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Working At QRPp (mW) Levels

This page was originally written to describe my work in the NAQCC May 2010 Challenge, and the first part pertains to that. Then I discuss QRPp work in general in the ADDENDUM.

Our May challenge was to make as many QSO's as possible using mW power levels. That means an output of 999 milliwatts or less, and it had to be into simple wire antennas. To make things a bit harder, no contest QSO's would be allowed except for those made in our monthly NAQCC Sprint.

After completing the minimum requirement of 5 mW QSO's on the First of the month by working NG9D, KO5Q, HI8A, K4JJW, and KO5Q again, I decided I'd set some further goals to challenge myself, and set the following:

1. Make at least one mW QSO each day of the month without using any contest QSO's except from the NAQCC Sprint.

2. If #1 failed, I'd do the same but include other contest QSO's (but not count them for the challenge).

3. Make at least 50 mW QSO's for the month without contest QSO's.

4. Do the same as #3, but I would count contest QSO's (but not for the challenge).

I found it rather easy to get a daily mW QSO without even thinking about contest QSO's. As with my long-standing streak of making a QRP QSO each day with CW and simple wire antennas at 5 watts, all of the daily 'streak' mW QSO's came in the 00Z or 01Z hours, mostly on 40 meters. Obviously to make it to 50 QSO's, I'd have to get multiple QSO's some days which I did. Some of those multiple QSO's came during daylight hours like 16Z, 17Z, 20Z, etc.

I should mention I was only set up to run my mW power (930 mW) on 160, 80, 40, and 30 meters. I achieved that value by inserting an RF attenuator between the 5 watts output of my TS-480SAT and my antenna tuner. It was only set up to be switched into antenna output 2 from the 480, so I couldn't use it on 20-6 meters. Someday when time permits, I'll remedy that and have the 930 mW available on all bands. (see below)

Since it was permitted in the challenge rules, I used the NAQCC sprint to get my 'streak' mW QSO, but after doing that by working KD2JC, I went up to 5 watts for the rest of the sprint. I didn't want to run up my mW totals in the sprint, but wanted to concentrate mainly on 'regular' QSO's which I did, as you'll see as you read on.

By the middle of the month, I was up to 26 QSO's after the 16th came to an end. So I was just about exactly on pace for my 50 QSO's. However the second half of the month proved a little harder to get the QSO's as the Sun quieted down. Also I seemed to have less free time to go chasing the QSO's.

When the 29th came along, I had 43 QSO's with just 3 days remaining. I kind of decided that my goal of 50 was out of reach as was my QSO a day IF I didn't use some contest QSO's. The CQWPX contest made it hard to get a regular QSO as 40 and 80 were full of contest activity. At the same time, 30 meters was either suffering from lack of activity or poor conditions or both. So on the 29th, I used the CQWPX for my 'streak' mW QSO working WX3B easily. I did try later in the day for a regular QSO but didn't have any success in the limited time I'd had. I wish now I would have pushed myself harder to get that QSO as it would turn out to be the only day of the month I would miss getting a 'regular' mW QSO as you'll see.

With my 'NAQCC-rules' goals slipping away, I resorted to the CQWPX to run my total from 44 (after the WX3B QSO) up to 50. Of course that was easy as it is simple to make mW QSO's in contests. I worked VY2ZM, W2EG, NQ4I, W9OP, W9OA in the contest and between NQ4I and W9OP I had a regular QSO on 40 with WB4HLW. After the 30th, that made 50 overall QSO's, 44 of which I could count for the challenge.

On the 31st a QSO with KD2JC in the Hootowl sprint finished the May 31-day 'streak' including contest QSO's. Of course as I said, I missed the 29th to complete the 'NAQCC-rules' streak.

During the day on the 31st after honoring our Armed Forces by attending the Memorial Day parade and Ceremony, it was gnawing at me that I should try to get 6 more 'regular' QSO's to hit 50 that I could count for the challenge. Especially after I saw some of the great results other NAQCC members were reporting. I knew I didn't have time to catch them, but still I wanted my 50.

I got on 40 around 2000Z and immediately heard a strong CQ from N4KER. I answered him and had a good 12 minute QSO. Then I called CQ myself, and got a quick answer from W8OZM in Ohio. That was a 20 minute QSO and put me within 4 QSO's of my goal now. I took time out for my supper (I eat early) and returned around 2115Z. After a very long string of unanswered CQ's, W2IFB answered me. Conditions only permitted the minimum exchange of info to make the QSO valid, but it left me determined to get to 50 if I had to sit there for the next 2 1/2 hours or so.

It didn't take that long though, and my quest ended in the 2200Z hour with the following QSO's: 2211 WM4X, 2228 N2CJO, 2245 W4ISI. The last two came on 30 meters and the N2CJO was a solid 11 minute QSO via short skip from NJ. It could have gone a lot longer but CJO had to QRT to do some errands.

So I achieved 3 of the 4 goals I set out for myself. They were achieved fairly easily for most of the month, but did require that flourish of activity on my part the last couple days. Basically it wasn't too much harder making a streak with mW power than with 5 watts of power. Now I've decided to continue my long-running main streak using the 930 mW instead of 5 watts. However I will use 5 watts if it becomes necessary some day, and will probably use 5 watts for any QSO's after getting the mW QSO for the day.

I've been dying to analyze the streak. You know my penchant for statistics, I'm sure. So let's do that now.

I'm mainly going to concentrate on the 49 non-contest QSO's in this analysis, eliminating the NAQCC sprint, CQWPX, and Hootowl QSO's. I think that gives a better idea of how mW power works. Of those 49, 34 came in answer to my CQ, 1 as a tail-ender to one of my QSO's, and the other 14 I answered their CQ. I think that shows that you can have success calling CQ with milliwatt power.

I don't know how many stations I called who didn't answer me, but it wasn't a lot. Except for the more distant weaker DX stations, I had a good success rate calling stations.

The two DX QSO's I had came on 30 meters, and were quite easy. It took a few calls to get HI8A and he gave me only a 429 report. I worked 8P9NX with but a single call, getting a 449 report, but he copied me solidly including that I was running 930 mW.

Here's a summary of the RST reports I got from those 49 QSO's:
None - 2
339 -  2
429 -  1
449 -  6
459 -  2
469 -  1
529 -  1
539 -  1
549 -  2
559 - 10
569 -  4
579 - 11
589 -  2
599 -  4

The average length of the 49 QSO's was 12.3 minutes. The longest was 37 minutes, the shortest 1 minute for a DX QSO, 3 minutes for 3 other QSO's including a DX and a special event station. The vast majority of the QSO's lasted long enough to exchange more than the basic RST, QTH, Name. 9 equalled or exceeded 20 minutes in length. A total of 15 went for 15 minutes or more.

Split up by band, its' 12 on 30 meters, 35 on 40, 2 on 80, 0 on 160. Those were the only 4 bands I had available, and I didn't use 160 at all.

By states, provinces, DX:
AR - 1
DE - 1
FL - 1
GA - 3
IA - 1
IL - 4
IN - 3
KY - 1
MA - 2
MD - 1
MI - 2
MO - 4
MS - 1
NC - 3
NH - 1
NJ - 2
NY - 2
OH - 1
PA - 5
TN - 1
VA - 4
VT - 1
WI - 1

QC - 1

HI8 - 1
8P  - 1
Once again proof that CW and QRP work well together to produce solid ham radio contacts - even when the QRP is actually what is called QRPp (999 mW or less). Remember I do not have big antennas here, just a 110' random wire in my attic as my 160-30 meters antenna. Also I live in a QTH that lies in a river valley. So don't convince yourself that QRP or QRPp won't work before you even try it. Do give it a try, and I'm sure you'll be pleased with the successful results I know you will have.


ADDENDUM:

Here are some general tips when using QRPp (which also apply to QRP).

1. Be sure your signal is as clean as possible. That is, no chirps, clicks, or drift. Those all make signals harder to copy when the signal is weak.

2. Be sure your keying is as near perfect as possible. Sloppy keying is harder to copy when dealing with weak signals.

3. If you're going to answer someone's CQ, be sure you are as close to zero beat with him as possible. It's easier to get his attention that way than being off his frequency.

4. Don't get discouraged by folks not answering you despite they themselves putting out a very strong signal. There are many reasons other than your QRP is not working. The person may have hearing difficulties that allow him to only copy very strong signals. He may have a very high local noise level (I have that problem here and probably miss answers to my CQ's from time to time as a result. Although I must say I can dig out signals pretty well after 47+ years of doing it.) He may be listening off frequency for an answer. I could give many more reasons, but you get the picture, I'm sure.

5. If you call CQ yourself, it may take a while to get an answer, especially with QRPp power. Again don't get discouraged. Don't forget to use your RIT as you may get answers off frequency from folks who don't know how to zero beat or even may be crystal controlled.

So do give it a try and you'll have fun.

6. The very best way to get mW QSO's, especially DX ones, are in contests. In this day and age, vast amounts of resources have been put into developing very sophisticated contest stations with the very best receiving equipment in the world, bar none. They can probably copy signals easily in the microwatt range, and mW signals are a piece of cake for them.

As I mentioned above, I intended to fix up my antenna switching so I could use all bands from 160 through 6 at my 930mW power. At first I simply tried using the random wire on the bands above 30 meters, and that worked to a certain extent. I made some QSO's mostly on 20 that way, but realized to be really effective, I'd need to switch in my other antennas for those higher bands. I eventually did that by using only antenna output 1 on the 480, and using a rotary switch to switch the RF attenuator to the proper antenna - 20 dipole, 15 dipole for 15,17,12, 10 dipole, or 6 dipole.

That worked much better and I will soon have a streak of 365 days of mW QSO's barring misfortune.

When the streak does reach that 1 full year mark, I'll have an analysis of it here. Right now I'll just say that I now have worked 62 countries with mW power, most during the streak although some came before the mW streak started. I've got 49 of the 50 states, needing AK to complete a mW WAS. I've worked all continents with mW with the last being Asia thanks to a couple of Asiatic Russians.

More to come later.