was discussion on how issues arose trying to moving tactical email between local station in Puerto Rico.  Through a lack of training, the operators were using WinMor links to the Mainland first to send the message, and then back again.  The operators also complained that the issued equipment was HF/50 Mhz only, which inhibited using the radios for local email.  Unfortunately,  the issued equipment was up to the task, but the operators were not.

              Winlink Express offers the ability to use all of their radio modes over FM channels, and 50 MHz and 29 MHz FM offers point to point communications that were required.  Antennas are small enough on both bands that they can easily be made with any locally sourced wire.

              These issues lead to some experimentation in Luzerne County, PA ARES using Winlink Express and FM modes on 2 meters.  While 2 meters was used, 6 or 10 meters would have been equally effective.  At first attempts were made to establish AX.25 1200 baud packet.  Winlink Express allows hardware and software modems to be used.  I was able to establish links using a Kantronics 9612, SCS Tracker, and SCS DR-7800.  The most difficult issue was discovering the COM port as well as the proper baud rate.  The 9612 used a 4-way FTDI chipped Serial to USB adapter.  Finding which input (it was #2) was the first challenge, and then setting the comms baud to 9600 on the COM port listed in device manager.  This modem worked at both 1200 and 9600 baud as it is a dual port modem.  The SCS Tracker is a natural USB connection and used 38400 Baud at the listed COM port and was relatively easy to install.  The 7800 used 57400 Baud and was also easy to set up in Winlink Express.  Both of these modems are capable of high speed links, but setting the deviation of the radio at these speed as well as the very high signal quality required makes working these speeds difficult.

              To send local email in Winlink Express, open up the Packet P2P session and go to the settings option.  There is a drop down menu for they type of modem.  You can just enter the modem type, add the COM port and Baud rate, and then hit “update.”  This should enable the modem without changing any other settings. Type in the target station, even through a digipeater, and the monitored frequency and hit the connect button.  This should start the exchange process which will work without further intervention from either user.

              The cheaper TNC option is the use a soundcard modem for packet.  I use the SoundModem by UZ7HO.  In this program you set the radio to AFSK AX.25 1200 Baud and a center frequency of 1700.  In the Settings Devices menu, first you select your input and output devices.  The settings for an external soundcard device such as a Signalink or built in soundcards in a radio will be the USB codec setting.  If you are using the computer’s soundcard, you will probably will keep them at the default.  You have to uncheck the AGWPE Server Port and check the KISS Server Port of 8100.  Also you should check TX Rotation, Single Channel output, Color Waterfall.  The PTT settings depend highly on your controller.  Using the Signalink controller, you keep the PTT port to NONE.  If you are using a COM port keyed PTT as many Rigblasters do, you need to set the COM Port properly.  In the settings Modem, you keep the default modem filters for Channel A, check the ALL filter, and check KISS optimization and non-AX25 filter.  Keep the program running, either in a window or minimized.  I prefer the window open to monitor the packets and waterfall.

  In Winlink Express, open up Packet P2P window and go to the settings.  Use the modem drop down menu and select KISS.  For COM port you need to set it to TCP which will open up boxes for the IP address and Port.  Keep the default IP address of and select port 8100.  Switch the TNC mode from NORMAL to ACKMODE.  Keep the TNC parameters at the default but check Enable IPoll.  Hit update and it should give you the ready command in the main box.

The trouble we had in the Luzerne County experiments was using Packet in general.  The signals were strong, but 30-50 watts was required to make links.  Due to our location, RF was bouncing off the hillsides like a pinball and there was significant multipath.  AX.25 fails completely in the presence of multipath and we had link establishment failures no matter what modems were being used.  Also, high power isn’t conducive to field operations.  A better solution is required.

The first option we explored was Winmor 1600.  This is designed as a HF protocol, but can easily fed into an FM circuit via a soundcard.  A 3 KB email was exchanged at 1574 Bytes/minute using the fastest mode.  Unfortunately, the overhead packets are sent at much slower speeds.  The big advantage in using Winmor is that there is really no set up required, the default settings in the Winmor P2P window worked flawlessly.  This makes it very field deployable with little training required.  Using this mode on 10M FM in Puerto Rico would have been the way to go.  One caution is when using Icom HF/VHF radios, the 2M FM side of the radio uses a dedicated VHF PTT pin, so the cable will need to altered or replaced.  This is not an issue with Yaesu.  I do not know about other brands.

LCARES makes extensive use of the FLDigi suite of programs.  FLARQ offers an email function through FLARQ, but the email program is very primitive and not as intuitive as Winlink Express.  The next stage of this experiment is use the high speed modems in FLDigi to move email from Winlink Express.  Fortunately you can set up FLDigi to accept KISS inputs, so after adjusting settings, you can set the data packets over FLDigi modems. 

In FL Digi go to Configure, Miscellaneous, IO.  Uncheck “Lock” then check Enable KISS (NOTE: THIS WILL DISABLE FLARQ as it can only work as a server for ARQ or KISS.)  Check TCP/IP, Listen/Bind AX25 Decode, Auto Connect/Retry, and Inhibit 7bit modem.  I set the IP address to Addr to 8100 I/O and 8101 O.  Next hit save, and restart FLDigi (the port settings will only take effect when you restart FL Digi.)  Select the modem you wish to use.  Since it’s an FM circuit, you should use modes like 8PSK1000F or 8PSK1200F.  The key is that you cannot use 5 or 7-bit modems as it is 8-bit data being moved.  Due to the turn around times required for KISS packet exchange, most of the FLDigi modes can’t be used, as their preambles are too long.  For best results use 8PSK1000F.  I turn off TXID as the header will be sent with every TX and greatly slows the exchange.  Have a pre-determined mode and center frequency (1500 is good for the fast modes) monitored on both sides of the link  I also turn off AFC and SQL in FL Digi.  RXID can be on or off.  Leave FLDigi running.

In Winlink Express, open Packet P2P Go to Settings.  The settings need to be changed due to the nature of the modems.  For TNC settings on 1200 baud the following were used:

RFBaud 1200

Max Packet length 64 (standard 128 bytes takes too long and the Rx station attempts to send the ACK before the packet has been transmitted.  This was a major stumbling block for us)

Max Frames: 2 (same issue as above 4 frames only work with AFSK packet)

Frack 2

Persistance 160

Slot time 30

Max Retries: 5 (this is up to the user, but for FM, it shouldn’t need to be any more)

Enable IPoll 

You can now establish the link with the FLDigi modems.  Just like Winmor, this should fight multipath far better and require much less power.  During our testing, when we needed 30 watts for packet, we could reduce power to 5 watts for Winmor link with no loss of speed.

During testing we actually found 8PSK1000F a bit faster than the 1200 baud variety, even with no packet repeats.  Throughput for data on 1000F was 2277 Bytes per minute, while 1200F was around 2100 B/Min.  I am at a bit of a loss as to why this is, unless the 1200F uses more check bits and therefore fewer data bits per packet.  Both of these modes were significantly faster  than Winmor 1600.

Testing was done on 2 meter FM simplex at a LOS distance of about 10 miles.  Antennas were base models, but not directional and full scale signals were received at 5-10 Watts.

In conclusion, the proof of concept works, and there are several ways to move P2P mail between stations on VHF simplex.  The choice of modes will depend on the link scenario and equipment available, as well as the skill of the operators.  Cost for the basic setup is minimal, requiring only a radio with antenna and soundcard interface, but it will take some dedication to set up and use the equipment.  This system will not replace the excellent multi-point broadcast capabilities of FLDigi (especially in conjunction with FLMsg and FLAMP).  This is another tool in the box, but probably will be on a lower shelf.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

HAL ST-8000A Wiring and Pin-out

              Probably the toughest part of using the HAL ST-8000A is wiring up the unit in the configuration that you want to use it.  As mentioned in the introduction article, you have four options to run the unit.  The first is to use it as designed, where audio is fed into the unit, demodulated, and exported as RS-232.  The second option is similar, but uses MIL-188 data output.  The third option is for the terminal unit to “regenerate” the audio and output Mark and Space tones for further decoding.  The fourth is one that isn’t clearly documented, and has the ST-8000A filter the input audio, and then output the audio to the Data I/O connector before it is demodulated at all.  Of the four modes, the last holds the most promise for effectively using the ST-8000A in the 21st century.

              In this article, I will review the pin outs for using the unit as a regenerator and as a filter, as both can be done simultaneously.  To use the rig to output serial data, the number one port needs to be configured away from regeneration, so I have not pursued those options.

              The first step is to open the 8000A and set some of the jumpers.  Just remember to have the unit turned off and unplugged.  It is also advisable to take proper static precautions when reaching into the interior.  There are quite a few options, most of them dealing with the remote control and RS-232 perimeters.  Details of these are in the manual, but since I was not using these functions, I did not adjust them from factory defaults.  The first jumper I set was the input impedance jumper (A1J6) in the upper left corner of the unit.  Since my Icom 746 has an audio out impedance of 4.7 kilo-ohms, it made for less of a mis-match to set it to 10 kilo ohms rather than the default of 600 ohms.  The second jumper I set was for the tones mute (A1J8).  To use this unit in regeneration mode, this jumper must be changed from the factory default so that the tones are always on.  This fact was confirmed in an email from HAL Communications.  Once these two jumpers are set, then you can re-install the top cover and get the soldering iron ready.

              There are three sockets in the back of the ST-8000A.  They are marked Audio I/O J2, Data I/O J1, and Remote.  I do not use the remote socket, as I change all parameters from the front panel.  The Audio I/O port is a MS27508E14F35SA connector which is female.  You will need a MS2743E14F35PA Male connector to mate with it.  These are available for about $40 online if you are missing the original.  The socket has 37 pin possibilities, but fortunately we won’t be using most of them.  Soldering them is pretty easy, as you solder the pin to the control cable, and then insert the pin into the socket using a special tool which comes in the accessory pack.  The audio in and out are via balanced lines.  Ground pins 3 and 12 if you are feeding an unbalanced line, which is what you are normally going to do.  The manual states to ground them at the radio.

The Audio I/O Jack has the following pinouts: (if a pin isn’t listed, it’s not connected)

 Pin 1 Modulator FSK Audio Output (AFSK out) rated -30 to 0 DBm 600 ohm

Pin 3 Modulator FSK Audio Output (AFSK out) rated -30 to 0 DBm 600 ohm (ground this if you are feeding an unbalanced system)

Pin  5 Keyline relay contact (PTT) +50V, 0.2A max

Pin 6 Keyline relay contact (PTT) +50V, 0.2A max

Pin 8 jumper wire to J1 Pin 8, 200V 5A max

Pin 10 Demodulator FSK Audio input (Audio In from line) -45 to 6dBm, 600 or 10K ohms

Pin 12 Demodulator FSK Audio input (Audio In from line) -45 to 6dBm, 600 or 10K ohms (ground this if you are feeding an unbalanced system)

Pin 37 Shield (ground)

              For my setup, I ran two sets of XLR balanced audio lines from the plug that then allows me to use adapters for various audio inputs.  I am generally using HAL DSP controllers which use RCA plugs, so I have XLR to RCA adapters for most of the work.  I only utilized Pins 1, 3, 10, 12, and 37 for my setup.  Running the PTT via Pin 5/6 would be required for normal operation, but not regeneration or filter mode, as the 8000A isn’t used to transmit anything in these latter modes.

 The second socket is Data I/O J1.  The socket is type MS27508E14F35SB and the male plug required is a MS27473E14F35PB. 

              The Data I/O jack has the following pinouts:

Pin 7 Demodulator undetected Mark, 0 dBm Mark audio (this is the filtered audio output)

Pin 8 Jumper wire to J2 Pin 8

Pin 9 Demodulator undetected Space, 0 dBm Space Audio (this is the filtered audio output)

Pin 10 is the carrier detect output (+/-6 VDC selected by jumper A1J9)

Pin 12 Demodulator Analog Ground (use this as the ground return when using pin 7 and/or 9)

Pin 13/14 ground

Pin 15/16 Keyline Relay contacts +/-50 V, 0.2A max

Pin 17 Data I/O RTS Input +/-18 V RS-232

Pin 18 Data I/O CTS output +/-6 V RS-232

Pin 19 Transmitter clock output +/-6 V

Pin 20 Modulator Digital Data Input +/-18 V RS-232/MIL-188 (Jumper to Pin 22 for Regeneration Mode)

Pin 21 Demodulator Mid-BIT clock output +/-6 V RS-232

Pin 22 Demodulator Digital Data Out (RS) +/-6 V RS-232

Pin 23 Demodulator Digital Data Out (MIL) +/-6 V MIL-188

Pin 24/36 Modulator Analog Ground

Pin 25/26 Ground

Pin 37 Shield (Ground)

 The Data I/O port has more connections, but we use very few of them in Regeneration or filter mode.  Getting REGEN audio out of the ST-8000A proved to be a big stumbling block for me.  I resorted to emailing HAL, and they told me to be sure to jump pins 20 to 22 in this plug to route demodulated audio back into the modulator to get it to loop effectively.  This is in addition to turning on the REGEN function on the front panel.  Once this jumper was installed, I was in business.

              I was intrigued by pins 7 and 9 when I read the manual, especially this passage:

              “The demodulator undetected outputs signals (MARK = Pin 7, SPACE = Pin 9) are usually not connected to data terminals.  These are filtered audio signals recovered from the demodulator input signal.  These signals may be used for further data processing or for connection to an external tuning display (oscilloscope)… The external load to ground on Pin 7 or 9 should be 10K ohms or higher.”

              This passage got me thinking.  Can I extract audio from the ST-8000A and run it through a DSP box and have the DSP box do the decoding?  Better yet, can I split the audio and have it run to and external tuning unit AND have it run to a DSP decoding box as well?  I posed the question to HAL and the response was “I hadn’t thought of using Pins 7 and 9 in this way. I can’t think of any reason that it won’t work.  It is a pretty high level output so I don’t think it will cause any problems.”  The short answer is, yes you can, and it does work.  As a caveat, I did use audio isolation transformers to isolate all the various hardware components.

              The plug wiring is pins 7 and 9 are run through an XLR plug via shielded audio cable; Pin 7 on the 8000 is Pin 1 on XLR, pin 9 is Pin 2, and Pin 12 is Pin 3.  This then runs one of two pigtails.  One pigtail converts the XLR to RCA by wiring both data pins (1&2) to the tip, and ground (3) to the ring.  This runs through a Y-adapter and then each leg run through a 1:1 isolation transformer.  The audio feeds a HAL  DSP-4100 for DSP processing and decoding, and the second leg goes to a HAL DXP-38 for tuning indication.  I also have a pigtail that sends each audio signal via coax to BNC connectors for an X-Y display oscilloscope.  The use of the scope would currently require me to use the unit in Regeneration mode, as the audio signals are never joined.  I have also successfully run the audio solely to the DXP-38 for tuning indication and decoding.

I used a simple wire jumper in the plug to connect Pins 20 and 22.

              The audio in section I saved for last.  I run two audio cables to the ST-8000A.  The first is audio from my ICom 746 using the ACC(1) port pin 5.  This has a fixed impedance of 4.7K ohms and level of 100-300 mV.  This is more than enough to drive the unit.  I use an audio isolation transformer to block any DC.  I also have a cable running from my computer headphone jack to the ST-8000A.  I checked with my scope to make sure that the audio drive was under 300 mV (a volume setting of <30 on my computer) and the system worked well.  I used this to copy RTTY newswires from

              I use the DSP-4100 or DXP-38 for all transmitting work and this is done with the standard FSK keying line into the Icom.  The 8000A is really used only in the receive side of the radio system. 

              That is the wiring of the unit.  The next task will be to set up the front end to get the unit to decode.

HAL ST-8000A Powering up and Internal Testing

Before you purchase a HAL ST-8000A, it would be best for you or the seller to run the internal test procedures to check your firmware and to ensure that everything is still running correctly.  These units are over 20 years old now, and the electronics could start to fail if they have been sitting in storage for too long.  The good news is that this testing is very easy, and only takes the power cable to complete.  So even a NOS unit can be powered up and tested with no technical knowledge about the unit.

              Check on the back panel to make sure that the frequency and voltage match your power mains.  Unlike most TNC’s, the 8000A uses about 30W of AC power and not 13.8 VDC.  In the US this would be 115V and 50/60 Hz.  Europe and Asia require it to be set to 220V and 50/60 Hz.  The frequency switch can also be set to 400Hz for aircraft use in accordance with MIL-STD-704.  If your 8000A has the accessory package, you should be supplied with two power cables, one that is a standard desktop computer cable, and a short adapter that allows the unit to be plugged into military power systems.  The male plug is for the US standard, but adaptors or other cables with the proper female socket will work.

              Once the unit is plugged in, flip the front power switch and the 8000A will go through the first diagnostic check.  During this check the firmware version will be displayed.  The newest firmware is version 1.9.  Once the start up has ended, the unit will show mark and space frequency as well as baud rate, and you should get a slight flicker in the LED bar graphs.  A few of the display LED’s might also be illuminated, depending on the settings.  This is the first test, and the one most ignorant sellers will claim is all they can do.

              The second test is called the BIT test, and this tests the internals of the ST-8000A by routing the modulator through the demodulator to check that the circuits are working correctly.  To perform this test, turn the unit it on, and upon completion of the start up test, hit the “2nd” key, then hit “BIT” and finally “Enter.”  This will run the machine through a 13 step self-diagnostics test, including testing all the LED’s and testing the demodulator at several audio levels.  If all is well, the unit will end the test by putting “Pass” on the LED display and finally returning to standby mode.  If there is a failure at any point, it will display the step of failure and say “FAIL” on the screen.  The test will not proceed beyond the failure point.

              Once the ST-8000A is verified to be functioning correctly by these tests, it is time to move onto the wiring to be able to get audio into the unit from the source, and then intelligence back out.

HAL Communications ST-8000A Overview

              This will be the first of a series of blog posts on the HAL ST-8000A.  I have had quite an adventure getting one of these terminal units working in my station and there is very little information on the internet to help with the process.  I hope to provide an overview as well as some hints and tricks I learned, or discovered that helped me along the way.  If someone else wants to use this unit in their station, I hope that they can use this information to make the process more painless than mine was.

              The HAL ST-8000A is a teletype modem that was designed for the military to provide a drop-in replacement to the Frederick Electronic 1280A modem.  It can be used in both radio and hardline applications and converts FSK Teletype at a wide range of baud rates to/from either RS-232 or MIL-188 protocols.  Since it was designed for the US Air Force, it uses US Department of Defense Bendix plugs and is built to military specifications.  This means that it is very well build, EMP hardened, and subsequently very costly.  This was HAL Communication’s last terminal unit that did not have a DSP circuit.

              The flow diagram of the unit is as follows: audio is fed through a balanced line into the unit where it passes through a series of filters.  The filters are automatically selected based on the programed front-end settings.  Filter width varies directly with the selected tones and baud rate.  The unit can handle tones from 300 Hz to 3000 Hz, which will handle most radio SSB bandwidths.  There are a series of low pass filters that cut out noise and then the audio is routed both the I/O port (more on this later), and one of two individual discriminators. The first discriminator is used at baud between 30 and 600 baud, and the second for baud rates from 601 to 1200.  The discriminators decode the audio input and uses a microprocessor to convert it to one of three digital signal outputs: 1) RS-232 data, 2) MIL-188 data, or 3) audio tones (Regeneration).

              On the transmit side, the ST-8000A will take data input (RS-232 or MIL-188) and convert it to AFSK tones which will drive the SSB radio or pass it over hard lines.  This is very similar to how most sound card and many TNC’s are utilized to send RTTY.  The unfortunately part of this is that you cannot use the FSK mode on the radio which is disadvantage on many radios due to the filter limitations while in SSB mode instead of RTTY mode.

              Using the ST-8000A as designed will require the appropriate software to decode the RS-232 or MIL-188 data streams in to text.  Given the age of these units, the terminal programs will be difficult to find, and will need to use older operating system emulators to run the software.  Add to this the lack of DSP and the use of AFSK on the transmit side, you may wonder why you would bother to use an ST-8000A in the first place.  The answer to this is the front-end filters.

              When people still used the ST-8000A, or it’s civilian cousin the ST-8000, the operators were looking for a way to use the superior decoders on the ST-8000’s while using their favorite software, which often did not interface with the terminal units.  The stop gap measure was to use the “regeneration” feature of the 8000’s.  This had the 8000 decode the audio with it’s superior filters and discriminators, and then convert them to pure, high S/N ratio audio signals to be converted to data by a secondary TNC which fed data to the software.  Any TNC was able handle the high-quality signals from the regenerator, and then the secondary TNC could be wired to send FSK signals to the rig, overcoming the second issue of the 8000’s.

              With the utilization of DSP, this stop-gap use of terminal units was rendered obsolete.  While some newer TNC’s use DSP, it was pointless to input regenerated tones into them, as the regenerated audio did not need further processing.  In standard soundcard interfaces, software was able to take audio directly from the radio and DSP algorithms were superior to the discriminators to the 8000’s.  Some software and interfaces could even overcome the FSK keying issue and software took over from the terminal units in most applications.  The use of external TNC’s and expensive terminal units essentially stopped.

              My idea in getting the 8000A was to see if I could use the TU as an audio filter and then feed the processed audio into a DSP TNC to take advantage of the filtering of the ST-8000A and then use a secondary TNC to use DSP on the signals, and decode them.  This also allows the secondary TNC to use FSK keying.  This plan could also have audio sent to a sound card interface and so the same thing, but onboard the computer.  This was the challenge that the internet had not seemed to meet as I rooted around for information on the HAL ST-8000A.

              The 8000A was never as popular as the 8000.  A few reasons for this are the fact that the 8000 used standard 25 and 9 pin serial connectors which were easily and cheaply available.  The 8000A uses Bendix 37-pin plugs that are harder to find, and far more expensive.  The other big issue for hams was the lack of dials and the replacement of an analogue tuning oscilloscope with the less popular MARK/SPACE LED bars.  The fact that the Mil-spec 8000A was also considerably more expensive sealed the deal.  Today you can find 8000A’s inexpensively, but the 8000’s are quite rare.  While the interface issue is a matter of preference, there is a way to pull filter audio out of the 8000A and feed it into an oscilloscope for a similar display.  The plugs, while expensive, can be bypassed and refitted because the jumpers between the plugs and the board go into a Molex plug.  Just be sure if you go this way, to ground all of the unused pins or you will get errors. 

                I was able to find a ST-8000A online for a price that I could justify, and had it shipped to me.  The unit had never been wired up, so all the original accessories including the Bendix plugs and pins were included.  Unfortunately, the instruction manual was not in the box.  Fortunately for me, the customer service at HAL is excellent and I had a pdf version of the manual in my Dropbox account which was worth it’s weight in gold.  Now that I had the ST-8000A, I had to research to see if it could do what I wanted it to do, and if it could, how I needed to set it up.  Once I had the ST-8000A in my shack, the real adventure could begin.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Contacting MARS: A Saturday on the Radio

                The ship was off the coast of Bermuda on May 9th and 10th and it was time once again for the annual Amateur/ Military Affiliated Radio Service (MARS) cross band operations test.  I had been sent information about the event via PACTOR email from Brad, KA3YAN out of Charleston, SC, so I was ready to work the bands contacting stations via single side band and also copy the secretary of defense’s message via various digital teletype modes.

                The way that the operation works is that the radio operators at the military station would transmit a call on a military frequency and announce the listen frequency in the nearby amateur band.  The amateur, in turn, would use the split capabilities of the HF rig to listen to the military frequency and transmit on the announced amateur frequency.  The teletype was sent on a published frequency at a certain time and with a certain mode to be copied and printed by the receiving station.  This text can be mailed to the appropriate MARS liaison for a certificate.

                The military stations that were participating spanned the globe and were either MARS stations on military facilities, or in a few cases, museum ships that have retained MARS capabilities.  Four branches of the government were represented by various stations: US Army, US Navy/Marine Corps, US Air Force, and even the US Coast Guard got involved.  The flagship station was station WAR located in the Pentagon.

                My little pistol station consisted of a 100W HF radio feeding a remotely tuned sloper antenna with about 30 feet of wire.  The antenna was 100 feet off of the sea and grounded to the ship’s structure.  It may not have power or much wire in the air, but with a nearly perfect ground plane and no nearby RF interference sources, it is a fine station indeed.  The military stations were using a variety of antennas including Log Periodic beams to wire arrays.  Many of them were also using amplifiers to put out a better signal.

                During the course of the day, I worked stations as far to the West as Indiana and Texas,  as far north as Upstate New York, as well as a number of East Coast stations.  I did manage to work WAR on 20 meters, and the USCG Atlantic control station NMN.  My favorite was working NWKJ, the Ex-USS Yorktown (CV-10) in Charleston, SC Harbor.  I have a special affinity working ship to ship stations.  I was able to work stations on the 40M, 20M and 15M bands to round things out.

                Copying the Secretary’s message proved to be a bit of a challenge, as most of the digital modes being used were fairly unusual in today’s amateur world.  I was able to copy two stations and used four different modes to get the copy.  The first was from station AAC on 13 MHz which is an Army station that was transmitting on Military Standard 188-110 FSK.  This is a wide band RTTY station that operates at 75 baud and is 850 Hz wide.  The standard amateur RTTY is 45 baud and 170 Hz wide.  Fortunately for me, the FLDigi program I use has a setting for just this mode and I had fairly clean copy for the message.  The second station was Navy Station NBL in Groton, CT.  They transmitted on 14MHz, just above the amateur 20M band in Amateur RTTY, AMTOR Mode B, and MT63.  FLDigi was able to copy them all, but I had to cheat with the AMTOR by using the SITOR setting in the program.  Since AMTOR is the HAM variation of SITOR, I was able to get clean copy.  MT63 also proved to be a challenge as there are a number of variations to the mode.  I could tell from my waterfall that it was 1 KHz wide, but whether it was long interlace or short wasn’t readily apparent.  I simply switched between the two and saw which one it decoded (it was 1 KHz Long). As NBL gave several RYRY strings prior to sending the message, it was easy to get tuned in and on the right mode.

               I was able to get my copy of the SECDEF's message off into the US Military postal system in Djibouti and a few weeks later a QSL card from USAF MARS was in the mailbox.  As of this writing, I am still waiting for the Army and Navy QSL cards, but good things come to those who wait.

                It was an enjoyable exercise, and made me think outside my normal comfort zone with radio and mode configurations, and perhaps in some civil emergency, such skills will be put to use for real.  For me, experimentation and being prepared to lend our radio skills to those in need is what amateur radio is all about.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Powering TNC's While Operating Portable

I have been a Icom user for years and most of the SCS TNC's have the ability to draw power from the Rig via the communication cord.  This means that I have not had to run many power cables for the SCS modems while using Icom rigs. 

Now that I have a Yaesu FT-897D radio for portable operation, I have had to rethink powering TNC's in a portable environment. Unfortunately the Yaesu doesn't offer the option of using the internal batteries for powering external TNC's except through the CAT port which is being used to power the dedicated tuner. 

All of the TNC's that I own have power requirements in the 200-300 mA range at 10-20V except during firmware updates where power requirements can get up to 500 mA, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

I am trying to minimize the size and weight of batteries for my portable station, so the idea of lugging around a 40 AH wet cell doesn't sit well with me, and that much energy is a bit over the top for the project. 

I have formed two solutions to this problem, each to be used depending on how much bulk I am willing to carry with me. 

For maximum portability, I have wired two AA cells along with a 9V battery in series.  This gives a nominal 12V and runs my SCS tracker easily due to the low current draw.  While the 9V battery can't be expected to supply much current for long, it seems to provide enough power for low power use, and is a very light package.  I did try this with the DR-7800 modem, but the Dragon's thirst was a bit much for this power supply since this modem needs 300-400 mA to operate and the loaded voltage out of the battery pack was 6 V, too low to run the modem. 

To handle the increased load of the Pactor modems, I went to step two, a 7 AH wet cell housed in my Celestron Power Tank.  This device is a portable light and power supply that has a small flashlight, a 800,000 candle power spot light, two 10V/10A cigarette lighter plugs, 3, 6 or 9V/1A coax plugs, and posts that come directly out of the battery for high loads.  I ran 12G wire with rig lugs from the posts to supply a RigRunner 4005 which supplies up to 5 outlets using Anderson PowerPoles for connectors.  This supply will have enough power to run the TNC's and my portable antenna coils for a prolonged time.  This configuration also allows me to have some lighting, run my HT’s through the mobile cigarette power supplies.

Power to the HF rig is still supplied by the internal batteries, but the 7 AH battery has enough energy to supply the designed load for as long as the rig batteries will last in a package that is still reasonable to carry.

Operating Clover

Clover is one of my favorite high frequency (HF) modes.  It was developed in the early 90's and was brought out as a proprietary digital mode in the early 1990's by Hal Communications.  There are currently 3 variations of the mode in current use, Clover II, Clover 2000, and Clover 2500.  A good history and technical discussion can still be found at Hal's website  I won't try to rehash all of the ins and outs of the mode, but will instead give a fairly brief overview of the mode.

Clover II was the first commercially available iteration.  It consisted of 4-tones sent sequentially in a 500 Hz pass band.  Each tone shifted phase in order to pass binary characters. The number of phases increased with better band conditions until it reached 16 phase shifts.  In addition, in the highest modulation schemes, amplitude modulation was added to pass more data.  All of this was done at the low symbol rate of 31 Hz.  Clover II was targeted at both the amateur and commercial interests.  Unfortunately the cost of the mode was too much for the amateur community and only caught on with some, primarily US based, commercial interests.  Data rates for Clover II range from 125 bps to 750 bps and was available new until recently in several modems.  The last Hal unit to carry Clover II was the DSP4100

In 1999 Clover 2000 was introduced.  The basic modulation was the same, but the number of tones was increased to 8 and the bandwidth spread to 2 KHz.  Additionally the symbol rate was doubled for more throughput.  Hal decided that this mode was a bit of overkill for the amateur community and marketed it almost exclusively to commercial interests.  The modems remain expensive, but the increase in throughput was impressive at 500 to 3,000 bps.

In 2011, Clover 2500 was introduced in the late model DSP4100/2K and DSP4200 modems.  The symbol rate was increased even more to 71.125 baud which lead to an increase of bandwidth to 2.5 KHz.  This shows the practical limit of Clover in standard SSB transceivers and seems to be marketed in response to a rival's introduction of a new mode at approximately the same time.  The data rate for Clover 2500 is 625 to 3750 bps.

While there are published reports about the technical specification of Clover on the internet, there are few, if any on-air reports available except those found in relatively old equipment reviews of clover II.

I have fairly extensive experience with Clover II over the last 10 years or so, primarily with my DXP-38 modem.  This was the last modem marketed to amateurs with Clover in it.  It featured a tuning indicator which was omitted on commercial modems which primarily operate on fixed frequency channels and should not require manual tuning.

Clover II operation requires precise tuning, to within 20 Hz for link establishment.  The modem does not have the ability to compensate for frequency drift, but with statistics passed between the modems on a regular basis, the radio can be slowly (no more than 10 Hz at a time) zeroed in to each other.  Amateurs using the mode tend to have a set frequency to meet on (14.065.5 LSB dial is the most common) and fine tuning for rig errors can be done once the link is established. 

Once the link is established, Clover is pretty much on auto pilot.  All the operator has to do is type or send files.  The mode works on automatic overs after certain amounts of data is passed.  The length of these blocks between overs is determined by the amount of data to be sent and can last several seconds.  Overhead and a small amount of keyboard data are sent via short blocks with a very robust waveform while data blocks are longer and will be sent at the highest speed possible as determined by conditions on the other end of the link.

I have also experimented with Clover 2000 several times.  This mode is much more difficult to operate than Clover II, especially with lower power systems such as amateurs often use, and me especially.  The same amount of power is now spread over 2 KHz and 8 tones instead of 4 tones in 500 Hz.  This means that there is a lower average power on the other end of the link requiring more ERP and better conditions.  Clover 2000 is also set up to run with fewer error retries and is very prone to link failure if struck by fading.  Still, when the conditions are right, Clover 2000 will move data very quickly, even at it's more robust waveforms.

Clover is unique in current modes in that statistics for both sides of the link are readily displayed.  Waveform , amount of online error correction used, S/N ratio, frequency offset, throughput, and phase dispersion are all shown to the operator.  The most important to judge the link condition are S/N and PHS (phase dispersion).  The former shows the relative strength of the signal and higher numbers are desirable.  The second shows how much phase distortion is being caused as the waveform is propagated.  lower numbers are better in this case.  Since Clover relies on being able to determine phase shift, higher amounts of dispersion require fewer shifts per tone, and that will mean less throughput.  SN around 30 and PHS in the teens indicate a good link and will allow speedy transfer of data.  PHS in the 40's and S/N in the teens will expect low throughput.  Any worse than those numbers, you can expect link failure or at least numerous error signals. 

For Keyboard chats, using Clover 2000 is both frustrating and wasteful of spectrum.  The enhanced signal conditions that are required coupled with the relatively slow rate typing and reading make the mode difficult to use.  Save this mode for passing traffic.

Clover II is a very nice keyboard mode due to it's speed and semi-duplex nature.  Also the link status panel is of interest to radio enthusiasts.  It can also serve as a relatively fast file transfer mode provided the file isn't very large.

There is a yahoo group dedicated to Clover operating with a small but dedicated following.  So if you see a Hal modem online that has the mode for cheap, have a go at it.  If you think that clover alone isn't worth even the modest used prices of these modems, you can still use them as great RTTY or Pactor I modems.