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Newbie wanting to get into digital modes

Discussion in 'Working Different Modes' started by KF4PMY, Apr 5, 2012.

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  1. KF4PMY

    KF4PMY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hello, All;

    After several years of holding a novie class license and never getting on the air, I have finally up graded to tech and purchased my first radio. I purchased a wouxun 2m / 70cm ht, and have added a mfj mic and better dual band rubber duck ant for it.

    Now that I have made a few local contacts, trying to make it to club meetings and operating the radio better, I would like to try something new. This is where my question come into play.

    1. Can I do digital modes with this radio?
    2. What modes can I perform?
    3. What equipment do I need to build or purchase?

    To be even more of a pain, Im a minimalist and dont have a permant shack. So everything has to small, battery powered, easy to set-up / break down, portable and fit into my edc pack. I want to be able to get as much use and function out of my ht as possible until I decide on what my next rig will be. Im still undecide if I want to stay with vhf/uhf or venture into hf ops. If I dont purchase the mfj 2meter roll up ant I have been looking at, I will probably build a dual band j-pole that I will be able to set-up on a tri-pod or my edc pack (book pack I'm moding with a light wieght frame to support antenna on).

    Appreicate any help that you guys can offer me.
    Jason Hopkins
  2. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I hate to be a pessimist, but odds are that you are not going to find much that you can work with an HT on digital modes.

    Your best bet is to consult with your local ARES folks, and see what they are doing for digital modes on VHF/UHF. Many groups around the country are using NBEMS - Narrow Band Emergency Messaging System - which can actually use a lot of different soundcard modes. I think most of us are using MT-63/2000 on VHF FM because it is very tolerant of differences in audio levels. Consequently, you can send and receive using only a laptop and an HT - by holding the HT close to the speaker and mike on the laptop - no wired interface needed most of the time. I've done that several times by just setting the HT next to the laptop.

    You should be able to find a wired interface if you want to do other modes. The big question is just what, if any, digital activity there is in your area on VHF/UHF. Around here, the only such activity is APRS and the local NBEMS nets, of which there are three in this region. It is possible to do packet radio with a soundcard, using the AGWPE packet engine. But, in most areas of the country, packet is a dead art.

    Consider an upgrade to General and get set up for digital modes on HF. Some of the new HF rigs have built in soundcard interfaces and can control everything through a single USB connection - very easy to set up and maintain. A minimalist approach would be a rig like the FT-817. If you can learn to send Morse Code with some paddles, the Elecraft KX3 can send and receive RTTY and PSK31 without a computer - you use the Morse paddles to send code which is then converted into RTTY or PSK31. Sadly, the KX3 doesn't appear to have a dedicated port for connecting an external computer soundcard.
  3. NA7U

    NA7U Ham Member QRZ Page


    Yes, you could do digi-modes on VHF, but I'm not sure you'll make many QSOs. Also, to really get the S/N benefit and narrow bandwidth usage of digi-modes you need an SSB radio.

  4. WC5B

    WC5B Ham Member QRZ Page

    HF Digi modes that you hear about are a bit different animal then those on vhf/uhf. With the added use of a TNC, you may be able to get into packet if it is active in your area. These days its pretty rare however. If you add a GPS to the mix you can use that packet for APRS, which is a position reporting system. You can see other hams come and go, but not much talking going on in the traditional since. So, there are data options with additional gear, but it really depends on what digital modes your interested in.
  5. WD0MYM

    WD0MYM Ham Member QRZ Page

  6. K6ABZ

    K6ABZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    No, you're not going to work any digital with your dual band HT.

    You CAN hook that radio up to a TNC and work packet, but you're not going to have a lot to do there; packet has pretty much lost its popularity; the only things I can do with packet in my area are monitor other people's APRS messages.

    All of the other digital modes out there: PSK31, RTTY, JT65, etc, all require a radio that can do Single Sideband AM; typically, digital modes use upper sideband on HF bands, such as 15, 20, and 30 meters. There's not much you can HF you can work with your Technician license. You'll need to consider upgrading to General.

    Your goal of minimalism is probably not going to sit too well with the requirements of an HF station. Daytime operations are going to be as low as the 20 meter band, which requires 30 or so feet of antenna. Nighttime operations are going to happen down on 40 or 80 meters, and you'll need either a much longer antenna or some sort of portable antenna system like a Buddipole or Superantenna. You can try to work QRP with a transceiver like the FT-817, but you really need something with a little more power. My personal preference for portable work would be a 12v RV battery, a laptop computer, and a mobile HF radio like the Yaesu FT-857.

    I think it's probably time you join a club. Talk to some other people in the club and let them know you're interested in learning digital ops.
  7. KB0MNM

    KB0MNM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Jason- I hate to hear people that want to kill other folk's dreams. You could *theoretically* bring out the wiring of your HT if you have enough skill with a soldering iron and very advanced mechanical skill- think tiny parts. There probably is some packet activity around Chicago, but that is quite some distance away- so you would probably only be able to hear it ( unless you find yourself at a Hamfest in Grays Lake , etc. ). The big issue you have here is battery powered- tiny batteries mean short transmit times, as a rule. So a mobile radio would be a good first step. Consider the wiring in advance- or get one that includes at least a 1200 TNC. 73.
  8. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    You would probably have better luck pursuing digi modes on 10 meters when the band is open. An old rig like a Radio Shack HTX-100 or HTX-10 could be used to do PSK31 and other modes like JT-65HF and WSPR on 10 meters. You can find these rigs on EBay for about $100 - don't pay more, and make sure the thing works. You can build a soundcard interface. You'll need a power supply and an antenna - on 10 meters, a full sized 1/4 wave is 8 feet. The 'watering hole' on 10 is 28.120, and you may find people on 28.070. When the band is open, you can work the world with the 10 or so watts you would run for digi modes on these rigs. The whole package can be pretty small, so you can take it up and down as needed.
  9. KJ6PWH

    KJ6PWH Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you want to pursue digimodes in the VHF/UHF range you need to look into niche propagations like:
    - meteor burst
    - moon bounce
    - aurora reflection
    - tropo scatter
    - satellite packet
    there is quite a bit of activity there and is a very exciting area of ham activities, but requires (mostly) a specialized equipment and there is a learning curve. Satellites maybe the easiest of the bunch.
    There is nothing in principle preventing digimodes at higher frequencies except lack of interest since usually this are not DX modes. Simply there is virtually no-one to answer the CQ.
    But! you could start by scheduling a QSO with someone interested in trying a digital mode at VHF/UHF. It can be fun. Especially if distance is over tens of miles and you go QRP. I got couple digi QSO logged that way. It really is fun. Different that DX but fun, learning new things etc.
    And also of course: pass the general. It is not much more difficult than tech.
    73 and by all means ,try the VHF/UHF digis.
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