Friday, December 11, 2015

One Solution to Spectrum Pollution

I finally got around to reading the December QST and was very interested in K1ZZ's editorial "Of Frogs and Canaries".  In it, he lays out the growing problem of spectrum pollution from "unintentional emitters" - devices ranging from "variable speed motors in residential appliances and industrial equipment, solar controllers and inverters, unshielded data networking cables, and switchmode power supplies including the ubiquitous “wall warts,” to name but a few".

Many of us have experienced man-made noise from various sources, including plasma televisions and CF or LED light bulbs.  Not many years ago I was blessed with a typical S1 to S2 noise floor, but no more.  Now it's more likely to be in the S3 to S5 range.  I've not found anything in my home that is a primary culprit, so I have to presume that all my various devices - in combination with my neighbor's - are the cause of my higher background noise levels.  I have ham friends who have complained about noise levels much higher than what I experience, so I imagine things will only get worse over time.

I don't have a globally effective solution to the spectrum pollution problem, but I do have a solution that any of us can individually employ.  Operate outdoors, away from the various noise sources.  It's not necessary to go hiking in the wilderness, although many do.  Even operating from a picnic table at a local park can greatly improve things.  It's surprising how being just a few hundred feet away from noise emitters will allow you to hear stations that would be below the noise floor at your home station.

It's not even necessary to purchase new equipment to give field operations a try.  Most any modern radio can be turned down to 5 watts output, giving you an opportunity to operate from a couple of gel cells for at least an hour or more - long enough to see for yourself the difference that operating outdoors can make.  You probably wouldn't want to carry your big rig very far into the woods, but driving to a park and carrying your equipment from your car trunk to a picnic table should be doable.  Many of us have done exactly that for Field Day, although power is more often provided by a generator.

If you find that you enjoy the new-found pleasure of relatively noise-free operating, equipment advances over the past few years have made it possible to purchase lightweight, multi-mode radios that operate for many hours entirely on battery power.  With a lightweight dipole or end-fed wire antenna, your entire station can fit in a small backpack with room to spare.  Once you become familiar with your particular station, setting up can be accomplished in a matter of minutes.  Tearing down and repacking is similarly easy.  Spending a few hours playing radio and enjoying the outdoors was never so much fun!

If you're unfamiliar with this style of operating, ask around at your local ham club and I'll bet you'll find at least one or two who enjoy field operations and can answer questions you might have.  If not, there are many sources of information on the web.  A good starting point is my humble Google+ community - QRP Field Ops, accessible at this URL.  Depending upon where you live and your tolerance for cool weather operating, you can operate outdoors anywhere from a few months to year round.  Spectrum pollution got you down?  Get outdoors and enjoy operating in the field!