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Ten metres for the newcomer

Picture of rig tuned to 10 metres

Ten metres (28.000 - 29.700 MHz) is one of the most interesting bands available to the radio amateur. No band supports a greater variety of amateur activity than ten metres - you will hear SSB, AM, CW, FM, repeaters, satellites, DX, award-chasing, contesting and local nets at various times.

Local, interstate, and international contacts are all possible on 28 MHz. Portions of ten metres may be used by all licence grades. The band's wide open spaces and spectacular openings win it many adherents during the peak years of the sunspot cycle.

Ten metres is the HF band most prone to variations due to the eleven year sunspot cycle. During the bottom years, it is possible to go for months without hearing any overseas stations on ten, but long-distance contacts are an everyday occurrence when sunspot activity is high.

We are currently (2012) approaching the peak of sunspot cycle 24. This is good news to ten metre operators, as openings will become more frequent and produce stronger signals as we approach the sunspot peak.

A propagation mode known as sporadic-E provides contacts on ten metres during all phases of the sunspot cycle. Sporadic-E can occur at any time but is most prevalent in December - January (especially between Christmas and New Year). Distances covered typically range between 500 and 1500 kilometres, making sporadic-E a useful (but not reliable) propagation mode for contacts within Australia. Signals are often very strong. Mobile stations can do as well as home stations during a good opening.

When there is no long-distance propagation, ten metres is a good band for local operating. Noise levels are lower than on 80 or 160 metres, and antenna requirements are less (particularly for mobile stations). The lack of crowding makes also makes operating easier. The range and variety of contacts possible is enhanced if your area is lucky enough to be within range of a ten metre FM repeater or simplex gateway linked to VHF or UHF.

Beacons and repeaters

Because ten metres is 1.7 MHz wide, there is room for modes and activities that would cause interference if carried out on the lower HF bands. One such activity is beacons. Local clubs have installed beacons to let overseas stations know when ten metres is open to their area. These beacons transmit continuously and send their callsign in Morse. Beacons can normally be found between 28.200 and 28.300 MHz. The WIA website and callbook lists Australian ten metre beacons.

A special worldwide network of beacons operates on 28.200 MHz as part of the International Beacon Project (IBP). All beacons share the one frequency and are timed so that only one transmits at a time. Australia's IBP beacon is VK6RBP in Perth. IBP beacons also operate on 20, 17, 15 and 12 metres.

Ten metres is most similar to the VHF/UHF amateur bands when it comes to FM and repeater activity. However, ten metres has the added advantage of providing international FM contacts via repeaters during high sunspot years. To use the repeaters, you need a 10 metre FM transceiver that can be set up to transmit and receive on different frequencies to accommodate the repeater's 100 kHz frequency offset. Some repeaters also need a subtone.

Repeaters permit contacts that would not ordinarily be possible. For example, a station in Sydney may not be able to hear a station in Canberra, but both may be able to communicate via a repeater in Brisbane. Repeater operation gets more interesting if the repeater is also able to retransmit signals from other bands. The four standard ten metre repeater channels in use around the world are listed below.

* Input 29.520, Output 29.620 MHz
* Input 29.540, Output 29.640 MHz
* Input 29.560, Output 29.660 MHz
* Input 29.580, Output 29.680 MHz

There's even orbiting repeaters, aka amateur satellites. Many of the earlier OSCAR and Russian (RS) satellites had a downlink between 29.3 and 29.5 MHz. You'd transmit on other bands, such as 15 or 2 metres and hear yourself (and others) on 10 metres. There's not as many as there used to be but it may still be worth listening.

Commercial equipment

All current-model HF transceivers cover the entire ten metre amateur band and can accommodate at least SSB, CW and digital modes.

Budget HF-only rigs (such as the Icom 718) sometimes lack FM. Other rigs had provision for it as an optional module. I'm not a great fan of ten metres FM due to its annoying fading and inefficiency compared to SSB. However when signals are good the audio reproduction of distant signals can be stunning. It's like a lottery. If FM is your thing make sure your rig also has a repeater offset and CTCSS subtone.

Those whose budget does not extend to the price tag of a new multiband transceiver may wish to consider buying a 28 MHz-only set. Transceivers like these would be particularly suitable for mobile/portable operation or as a second rig for the 10 metre enthusiast. However, the dearer ones cost not much less than a basic used multiband SSB transceiver on the second-hand market. In my book that makes them poor value. The newcomer to amateur radio should consider the extent to which they will want the other HF bands before buying a 10 metre-only set. A few manufacturers offer VHF/UHF FM multiband mobile transceivers that also offer 10m FM. These are potentially handy if you have a busy local 10m FM repeater. Otherwise not having SSB on 10m excludes you from the vast bulk of activity on the band.

Be careful when buying secondhand gear. Some very old tube / valve transceivers did not cover ten metres at all. Other models did include ten metres, but had deaf receivers and/or put out reduced power on 28 MHz.

Some older (1970s) sets covered only a single 500 kHz segment of ten metres. A 28.000 - 28.500 MHz range is not a great limitation as it includes coverage of CW, digital, beacon and popular SSB frequencies. However a set that tunes 28.500 - 29.000 MHz only is severely disadvantaged and should be avoided.

 

 

Converted equipment

If you have sufficient technical knowledge and the required information (Reference One), it is possible to convert some models of 27 MHz SSB CB transceivers to operate on 28 MHz. If the modification is done properly, the results obtained are well worth the small cost involved. Some of the older AM-only sets can also be converted to ten metres, but this is not usually worthwhile unless you want local contacts only or have a special interest in AM operating.

It is also possible to convert sets to operate on 29 MHz FM. Either some types of AM-only 27 MHz CB radios or 30-50 MHz FM two-way radios can be converted. The need for coverage of the correct frequency range and inclusion of a 100 kHz repeater offset are complicating factors here.

You probably shouldn't attempt any but the very simplest modifications if you are a newcomer - it is very easy to mistakenly 'butcher' the set and render it permanently inoperative. If you still need a small cheap ten metre set, get someone else to do the modification for you, look for a used, already-converted CB (price range $10 - 100).

Homebrew equipment

For some reason, there are few homebrew designs around for 10 metre amateur equipment. However, constructing one's own equipment on ten metres is certainly possible for the technically-inclined operator. VHF/UHF operators who wish to use 29 MHz FM but see no point in buying an HF rig should consider building a transverter to use in conjunction with a six or two metre FM transceiver.

Building an entire transceiver for ten metres is also practical. However, circuits for 28 MHz are usually more complicated than those for lower frequencies. This is because: (a) the gain of power amplifier transistors falls as frequency is increased, so more stages are needed to achieve a given output power (b) 28 MHz variable frequency oscillators are not as stable as lower frequency VFOs, hence the need for a PLL frequency synthesiser or premix VFO (c) Because fundamental crystals are not common on 28 MHz, and overtone crystal oscillators are difficult to pull over a worthwhile frequency range, frequency multipliers are needed to obtain output from a lower frequency VXO and (d) receiver gain needs to be higher on 10 metres than on other HF bands because noise levels are lower. Nevertheless, for the constructor curious about what ten metres has to offer, a five to ten watt VXO-controlled double sideband transmitter or transceiver should not be too hard to put together.

If you find difficulties in obtaining parts, either old CB radios or VHF two way sets which are often cheaply available at hamfests are good sources for items such as RF power transistors and trimmer capacitors.

Antennas

Devoted ten metre enthusiasts often use a three to six element monoband yagi or quad. This type of installation allows you to work stations that cannot be heard on a simple dipole or vertical.

However, this does not mean that if you lack high power and big beams, you should give up on ten metres. It's quite the reverse - ten metres is often better than the lower bands if output power or antenna gain is restricted. With 10-30 watts SSB and a small vertical (eg a mobile whip), it is possible to have dozens of satisfying contacts. During years of low solar activity, these contacts will be up to about 2000 or 3000km, with the proportion of longer distance contacts being higher near sunspot peaks. The stations with the big beams generally have excellent receive capabilities, and can often hear the operator using a converted CB and a cut-down mobile whip.

A mobile whip mounted on a metal railing or balcony is ideal for omnidirectional coverage. Use a whip reasonably close to a full quarter wavelength (2.5 m) for best results. For several years, the author has successfully used a 1.8 metre 27 MHz CB whip cut down to resonate on 10 metres. A 90 cm whip has also been tried but its performance was well down on the larger whip.

The best antenna gain for the least expenditure is probably obtained from lightweight beams such as the VK2ABQ, Moxon Rectangle or even just a plain 2-element yagi made from wire.

 

 

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Mobile and portable

When it's open, ten metres is a fantastic band for mobile and portable operating. Car-mounted antennas are more efficient on ten metres than on any other HF band. Compact pedestrian mobile whip or loop antennas can also produce worldwide contacts.

Picture of pedestrian mobile whip antenna Picture of pedestrian mobile station using a magnetic loop

Operating frequencies

All amateur licencees can use all frequencies on ten metres. However band plans should be observed to lessen interference to those using other modes. In particular, never transmit between 28.198 - 28.300 and 29.300 - 29.500 MHz. The reason for this is that these segments are reserved for beacons and amateur satellites respectively. Following the 10 metre band plan (see your national society's website) maximises the chances of getting contacts and reduces the risk of causing interference.

On SSB you'll find most activity between 28.400 and 28.500 MHz, with 28.450 - 28.500 MHz most favoured. Anywhere in this range is a good spot to call CQ if you hear none. With good conditions this spreads from 28.300 to above 28.600 MHz. CW is mostly in the bottom 100 kHz. Digital modes use narrow segments around spot frequencies (normally below 28.200 MHz).

Operating on ten metres

There are many times that ten metres is open, but you would not know about it by just tuning across the band. Beacons can help in monitoring propagation, but have their limitations - the band can be wide open to places where there are no beacons. If you suspect the band may be open, but no beacons can be heard, tune across the 27 MHz CB band (particularly 27.355 LSB) and the 29 MHz FM segment to get a better picture of propagation patterns.

If 27 MHz is busy, but there is nothing on 10 metres, it's up to you to create some activity. Several CQ calls in a popular part of the band (28.400 - 28.500 MHz) will often yield results, even when no beacons can be heard. If no results, change frequency and resume calling - your original frequency may have been in use by people who you can't hear, but could be interfering with your transmission in some parts of the world.

As noted before, the stations with the best antennas are those best placed to receive weak DX signals. When conditions are marginal, you will still have contacts, but it will be only with the stations using the bigger antennas. As propagation improves, you will start to hear more stations using dipoles and verticals in addition to the 'big-gun' operators with the big beams and high towers.

Possessing a powerful transmitter and large antenna array may give you a big signal on ten metres, but does not in itself make you a successful operator. Operator persistence and 'being there' are the main determinants of success on ten metres. If you are listening and are not calling, everyone will think the band is dead and switch off. If you are keeping the band alive by calling CQ, the activity will come to you, and you will work DX, no matter how modest your station is.

Of course, all this calling requires both time and patience. However, technology can be used to automatically call CQ, leaving time for the operator to attend to other tasks while waiting for calls. In its simplest form, an automatic CQ caller can be a tape recorder with a 30 second endless loop cassette placed in front of the rig's microphone (transceiver set to voice-operated transmit (VOX) mode). Other options include the use of a 20 second digital message recorder set up with a special timing circuit or even a suitable computer with sound capabilities. Whatever method is used, the switching between transmit and receive should be automatic - having manual switching detracts from the labour-saving benefits of an automatic CQ caller.

 

Foundation guide to ten metres

A four minute recap on the above including discussion on antennas and an on-air demonstration.

 

Examples of portable 10 metre operating

28 MHz DX communication (common in high sunspot years)

  28 MHz contacts up to about 2000km (common at all stages of the solar cycle, especially summer)

 

Conclusion

This article has given the reader a brief tour of ten metres, to many people HF's most interesting band. This rollercoaster band still produces surprising results even through sunspot lows. Will you be a part of it?

Acknowledgment

I would like to thank Mark Bussanich VK6AR for his assistance in the preparation of the original version of this article which appeared in Amateur Radio October 1998. The web version was updated in 2012 and 2017.

 

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