Amateur Radio Station
Digital modes Information page
An Overview of Digital HF Radio Operating Modes
TOR is an acronym for Teleprinting Over Radio. It is traditionally used to describe the three popular "error free" communication modes - AMTOR, PACTOR and G-TOR. The main method for error correction is from a technique called ARQ (Automatic Repeat Request) which is sent by the receiving station to verify any missed data. Since they share the same method of transmission (FSK), they can be economically provided together in one Terminal Node Controller (TNC) radio modem and easily operated with any modern radio transceiver. TOR methods that do not use the ARQ hand-shake can be easily operated with readily available software programs for personal computers. For the new and less complex digital modes, the TNC is replaced by an on-board sound card in the personal computer.
AMTOR is an FSK mode that is hardly used by radio amateurs in the 21st Century. While a robust mode, it only has 5 bits (as did its predecessor RTTY) and can not transfer extended ASCII or any binary data. With a set operating rate of 100 baud, it does not effectively compete with the speed and error correction of more modern ARQ modes like Pactor. The non-ARQ version of this mode is known as FEC, and known as SITOR-B by the Marine Information services.
PACTOR is an FSK mode and is a standard on modern Multi-Mode TNCs. It is designed with a combination of packet and Amtor Techniques. Although this mode is also fading in use, it is the most popular ARQ digital mode on amateur HF today and primarily used by amateurs for sending and receiving email over the radio. This mode is a major advancement over AMTOR, with its 200 baud operating rate, Huffman compression technique and true binary data transfer capability.
G-TOR (Golay -TOR) is an FSK mode that offers a fast transfer rate compared to Pactor. It incorporates a data inter-leaving system that assists in minimizing the effects of atmospheric noise and has the ability to fix garbled data. G-TOR tries to perform all transmissions at 300 baud but drops to 200 baud if difficulties are encountered and finally to 100 baud. (The protocol that brought back those good photos of Saturn and Jupiter from the Voyager space shots was devised by M.Golay and now adapted for ham radio use.) GTOR is a proprietary mode developed by Kantronics. Because it is only available with Kantronics multi-mode TNCs, it has never gained in popularity and is rarely used by radio amateurs.
PACTOR II is a robust and powerful PSK mode which operates well under varying conditions. It uses strong logic, automatic frequency tracking; it is DSP based and as much as 8 times faster then Pactor. Both PACTOR and PACTOR-2 use the same protocol handshake, making the modes compatible. As with the original Pactor, it is rarely used by radio amateurs since the development of the new PC based sound card modes. Also, like GTOR, it is a proprietary mode owned by SCS and only available with their line of multi-mode TNC controllers.
CLOVER is a PSK mode which provides a full duplex simulation. It is well suited for HF operation (especially under good conditions), however, there are differences between CLOVER modems. The original modem was named CLOVER-I, the latest DSP based modem is named CLOVER-II. Clovers key characteristics are band-width efficiency with high error-corrected data rates. Clover adapts to conditions by constantly monitoring the received signal. Based on this monitoring, Clover determines the best modulation scheme to use.
RTTY or "Radio Teletype" is a FSK mode that has been in use longer than any other digital mode (except for morse code). RTTY is a very simple technique which uses a five-bit code to represent all the letters of the alphabet, the numbers, some punctuation and some control characters. At 45 baud (typically) each bit is 1/45.45 seconds long, or 22 ms and corresponds to a typing speed of 60 WPM. There is no error correction provided in RTTY; noise and interference can have a seriously detrimental effect. Despite it's relative disadvantages, RTTY is still popular with many radio amateurs. This mode has now been implemented with commonly available PC sound card software.
PSK31 is the first new digital mode to find popularity on HF bands in many years. It combines the advantages of a simple variable length text code with a narrow bandwidth phase-shift keying (PSK) signal using DSP techniques. This mode is designed for "real time" keyboard operation and at a 31 baud rate is only fast enough to keep up with the typical amateur typist. PSK31 enjoys great popularity on the HF bands today and is presently the standard for live keyboard communications. Most of the ASCII characters are supported. A second version having four (quad) phase shifts (QPSK) is available that provides Forward Error Correction (FEC) at the cost of reduced Signal to Noise ratio. Since PSK31 was one of the first new digital sound card modes to be developed and introduced, there are numerous programs available that support this mode - most of the programs available as "freeware".
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