Above photo of a 3 Band Fan Dipole
Okay folks, some you have your radio Technician license in hand. Congratulations!
You have pretty much full access to the amateur bands from six meters on up. (Link to Frequency Allocations)
Once you get on the air, you are probably talking on repeaters and over simplex. This is a great place to get connected and learn some of the techniques. After a while, you need a new challenge. Talking on the repeaters is nice, however you want to move past the hobby aspect of the amateur radio service. You are on this web site for a reason, you are probably looking to use your license and radios for a more utilitarian purpose.
Experiment – Go beyond the norm
Modes: If you have not already done so, look for a radio that supports all modes on all bands. Most (but not all) handheld type radios are going to use FM as the only mode. Try to find a radio that can use FM, AM, and SSB. You passed your test, so you probably know what FM and AM are. What is this SSB thing? SSB stands for Single Side Band. Basically it is like AM, except only one side of the baseband signal is populated. Here is a good explanation: Wikipedia SSB Article This extends the range further than FM. That is pretty cool.
Two meters and 70 centimeters: SSB on the two meter band and 70 cm band can be active. Most people use a horizontal antenna for SSB transmissions in the VHF and UHF bands. Keep this in mind. If you are transmitting with a vertically polarized antenna, and others are transmitting horizontally, you will miss out on a lot of the signal due to cross polarization loss. If you and your friend are using a vertical antenna, then you only loose some of the signal due to vertical objects like trees. SSB will be readable further into the noise. With FM, you reach an area well before the noise floor where the signal just stops because the receiver can no longer decode it. Almost no one is using SSB on 70 cm. What is nice about this band is that the antenna is small and the gain for the average 2m/70cm antenna is greater when it is used for the 70 cm band. So, you have found a way to extend simplex coverage on two meters and 70 cm. SSB is your ticket to pushing the limits of transmission. The best part about a mode other than FM is that people listening in will have a harder time understanding possibly sensitive information that you might be passing in the future.
Six meters: Now you are getting close to HF. The six meter band is called the magic band. This band has openings that can allow you to communicate far away with skywave. Personally, I think the “magic” part is a marketing term to describe unreliable long range skywave communications. Skywave communication on six meters, might be open for a few minutes, and then it shuts down. For our purposes (utilitarian), six meter skywave communications is for hobby work and best left for another discussion.
For line of sight six meters is very reliable. Think of the six meter coverage similar to the capabilities of a two meter repeater. You get the coverage of a two meter repeater while in simplex mode. There are six meter band repeaters, however they seem to be rarely used. Rare usage can be something that you can use to your advantage when other bands are filled with hobby talk. The six meter repeater coverage is pretty far reaching. SSB is available for six meter band. Again, horizontal antennas are used. You can reach out pretty far.
HF for Technicians: Yes, you can get on the HF band. The 10 meter band allows Technicians to use data and a limited voice section (SSB only communication). The 10 meter band is similar to CB, except you are allowed to use up to 200 watts of power and you deal with less foul language on the other end. Unlike CB, you can also transmit data. SSB on 10 meters will travel far. The band is affected by the solar cycle quite a bit, but even with some ground wave, you can expect some pretty reliable communications. With the data allocation, you can use software (FLDIGI) to send messages back and forth. In this band the maximum allowable symbol rate is 1200 baud. If you upgrade to general, you can use FM as a mode and take part in some interesting 10 meter band repeater operation.
CW for Technicians: CW stands for Continuous Wave or Morse code. CW is allowed anywhere on the bands that you have authorization. If you passed your test, you probably already know about the two and six meter band CW only sections, but did you know about the 15, 40 and 80 meter Technician allotments? These Technician CW allotments allow for some continental and world wide coverage. You can operate on 15, 40, and 80 meters. You are limited to 200 watts in these sections (most people are using very low power with CW). A small about of transmission power goes a very long way with CW. Using 200 watts on a frequency known for weak signal communication might be considered impolite.
With those HF bands you have an enormous reach in daylight and night. It is not hard to learn Morse code. You can communicate with a wide audience as a Technician. Presently several software Morse code decoders can be used in case you need to communicate but you do not know Morse code. They are not perfect, but they can can get you by in a situation. These software programs are nice for seeing how people go about their communications with Morse code. FLDIGI has a pretty reliable Morse code decoder. Additionally, there are electronic keyers that will work with your computer to send Morse code. Stand alone keyers that connect to a keyboard to send Morse code are also available (See K42 CW keyboard kit). Two people who lack Morse code knowledge, could send code back and forth to each other with success using software. My advice: It is best to learn Morse code if you are planning on using the sections of the bands. The software solutions are a crutch.
CW Only Areas (no other mode is permitted for all license levels):
2 meter band: 144.0-144.1 MHz
6 meter band: 50.0-50.1 MHz
Technician HF Privileges
200 watts PEP maximum output
Band Frequency (MHz) Privileges
80M – 3.525-3.600 – CW only
40M – 7.025-7.125 – CW only
15M – 21.025-21.200 – CW only
10M – 28.000-28.300 – CW, RTTY, and Data
10M – 28.300-28.500 – CW and SSB
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and try some other modes.
Thank you for reading my post. Comments are welcome.
P.S. When you get comfortable, upgrade to the General license level. The test is easy and you have more bands and modes available to you to use.