WSPRing across the Atlantic


Host of the Soldersmoke podcast, [Bill Meara], contributed this guest post.

WSPR is a new communications protocol written by radio amateur and Nobel Prize winner [Joe Taylor]. Like the very slow QRSS system described in a previous post, WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporter) trades speed for bandwidth and allows for the reception of signals that are far below the level of radio noise. WSPR takes “low and slow” communications several important steps ahead, featuring strong error correction, high reliability, and (and this is really fun part) the automatic uploading (via the net) of reception reports — [Taylor]’s WSPR web page constantly gathers reports and produces near real-time Google maps of showing who is hearing who. The WSPR mode is very hack-able: [Bill Meara] is running a 20 milliwatt homebrew transmitter from Rome, Italy that features an audio amplifier from a defunct computer speaker pictured below. This contraption recently crossed the Atlantic and was picked up by the Princeton, New Jersey receiving station of WSPR’s esteemed creator, [Joe Taylor].


28 thoughts on “WSPRing across the Atlantic

  1. awesome! i’ve been hoping more amateur radio stuff would show up – it’s a hobby founded on hacking – and low-frequency radio is a perfect place to get people interested. it’s fascinating, baffling, can be done with simple hardware, and it occurs mostly in un-regulated radio spectrums.

    i think there’s a little magic lost in making this project so linked to the internet, though. yes, mapping is a powerful addition to LF propagation exploration, but it seems like having it constantly connected cuts the romance of signals really “coming from nowhere”. LF enthusiasts (“LowFers”) would just have some agreed-upon frequencies and protocols, and you would tune in and see what you got.

  2. >it’s a hobby founded on hacking

    It’s also a hobby which spawned a lot of hacking terminology. Before AOL got the term “screen name” into the vernacular, “handle” was the norm which, of course, came from amateur radio.

  3. not to rain on the Amateur Radio peoples parades, it’s a very important art they practice, but does anyone else find it weird that they go to such lengths to communicate long distances, then upload their results to the internet?

  4. @man on fire: As a ham myself, yes :) But, the internet can provide some interesting opportunities. So, it’s kind of a conundrum. I think emilio’s got the right idea. If there was a way to have a receiving station send something back it’d be ideal, but there are several problems with that. it may be gratifying enough to see the reports of all the distant sites that you can hear. Finding out how far you can go is usually accomplished with QSL cards, but that assumes a two way conversation… I guess the internet system is like that in a way.

    All things considered, this is pretty mind blowing.

  5. Man On Fire-

    The big problem with the internet is that it relies upon billions of dollars of infrastructure between the communicating points. The it may, one day, no longer be there for your or my or someone’s use is a good argument for maintaining a populace of radio hackers- and if it can be done very very very very (20 milliwatts?!?!) low power, all the better- that would be almost impossible to locate, a big hacking plus.

  6. >> man on fire, thebes

    So why don’t we just start working on a radio based infrastructure? Or non-infrastructure ;)

  7. >> a thought
    you mean like psk31 or ax.25?

    The reason the internet isn’t based on a system like this is bandwidth. It takes a lot of work to get the kinds of digital bandwidth we’re all used to. Google turns up STANAG 5066 as a means of doing data over HF, anyone have any firsthand knowledge of it?

    I’ve wanted to get my HAM license, this looks like yet another reason to start that this summer.

  8. @ muri – go do it, you’ll have a lot of fun learning the stuff you need to for you ham license, I know I did. :-)

    although these days quite a lot of amateur radio relies on shop-bought ‘black boxes’ the original ‘if you want one, build one’ spirit is very much alive and well too.

    I don’t know what the licensing protocols are where you live, but here in the uk you must build a project of sufficient complexity that works in order to pass the intermediate license testing – this is, imho, a very good thing as it ensure that at least basic diy and component-level fault-finding skills are there. the full license is much more theoretical and contains some heavy math, but all of it is useful… if I could have said the same about the math i learned in school I’d have been much more interested!

    73 m0gdu

  9. @ Muri & M0GDU

    Here in the states, licensing is split into 3 levels, with the tech test (lowest level, mostly giving VHF and higher frequencies) mostly focusing on the rules, and some limited technical.

    I love the idea of having a working radio project as a requirement for higher levels, but I can’t see the FCC doing that. Our higher level licenses here do have more and more technical tests required. Here, the question pools are public, and you can take practice tests online from a number of sources.

  10. Took a long time before I finally got what frequency is used, seems damn basic information to me though, and in fact saying how many milliwatt you used is pointless without knowing what frequency is used, I mean radio’s upper atmosphere reflection needed for long distance is highly dependant on the frequency

    (It seems to be used around 10.14MHz and 7.04MHz and rarely 14.09MHz I gather from the reports)

    Also it might be nice if someone created a wikipedia entry for WSPR, someone who’s willing to put in all basic info including frequencies generally used ;\

  11. just a quick thought about an edit, but in the sentence “WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporter) trades speed for bandwidth and allows for the reception of signals that are far below the level of radio noise.”, the phrase “trades speed for bandwidth” doesn’t make very much sense, because speed and bandwidth are essentially synonyms in the “throughput” sense. I think the writer is trying to say ‘trades speed for reliability/robustness/the ability to traverse vast distances on very low power’.

    still, this is very intersting stuff!

  12. Isn’t ham radio’s constant focus on conforming to government licensing requirements antithetical to the hacking spirit, regardless of the homebrew history?

  13. sol, actually ham radio is one of the most un-regulated pieces of government licensing, at least in the united states. the FCC monitors a very tiny slice of amateur radio activity, and the rest is “self-regulation” where hams keep an eye on themselves and each other.

    in fact, the FCC just says “these are amateur bands” and then amateur radio community agrees upon usage plans, without significant further input from the government. but, legally, you can do pretty much whatever you want in amateur bands if you abide by basic regulations on power and identification (you cannot, for example, intentionally encrypt or obfuscate communicaton).

    but the real discussion is about regulation. hacking != illegal, hacking == innovation. radio spectrum regulation is a *good* thing, it keeps this very, very wireless society on the air; without at least basic regulation radio would be useless. the alternative is that private business regulates the airwaves, because they would have the money to crush any new signals. what, you think companies would play nicely without the government? *that’s* antithetical to the hacker spirit.

    and if you really wanna stick to your guns and somehow be “better” than everyone else because you’re “independent” or something (have fun in your cave in the hills), then low frequency is the place to be: it’s unlicensed because it’s not used for much.

  14. silicOre: You trade speed for bandwidth in this sense: To receive REALLY weak signals (like my 20 milliwatts after crossing the Atlantic!), the only way to do this is to cut back drastically on the noise. You do this with VERY narrow filters. Like .3 Hz narrow. But Shannon tells us that as we reduce the bandwidth, we have to slow down the rate of info transfer. So as we narrow the filters, we have to slow down the code. In QRSS, the Morse code. So to use the narrow bandwidth, you have to trade in lots of speed.
    Whhat: My rig is on 10140200 Hz.

  15. bill: oooh, bandwidth in the signal processing, ‘narrow frequency range’ sense of the word, as opposed to the ‘information throughput’ sense. thanks for disambiguating that! :)

  16. Congratulations to Bill N2CQR for achieving this. Especially when the transmit antenna is, “just an end-fed wire among the buildings of central Rome”.

    It should be noted that the receiving end requires a powerful (and power consuming) PC running some pretty sophisticated Digital Signal Processing (DSP) software.

    The transmission bandwidth is very small and therefore the information rate is very low. The signal is something like 25-30 dB BELOW the noise.

  17. While the unit is impressive, and of course it’s equally impressive that it crossed the Atlantic on such low power, I’d really like to see the antenna used.

  18. ^^^lol… there are no different “senses” to the word bandwidth. bandwidth!=speed, although wider bandwidths are better capable of easily transmitting larger volumes of information…

  19. There’s a phrase “SHTF” denoting something hitting the fan. Among the possibles are several that would not only have no “utilities” -but severe havoc wreaked on the whole RF spectrum. And from that, any established robust paths become very good things.

    The same tech that holds a signal at 20 milliwatt across oceans might do likewise across planetary or farther distances. Or in the true hacker thought process- 20 mw across oceans or 1 mw across a city- or how low power can we go for across the room?

  20. Very cool experiment. The furure in in low-energy communication, and if you can send a message across the world just using 20 mW, then compare this to send a mail over the internet that uses many-many millions of Watt in power for all hardware needed.

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