Sunday, January 28, 2007

NOAA Weather Radio Audio Streams

One of my favorite things about the internet is the ability to have access to computer controlled radios from around the world (i.e. DXTuners) and scanner audio streams. Now I have discovered a new bunch of audio streams that are well worth bookmarking (especially if you are a weather geek like me).

The folks at the Weather Underground have a NOAA Weather Radio Stream page at They have 89 NOAA Weather Radio Stations broadcast online as of post time. So if you are away from home or need to hear what is happening upstream from you, then this might be the ticket.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Overlay solution may be as close as near space

For many years now I have been a strong advocate for responsible use of the taxpayers money and radio spectrum when addressing the issue of interoperability in public safety communications. But since Congress first authorized the FCC to sell off a precious resource, the radio spectrum, we have had nothing but troubles and major headaches. I've always said follow the money and you will truly understand what is happening within Congress.

But those ill informed and communication illiterates in Congress continue to throw more taxpayer money into policies and systems that are not interoperable (i.e. the Florida Provoice statewide trunk system, uh deathtrap).

So maybe it is time for some fresh thinking. Instead of assigning more spectrum space (i.e. the 700 MHz fiasco), and put another radio on the fire truck or in the police car for the overworked firefighter or police officer to worry about, Congress should look at existing systems and see what can be done to improve that current situation. Now that would be the responsible thing to do instead of pushing an agenda that makes their political donors make more money, and adds more wasteful and shameful spending to the federal budget. But then again we are talking about Congress and they have yet to show any sign of being responsible.

So even though there are a few technical blunders in his article below, here is some food for thought by Donny Jackson courtesy of the MRT Bulletin:

By Donny Jackson
January 26, 2007

From a communications perspective, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was a real-life example of Murphy's Law: Everything that could go wrong, did. Not only did the storm's winds knock down a few towers, but even surviving towers were disabled due to the fact that many systems' electronics eventually were under water, lacked the power to operate, or did not have backhaul.

This unfortunate episode has forced everyone to re-evaluate the survivability and operability of communications systems, dealing with the question we all want to avoid: "What happens when nothing on the ground works?"

Probably the first alternative that comes to mind is satellite telephony from companies like Iridium. Certainly the satellite handsets were valuable in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, because the system does not rely on terrestrial infrastructure. When nothing else worked, they literally served as lifelines.

But the downsides of satellite phones are numerous. The service is expensive enough that some agencies won't be able to afford it, and handsets are pricey, so getting them into the hands of everyone who needs them can be difficult. More important, the current generation of satellite phones requires the user to hold the handset in a manner that maintains a link with the satellite.

For those working in a communications center, this isn't a big deal; for those out in the field trying to rescue people in far-from-ideal environments, it's a problem -- in fact, some first responders at Katrina chose to turn in their satellite phones rather than be frustrated by them.

It may be that the satellite phones are not as limited as some of the users indicated, because it's doubtful that there was a lot of time dedicated to training after the handsets were distributed. But there can be little argument on two points: first responders (and people, in general) prefer to communicate with the device they use on a daily basis, and the satellite phone technology available today is a decade old.

These points continue to nag me as we see various proposals to introduce broadband and interoperable communications systems nationwide. While most of them cite Hurricane Katrina as a reason for existing, only a few of these plans really address the need for non-terrestrial redundancy that will ensure communications exist when conditions bring even the most hardened terrestrial networks to their knees.

Where such redundancy is addressed, the typical solution is to overlay the terrestrial systems with satellite communications. On the surface, the strategy makes sense, but there are some practical problems.

Satellite phones require much larger antennas than those found on typical LMR or cellular handsets. That means first responders would need to carry an additional handset or a single handset that could communicate with both a terrestrial network and the satellite overlay network. Either way, we're talking about buying new handsets for everyone, which would get outrageously expensive.

Furthermore, the large investment associated with launching satellites dictates that they need to remain in use for at least 10-15 years to make economic sense. Proposals such as the one from Cyren Call recommend keeping this important communications system technologically "evergreen," but being tied to a single satellite technology for a decade would not seem to fit this vision.

An alternative to a satellite overlay is a system developed by Space Data, which uses weather balloons to suspend base stations in near space, 75,000 to 100,000 feet above sea level. Used for commercial vehicle tracking and in testing connected with U.S. Air Force communications, these balloon-supported base stations move very predictably at this altitude and can provide as much as 600 square miles of coverage, says Space Data CEO Gerald Knoblach.

Not only does the Space Data solution let users continue to use their existing handsets with no modifications, the base stations are brought back to earth when they reach the end of the coverage range and are launched again every few days.

"If you launch a satellite, you're stuck for 15 years with the technology that's in there the day you launched it -- and that's typically obsolete from the first day, because it took you two or three years to build a satellite and launch it," Knoblach says. "With ours, you can upgrade it every single day, so you can keep up with that Moore's Law path with consumer cell phones and electronics shrinking every day."

Space Data's solution is "typically 10 times lower cost" than satellite in a rural area and can be used to provide interoperability between disparate systems. In addition, the Space Data base stations are easy enough to deploy that additional balloons can be launched to provide extra capacity in a given area when it is needed.

Given these characteristics -- lower costs, no need to change existing handsets, interoperability capability, the ability to add capacity, and the flexibility to upgrade to new technologies in an ever-changing wireless marketplace -- the powers that be should give strong consideration to the weather-balloon solution when contemplating the best way to provide survivable communications redundancy.

E-mail me at

Thursday, January 25, 2007

It's official! Morse code requirement ends Friday, February 23

ARRL Bulletin 5 ARLB005
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT January 24, 2007
To all radio amateurs

ARLB005 It's official! Morse code requirement ends Friday, February 23.

Circle Friday, February 23, on your calendar. That's when the current 5 WPM Morse code requirement will officially disappear from the Amateur Radio Service Part 97 rules. On or after that date, applicants for a General or Amateur Extra class Amateur Radio license no longer will have to demonstrate proficiency in Morse code. They'll just have to pass the applicable written examination. Federal Register publication January 24 of the FCC's Report and Order (R&O) in the "Morse code proceeding," WT Docket 05-235, starts a 30-day countdown for the new rules to become effective. Deletion of the Morse requirement - still a matter of controversy within the amateur community - is a landmark in Amateur Radio history.

"The overall effect of this action is to further the public interest by encouraging individuals who are interested in communications technology or who are able to contribute to the advancement of the radio art, to become Amateur Radio operators; and eliminating a requirement that is now unnecessary and may discourage Amateur Service licensees from advancing their skills in the communications and technical phases of Amateur Radio," the FCC remarked in the "Morse code" R&O that settled the matter, at least from a regulatory standpoint.

The League had asked the FCC to retain the 5 WPM for Amateur Extra class applicants, but the Commission held to its decision to eliminate the requirement across the board. The R&O appearing in the Federal Register constitutes the official version of the new rules. It is on the web in PDF format at,

Until 1991, when a Morse code examination was dropped from the requirements to obtain a Technician ticket, all prospective radio amateurs had to pass a Morse code test. With the change the US will join a growing list of countries that have dropped the need to demonstrate some level of Morse code proficiency to earn access to frequencies below 30 MHz.

The new rules also put all Technician licensees on an equal footing, whether or not they've passed a Morse code examination. Starting February 23, Technicians will gain CW privileges on 80, 40, 15 meters and CW, RTTY, data and SSB privileges on 10 meters.

Once the revised rules are in place, an applicant holding a valid Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) for Element 3 (General) or Element 4 (Amateur Extra) may redeem it for an upgrade. A CSCE is good for 365 days from the date of issuance, no exceptions. For example, a Technician licensee holding a valid CSCE for Element 3 may apply at a Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) test session, pay the application fee, which most VECs charge,
and receive an instant upgrade.

The FCC R&O includes an Order on Reconsideration in WT Docket 04-140 - the so-called "omnibus" proceeding. It will modify Part 97 in response to ARRL's request to accommodate automatically controlled narrowband digital stations on 80 meters in the wake of other rule
changes that became effective last December 15. The Commission designated 3585 to 3600 kHz for such operations, although that segment will remain available for CW, RTTY and data. The ARRL had requested that the upper limit of the CW/RTTY/data subband be set at 3635 kHz, so that there would be no change in the existing 3620 to 3635 kHz subband.

The ARRL has posted all relevant information on these important Part 97 rule revisions on its "FCC's Morse Code Report and Order WT Docket 05-235" Web page,


Friday, January 19, 2007

ANDE LASERs ON at 04:45 EST over Wash DC

From the AMSAT-BB and Robert Bruninga:

At 04:46 Saturday Morning Eastern Standard Time we will turn on the lasers on the ANDE MAA satellite as it comes over the Washington DC area.

This is a horrid hour, and we do not expect anyone to look or to waste sleep trying, but we figured we should alert the amateur list just in case... Someone had an interest.

Remember that these are not visible lasers, but 800 nm (infraredbelow visual red). They would need a CCD and large telescope to detect them. They will be pulsing several times a second for 3 to 5 minutes. We do not expect any amateurs to see them nor to even look for them.

Just wanted to give you a heads up. Oh, and we had the wrong names on the wrong objects so the object with the lasers on it is ANDE MAA which is now object 29664 .

The ANDE telemetry on 145.825 should show when the command is successful. You would see a packet coming back from ANDE saying LEDS WAS OFF (meaning it just switched to ON). Those of you with familiarity with the Kantroincs TNC (that is all ANDE is) will notice that all we did to control the lasers was to hook them to a switch hooked to the front panel POWER LED. Since the Kantrnoics TNC has a LEDS OFF command to save power when the TNC is in a low power application, we set the default to be LEDSOFF. This way, we can use that command to turn on the 6 Watts worth of lasers easily.

Bob, Wb4APR

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cherokee Casino Licensed for Trunk System

My good friend Matthew Sadler over CHA way dropped me a note late last week with the following:

"Was snooping around on the FCC website and noticed that apparently Harrah's (Cherokee NC) is getting a trunked system.

Licensed as WQFC354 for these fequencies: 461.4125 461.7375 461.9875 462.1625 463.2125 463.9625 464.8625.

License was issued June 16, 2006. Don't know if the system is operational or not at this point.

When we make our next trip to pull a handle I will drag the BCD396T to check it out.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

ANDE and RAFT-1 get AMSAT OSCAR numbers

ARLS001 ANDE and RAFT-1 get OSCAR numbers

Space Bulletin 001
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington, CT January 9, 2007
To all radio amateurs

ARLS001 ANDE and RAFT-1 get OSCAR numbers

AMSAT OSCAR coordinator Bill Tynan, W3XO, has announced that the RAFT-1 and ANDE Amateur Radio CubeSats have been issued OSCAR numbers. Both spacecraft were placed into Earth orbit from the spaceshuttle Discovery on December 21 and are projects of US Naval Academy midshipmen. RAFT-1 has been designated as NAV-OSCAR-60 or NO-60. ANDE has been designated as NAV-OSCAR-61, or NO-61.

''AMSAT-NA and I wish to congratulate you and your entire US Naval Academy Satellite Lab team for the successful construction, testing and orbiting of this very interesting spacecraft,'' Tynan said, responding to the request to assign OSCAR numbers.

The RAFT-1 and ANDE ham radio payloads digipeat 1200 bps packet on 145.825 MHz. Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, of the US Naval Academy Satellite Lab says that when RAFT-1 and ANDE are within view of each other, dual-hop packet relays are possible via the two satellites. When it's enabled, RAFT-1 has a PSK31 uplink from 28.117 to 28.120 MHz with the downlink also on 145.825 MHz.

For more information, visit the ANDE, RAFT, NMARS & FCAL Operations Web page,


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

DHS Releases Nationwide Interoperable Communications Assessment

Below is what your $2.9 billion in taxpayer money has bought - not much. Maybe we need to quit funding terrorist protection for Kentucky Bingo Parlors. And now on Jan 5 DHS has thrown another $1.7 billion for funding state and local counterterrorism efforts. This spending is spiraling way out of control and the GAO watchdogs need to get this department and Congress to cleaup their acts-Larry.

Washington — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today released scorecard assessments of interoperable communications capabilities in 75 urban and metropolitan areas nationwide. Interoperable communications involve policies, technology and training that enable law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services from multiple jurisdictions in a common community to effectively communicate within one hour of an incident.

“The 9/11 Commission identified interoperable communications as a major challenge and many communities listened by taking the sometimes difficult steps necessary to close communication gaps among first responders,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “Their experience proves that basic interoperability at the command level is achievable. We’re committed to making this a priority in every major urban area, and we’ll continue to push for closing these gaps by the end of 2008.”

Since 2003, DHS has awarded $2.9 billion in funding to enhance state and local interoperable communications efforts. While scorecard findings will not directly impact homeland security grant funding, it is expected that eligible communities will use the scorecard to target their investment justifications and improve interoperable communications capabilities.
The reviews focused on three main areas: Governance (leadership and strategic planning); Standard Operating Procedures (plans and procedures); and Usage (use of equipment). The evaluation criteria was derived directly from the SAFECOM Interoperability Continuum and Interoperability Maturity Assessment Model that depicts the key components of interoperability — governance, standard operating procedures, usage, technology, and training and exercises.

The findings identify gaps and areas for improvement. Key findings include:
Policies for interoperable communications are now in place in all 75 urban and metropolitan areas. Regular testing and exercises are needed to effectively link disparate systems and facilitate communications between multi-jurisdictional responders (including state and federal). Cooperation among first responders in the field is strong, but formalized governance (leadership and strategic planning) across regions is not as advanced. The scorecards illustrate the current capability for each area and provide recommendations for improvement. The reviews were conducted by five panels of subject matter experts composed of state and local public safety and communications technology experts, in addition to representatives from the department's Wireless Management Office and SAFECOM, a communications program within the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility.