Wednesday, October 03, 2007

ALE On The Air Week: 05-15 October

AOTAW (ALE On The Air Week) is an annual International Amateur Radio event sponsored by HFLINK, a resource for ALE, HF Interoperative Communications, and HF Emcomm. Ham radio operators worldwide are invited to participate in a 10 day readiness event of ALE HF activity on the air. AOTAW-2007 is an excellent chance to explore ALE communications.

Start: 0001 UTC Friday 05 October
End: 2359 UTC Monday 15 October

Thousands of amateur radio operators worldwide have ALE capability now, using HF ham transceivers and computers running PCALE software, Multipsk software, or commercial ALE HF transceivers adapted to ham radio ALE use. The experience gained by operator participation is also useful for HF Emergency / Disaster Relief Communications.

What Is ALE? Automatic Link Establishment. In the hands of a skilled HF ham operator, ALE is a force multiplier. With the capability to call up a specific HF station, a group of stations, a net, or a networked station, ALE is a versatile digital calling system for initiating and maintaining QSOs with SSB voice, data, text, instant messaging, internet messaging, or image communications.

Each ALE station uses the operator's callsign as the digital address in the ALE controller. When not actively in communication with another station, the transceiver constantly scans through a list of frequencies in multiple HF or VHF bands, listening for its callsign. To reach a specific station, the operator simply enters the callsign just like dialing a phone number, and transmits a short digital signal burst. When the distant scanning station detects the first few characters of its callsign, it stops scanning and stays on that frequency. The receiving station, which was muted up until now, typically emits an audible alarm and visual alert for the receiving operator of the incoming call. It also indicates the callsign of the linked station. The two stations' ALE controllers automatically handshake to confirm that a link is established and they are ready to communicate in any mode, such as SSB voice, text or image. All of this happens quite fast, usually within a few minutes.

A unique ALE Operator Certificate is available to operators who participate in AOTAW. To qualify for the certificate, the operator simply completes at least 5 QSOs through Automatic Link Establishment communications on HF or VHF. The initial ALE linking QSO can use SSB Voice or "AMD" Text Message (the standard text messaging format in all ALE systems). See AOTAW Guidelines and Details.

Additional certificate endorsements are issued to operators who link with 25 stations or more, or send 2 ALE-SMS text messages through High Frequency Network Pilot Stations.

ALE High Frequency Network (HFN)
The HFN Pilot Stations are equipped with scanning ALE transceivers, multiband antenna systems, and special software control systems for internet connectivity. Ham radio ALE users in the field on HF connect with the HFN Pilot Stations to exchange digital ALE-SMS text messaging to and from internet devices such as cell mobile phones, black berry type devices, PDAs, PCs and laptops. The free service includes:

HF-to-Cellphone message
HF-to-email message
HF-to-HF message

All HFN stations automatically exchange signal reports with each other every hour on every HF band, and all this ALE HF activity with signal reports and messages is displayed in real time on the web at ALE CHANNEL ZERO:

Organized ALE ham activity began about 6 years ago, when a group of operators started working together to experiment with various methods of HF selective calling on HF. The need to call up emergency nets or inter-operability and liaison with government HF systems led many hams to adopt the government ALE standard, called FED-STD-1045 or MIL-STD 188-141. This standard caught on slowly in the ham community, initiated by a few operators with limited government surplus gear and some with expensive commercial equipment having embedded ALE or hardware controllers. They adapted the system into what has come to be known as Ham Friendly ALE, which includes ham-specific programming and use of frequencies in the automatic subbands. Now, with a ham HF transceiver, a computer as the controller, and an appropriate antenna system, hams can harness the power of ALE using one of the available software ALE controllers.

How to Get Started in ALE
The number of hams with ALE has grown steadily each year. In mid-2007, when the ALE HF Network expanded to 24/7 operation, a big increase in daily ALE activity was noticed. Some operators are following the traditional ham curiosity to explore interesting aspects of communications; others are developing dependable HF nets for Emcomm; many are using it as a propagation tool; others are just using ALE for fun, or to keep in touch with a circle of ham friends. Whatever the reason, there's room for everyone.

The AOTAW "ALE QSO Party" in 2006 saw many new ALE calls on the air around the world. Some surprisingly good DX ALE contacts were made, despite the being at the bottom of the solar cycle. We look forward to another good ALE On The Air Week this October 2007.

more information: