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Review of HF propagation analysis & prediction programs

58 programs at a glance

Beacons of the NCDXF/IARU Network are mainly used to "feel" the propagation to different countries of the world, as far as the circuit is reciprocal. In a continuous way, 24 hours a day and all through the year, up to 18 beacons are emitting on 14.100, 18.110, 21.150, 24.930 and 28.200 MHz. On each of these frequencies, during three minutes and without interruption each station in turn transmits its callsign during 10 seconds  in CW at 22 wpm at four power level decreasing gradually from 100 watts to 10 watts, 1 watt and 0.1 watt. Signals are synchronized with GOS time signals. 

Every 10 seconds, the next beacon listed starts emitting while the previously transmitting beacon setup up one band (from 20m to 17m, etc). After 50 seconds of transmitting, a beacon has cycled through all five bands, and remains silent for 130 seconds. At multiples of 3 minutes past the hour, all 18 stations have completed their transmission on 20 meters and 4U1UN starts another cycle.

Most programs work offline and simulate beacons activity displaying simply the call sign and sometime the location of the current beacon on a world map. Some applications using the VOACAP engine include a beacon module but very few predict the signal strength and reliability. Only BeaconSee and PropView from DXLab suite are on-the-air oriented and work online connected to a HF receiver and antenna.

Do not hesitate to give me your feedback with any additional information.

DOS Programs  - Non-VOACAPVOACAP-based

 Beacon monitors Web & Research oriented

HF Beacon Tracker - Faros - BeasonSee - BeaconMap

 Beacon-Time Wizard - Active Beacon Wizard++ - BeaconClock - BJBeacon

Pocket Beacon - Beacon monitor - DXLab - WinCAP Wizard 3 - ACE-HF Pro - DX ToolBox - HFProp

How work a beacon monitor program ? This program takes advantage of the sound card of your PC to display a relative indication of the signal-to-noise ratio of NCDXF/IARU beacons in real time captured on your shortwave receiver. First you must connect the DB9 serial port of your receiver to the one of your computer so that the application can switches automatically from one band to another. Then you set its amplitude with your receiver AF control (audio level, set like for a QSO), and eventaully you extract the signal out of the background noise setting correctly your DSP filters (e.g. CW Noise Reduction ON or EDSP ON, CW Bandwidth 200 Hz, Central frequency 800 Hz). In this way the signal will be well identified by the system if it can be read. This will help you to estimate quickly the propagation conditions in various directions and amateur bands.

HF Beacon Tracker

W6NEK, free

HF Beacon Tracker

Created in 2002 by W6NEK, Frank LaFranco, this software automatically detects the presence of beacons. On request it also synchronizes the computer with a time server.

It can display the beacon status either in a large window with all details or a summary in a compact window that can be placed anywhere on screen.

A red indicator (led) means that the beacon is active, X means that it is off and a blu indicator means that it is operational but with problems.

This application is free. It runs on Windows platforms with a 16-bit compatible soundcard minimum. It requires a connection to a HF receiver (serial cable) and an antenna tuned on HF bands between 14100 kHz and 28200 kHz.

DXAtlas

Licence, $25

Faros

Released in 2006, it is a complete NCDXF/IARU Beacon monitor system programmed by VE2NEA, author of the famous DXAtlas and iono maps.

Faros automatically detects the presence of beacons, the short and long path, measures the S/N (dB), QSB (%), and the propagation delay of signal, as many functions among others that are displayed in graphic form, and not available to some of its competitors.

Faros, is compatible with web applications as it generates signal charts at regular intervals. You can also create logs for analysis purposes.

Faros deserve your attention. This application runs on Windows platforms Me, 2000 and XP, with a 16-bit compatible soundcard minimum. It requires a connection to a HF receiver (serial cable) and an antenna tuned on HF bands between 14100 kHz and 28200 kHz.

30-day-fully-functional free trial.

COAA

Freeware (basic)

or Licence, $35

BeaconSee

Written by Bev Ewen-Smith from the Algarve Astronomy Club in Portugal (COAA), this program is on-the-air oriented.

Although it is aging, it stands always among the best products available by its accuracy and the quality of its display, simple but efficient. It supports more recent transceivers including WinRADIO cards. 

If you have registered the product, select the bands in depressing all five bands buttons from 14 to 28. 

BeaconSee comes in two versions, the basic and the full version, this latter permitting to save automatically each display on disk (in various time intervals from 3 minutes to 12 hours or after a complete cycle, and in three formats BMP, GIF or JPG) or to build up a continuous monitoring without the least human intervention (band change on your receiver is then automatic). In addition a grey line freeware map called BeaconMap is bundled when ordering the full version of BeaconSee. The licence version must be registered on COAA website to get the key (different for each computer).

When installed, you have to move the signal in the middle of the current frame.

Each individual BeaconSee frame records a time slot of 2 hours from left to right, and displays the 18 HF beacons on each of the five bands from top (14 MHz) to bottom (28 MHz). Displayed like this, it also constitutes an excellent educative tool to understand visually how propagation conditions change according to the frequency and the sun position (e.g. DX beacons that are weak at daytime become much stronger close to the gray line, during quiet solar cycles bands over 14 MHz are almost closed, etc). See a full operational and automatic BeaconSee system on ON5AU's website.

This application runs on all Windows platforms with a 16-bit compatible soundcard (in practice on all Windows plateforms). It requires a connection to a HF receiver (serial cable) and an antenna tuned on HF bands between 14100 kHz and 28200 kHz. Any additional DSP receiver-side will improve the signal strength.

PA1ARE

Freeware

BeaconMap

Created by PA1ARE, it displays the NCDXF/IARU beacon currently transmitting on a gray line map of the world and list its call sign, the country and the time.

For Windows 95/98/NT platforms.

Kangaroo Tabor Soft.

Licence, $25

Beacon-Time Wizard

Complete NCDXF/IARU Beacon monitor system. It can be interfaced with WinCAP Wizard 3.

For Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP platforms.

30-day-fully-functional free trial.

Comes free when ordering WinCAP Wizard 3.

With the passing of Jim Tabor in 2010, Taborsoft products are no longer supported.

Kangaroo Tabor Soft.

Licence, $10

Active Beacon Wizard++

It displays NCDXF/IARU beacons with their call sign and a selection of solar and geomagnetic bulletin and alert. Can be advantageously replaced by other products.

For Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP platforms

21-day-fully-functional free trial.

With the passing of Jim Tabor in 2010, Taborsoft products are no longer supported.

S. & M. Huntting

Freeware

BeaconClock

Windows program updated in 1999 displaying in a small windows the NCDXF/IARU beacon call sign currently transmitting, time and frequency, distance and short/long path beam headings from your QTH. In case of "missing file" error, install the library VBRUN60SP3 or higher.

For Windows 95/98/NT/2000 platforms

Today, the website is almost empty and there is no mean to download this application.

DC7BJ

Freeware

BJBeacon

NCDXF/IARU beacon monitor written by Rainer in 1998 for DOS but it runs also on Windows 16- and 32-bits (95/98/NT/XP/ME). It simply displays the call sign of the current emitter on the specified frequency. The program being not synchronized with the computer clock, if offers the possibility to adjust the time with + and - keys.

DL6IAK

Freeware

Beacon Monitor

Written in 2000 by Michael Keller, DL6IAK, this short program (296 KB) opens a small window to display offline the call sign of the five current NCDXF/IARU beacons emitting in HF. An additional BEACON.LST file editable by the user lists the distance and beam heading to each beacon and displays this infomation on screen below the concerned call sign.

For all Windows 32-bit platforms.

Today this concerned website seems no more active.

Chris Terwilliger

Freeware

Pocket Beacon

This original program was created in 1997 for the PalmPilot subnotes and updated in 2003. It displays in real-time the last, current and next NCDXF/IARU beacon scheduled to transmit on the selected frequency. The list is updated every ten seconds as the transmitting station jumps to another band. Information displayed for each station includes the call sign, its distance (short path), and beam heading.

Requires MathLib (otherwhise is provided). For PalmPilot. No more supported.

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