Monday, March 25, 2013

Why HF?

In some of my ramblings here, I realize that I've never really explained well what the purpose of talking over High Frequency (HF) is, or some of the basics behind it. I hope to correct that problem from this post, to let everyone know about the great benefits of HF, and try to convince people it's worth the time and money it takes to operate on HF.

So, what is the benefit of HF? Let me first start with what Very High Frequency (VHF) is, and the explain how it is different than HF.

VHF defined as any wavelength from 1-10m. For Ham Bands, it covers 1.25, 2, and 6 meters. It works great for talking within, say, a metropolitan sized area, roughly 40 miles away from your current point (Depending on geography, power, antenna, etc.) Typically, line of site is the key distinguisher, you aren't going to be able to talk much further than the ground level around you. In other words, if you are in a valley, your range will be limited, if you are elevated, you should be able to get through easier and further distances. I've proven this myself, on top of a mountain range, I was able to talk as far as 70 miles away with no issues, however in a city, even 30 miles proved difficult.

So, how is HF different? The main thing is, HF signals actually bounce off of the atmosphere, high up in the ionosphere. That allows communication to happen for a long ways away. If you get a multiple bounce signal, you can actually talk across the world. In a day and age where the internet allows for this fairly easily, remember that Hams have been calling across the world for nothing more than the cost of electricity and equipment for over 70 years! In fact, Hams discovered that this was possible!

So, it's not unlikely that one could have a conversation with someone in Alaska, then California, then Germany, and then off to the Middle East! All done completely through radio waves, no need to connect up to the internet, or really even to have AC power.

What are the downsides to HF? There are three big ones that I know of. The first is that it requires an advanced license. As is seen by the ARRL band privileged chart,  Technicians only have a small space available for voice communications, 28.3-28.5 MHz, from the 10m band. In addition, they can transmit via CW on several other bands. The technician license is much less technical than the General and Amateur Extra, and requires much more studying.

Secondly, HF antennas are larger, as the wavelengths are larger. It was quite easy to fit a 2m j-pole in my attic. I don't think I could fit a 10m one, let alone a 20m or larger! Still, there are alternatives, and what I hope to use is something that can be placed flat in my attic.

Lastly, the transceivers cost a lot more. I could by a nice dual band transceiver  for around $300, an HF rig starts at $550, and possibly even a lot higher. Take a look at my post detailing some of the "starter" HF radios.

Bottom line is, HF involves more time, space, and money, but ultimately will allow you to talk across the world. I think that is an amazing ability, and I can't wait to try it out!

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