Monday, September 19, 2016

The Hype of Digital Modes

Digital appears to be the craze in Ham Radio today. It consisted of only one option decades ago but now digital popularity and it's many forms are amazing. Here is an incomplete list of some the available digital modes:

  • Fusion (C4FM)
  • D-STAR
  • DMR
  • AMTOR
  • Hell (Hellschreiber)
  • MFSK
  • Packet Radio
  • PACTOR
  • RTTY
  • Phase-shift Keying
    • PSK31
    • QPSK31
    • PSK63
    • QPSK63
  • CW
The obvious question from this point is where does one start. The answer is more complex than the question itself because each of the modes can require different equipment, different skill sets, and different levels of patience to master. For example, the original digital mode of CW takes time to learn and become proficient. However, the result is a fine tuned skill that works in poor band conditions. 

All digital modes have an advantage over analog voice due to its narrow bandwidth and possible error detection and correction ability. For example, PSK31, one of the most popular digital modes today, is only 31Hz wide and is the easiest digital mode to use (in this writer's opinion). It only requires a radio, and antenna, and a sound card equipped computer. Some of the newest rigs on the market offer a built-in sound card interface that eliminates the need for a computer sound card. All one needs to do is connect the computer to the radio, tune to a specified frequency, and launch the software. 

Anyone who wants to develop their communications emergency skills needs to understand and follow the digital modes of communication. If we find ourselves in a national communication emergency I guarantee that few people will be pushing their 1,500 watt amplifiers. Most will be running as little wattage as possible. This means that transmissions could be more on the line of 5 watts due to power conservation. 

Most people do not realize that in a true long-term disaster solar and batteries will be the only things powering communications. Therefore, power conservation will be critical to long-term success. So instead of saving your pennies for that shiny new Ameritron amp, you may want to invest in a better antenna system. Ask the guys who live in the QRP (low power) arena, they have been known to break a pileup using 5 watts or less. To do that requires efficiency and understanding your hobby. That is the goal I set for my station. You will learn a lot on low power. 

We will cover some of the digital modes more in detail in days to come. Stay tuned!