Thursday, May 1, 2014

Comparing VOACAP predictions - or are we?

Today, I happened to read KY6R's blog entry about VOACAP HF predictions for a path from FT4TA (Tromelin) to his QTH. Rich was comparing VOACAP Online predictions to those of Stu K6TU. Here they are:

Tromelin prediction by Stu K6TU
Tromelin prediction by VOACAP Online

To be frank, I don't know what to say after reading Rich's piece. Predictions are just predictions but, nevertheless, I felt he seemed to be convinced that Stu's VOACAP prediction is much superior to what VOACAP Online is able to produce in general, but especially on the low bands. It's of course a known fact that VOACAP cannot predict low-band long-distance propagation accurately. There are many factors involved, specifically that VOACAP does not recognize grayline propagation which will play a major role in this particular case.

But what puzzles me is this: are we actually comparing apples to apples? I believe Stu's HF prediction is not at all a pure VOACAP-generated prediction on all bands. It seems to be a mixture of VOACAP-based predictions - and something else. And that "something else" is notably visible on the low bands. It would be enlightening to know where Stu's low-band openings with the predicted signal strengths are actually coming from. Is he using a tuned-up version of VOACAP?

Please note that Stu's prediction strangely ignores a potential opening on 30 meters at 14-17 UTC, or on 40 meters at 15 UTC for that matter, both predicted by the latest officially released VOACAP. This is the time for grayline propagation, too.

I ran a comparison prediction (the same path Rich used) with VOACAP on my PC, using extremely powerful 17-dBi isotropic antennas on both ends. This was to see whether the online version of VOACAP agrees with the PC version (yes, it does), and to see whether VOACAP can predict an opening on 80M if extremely powerful antennas are used. No, it cannot.

The PC version was the latest version of the publicly available VOACAP software package. The above is the result for November 2014, SSN 85.

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