Will the propagation on the High Frequency bands come back up soon?? I am referring to the 3 to 30 MHz range.

We are approaching a sunspot minimum, so higher frequency HF bands will not work well. I assume you know this, and your QRZ page says you are mostly active on 40 meters which wouldn't be affected as much by sunspot activity.

So I challenge the premise of the question, that conditions are especially bad, even accounting for sunspot activity.

Anecdotally, I don't find this true at all. Two days ago I got up at dawn and made FT8 contacts from my midwest USA location to Figi (12,000 km) and Australia (15,500 km) on 40 meters. Japan (10,000 km) is a bit of a challenge, but mostly because I'm not awake at the right time of day. Europe isn't even a challenge. None of this is atypical.

I don't have anything special for a station: just a 100W transmitter and a dipole. Nor am I in an especially quiet location: my neighbors are about 50 meters away. In fact, the main difficulty I have in making contacts isn't propagation: it's trying to find a free frequency. FT8 is completely packed on 40 and 20 meters. The WARC bands are only mostly packed.

I won't provide sources (mostly because I don't want to do the research right now), but I'd bet these factors can contribute to the perception of decreased HF activity:

  • The number of CW operators is on the decline due to rising popularity of digital modes and elimination of the licensing requirement in most (all?) countries.
  • HF proficiency among hams is also declining since VHF and UHF radios are cheaper, easier, and available at the lowest levels of licensing. Internet linking provides long-distance communication previously possible only on HF. That the internet isn't radio doesn't seem to bother many people. Some are content to forgo even a repeater, instead communicating over a digital voice hotspot connected directly to the internet.
  • Fewer people are interested in rag-chewing since today this social function is serviced by the internet and cell phones.
  • The number of licensed hams overall is declining.
  • Operators believe conditions are poor, so don't bother getting on the air.

FT8 is by far where I see most HF activity. I can turn on the radio any time a day, and every 15 seconds monitor at least a dozen (frequently more) QSOs going on. Usually about 5 of them are calling CQ, and if I'm on at an appropriate time of day for the band, many of them are intercontinental.

And things are changing very fast: maybe A year ago it was all about JT65, which is nearly dead now. PSK31, also extremely popular a year ago, is about as dead as JT65. I'd estimate there's enough CW activity to be comparable to FT8, but it's spread out more so a little harder to find without a skimmer.

By one account the average age of a CW operator is 68, and I would not be surprised if once these people are gone, CW will fade away from common usage.

  • thanks for this reply, it is very useful. I am a new ham (KI7KXK, Corvallis, Oregon) and would like to know which digital mode you think is most worth mastering at the present time. Any advice would be much appreciated! – niels nielsen Feb 27 at 2:31
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    @nielsnielsen I guess that depends what you'd want to get out of it, but if you can define the objectives more specifically, sounds like a good new question: ham.stackexchange.com/questions/ask – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 27 at 18:10
  • Phil - your comments regarding CW ops, is by enlarge accurate. If you ever enter the JA contest, each Op sends their age, rather than the number/code etc. Whilst the average age is probably around 68 as you suggest, there are still plenty of ops in their 20s to 30s. However the trend is (unfortunately) FT8 type things. Frankly I hate the mode - it is slow, dull and has no personal skill level in it - you being a slave to the machine and the IT equipment in your house. It is a clever mode - just not one for me. – Tim Seed Mar 1 at 5:16

It has been reported by the Space Weather website this week (late November 2018) that the first sunspots from Solar Cycle 25 have now been seen, with an ephemeral higher-latitude sunspot with reversed magnetic polarity briefly making an appearance on Sunday (18th November 2018). From the Space Weather site, they think that the current minimum should last less than a year more, and then conditions will improve. This is exciting news for those of us who were dreading an extended minimum period!

The short answer is nobody knows. Many of us want to know the same thing! :-)

I asked a similar question here. One of these days I'll update it with some information I found, which seems to indicate never.

At times like this, when the sunspot activity is low, you're going to find a lot better luck running FT8, JT65, or JT9, rather than SSB or PSK31. Sunspots are areas on the sun that give off huge amounts of UV radiation, some of which make their way to Earth. More than the usual amount of UV radiation that the sun shines on us, this extra burst of UV interacts with atomic Oxygen in the upper ionosphere, producing a refractive effect on all HF radio waves, but especially on upper HF frequencies.

So, when the sunspots return in force, probably around 2024, you're going to hear a lot of talk about SSB on 10 meters again. Until then, the propagation you're currently experiencing is fairly "normal" without sunspots, and your best bet might be to check out the digital modes.

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