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My FT8 SOTA setup


#1

A few days ago I activated W6/SC-197 Buckhorn Ridge. I had not planned to do FT8 while there but I had a sometime and it was almost a drive up so I took my laptop. After I received a few emails from interested people on my setup for this, so here is how I did it.

My portable SOTA WSJT-X setup:

Radio: KX3

Antenna: clipped dipole @ about 24ft

PC: Surface Pro

KX3 to PC: KXUSBa cable and a USB hub

Sound interface: Sabrent Aluminum USB External Stereo Sound Card with 2 cables with 3.5mm stereo plugs

Operating Sys: Win10

Software: WSJT-X 2.0 Build 784f75

GPS (for time check): VK172 G-Mouse USB GPS/GLONASS USB GPS dongle

GPS time Software: BktTimeSync 1.9.1(free!)

First let me say I am no expert at using WSJT-X so I accept no responsibility for something that may go wrong. Try this at your own risk!

For the purpose of this I will assume you have all software installed and your computer and it is booted up and running with the USB hub plugged into the PC USB port. The USB sound card and the USB GPS dongle plugged in to the hub. You will need 2 cables with 3.5mm stereo jacks on them. Plug one cable into the Mic plug on the USB sound card and then plug this cable in the phone port on the KX3. The other cable plug into the speaker jack on the sound card and then into the Mic port on the KX3.

You should also check to see if the PC and KX3 can communicate via the KXUSBa cable using the Elecraft KX3 Utility on the computer. Make note of the com port settings and speed of the connection. Mine is Com3, 38400, 8, 1 and None, you will need this for WSJT-X. Also go thru the procedure of saving your current KX3 configuration and make sure you have the latest firmware for the KX3.

The GPS and time software are easy to setup and there is some documentation so I will not go into it here. For me the GPS does take a few minutes to start and acquire the correct time. If you need help let me know.

I will also assume that you have used WSJT-X before and have a fair understanding how to use it. If not you should practice at home before trying it on a summit.

Start WSJT-X. Enter your info. Call Sign and Grid in settings under the General tab (don’t forget to change your grid for the different summit you are on) I find it easier to setup WSJT-X at home before I leave for the summit. Click on the Radio Tab, choose your radio (KX3 is what I have) under CAT control choose the comport for your radio and set the Serial Port Parameters. PTT Method is CAT. Mode is Data/Pkt. Split Operation is Rig. Click on the Audio tab. Change the Input to Microphone USB audio device. Change the Output to Speakers USB Audio Device. Click the Reporting tab make sure you uncheck Enable PSK Reporter Spotting (you don’t need this unless you have an internet connection) click OK. Make sure WSJT-X and the radio are communicating by changing bands in WSJT-X, also make sure the radio goes into Data and split mode. If not something is not correct go back and look at your settings.

The USB sound card is the most difficult part to setup (not really that hard). Next you have to set the levels for the USB sound card so it does not over drive the radio or the WSJT-X software.

Right click on the speaker icon in the lower right corner of Windows task bar. Click sounds. I have my PC sounds turned off, that way you don’t accidentally play something over the air that you are not supposed to. Click on the Recording tab. You should see a “Microphone USB Audio Device”. Double click it. Click on the Advanced tab, make sure the Default Format is set to 16 bit 48000Hz. Click on the Levels tab, tune the radio to a quiet part of the band and set the slider under Microphone to 50%. On the radio turn the AF (volume) up to 1 (ONLY 1)so that with no signals coming in WSJT-X shows about 30db on the on the bar graph in the lower left. Click on the Custom tab UNCHECK the AGC box. Next click on the Listen tab and check the Listen to this device, change the Playback through this device to the default speakers in your computer (this way you can hear the audio coming to and from the radio through your PC speakers). Click OK.

Click the Playback tab. Double click Speakers USB Audio Device. Click the Advanced tab, change the Default format to 16 bit 48000 Hz. Click the Levels tab. Move the Speakers slider to 0. Connect your radios antenna port to a dummy load. Set the radio PWR level to no more than 5 watts (1 watt should be fine). Tap the KEYER/MIC knob (you should see the CMP and ALC meters on the radio screen). On WSJT-X click Tune (the radio should go into transmit), move the Speaker slider up until you see 4 to 5 bars of ALC (you really want that 5th bar to just flicker) mine is set to 8. Hit the Tune button to stop transmitting.

On the radio make sure your filtering is set as wide as it will go. (i.e. PBT set to BW 4.0)

Connect the radio to a suitable antenna.

At this point you should be hearing FT8 signal coming in over the PC speakers.

That is it for the setup of the radio and PC.

Next is logging. I use the logging in WSJT-X. It creates an .adi file (wsjtx_log.adi) as you log contacts. Don’t forget to erase the old .adi file before you start a new summit. This is not the easiest way to do it. I have not found a way to take an .adi and convert it into a .csv file. If you know of a way please tell me. For now I have been entering things on the SOTA DB by hand. At least I can transfer the .adi file into my logging program (DXLab DXKeeper).


#2

http://www.on6zq.be/w/index.php/SOTA/ADIF2SOTA


#3

Andy

Bookmarked!!

Thanks
73 Kent
N6WT


#4

Hi Kent,

Many thanks for your very interesting posting. I have bookmarked it for future reference.

I am slightly confused, however. The “Sabrent Aluminum USB External Stereo Sound Card” is available from Amazon in the UK, but it comes in five different variants:
AU-DDAB
AU-EMAC
AU-DDAS
AU-EMCB
AU-MMSA
What do these codes mean, and what is the difference between them? I have tried a search on the web, but I am still none the wiser!

73,
Walt (G3NYY)


#5

Hi Kent,
Under the Sotamaps/Extras/create SOTA CSV tab there’s also a program to convert ADIF to SOTA CSV:
https://www.sotamaps.org/extras

73 Ed.


#6

There’s little info on the differences some of which maybe just cosmetic and that’s all a bit rubbish really. Anyway, select one that has support for 16bit 48kHz sampling.


#7

Thanks. They all do!

73,
Walt (G3NYY)


#8

Buy the shiniest one then. Shiny is always best, ask any Apple owner. :wink:


#9

Ed

I never knew that was there!!

Thanks
73
Kent
N6WT


#10

Hi Kent take some time to go around the new version of SOTAMaps which went into production yesterday. There are a LOT of new features in the mapping side of it. Things like show summits you have previously activated (so you know them) but haven’t activated them this year yet and hence you can still get points for them if you activate. A really nice feature is if you are travelling from town A to town B you can find the possible en-route summits that you can consider activating without having to go too far off your route. There’s also a very nice feature that shows the rise and fall of the ground between two points, so if planning a summit you haven’t done before, you can see how steep it’s going to be to climb.

Lots of great new options in the new SMP!

73 Ed.


#11

Hello Kent
Pix about my FT8 rig from my today shack (F/CR-249 - Marseilleveyre).
I want all SOTA chasers to thanks fer FT8 QSO
Of course thanks to all.



73 Roger


#12

Log4OM provides ready formatted SOTA text files for upload and also merges the SOTA data files.

Additionally it provides full support of SOTA maps and includes the full summit lists from SOTA works fine for activators and chasers including S2S contacts - The references can be selected from drop down lists extracted for the association your working

Full WSKT integration is included to auto log from WSJT etc

Give it a try its free

73
Terry G4POP
Log4OM Developer


#13

As a new SOTA activator I am continuing to experiment and learn with each activation. On my first activation I tried to include FT8 operation with my 2m FM and HF SSB operation as my CW skills are nonexistent. This failed miserably to say the least. There were problems with the communications between the computer and radio. Also, WSJTX and Windows always seem to have issues with the USB audio connection. Activation 10 went the same way a big failure. Both attempts were with Windows 10 and WSJTX V1.9. The hardware was a Rig Blaster plug and play and a USB sound card. Most of the issues were with the Rig Blaster not maintaining communications with the FT-817. I have a second Rig Blaster plug and play that works with My ICOM radios with no problems. It may be a bad unit or something with the FT-817.

Jump forward to my activation of W7A/MN145 using new hardware and WSJTX version 2.0.

This activation was a total success. The new features in version 2.0 make it much more suitable for use with SOTA operations. The new features allow nonstandard call signs, Callsign/P for portable and during the CQ message up to 4 additional characters in the CQ message. I was able to use the following message.

CQ SOTA KF7NP/P DM33

This immediately drew several callers resulting in contacts. This could be used to designate activators to the chasers even if they had not been spotted on SotaWatch. I also believe that signing /P attracted callers who tried to work a portable station with a weaker signal. In addition to my 2m FM contacts and 6 HF SSB contacts I was able make 17 FT8 contacts. Included in these were contacts with VE4VJR, KL7YK, JA3BOA and JL1IEO all who worked me with my weak signal when there were plenty of strong stations to work.

I also used a transmit macro with this format for the summit designation in transmit message 5.

W7A MN145 73

Spots on SotaWatch for my FT8 operation did not bring an increase in contacts possibly because there are fewer FT8 operators on SotaWatch.

My biggest issue with FT8 may be the slow rate of contacts. Usually after an SSB spot on SotaWatch I can make 6 or 8 SSB contacts very quickly. The same is true of CW contacts which also occur quickly. The trade off for the slow exchange is the good weak signal characteristics and a large pool of stations to work. These stations are grouped close together with the sole interest in making contacts. They are not there to rag chewing, participate in nets or for schedules. They are there primarily to make contacts possibly chasing countries or grids.

The second change was to my WSJT-X setup shown below.

My setup is shown below during testing at home in my back yard.

Equipment used:

Radio: FT-817

Antenna: Inverted V

PC: Vulcan Windows 10 tablet with RealVNC client application.

WSJT-X PC: Asus Tinker S Board running WSJT-X version 2.0 and X11VNC server software with TinkerOS (Debian)

Sound Interface: Homemade cable from the Tinker Board Audio Jack to the FT-817 Rear Data Jack

FT-817 Control: Valley Enterprise Yaesu USB FTDI CT-62 cat cable for the FT-817 from Amazon

WIFI: Galaxy S7 with WIFI hotspot enabled

Batteries: QTY 2 Power Bank Model YB1206000-USB 6 AH LIPO batteries with USB power ports available from Amazon. The outputs are over current protected at 3 amps so they are not suitable for higher power radios.

For this activation I used an ASUS Tinker Board S single board computer running TinkerOS Debian. This is similar to the Raspberry PI with some improvements. First it has a faster CPU to support decoding more stations during busy band conditions. For the decode mode I run Fast or Normal since the calling stations will tend to have stronger signals. The Tinker Board has an audio codec supporting audio input and output at up to 96 KHz with up to 24 bit audio eliminating the need for a USB audio device. I wired the audio directly to my FT-817 rear data port without any transformer isolation since the radio and computer were each powered by separate batteries and no mains supplies are used. This should reduce the possibility of ground loops and noise induced by the ground loops. The audio port on the Tinker Board uses the same 4 pin 1/8 inch plug as on a S7 phone. The S version of the Tinker board also automatically detects that a cable is connected to the audio port and directs the audio signals there. It also has 16 GB of eMMC fast flash memory on board. The non S version of the Tinker board does not have these 2 features. The Tinker board is about the same size as my Rig Blaster with less cables and no need for the USB hub and wires.

The Tinker runs a version of Debian Linux. To this I installed the latest version of WSJT-X from the WSJT web site. I also installed X11VNC which is a VNC server which allows me to send the screen display to the Windows tablet. The Windows tablet running RealVNC client acts as the display and input device for the Tinker board. RealVNC will also run on an Android tablet or phone allowing them to be used instead of the Windows tablet or PC. The CPU load on the tablet is very low so the battery lasts a significant amount of time. In the field I enable the hotspot on my smart phone to act a WIFI router. The tinker board and the tablet connect to the hotspot allowing them to communicate over the network to each other. The tinker board also picks up accurate network time to set its clock since it does not have a real time clock. This works fine for most of the 300 summits immediately surrounding the Phoenix area. A GPS can be added when there is no phone coverage. The network connection could also be setup as a direct ad hoc network connection. More information can be found at these 2 web sites which got me to this point in my hardware setup. Both of these individuals have done a great job and I would have been lost without all the great information on their sites. Many thanks to both of them.

This site covers the use of the Raspberry PI and solutions for GPS time sync.

This site helped me get the system running on the Tinker Board.

I encountered some differences and made some changes to suit my configuration. First I loaded WSJT-X version 2.0 for the WSJT web site. With version 2.0 I did not experience the problem he described with not having Libreadline6 installed and did not edit the package status file. It did complain about another module missing and I just installed it from the repository. Unfortunately I did not write down the name of the module when I did it. I also booted into the GUI interface. There is a configuration menu that allows you to run programs when the GUI (graphical user Interface) starts. I ran the startvnc script file and WSJT-X. Make sure your startvnc script works by trying to execute it from the terminal window. I initially had errors which prevented it from running. With RealVNC on your tablet you want to connect to screen 0. It will be IP address aaa.bbb.ccc.ddd:0.

I hope this inspires others to try WSJT-X during their activations. This is also my first post so I hope everything has uploaded.

73 from Burke KF7NP


#14

Burke

This setup looks good. It looks a bit harder and bulkier to implement. I have a small understanding of Linux.

73 Kent
N6WT


#15

This brings me to the exchange and the problems I had including “SOTA” and the “Summit reference #”.

For my puropous I would enter W6/SC-100 73 into the Settings Macros tab.

My exchange would go like this:

CQ SOTA N6WT CM95
N6WT W1AW FN31
W1AW N6WT -10
N6WT W1AW R-11
W1AW N6WT RRR
N6WT W1AW 73
W6/SC-100 73

Now this leads to some problems. After I would complete a QSO everything would reset.

I would have to type “SOTA” onto my CQ message before I could start transmitting again and at the start of another QSO I would have to select W6/SC-100 73 in the free message box. If not WSJT-X would send “W1AW N6WT 73” at the end of the QSO. This got a bit tiresome.

I have asked about this on the WSJT-X reflector but no one has replied to it.

Kent
N6WT


#16

A bit OT:

Nobody starts out knowing these things. At one point Kent you would have had a small understanding of Windows. (Or OSX or Android…) You need to do the same things as you did to learn about Windows… use a Linux system. But possibly not on a SOTA activation!


#17

:grinning:


#18

Hi Kent

I experienced the same issues you did with the CQ message resetting every time. I did not attempt to send the summit reference every time since I didn’t know if they were SOTA chasers or not. Many chasers pick the summit from your sotawatch spot. At least with FT8 the summit reference will probably still be on the screen from a previous contact. The same will be true of the CQ Sota so most will get the idea of whats going on. It would be nice is they would stay selected. I think the WSJT manual recommends against including “/” in any message because the receiving station software may try to interrupt the message as a call sign.

Trust me I also have a very limited knowledge of Linux but was able to work my way through the setup. Given time maybe I could write up a detailed build of the system. The actual setup if fairly light with the tablet weighing about 13 ounces and the tinker board and cables at 5 or 6 ounces. I normally carry the extra battery as a backup for the radio and to keep the phone charged. The Battery also weighs about 13 ounces. My windows setup was an HP Spectre 360 X2 at about 2.75 pounds, a USB hub, a USB audio dongle and a Rig Blaster Plug and Play with its tangle of cables.

Maybe the next release of WSJTX can fix these issues.

73 Burke
KF7NP


#19

Burke

In giving the summit reference # I figure some people may be scratching their head at the end of the qso but what the heck, it still counts since they have given their 73. I think it says in the rules the ref# should be given often during an activation?

I seem to always pack to much in my pack and lately my lunch is not fitting as well as it used to so I either need a bigger pack or take less equipment. I just look at your setup and think, no lunch for me! LOL

73 Kent
N6WT


#20

Hi,

FT8 is programmed to stop after sending a 73 so that complete automation cannot take place. The operator has to do stuff. Yes it could be more SOTA friendly but at least we can now call CQ SOTA with standard calls plus /P.

WSJT X was written mainly by US people whose prime interest was EME and meteor scatter. FT8 for HF DX was a response to people who found JT65 too slow. SOTA, IOTA, JOTA etc has not been a significant signal on their radar. US contests, DXpeditions and oddball calls have had more attention.

There is a limit to what can be done given the number of bits transmitted and the 50 Hz bandwidth. However that should not stop people getting onto the WSJT X developers and asking for more SOTA capability. They are very clever people and might come up with a neat solution.

73
Ron
VK3AFW