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QRP activity by band

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The following notes are based on observations made over 30+ years of QRP operation from locations throughout Australia.

 

2200 and 630 metres

Allocations around the world vary. Australia has allocations around 136 and 472 kHz. Antenna efficiency is obviously key at these frequencies, although groundwave propagation can provide excellent coverage, in some cases offsetting losses due to lower antenna efficiency compared to (for example) 160 metres.

 

160 metres

Can be quite rewarding, especially if there are many close-by stations that can easily be worked on QRP. The main difficulties for urban dwellers are the antenna requirements and the high noise level on the band. Nevertheless, SSB contacts of 500km have been had with 10 watts to an indoor antenna on 160. During the day, expect 10 to 30km with QRP – more with a good antenna. CW is most used for DX, SSB for interstate working, and AM for local nets. During the evenings a tune across 160m will usually find one or two SSB contacts in progress. CW activity is just above 1.800 MHz, with 1.825 – 1.835 MHz being popular with North Americans. In Melbourne there is considerable AM activity most mornings on 1.825 MHz, and a 1-watt rig can be successful if you live in the eastern suburbs, where most operators live. Look out for cheap 1.843 MHz crystals and build your AM rig around that. Listen before building - where SSB is more common a frequency-agile DSB rig will be more successful than an AM rig. If you have an efficient antenna or can operate portable by the sea, transpacific CW contacts are possible with QRP.

160 metres is an immensely challenging band for the QRPer, but the distance and variety of stations easily workable is less than on some of the higher bands. Space for antennas, noise levels and local activity are the major considerations for those seeking to become active on this band. Unless you live in an area with considerable AM activity, beginners are advised to equip themselves for another band, such as 40 or 80 metres before trying 160.

 

80 metres

A popular band for homebrew QRP equipment. Almost all single-band kits developed in Australia have been on 80 metres. QRP scrambles and nets use 80 metres as the primary band. If you wish to work other VK QRPers, 80 is probably your best bet. Antenna space requirements are more relaxed than for 160m, though getting a good antenna up for 80 can still be a battle. This is a challenge in itself - working ZL with QRP to an 1.5 metre indoor magnetic loop is rare, but a great achievement when it happens. 3.58 and 3.68 MHz ceramic resonators make frequency agility easy to achieve with very simple equipment, though properly built VFOs are also stable on this band. 80 is good for reliable night time QRP contacts up to about 500 km, with occasional contacts up to 3000 km being possible. Like 160 metres though, static from thunderstorms can spoil reception. Further distance DX contacts are possible but you need to be in the right place, in the right time, with the right antenna to work any of it. Daytime QRP contacts on 80 metres are possible, but normally require prior arrangement, due to low use of the band at this time.

A good choice for the operator wishing to make local and medium distance QRP contacts during the evenings. The large antenna required, noisiness of the band and lack of daytime activity are the main disadvantages of 80 metres.

 

40 metres

The author's favourite for contacts within south-eastern Australia (ie 300 - 1000km). The low noise level on 40 makes QRP to QRP working more pleasant than on 80 metres. The feasibility of daytime working is another plus, especially for portable operating. Homebrew CW and DSB equipment work well on this band and can provide many solid contacts. 40 is almost always open during the day over distances of 200 to 1000km, with closer-in contacts possible in high sunspot years. There is usually someone on, though for the QRPer wishing to make random contacts during the day, SSB or DSB capability in addition to CW is an advantage. You'll hear CW activity most afternoons. The response rate to CQ calls is generally good (better than 80 metres in my opinion), but there can still sometimes be long gaps between answers. If operating portable, take a good book to read between calls and consider building an automatic CQ caller.

Dawn and dusk bring longer distance contacts – from south-east Australia, VK6 and ZL are workable, even with average antennas. You will also hear signals from North America, Japan and Europe at this time, especially on CW. Often these signals are tantalisingly strong. Yet, 95% of the time when you call you won't be heard; the station will have recommenced their CQing or made contact with someone else. That doesn't mean that you should never call DX stations on 40 metres – if conditions are just right, you will make contact – even with three watts. Treat 40 metre DX as you'd treat a lottery – it's good to win, but do not be disappointed if you don't if all you've got are average antennas. For regular QRP DX on 40 metres an efficient low-angle antenna is a must – an average dipole 5 - 10 metres above ground will spray most of the signal straight up – fine for local contacts, but useless for DX. Advice on suitable antennas for 40 metre DXing is provided in ON4UN's Low Band DX book.

An excellent band capable of providing a wide variety of local and medium-distance contacts. Small antennas, reasonable activity, low noise levels, daytime propagation and comparative ease of building equipment all make 40 metres an excellent choice for the QRP newcomer.

 

30 metres

Overseas QRP publications rave about the DX potential of 10 MHz, but I've only experienced this occasionally. The band exhibits features of both 40 and 20 metres. Like 40 metres, long-haul DX on 30m is difficult. Like 20 metres, 30 metres exhibits a large skip-zone that puts much of the VK amateur population out of range if operating from south-eastern Australia. VK activity on 30 is lower than 40 and 20, making random contacts harder than on other bands. 30 metres is at its best for contacts of between about 1000 and 3000 km, especially when communicating with mobile stations. During solar peak years, 10 MHz is superior to 7 MHz for daytime contacts between Melbourne and Sydney. ZL and VK6 are also well within reach for the 10 MHz QRP operator in south-eastern Australia. Longer distances are certainly possible, but only with a very good antenna.

30 metres is excellent for medium distance contacts within VK-ZL. DX is difficult but not impossible.

 

20 metres

Welcome to the major QRP DX band! It can support DX activity during both high and low sunspot years. Of all the bands reviewed, 20 metres is capable of providing the widest variety of contacts, from about 1000 km to the furthest corner of the globe. It's an excellent choice for operators outside south-east Australia, where the lower density of the local amateur population sometimes makes contacts on 160, 80 and 40 metres hard to come by.

CW is an excellent mode for the 20 metre QRPer. When conditions are good listen near 14.060 MHz for overseas QRPers – for them VK/ZL would be a fairly rare catch. The pace of operating is faster than on the lower bands, and a CW receiving speed of at least 20 wpm or better is an advantage. However, unless signals are strong, QRPers will obtain best results by keeping transmitting speed to the 15 - 20 wpm range.

PSK-31 is a narrow-bandwidth mode (around 14.070 MHz) highly effective with QRP. This computer-based mode allows solid DX contacts that would not be possible with SSB. QRP slow-scan TV (around 14.230 MHz) is also effective around Australia, even during low sunspot years. Live SSTV cams allow you to monitor your transmitted picture from around the world even if no stations are active to make a two-way contact. Software for both PSK-31 and SSTV is freely available and transmission only requires a very simple interface box between transceiver and computer.

Despite the 'kilowatt alley' reputation, QRP SSB on 20 metres is rewarding. In low sunspot years these will be up to about 3000 kilometres, but worldwide contacts are possible when conditions are good. In all cases contacts come easier if operating portable from a good location overlooking water.

20 metre equipment is somewhat more complex to build than gear for the lower bands. Receiver sensitivity and selectivity need to be better than on the lower bands, and either a VXO or pre-mix VFO may be required for good frequency stability. 20 metres is the lowest band at which gain antennas become a reasonable proposition. For portable operation half-wave verticals and full-wave loops are both capable of good DX results.

The ultimate band for the QRPer wishing to work DX. Also effective for longer-distance contacts within VK. Portable operation on 20 metres is highly recommended, with DX contacts almost every time.

 

17 metres

Some of the author's best QRP experiences have been on 18 MHz during high sunspot years. When conditions are good, QRP can be like QRO, with Europeans stations lining up to make contact, and sometimes having to handle several stations calling. Milliwatts seem to do better on this band than 20 metres, provided that the band is properly open (there are many times when it isn't).   Like 30 and 12 metres, contesting has been barred from 17 metres, making the band particularly useful for casual operating during a major international contest. VXO CW QRP rigs are quite practical on 17m by using a 27.125 or 27.145 MHz ex-CB crystal on its 9 MHz fundamental and then doubling.

A relaxed alternative to 20 metres, though less consistently open.

 

15 metres

Capable of excellent QRP results, though more fickle than 20 and 17 metres. Often open on north-south paths (eg to JA) when 10 metres is closed and 20 metres is open to somewhere else. Again a VXO CW transmitter would be an excellent project for the band.

Excellent for working into Japan with less crowding than 20m.

 

12 metres

A cross between 10 and 15 metres. The author has had little QRP experience on this band.

Possibly the least useful HF band for QRP, but can still yield good contacts when conditions are right.

 

10 metres

Fun but fickle. Opens in high sunspot years. But even then there are many times when 20 and 17 metres provide better DX results.   Sporadic-E provides extremely strong interstate and ZL openings in midsummer and midwinter at any phase of the sunspot cycle. Most local activity is SSB. CW gets most use for DX working.

FM simplex and repeater activity occurs above 29 MHz, but fading and phase distortion affects FM more severely than it does SSB. This makes 10  metres FM QRP both exhilarating and frustrating.  Enjoy the good propagation on FM, but otherwise stick to CW/SSB unless you're only interested in local contacts, are near a 10 metre FM repeater or have excellent (beam) antennas. 

Much QRP(ish) equipment on the band is CB radios converted from 27 MHz or transceivers such as the Yaesu FT-817. With such gear, pedestrian and bicycle mobile SSB is quite practical, particularly during a sporadic-E opening.

Capable of high-quality contacts when conditions are right. Very quiet when they're not.

 

6 metres

Capable of once-in-a-lifetime milliwatt QRP DX achievements if you're there at the right time. A proper antenna for the band is not even necessary if conditions are good encough! DX is very dependent on the sunspot cycle, but Sporadic-E can provide interstate contacts. CW finds most use for DXing. Most SSBers are DXers – when there's no DX, generally there's no activity. It has been said that you need to make a phone call to arrange a contact on 6m SSB. This is despite the good local propagation characteristics of six metres.

There is also FM activity on six metres. A milliwatt transmitter for six metres FM is easy to build and is a great project if you're near a repeater, although activity is much lower than two metres.   Interstate Sporadic-E propagation also works well for FM, with 52.525 MHz coming alive during mid-summer openings.  

The band for the operator seeking the ultimate DX achievement, and is willing to sit by his radio all day waiting for it to happen. However, there can be days if not months between contacts in most parts of Australia. Those seeking more regular activity should look elsewhere. For local contacts, though, six is an excellent alternative to two metres.

 

2 metres

CW/SSB is good for local and extended local contacts when 160/80/40m is noisy or if there are severe antenna space constraints. 200km or more is quite achievable from an elevated location.

In south-east Australia there is aircraft enhancement activity on Saturday and Sunday mornings. There are also SSB nets during the week and VHF/UHF Field Days in Winter, Spring and Summer, which are excellent times to try QRP. Other countries have similar activity nights and contests.

CW finds most use for weak-signal DX or auroral propagation, which badly distorts SSB signals.

Computer-based slow-speed digital modes can provide amazing distances, even with milliwatts.

A popular activity is chasing grid squares, based on latitude and longitude. Operators often travel to unpopulated squares to give others the chance to working them.

Tropospheric ducting can allow hundreds or even thousands of kilometres to be covered with QRP, especially on over-water paths such as Bass Strait and Great Australian Bight and equivalents in other countries such as the Gulf of Mexico. Sporadic-E also occurs, but is much less frequent than on 6 metres.

QRP is also effective for satellite operating, especially when using low-earth orbiting birds. Depending on the satellite, FM or SSB/CW are the modes to use. See the AMSAT page for the latest information on amateur satellites.

Provides quality local communications (especially while mobile) that is largely unaffected by static or varying propagation. Longer distances are possible on SSB/CW/digital modes and through satellites. However can be quiet in country areas.

70 centimetres

Similar to two metres, but less activity and generally shorter distances possible. Many contacts are pre-arranged from 2 metres. Lower noise levels, ability toconstruct small but high-gain antennas and propagation characteristics from inside trains are all advantages of 70cm. Amateur satellites also operate on 70cm.

Higher

Because of the difficulty and expense of generating appreciable amounts of RF power at these frequencies, most activity on these frequencies is QRP or near QRP power levels. There are email lists and Facebook groups for those interested in these frequencies.

 

Further information

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