The appearance of articles on the blog slowed this month for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most significant was a total internet outage. My terrestrial home internet service died due to obsolete technology, which required an upgrade rather than repair. I am too far from town to use my mobile data service.
Living in the middle of nowhere is great for ham radio and not so much for connecting to the rest of humanity. Whether in the city or the country we've all leaned heavily on the internet during the pandemic. The recent loss of connectivity impacted my life in several ways, not least of which was amateur radio. Leaving everything else aside, I'll speak a little about the latter impacts.
Of course I could not access this account to manage the blog or check my email. Hence no articles. I did draft a couple of articles using an ordinary text editor, which allowed me to publish the most recent one less than 24 hours after being reconnected. All I had to do was copy the text over, include the pictures and embed links. It was quickly published.
Perhaps the oddest thing I worried about was this question: how will I know what's on the bands? No internet means no DX spots. I was also less aware of conditions since I couldn't check the solar and geomagnetic indices. That was when I rediscovered a feature all my rigs have. You may have come across it as well.
It works well, although it took some time to populate the band map. A better alternative was to flip on the amplifier and call CQ. Soon I was merrily making QSOs without the burden of spinning the big knob.
A more serious problem was my promise to give a Zoom presentation midweek. I could neither do the talk from home nor send the presentation out in advance. I resorted to the old sneaker net technology. I loaded several versions of the slides (PDF, PPT, etc.) onto two flash drives (for redundancy), filled a bag with A/V peripherals and drove to a friend's home with high speed internet.
It didn't go well at first. Zoom is a resource hog and the laptop was page thrashing itself into oblivion. Due to physical distance imperatives only one of us at a time (both with masks) could hover over the computer to diagnose the problem. The rest of the time I was isolated in the room.
We eventually gave up on using Zoom in the usual way. I connected to the conference by phone and one of the organizers flipped the slides while I spoke. That was a long 2 hours! Luckily I had emailed the presentation in advance to the organizers the moment I had an internet connection.
In case you're wondering, the presentation was about the design and build of my station. Above is an annotated panorama shot of the antenna farm that was taken this month and used in the talk. As the world's worst photographer I was lucky to snap this adequate shot. We are looking south from a point north of the 80 meter vertical yagi. I decided it was good enough that I uploaded it to QRZ.com.
I'll point you to the slides (PDF, 25 MB) with the warning that the presentation was not recorded and the slides may be cryptic on their own. I relied on maximum pictures and minimum words since that works best.
Installing the new internet service was a challenge. The installer's "tower guy" had quit and the subcontracted rigger wasn't immediately available. Hungering for connectivity I told him I'd do it myself. He agreed and drove over on Friday afternoon.
Unfortunately the small tower I bracketed to the side of the house a few years ago didn't give us enough height to reach my contracted 5 Mbps download speed. With extension pipes I had on hand I could raise the radio/antenna unit to no more than 45' (14 m). The 6 nearest towers are approximately 20 km distant, and only 2 or 3 of those had acceptable signals due to terrain and foliage.
Per Shannon, bandwidth is proportional to data rate. However as you increase bandwidth the SNR declines. Although I am a little out of date with my telecommunications technology knowledge I do recall enough about LTE to know how it dynamically trades off data rate (bandwidth) and reliable connectivity.
We needed more height. I reluctantly agreed to put the radio/antenna on the Trylon tower behind the house. The maximum height I was willing to risk was 60', a little below the rotator plate. Any higher would create a problem for operation and maintenance of the rotator and antennas above.
That worked. He patiently hunted for the best tower, with me adjusting the azimuth and (surprisingly) elevation. He got me more than 7 Mbps download speed, and about 1.5 Mbps upload speed. I will no longer have to leave home to use Zoom. With the tools and equipment he sent up the tower I completed the installation while he confirmed signal stability. He connected the surge protector to the tower ground.
The cable from the tower base to the house was buried two days later. Instead of a trench I cut a slit through the sod and pushed the cable down about 3" into the slit. That's a third cable run from the Trylon to the house.
I fed the cable through the second hole into the house that I made for the second trench and the 6 meter transmission line. It's a very neat installation.
Worried about EMI I asked about the cable he was using. He reassured me that he used Cat6 shielded cable throughout. As of this writing I have not noticed any noise problems while receiving with the antennas on the tower. I will have to do a kilowatt test to ensure that the internet service is not disrupted by my transmissions.
I am considering the installation of two lengths of steel stock on the tower to protect the internet equipment from accidental bumps during antenna and tower work. Damage could be costly and inconvenient. The pile of ferrites I distributed along the unshielded Cat5 cable for the previous service will be reclaimed. They appear to have survived several years of UV and weather.
One remaining question is what to do with that small house-bracketed tower? I'll leave it where it is until I can come up with a plan. It would be a shame to see a perfectly good tower go unused.