Welcome & Background

Discussion in '5MHz Beacons' started by g6jyb, Feb 16, 2016.

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  1. g6jyb

    g6jyb Moderator

    Welcome to the RGSB Consultation on the Future of the UK 5MHz Beacons

    Back in August 2002, UK amateurs could apply for an NoV to conduct experiments on specific channels at 5MHz. From this was born the RSGB 5MHz Experiment and as part of this activity the Society organised the commissioning of three beacons on 5,290kHz - GB3RAL, GB3WES, GB3ORK. However in recent years these have become more difficult to support due to sub-assembly obsolescence and other difficulties (notably at the GB3RAL site).

    The primary purpose of providing propagation data over a sunspot cycle has been completed and over 1.5 million records are stored in the Experiment’s database. Marcus, G0IJZ has used the data for a number of different analyses, several of which have been presented at professional international conferences as well as to form articles for RadCom.

    We recognise there might be some interest in continuing with this beacon activity, not least for operators to view the combination of current beacon reception with ionosonde and X-ray data. Your views are sought on the future of these beacons - as are offers to provide the necessary technical support / potential sites.

    Timing: The Consultation runs until the end of March

    Note: For info the beacon licences will come up for renewal in 2017 and for clarity we would support ongoing use of 5,290 kHz and not the recently agreed ITU 5,351.5–5,366.5kHz band
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2016
  2. Martin Wheeler

    Martin Wheeler New Member

    Agree on continuing use of 5.290 MHz -- I use this frequency every day to try and gauge propagation conditions - currently HB9AW lets me know what they are likely to be.
  3. G0FTD

    G0FTD New Member

    My view is to keep one beacon running.

    My reasoning is this -

    At the start of the 5Mhz experiment as it was then known, the idea of having 3 beacons across the UK was to allow
    UK based observers to monitor NVIS paths across the UK. Having the three beacons spread roughly equidistant across the UK
    served a purpose.

    These days it's not really needed since the UK user base has "matured" enough to have such knowledge.

    But with international interest probably about to increase following the WRC16 announcement, the UK might consider
    keeping one beacon running to help promote the band to WRC16 newcomers.

    73 de Andy G0FTD
  4. G8KBV

    G8KBV New Member

    I for one am happy to keep my 5MHz beacon monitor running if so needed.

    I also feel that it would be useful, if the other beacons on or around 5290 could be brought on frequency and share the same time shared scheme as the three in the UK. Now, I realise that needs planning and some software changes etc, but in principle why not?

    Any change in beacon frequency however, would be unwelcome, unless someone would sponsor a run of suitable crystals for the SDR's used (simple Softrock's) Not all of them are frequency agile. What's wrong with 5290 anyway? Why the proposed change? More info please.

    As to Andy's comment that the "user base has matured", and the beacon cluster is not needed any more. I don't think so, there are a lot more users who don’t have a clue re NVIS propagation, so the beacons are even more useful than before.

    73 Dave G8KBV(G0WBX)
  5. Paul Gaskell G4MWO

    Paul Gaskell G4MWO New Member

    At the start of the 5 MHz Experiment, of which as I hope you'll all agree we owe a debt of gratitude to its primemover, Gordon Adams, G3LEQ as RSGB Spectrum Director at the time, the 5 MHz concept put before RSGB Council and then to the Radiocommunications Agency - RA (at the time) for our case was based on 3 'pillars' – 1) Propagation, 2) A News Service covering the whole of the UK from one site and 3) Emergency Communications. To assist Propagation measurements it was proposed that 3 beacons should be established - one South, one Central and one in the North of the UK, to be time-coordinated - hence 'RAL in the South, 'WES in the Centre and 'ORK in the North of the UK and at that time (2002) 5290 kHz was 'empty' as regards any other amateur beacons. G3PLX and others kindly produced suitable monitoring software.

    Since 2002, the position on this frequency has now changed. Around this frequency area (but not always on 5290 kHz) are OV1BCN in Denmark, HB9AW in Switzerland, the (currently 2) UK sequenced beacons, plus several SARL WSPR beacons. These are all on individual timings which sometimes conflict. In addition we have a Hungarian beacon, HG7BHB on 5352.5 kHz and the German quasi-scientific beacon under the commercial callsign DRA5 on 5195 kHz, Recently the Luxembourg national amateur radio society LX0HF beacon has re-appeared on 5204 kHz.

    Now don’t get me wrong – so far as I know there is no move to shift beacons off 5290 kHz (particularly because of monitoring networks and not just in the UK ) – but what has been made is a very valid point – THAT THEY SHOULD BE TIME COORDINATED. What about the new WRC15 segment ? Well, I think you’ll find there are two reasons why 5 MHz beacons should NOT be located in the ‘new WRC15 segment – firstly, IARU discourages beacons in any HF amateur band below 20m and secondly, given that we only have 15 kHz officially available between 5351.5 and 5366.5 – there is no room for them; unfortunately they are effectively a luxury ! Hence, under the RR 4.4 rule, retaining and siting beacons at 5290 kHz remains a sensible, viable option, especially if they are all coordinated. A good task for IARU.

    What do we do about the existing UK 5 MHz beacons ? Well, given the fact that we are currently effectively down to two (WES & ORK), I suggest that the software and hardware be consolidated on one single site (possibly central UK but not critical), as the need for 3 UK propagation beacons is these days lessened with the proliference of other European ones. What would be a nice gesture and a tribute to Gordon, G3LEQ, would be to do a departure from tradition and name the beacon GB5MHZ.

    Finally, as well as site problems, software and hardware problems/obsolescence and other issues for changes have been identified. Perhaps if these requirements were made clearly known then support and equipment offerings may be forthcoming ?

    By the way – lack of knowledge of NVIS propagation was identified by one correspondent. Can I suggest that anyone disadvantaged in such a way should visit the ‘External Links’ section of the Wikipedia 60 Meter Band page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/60-meter_band , where all will be revealed... https://www.dropbox.com/s/bt0pr9k3e07l81c/NVIS Rev 04d (without sound).ppt?dl=0

    Paul Gaskell G4MWO

    Editor, The 5 MHz Newsletter

    Member of original G3LEQ 5 MHz team
  6. G0MJW

    G0MJW New Member

    To correct and expand on the above, it was not the RSGB who initiated this set of beacons but it arose out of some work RAL were doing with the Radio Communications Agency supporting the joint RSGB/RA 5MHz experiment with some data analysis. Does anyone remember sending SIMPO reports in in 2002? RA generously funded the analysis work. I remember participating in the meeting (I think at RAL on 11th Feb 2003), led by Alan Betts were we looked at the mixed results from the first set of user data and planned the original 5 MHz UK beacon so it was a good joint effort between RSGB, RA, RAL and a number of other individuals, notably Andy Talbot and Peter Martinez. I still have the original Email from John Gould for 19th Feb 2003.

    "Recently we had a meeting with RAL and came up with an idea for setting up two beacons at either end of the country to transmit stepped signal levels to allow amateurs across the country to more accurately log S/N at varying times of the day, days of the year and across the decline of the current solar cycle. We have also ideas of extending the beacon's facilities perhaps to allow more sophisticated measurement of doppler and multipath distortion on digital transmission."

    The original plan was to also have beacons in 3.5 and 7 MHz for comparison and a small team consisting of Peter Martinez, Les Barclay and myself was formed. RSGB, Yaesu supported some of the equipment and Andy, G4JNT was quickly collared by John to write the PIC software for the original beacon and agreed, not realising what he was letting himself in for. I got on with the hardware based on a Marconi signal generator, a PIN diode switch and a surplus HP relay stepped attenuator while Andy developed the software. Within a week we had a working prototype and from 16th May I ran it under my own call from my old home in Didcot as an attended beacon running 10W into a very low doublet. I was using a broadband class A 100W ENI broadband amplifier which dissipated about 1/2kW all the time, requiring me to remember to switch it on and off for each transmission. The ENI amplifier was fine for tests but not practical long term and Yaesu UK provided the PA module from an FT757 which I modified for use with the final beacon and SMC donated a suitable 12V PSU. After debugging and acquiring a beacon NOV and callsign the unit moved to RAL. The other two 5MHz beacons GB3WES and GB3ORK joined it in 2004. These were based on DDS oscillators to generate the 5.29MHz signal but still used PIN switching for the CW and power stepping. Andy wrote this up for Radcom in June/July 2005.

    Right from the start Andy and I had been discussing the merits of dispensing with the PIN diodes and doing all of the RF processing (sounder, stepped tones) with the then new AD9852 DDS chip. This would also allow JT44 and RTTY. Andy pursued this, starting with GB3VHF and some of the GB3SCX microwave beacons. The result is many beacons using DDS, e.g. GB3VHF and the other 5 GB3RAL beacons on 28,40,50,60, and 70 MHz.

    Now on to modern things

    GB3RAL can not return to its existing site. It managed to operate unnoticed for 14 years, but in the end we had to switch it off when it caused interference to new science experiment nearby. I considered running it from home in Harwell, but I know the signal would not be as good and I know I would be criticized for that reduced performance. Something I am not prepared for. Also it would potentially cause interference to me. However, I wonder if it might be more sensible to move all the beacons over to a more modern, low power mode. E.g. WSPR. My attended WSPR beacon, running 200mW to a poor antenna manages to achieve worldwide coverage from 80m to 10m. At 200mW it doesn't interfere with anything and has very low power consumption. Its GPS timed and WSPT software reports SNR. Not quite old school CW though.

  7. G3WKL

    G3WKL Administrator

    Some good points made on this discussion, and thanks Mike for reminding me of some of the detail of that meeting at RAL, it seems ages ago!

    What I can say is that whilst there is potential issues with the hardware and software of the beacon systems we do have three systems that work - 2 are currently operating and Mike's GB3RAL system could be re-deployed. For all three systems the GPS module has been long obsolete and a replacement would probably need some changes to the firmware (in the memory of a relatively old PIC). Not an insurmountable problem, but it would need a volunteer to make the changes - Andy, G4JNT published the design in June/July 2005 RadCom and would no doubt be willing to answer any queries.

    The monitoring software is valuable even if we stop uploading data to the 5MHz database (which is my preference) as the data that the monitoring software creates links for real-time viewing with the excellent 5MHz comparison site run by Nick, G4IRX - http://g4irx.nowindows.net/wp/fivemegs/5mhz-comparisons. The latest version of this monitoring software has been around for many years and has worked well on WinXP, and I find seems to be stable on Win10. So no immediate problems but just a lack of ongoing support if changes were needed.

    From a licence perspective all three are valid until 2017 (not sure of the date) and I've no reason to believe that we couldn't extend or relocate. Donnie, GM0HTH has indicated to me that he is quite content to keep GB3ORK operational if that is the general consensus. John, G3WGV may comment on this Forum, but my understanding is that his preference is for GB3WES to be relocated either a bit or a lot so that he can operate on the band (as well as reduce interference from the beacon to his HF operating) - I think we owe all the beacon keepers our thanks for the selfless support over the years!

    If the consensus is that we keep one or more beacon running we need a few volunteers to take ownership of the hardware, firmware and monitoring software for their long-term future. We might plan to replace them ultimately with some alternative technology such as Mike has suggested, in which case the need for volunteer backup is needed less, but will be needed for a new project. Given that Donnie is prepared to continue we might consider keeping GB3ORK running, see if GB3WES or GB3RAL could be relocated perhaps in the south of England somewhere. We might consider offering the third system for re-deployment in Europe or perhaps Ireland (we would need volunteer support to make the necessary firmware changes for the callsign/PSK change and at the same time take out the pulse stream from some of the systems).

    So there are probably three things to discuss and see if there is a consensus
    1. Do we want to have a continued presence of at least one of our existing 5MHz beacons, maybe redeploying all or some of the others?
    2. Do we want to think of new and perhaps develop better ways of undertaking propagation studies and real-time propagation awareness at 5MHz?
    3. Can we find one or two volunteers who would undertake to support the technicals for 1 above?
    73 John, G3WKL
  8. Marcus Walden G0IJZ

    Marcus Walden G0IJZ New Member

    I, for one, am indebted to the many people who have contributed to the 5 MHz Experiment; those who initiated this well-conceived project, those building hardware and developing software, those operating beacon transmitters and monitoring stations, and those hosting related websites and databases. They have made an incredible contribution to the 5 MHz Experiment and amateur radio in general, which should not be underestimated.

    The following comments and suggestions relate to the technical aspects of the 5 MHz beacon network and assume an ideal world in which resources are infinite (e.g. time, money, hardware, space, volunteers, motivation, etc.).

    1) Re: Knowledge and understanding

    I disagree with the statement that "the UK user base has "matured" enough to have such knowledge."

    A lot of on-line literature relating to NVIS propagation repeats the same message and frequently uses the same images from the same source - Fiedler and Farmer's NVIS book. While a useful reference, it does have its shortcomings and oversimplifications. Is foF2 - the ordinary wave or o-wave critical frequency - the maximum frequency for NVIS operation? I frequently see presentations showing ionograms in which the extraordinary wave (x-wave) response is ignored. In this case, the x-wave response on the ionogram is the proverbial 'elephant in the room'.

    I have been in the incredibly fortunate situation to have learnt a lot (and I continue to learn) from analysis of the 5 MHz automatic beacon data. Some of the analysis has led to conference and journal publications that present new information relevant to the NVIS user community. I believe there is still more that could be learnt.

    2) Re: Three beacon transmitters versus one

    If resources are available, then three beacon transmitters should be operational from southern, central and northern UK locations. One reference (Goodman, HF Communications) suggests that ionosonde measurements are useful for an area of approximately 300 km x 300 km. Over the UK, we can expect variations in the overhead ionosphere's characteristics. We certainly see differences in the automatic beacon data for northern and southern UK NVIS links (e.g. GB3ORK-GM4SLV versus GB3RAL-G4ZFQ). The band openings are generally shorter in northern UK than in southern UK.

    What about non-NVIS links? The MUF factor for a 500 km link is approximately 1.4, while it is approximately 2.0 for a 1000 km link. In other words, higher frequencies are supported for these longer links (about 40% and about 100% higher respectively). If 5 MHz is closed for a short NVIS link, it might still be open for longer intra-UK links. This sort of information would be obtained from a network of three beacons and real-time monitoring stations, much like the current well-planned beacon network. I believe having three beacon transmitters would continue to be a valuable resource, whereas running a single beacon transmitter would be of limited value for the UK amateur radio community.

    3) Re: WSPR versus CW

    A shortcoming of the current WSPR mode is that it only measures signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). What is the noise level at a given station? It is likely to be variable, which makes meaningful analysis more difficult, if not impossible. It might boil down to 'WSPR worked' or 'WSPR didn't', which is of limited value.

    A number of the 5 MHz beacon monitoring stations were calibrated for signal power, which enabled signal measurements to be compared with HF propagation predictions. The current monitoring software also provides noise measurements, so in total, there is much more information available than just simply SNR. The beacon monitoring software is another example of a well planned/designed aspect of the whole experiment.

    The automatic beacon data frequently shows reception of above-the-MUF CW signals. The most likely propagation mechanism is a two-hop side- or back-scatter mode, which might be more apparent using WSPR. Perhaps the 5 MHz band would be 'open' all day using WSPR? Great for making contacts but limited for propagation studies.

    Perhaps WSPR could be augmented to the CW signal in a similar manner to the PSK31 modulation that used to be at the end of the GB3RAL transmission?

    4) Re: Beacon transmit frequencies

    The existing beacon transmit frequency should be maintained because it minimises (or requires no) hardware and/or software changes. Furthermore, it does not impinge on the small WRC-15 allocation at 5 MHz.

    5) Re: European coordination?

    A potentially beneficial addition to the beacon network, considering the recent WRC-15 allocation at 5 MHz, might be other European beacon transmitters on the same frequency (i.e. 5.290 MHz) but time offset. Doing so might allow real-time assessment of non-NVIS links and potentially provide additional long-term measurement data for analysis.

    73 Marcus G0IJZ
  9. G3WKL

    G3WKL Administrator

    Thanks for your comments, Marcus.

    Murray has indicated at the start of this consultation and in the April RadCom that we would bring this consultation to a close at the end of March. Is the consensus that we try and keep the three beacons running - GB3ORK would stay as it is, but we would try and find new locations (and keepers) for GB3RAL and GB3WES? Whilst changing them to a low-power WSPR mode has been mentioned there is some spread of views and the lack of hardware/firmware support might suggest that this is a new project.

    The lack of support for the beacons' hardware and firmware suggests that if we agree to keep GB3ORK running and to try and redeploy the other two, they would have to operate as they are currently configured. If any of the beacons stop working, unless someone comes forward at the time, the beacon would have to be shut down. The same would be true for the gb3ral.exe automated monitoring programme.

    The item that I wrote for the February edition of RadCom perhaps wasn't as explicit as it should have been in terms of the future of the 5MHz database. This is currently on a separate server to that of most of the RSGB's website and the plan is to consolidate the Society's hosting arrangements. The way in which it is set up would mean that some work would be needed to be done to move it to another server. Uploading data and maintaining the database has also been quite a task, so my preference is to close the database. I would propose that this is done in a way that its main user, Marcus, can have access to the data for any further work. Anyone interested in getting a continuing data-feed could presumably make arrangements with those actively monitoring the beacons, or perhaps extract the data from the 5MHz Comparison website.

    So, do we continue as best we can as detailed above? Do we have any volunteers to support the hardware and firmware to make the future of the beacons more certain? Is it accepted that we close and archive the 5MHz database? Finally, do we have someone would would volunteer to oversee the future of the beacon chain - I would like to relinquish that role having done it for 12 years.

    73 John, G3WKL
  10. G3WGV

    G3WGV New Member

    This has been an interesting discussion although I am surprised at the small number of participants, both here and on the ukfivemegs reflector, which suggests that there isn't really much interest in the beacon project outside of a few aficionados.

    I cannot really comment on the technical aspects of the beacon programme. If the consensus view of the technicians is that there is still experimental value in the beacon chain remaining operational then I am happy to go along with that.

    From a practical point of view, the beacon equipment at GB3WES is getting on a bit but there is no reason to suppose that it won't continue for another 12 years or more. Nothing in it is being stressed (the Tx is 10W, running on a 100W PA unit from an FT847, I believe). We run mission critical stuff at airports that is far older. Of course it could break at any time and then it might be hard to fix but 12 years of fault free operation suggests that the kit is bumping along nicely on the bottom of the bathtub curve at the moment.

    Personally, I have no particular problem with retaining GB3WES at my QTH if it is still doing useful stuff. It is only marginally obtrusive on 40m during the few seconds of QRO output in each transmission period and I can live with 10s or so of QRM every 15 minutes. I occasionally have vague but rather ill-defined ideas of operating on 60m but it's not a band that has particularly enthused me, as I am mainly a CW DXer - operating models that are in short supply even now on 60m. So if the consensus is to retain the beacon structure as-is then I am content to continue running 'WES.

    73, John
    GB3WES beacon keeper
  11. OldBlueBear

    OldBlueBear New Member

    I use 60 meter most weekdays and continiously struggle with QRM both militery and stations splattering my limited spot frequency allocation. Due to the licencing rules here I cannot even ask them to QSY or fix their rig. Rather than staying on 5290 kcs could the single beacon, if that is what the consensus is, be moved to somewhere middle of the band around 5340 Kcs, as 5290 is one of the spot frequencies that are available in EI, and that not subject to regular militery QRM, and which would be available if the beacon(s) were moved.

    73s, Dave
  12. g4irx

    g4irx New Member

    I'll continue running my comparison pages for the foreseeable future and while people running the G3PLX program are still making their data available. Dave G8KBV mentions crystals and softrock receivers - I already have a spare softrock RX and a spare crystal sitting here if anybody in interested in participating.

    Since I put my site online almost 10 years ago, there have been considerable chages on the fivemegs-scape and other developments such as WSPR beacons. A quick look at the 60m spots on wsprnet.org shows in excess of 50 spots. I can view these on a map showing the propagation paths that are currently open. Maybe this "peer to peer" beacon network is the way forward now, rather than the "server-client" fixed beacon network we've all been used to in the past?

    Nick G4IRX
  13. G3WGV

    G3WGV New Member

    Is this thread still active/monitored? I've not heard any outcome from the deliberations on the future of the 5MHz beacons but in the meantime it seems that the decision may have been made for us, since GB3WES is now the sole beacon still operational. For now I am content for GB3WES remain on the air but I do question whether it is serving any useful purpose any more.

    John, G3WGV
  14. G0FTD

    G0FTD New Member

    I don't remember seeing any conclusion either.

    Maybe it went the same way as the RSGB's big survey data, that we were told was ready for publication in May, and has yet to appear ;-)

    73 de Andy
  15. g6jyb

    g6jyb Moderator

    The brief summary is that whilst the formal RSGB 5MHz Experiment has ended, letters of appreciation to volunteers sent (and its data archived) there was support for keeping the beacons (but no offers of long term technical support). John Gould G3WKL has stepped back and unfortunately Ian G4FSU has been away/busy, so my brief update is...

    GB3WES - am grateful to John G3WGV above for the prod here and his offer to keep it on air
    GB3ORK - did get a recent lock up (an increasing 'feature') but it is working and Jon GM0HTH is happy to keep it going
    GB3RAL - is basically a site loss. No suitable site offer was made (which we would prefer in the South East) so it might prudent to simply retrieve it and keep it in reserve as a spare for the other two

    As per most UK beacons, next year when their NoVs are expire GB3WES and GB3ORK will hopefully go thru the renewal process - whereas GB3RAL (5MHz) will formally lapse


    Murray G6JYB

    PS RadCom did have an article by John G3WKL about the RSGB survey results... but the full summary letalone the dataset wouldnt fit into the magazine!
  16. G0FTD

    G0FTD New Member

    Thanks for the update regarding the 5Mhz beacons.

    Also -

    > PS RadCom did have an article by John G3WKL about the RSGB survey results... but the full summary letalone the dataset wouldnt fit into the magazine!

    Was there that many respondents ? ;-))

    On a serious note, I'm sure there was a recent GB2RS bulletin that mentioned that the summarry would be available both on the website and Radcom.

    Since non members were asked to be contributors, I would have thought it fair for the results to have been made available in the public domain,
    rather than the members only magazine.

    73 de Andy
  17. Paul Gaskell G4MWO

    Paul Gaskell G4MWO New Member

    This was what I was led to believe, however for ages now, however Nick, G4IRX's site http://g4irx.nowindows.net/wp/fivemegs/5mhz-comparisons has only been showing WES on the active G0WBX and G4ZFQ graphs. Listening here at this QTH (IO83OL) both direct and via SDR has also not shown any evidence of ORK either. Strange.
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