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Главная » 2020 » Октябрь » 24 » Foundations of Amateur Radio
Foundations of Amateur Radio

Antenna testing in the field

If you've been around amateur radio for any time at all, you'll know that we spend an awful lot of time talking about antennas. How they work, where to get them, how to build them, how strong they are, how cheap they are, how effective, how resonant, you name it, we have a discussion about it.

It might not be immediately obvious why this is the case. An antenna is an antenna, right?

Well ... no.

Just like the infinite variety of cars on the road, the unending choice of mobile phones, ways to cook an egg and clothes to wear to avoid getting wet, antennas are designed and built for a specific purpose. I've talked at length about these variations, but in summary we can alter the dimensions to alter characteristics like frequency responsiveness, gain, weight, cost and a myriad of other parameters.

If we take a step back and look at two antennas, let's say a vertical and a horizontal dipole, we immediately see that the antennas are physically different, even if they're intended for exactly the same frequency range. Leaving cost and construction aside, how do you compare these two antennas in a meaningful way?

In the past I've suggested that you use a coax switch, a device that allows you to switch between two connectors and feed one or the other into your radio.

If you do this, you can select first one antenna, then the other and listen to their differences. If the difference is large enough, you'll be able to hear and some of the time it's absolutely obvious how they differ. You might find that a station on the other side of the planet is much stronger on one antenna than on the other, or that the noise level on one is much higher than the other. Based on the one measurement you might come to the conclusion that one antenna is "better" than the other.

If you did come to this conclusion, I can almost guarantee that you're wrong.

Why can I say this?

Because one of the aspects of the better antenna is dependent on something that you cannot control, the ionosphere, and it is changing all the time.

I have previously suggested that you listen to your antenna over the length of a day and notice how things change, but that is both time consuming and not very repeatable, nor does it give you anything but a fuzzy warm feeling, rather than an at least passing scientific comparison.

A much more effective way is to set up your station, configure it to monitor WSPR, or Weak Signal Propagation Reporter transmissions using one antenna, for say a week, then doing it again with the other antenna.

If you do this for long enough you can gather actual meaningful data to determine how your antenna performs during different conditions. You can use that knowledge to make more reliable choices when you're attempting to make contact with a rare station, or when it's 2 o'clock in the morning and you're trying to get another multiplier for the current contest.

You don't even have to do anything different and spend little or no money on the testing and data gathering.

You can do this with your normal radio and your computer running WSJT-X, or with a single board computer like a raspberry pi and an external DVB-T tuner, a so-called RTL-SDR dongle, or with an all-in-one ready-made piece of hardware that integrates all of this into a single circuit board.

If you want to get really fancy, you can even use automatic antenna switching to change antennas multiple times an hour and see in real-time what is going on.

You also don't have to wait until you have two antennas to compare. You can do this on a field day when you get together with friends who bring their own contraptions to the party.

If there's any doubt in your mind, you can start with a piece of wire sticking out the back of a dongle. I know, I'm looking at one right now. I've been receiving stations across the planet.

One thing I can guarantee is that the more you do this, the better you'll get a feel for how the bands change over time and how to go about selecting the right antenna for the job at the time.

I'm Onno VK6FLAB

 This article is the transcript of the weekly 'Foundations of Amateur Radio' podcast, produced by Onno Benschop, VK6FLAB who was licensed as radio amateur in Perth, Western Australia in 2010. For other episodes, visit http://vk6flab.com/. Feel free to get in touch directly via email: cq@vk6flab.com

 If you'd like to join a weekly radio net for new and returning amateurs, check out the details at http://ftroop.vk6flab.com/, the net runs every week on Saturday, from 00:00 to 01:00 UTC on Echolink, IRLP, AllStar Link, Brandmeister and 2m FM via various repeaters, all are welcome.

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