HFT On HF, You Can’t Beat It For Latency

If you are a radio enthusiast of A Certain Age, you may well go misty-eyed from time to time with memories of shortwave listening in decades past. Countries across the world operated their own propaganda radio stations, and you could hear Radio Moscow’s take on world events, the BBC World Service responding, and Radio Tirana proudly announcing that every Albanian village now had a telephone. Many of those shortwave broadcast stations are now long gone, but if you imagine the HF spectrum is dead, think again. An unexpected find in an industrial park near Chicago led to an interesting look at the world of high-frequency trading, or HFT, and how they have moved to using shortwave links when everyone else has abandoned them, because of the unparalleled low latency they offer when communicating across the world.

Our intrepid tower-hunter is [KE9YQ], who was out cycling and noticed a particularly unusual structure adorned with a set of HF beams. These are the large directional antennas of the type you might otherwise expect to see on the roof of an embassy or in the backyard of a well-heeled radio amateur, and were particularly unusual in this otherwise unexciting part of America. There followed an interesting process of tracking down the site’s owners via the FCC permits for its operation, leading to the deduction of its purpose. With other antenna-hunters on the lookout for corresponding sites elsewhere in the world, it seems that this unusual global network hiding in plain sight could soon be revealed.

Unsurprisingly we’ve not covered many shortwave HFT stories. There are however other higher-latency ways to cross the world on HF.

Via SWLing Post, and thanks [W6MOQ] for the tip.

14 thoughts on “HFT On HF, You Can’t Beat It For Latency

    1. That is handled by using short pre-arranged symbols. In high frequency trading, you don’t need to transmit a lot of information – the timing is critical when you’re trying to make money out of tiny fluctuations in the market price on the scale of seconds.

      So if you’re already targeted in on a stock, all you have to do is send one character “buy/sell” symbols across. Beats the hell out of the alternative of going through a 100 ms delay through the local internet operator.

  1. There are several ISM bands in the SW band which don’t suffer the same line of sight restrictions as the usual UHF suspects. Don’t expect big data rates though, noise is a lot higher from distant sources and the antennas will be several orders of magnitude bigger, so while the technology to transmit and receive is easier and more forgiving (yes you can even transmit straight out of a micro controller I/O pin) don’t expect many people to move off UHF any time soon.

    1. Nope the noise is low when up high and using a beam and there are only 2 ISM bands one of which is on CB so that really only leaves 13.56 which nobody is going to be using for any usefull comms.

  2. Interesting profession for a physicist I recall reading one time when reading about neutrino studies for long distance communication of which last I read have really slow baud rates and I’d guess latency… though I have to read into more how they’re made since I didn’t get that far into studies. I thought proprietary lasers or circular polarized light networks were the latest trend… cool article insight… proprietary HF systems for HFT.

  3. Given that HFT is basically a side-channel attack on the economy, how long until we see a guerila war against these signals? A MitM-esque attack is unlikely since the signals are almost certainly encrypted, but a DoS would be trivial…

    1. Is a tool or weapon used in economic warfare. Like most regulation… the regulators seem to be on overpaid social security with better benefits than the disabled and elderly with more resources for use in enforcement when wanted to be performed for mafia retaliation purposes typically like most war criminals militarizing or para-militarizing civil servant roles and responsibilities.

    2. Encypted? If they’re licensed operators, they won’t be for long. Unless something’s changed drasically, encrypted shortwave boadcasts are illegal (in the US, anyway).

      Someone please correct me if that’s no longer true, or if it’s possible to get special permission from the FCC to use it.

  4. Few issues:
    o HFT is may be using radio technology but it isn’t radio.
    o The hunger for bandwidth, once the thing was pulled out of the hat, will have no limits so this will be yet another stab at radio as we know it. Big finance against a few nerds, what do you think your investments into radios will be worth when this is a reality?
    o There is no kind of transmission that can’t be jammed, intercepted, altered and retransmitted, it can only be made difficult. The operators oughtta be aware that air is always penetrable and therefore vulnerable.
    o Greed has already led to atrocities like lots of energy being burned to mine fake currencies that in the long run will only destabilize our common, existing currencies, fueling inflation… Do we need another way to supercharge the revenue of a few at the cost of many, and wasting more resources for that?

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