Getting started with Olivia mode Getting Started On Olivia

03/02/14

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Getting Started On Olivia

 


Olivia 500/8 QSO screen capture on 20mtrs with FLDigi (Linux ver.)

 

Common Olivia formats currently in use

Bandwidth and Tones Audio Center Marker (Hz) Baud WPM Decode S/N Ratio (db)
500/16 750 31.25 19.5 -13
500/8 750 62.5 29.3 -11
250/8 625 31.25 14.6 -14
1000/32 1000 31.25 24.4 -12
1000/16 1000 62.5 39.1 -10
500/4 750 125 39.1 -10
125/4 625 31.25 9.8 -15

 

Olivia users do it with frequency too!

So you have gotten the computer, the interface, and the rig hooked up.  You have installed the digital program that you want to use and have set the appropriate keying and audio settings for it.  You've got your macros ready and you're ready to give Olivia a shot. So what next?

Well, it's time to mention the best frequencies to listen and call for Olivia mode contacts.  HFLink is a good web site to start with.  They have a suggested list of Olivia frequencies for most of the ham bands.  Most Olivia activity seems to be in line with their suggestions but many operators go beyond that also. 

My current favorite frequencies (at least for now in the sunspot minimum) are :

160mtrs   : 1835 - 1838 (used to be some activity around 1808)

80mtrs     : 3583.25 and 3577

40mtrs     : 7035 - 7038 (used to be activity around 7072.5)

30mtrs     : 10141 - 10144  (used to also be activity around 10138)

20mtrs     : 14.072 - 14075.65 (500,250,or 125hz modes mostly) and 14106.5 (1000 or 2000 hz wide modes mostly)

17mtrs     : 18102.65

15,12,10 and 6mtrs  : Usually 1-2 khz above PSK activity - 21.072, 24.922, 28.122, 50.291

 

***Update! Recent solar activity in Fall of 2013 has seen a fair amount of Olivia activity on 10mtrs OTHER than just above the PSKers

10mtrs     : 28.106500 (center frequency) for 32/1000 Olivia, and some other more narrow modes spotted there also.    

 

It is often best to get on standard calling frequencies with this mode because you can miss a lot of weak signals if you don't.  However, with Olivia activity on the rise AND all the other modes vying for space, a good deal of the time I just operate where I can find a clear spot - as close as I can to a standard calling frequency.  On 80mtrs I mostly operate between 3577 and 3586 but if the 3583.25 frequency is open I prefer to put out a call on that frequency. No single mode "owns" any data frequency though most modes have suggested call frequencies.  As always, a good operator will QRL the frequency once or twice to make sure it is NOT in use.  I usually QRL in CW mode since most hams can copy that - even NON digital stations.

The most popular Olivia band in the last few years seems to be 80mtrs - at least in the Fall and Winter months at night time.  I also hear some activity in Spring and Summer but not as much since the noise levels starts to get really high during those seasons.

The 40mtr and 20mtr bands have a lot of Olivia activity too.  40mtrs has more activity in the late evening during the Fall and Winter but also has some retired hams, nighttime workers, and others who occasionally get on in the day time too.  20mtrs seems to have something to offer throughout the year - though day time and night time activity may vary a lot with different seasons. The DX and sporadic E usually keep it open to one place or the other but in this current sunspot minimum even 20mtrs has it bad days and even worse.

The higher bands are tough to find any activity on a good deal of the time.  However, during the Summer E Skip season I have worked more than a few Olivia stations on 17mtrs and above.  As sunspot activity increases the higher bands, of course, will be much more active.

Most of the wide bandwidth Olivia I have heard is on or about 14.106.65 - mostly on 1000/32 and 1000/16.  However, I have worked stations there on 2000/64 and even 2000/128.  I have also worked stations on 2000hz and 1000hz Olivia modes on 40mtrs and 80mtrs too when there is little activity and less chance to QRM others.

 

But I don't hear any activity ...

It always pays to listen a lot in many aspects of life and ham radio is not an exception.  However, if you spend an inordinate amount of time just listening for calls to respond to - you are short changing yourself and others.  That's why there is a CQ ... I have made well over a 1000 Olivia QSO's in the last 2 years and the large majority of those were by calling CQ when I heard little or no activity.  If you like being a SWL that is fine but if you want to talk to others you need to make some noise. 

Prepare a few Auto CQ macros.  Preferably ones that last 40-50 seconds - not short ones like the PSK/RTTY folks do.  Longer CQ's give people time to switch from a different mode, identify which Olivia configuration the station is using, and to start decoding your CQ.  Set your Auto CQ to repeat every 40-50 seconds too - same time as the length of the CQ so you give the other station time to reply AND rest your transmitter. 

I sit down at my computer and find an open frequency, make sure it's not in use, and set my Auto CQ macro going.  I keep the audio on the rig turned up slightly to keep an ear on it and then start catching up on my emails while that is going on.  I do all sorts of other things while keeping an eye and ear on the rig to see if I get any replies.  It's amazing the amount of QSO's that an Auto CQ macro can generate.

 

Optimizing Your Experience ...

Hams of all modes seem to gravitate towards loud and strong signals.  It's human nature.  Many hams won't talk or communicate with someone unless they have a strong signal.  I've seen hams get nervous when signals start to fade and sign out quickly for fear of losing good copy on the other station.  Some of that makes good sense - especially with phone modes like SSB, AM, and FM.  If they get close to the noise level it's hard to hear what they are saying and you might as well as sign out. With PSK, RTTY, and other less sensitive digital modes the same applies - once they get close to the noise level the copy is spotty and not all that good. 

With Olivia it makes LESS sense to shy away from weak signals.  Olivia can copy signals below the noise floor a lot better than any of the aforementioned modes do.  Don't be afraid to even ragchew with weak signals on this mode.  I've had numerous 1 hour ragchews, more than a few 2 hour wind fests, and even a few 3 hour marathons with signals up and down into the noise and all sorts of atmospheric effects going on.  Try that on PSK and RTTY with a low profile - low power station ...  Lotsa luck.

Also, since Olivia decodes accurately well below the noise floor it makes sense to NOT run any squelch.  If you turn off the squelch you may get random "garbage" generated on the text readout when an Olivia signal is not present BUT that is much preferable to not decoding a signal that the squelch would have masked.  I highly recommend NEVER running squelch in Olivia mode.

Other "out of the box" (default) settings of your software may NOT be all that optimal either and may not give you the best experience - meaning best copy.  For example - below is a screen capture of Ham Radio Deluxe's DM780 program in 500/16 Olivia mode with it's default settings :

Just above the white area where the received decoded text prints out there is a bar that has Olivia settings on it.  There are drop down boxes for the Tones, Bandwidth, Search, and Sync. 

The Tones and Bandwidth drop down boxes can be used quickly and easily to change to any one of the 40 different Olivia configurations. 

The Search setting can set to none, +-25%, or +-50%.  Most of the time it would be best to leave it on +-25%.  This setting determines how far from the center frequency the Olivia algorithm will search to lock onto and decode an Olivia signal.  The percentage of the current Olivia bandwidth configuration is what the +-25% and +50% refers to and uses it to determine how far on each side of center freq it will search.  If you are trying to decode a signal that is very very weak and you can't really see it well on the waterfall AND not sure that you are even near it's center freq - then setting the Search to +-25 or +50% might make the difference between decoding it or not. And under QRM conditions when another Olivia signal is actually overlapping the station you are trying to decode it MAY be useful to set it to NONE so that you can be sure to decode the signal you are centered on AND NOT the one that is overlapping.  Most of the time, however, it is the best to keep it on the +-25% setting.

The Sync setting is VERY important.  The higher it is set the better it will decode a weak signal.  If you leave it on LOW all the time you will never see the true value and magic of Olivia.  I would HIGHLY recommend leaving it on Medium or High all the time.  And if you are getting errors in the decoded text, the signal is very weak, or the QSB is rough then it is usually best to have it on the HIGH setting.  The down side to doing that is that the delay between the time the signal is received - to the time it starts decoding it is a lot longer when the Sync is set to medium or high.  However, the decoding on very weak signals can be so much better that the tradeoff is worth it.  It is also best to set the Sync on HIGH if you use any of the faster NON standard Olivia configurations like 250/4, 500/4, 500/8, 1000/16, 1000/8, 2000/32, 2000/16, and 2000/8.  If you run these faster Olivia non standard modes with Sync set to none or medium your decoding accuracy will suffer a lot under less than ideal conditions.

In the FLDigi program the equivalent settings are on the Configuration dialog in the Olivia modem setting tab as shown below.  They are called Tune margin (Search) and Integration period (Sync).  Instead of none, high, and low, FLDigi uses a scale that goes from 2 to 128 on both settings.  The default is 8 for Tune margin and 4 for Integration period.  This is adequate for most standard Olivia configurations BUT higher settings for Integration period (Search) may be required when signalss are extremely weak OR running NON standard Olivia configurations that are faster like 250/4, 500/4, 500/8, 1000/16, 1000/8, 2000/32, 2000/16, and 2000/8.  When running standard Olivia configurations like 125/4, 250/8, 500/16, 1000/32, and 2000/64 - I typically have my Integration period set to 4 but will increase it to 5-10 on extremely weak signals.  IF I set it any higher (for standard configurations of Olivia) it doesn't really seem to matter that much AND the DELAY becomes obnoxiously long.  IF you set it up to 50 -100 on standard configuration modes it might not start decoding for several minutes or longer after you click on the signal. 

 

MixW has a setting for Frequency margin (as shown below) which appears to correspond to the Tune Margin settings of FLDigi and DM780.  25-50% seems adequate for normal operation.  ALSO be sure to DESELECT the Squelch checkbox and set the threshold to the bottom.  It apparently does NOT have a Sync or Integration period setting like DM780 or FLDigi has.  I am NOT as familiar with this program as I am with the other two BUT I have talked to many Olivia stations running MixW who swear by it.  One thing to note (besides the fact that it is NOT FREE) is that when you download the program you also need to download the Olivia support DLL separately to enable Olivia operation.

 

The MultiPSK program does not appear to have a Sync or Integration period setting either BUT, as shown below circled in red, it does have a button to turn on and off it's fixed value Search or Tune margin setting which is marginally useful. 

 

Sound card calibration is another area that can make a big difference in decoding and encoding properly.  It is much more important to have your sound card input and output setting calibrated for Olivia and mfsk related modes than it is on PSK and RTTY.  FLDigi, MultiPSK, and MixW all have the ability to set soundcard offsets for your TX and Rx (input and output) audio.  As of this writing DM780 does NOT have that capability.

Most sound cards are off a little bit on their sound sampling - that is just a fact of life.  Though, most are NOT off that much so that you would EVER notice it by playing music or anything of that nature.  However, if the sound sampling is NOT calibrated for digital operation in Olivia (and other mfsk related modes) you run into instances of hearing perfectly good sounding loud signals that decode poorly OR erratically.  I have copied stations coming in S 9+ who I could decode for a few words, then garbage, then decode a few more, then garbage, etc., etc.  My soundcard offsets had been measured already by using the CheckSR.exe program that comes with MixW and entered into the appropriate settings fields for them in my digital software (FLDigi).  So, I can be pretty sure the other station had NOT calibrated his offsets or was NOT able to.  So, it is VERY important to get your calibration offset values and put them in your digital software if you can.

Anyone can download the "trial" version of MixW and use the CheckSR.exe progam that comes with it to measure their soundcard input and output offsets.  It is recommended to run it for 15-30 minutes or until the PPM values it displays stabilizes.  Also, you must enter your soundcard sampling rate.  Most modern inexpensive soundcards or on board sound chipsets have a 44100 sampling rate.  You may want to check your documentation or look on line to be sure. 


CheckSR program that comes with MixW

 

In the FLDigi digital program the offsets are entered on the soundcard settings dialog under the settings tab as shown below in the RX ppm and TX ppm fields (mine are 127 and 125) :

 

 

MixW is similar, as shown below, in the Clock adjustment ppm fields in it's Sound Device Settings dialog box:

 

MultiPSK has it's own built in facility for calibrating the Tx and Rx as shown below - you may want to read the help file before you run it :

 

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