Making a case for 1.25m 220MHz use

2014 Dec 27

As the Amateur radio evolves, many groups and companies (Yaesu, Icom, etc) are finding new ways to make use of existing bands. With the expansive use of 2m, it has seen the biggest expansion of available services such as D-star, Yaesu Fusion, and others, even though these side modes are also typically available in other modes. The issue there is the capability. Most radios made for use with these modes are typically 2m only, or 2m/70cm, which is fine if 2 people are using radios both capable of it, and/or through a repeater capable of using it. The sheer number of units out there tends to leave most repeater use as FM only, with certain repeaters setup for use with these specific modes. With the new Yaesu repeaters coming online, some use the Yaesu Fusion which allows the person to choose either analog FM or Digital, and the repeater handles that natively. The down side is anyone without a digital mode option in their radio just hears noise, not the voice.
For that reason, some radio clubs choose to disable it, or if too many members complain they may disable it. For those clubs with deep pockets, I have heard of some that bought 2 of the Yaesu repeater hardware, keep the primary as analog only, and setup the second to use Fusion.

Then comes in the propagation of such frequencies. 2m enjoys the potential distance of local signals not affected as much by greenery (aka "green leaf attenuation"), and works well in suburban or urban areas. Plus it still has plenty of SSB users with horizontal antennas for even greater distances, and some people occasionally take advantage of VHF propagation corridors for more distance. The longer antenna typically means it does not need as much height to get the signals out, unless there is buildings blocking a direct path to a repeater or simplex.
The UHF 70cm band tends to carry its own pros and cons. For shorter distances, UHF is able to penetrate "softer" buildings like wood and sheet rock walls with a little loss, but at the same time after so many buildings or trees, it tends to lose its signal strength quickly. The same thing happens through forests and lots of trees. With this varying penetration, in urban environments when it comes to more solid buildings of rock, brick and concrete, it tends to bounces off instead of penetrate. The 70cm antennas typically can be much smaller, but does need much more height and gain to get the signal out longer distances.

This is where the 220MHz 1.25m band comes into play. The advantages of the 220 band propagation carries the benefits from both the 2m and 70cm. It carries almost as well as the 2m band in urban and suburban areas, yet still bounces off buildings like UHF does. It is also less affected by the "green leaf attenuation" than the 70cm band.
This means 2m tends to work best for longer distances in the open or small town areas, 70cm for local transmissions in the city or country, and 1.25m should be the preferred choice for metropolitan areas. Yet still each band has other uses, for example some states like Florida have or are setting up a statewide network of repeaters, like SARnet. The Florida SARnet has a series of linked repeaters, each of them using 70cm for local connection, but the signal is repeated throughout the state wherever the online repeaters do so.

This brings up a repeated history of ham radio, the chicken or the egg. There needs to be band users to make use of a repeater, there needs to be a repeater for band users to use, and band users using the band to make it attractive for other band users. Due to the lack of use in most areas, some clubs have taken down their 220 repeaters and allow them to collect dust in a corner, simply due to a lack of interest or use, in favor of 2m or 70cm. Some people buy up these older or unused repeaters at a discount and then put them online at their home/shack, just keeping them up in case someone wants to make use of them. The local frequency coordinator can determine how soon it can be put up. In urban environments it may take longer due to other existing repeaters, but in areas with very little 220 use, they should get back to you fairly quickly.

What you can do to help:

  • Get a capable radio, such as a Baofeng/Pofung UV-82X for $50 on Amazon or better mobile/base station depending on your preference.
  • Talk with the local amateur radio clubs, some may already have a repeater up but is rarely/never used.
  • Ask about it on local 2m or 70cm nets. If they hear others are interested, they may dust off that radio in their shack or help get a repeater back up.
  • Talk about the alternate options such as digital voice or setting up a station for Echolink.
  • See what it would take to setup or request the local ARC setup a crossband linked repeater.

As interest is generated, more people will make use of the frequencies. Interest spreads from local area to local area, and like 2m, certain 220 propagation corridors open up and people find newer ways to make use of the band we've had access to for some time. If we do not step up now and show there is interest, these long time hardened HF-oriented hams and groups that see it as "another useless band" may mean the end of it. There has already been chatter among the talking heads towards the top at ARRL who have a severe bias towards HF, they tend to shrug off VHF/UHF, working with the FCC to drop the 1.25m band and auction it off to the highest bidder. As they say, use it or lose it.

As more blog entries are added, some get moved to the archived blog entries page. As this is a new website, this will probably not need to be done for a month or two.