Monday, May 1, 2017

VOACAP Online Point-to-Point (P2P) User Manual (May 1, 2017 Edition)

URL: http://www.voacap.com/p2p/index.html
Russian: http://www.voacap.com/p2p/index-ru.html

The VOACAP Online Point-to-Point (or P2P for short) HF propagation prediction service uses VOACAP (Voice of America Coverage Analysis Program) as its calculation engine, requiring that SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is supported in your web browser (for the prediction wheel). For example, the latest versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome are known to work. The earlier versions may not be supported. If you encounter problems with the page, please try first to upgrade your browser to the latest version available. If you think you have found a bug or if you wish to help translate the user interface into your language, please contact me at jpe@voacap.com.

The VOACAP P2P web interface is divided into three sections and their sub-sections as follows:

  1. A Google Map for setting the transmitter (TX) and receiver (RX) site coordinates. The easiest way to set the coordinates is to drag the red (TX) and blue (RX) markers to appropriate locations on the map. Under the map, the distance from TX to RX is given in kilometers and miles, and the bearing in degrees from True North. If you need to zoom in or zoom out the map for better details, just scroll the mouse wheel up and down over the map. To quickly swap the TX and RX points, just double-click one of the markers.

  2. A circular prediction wheel which is divided into 24 hours and which shows all the amateur radio bands from 10 meters (28 MHz) to 80 meters (3.5 MHz). The prediction shows the probability (or, the REL parameter in the VOACAP language) for a communication contact (i.e. a QSO) between the TX and RX site, illustrated as colors. The white and blue colors indicate poor probability (less than 20%) whereas orange and red indicate good probability (more than 80%). The exact probabilities can be seen by hovering the mouse over the chart. The prediction details -- UTC hour, band and QSO probability (%) -- will be shown in the center of the chart.

  3. The input values for the prediction can be set in the area below the Google Map and the prediction wheel. There are five sections here:
  1. Google Map
  2. Date
  3. Propagation Parameters
  4. Today’s Sunrise/Sunset Times
  5. Transmitter Site (TX), and
  6. Receiver Site (RX).


The input parameter sections under the Google Map and 24-hour prediction wheel.


1. Google Map -- for smooth entry of coordinates


Originally, a smooth and an easy coordinate entry for the Transmitter (TX) and Receiver (RX) sites was one of the single most important design features at VOACAP Online. The stand-alone PC version of VOACAP does not offer this, and, in fact, not many others do, either. Choosing Google Maps for this purpose lowered the threshold of using VOACAP considerably.

On the initial Google Map, there are two markers -- red and blue -- placed on the equator line in Africa. The red marker signifies the transmitter's location (TX) and the blue marker is the receiver location (RX). Perhaps typically, the transmitter is your QTH and the blue one is the DX station, or any way you like.

a) Two great-circle paths: short-path and long-path


There is always a red line connecting the red and blue markers, showing, by default, the great-circle path (short-path) between the two locations. A long-path great-circle line can be shown when you choose "Long-path" from the pop-up menu by the "Specials" label in the Transmitter Site section. The small red circle along the red great-circle line indicates the geographical midpoint between the Transmitter and Receiver.

b) Distance and bearing


One of the features under the Google Map is the on-the-fly calculation of the distance between TX and RX, and the bearing from TX to RX in degrees, calculated from True North. The details can be found under the map (see image below).

Distance (in kilometers and miles) and bearing (in degrees from True North, not your compass north).

And if you would like to swap the TX and RX locations, there are two ways to do it. The easiest way is to double-click on either of the markers. The bearing value will be re-calculated at once. You can also click on the "Swap TX-RX" button by the "Specials" label. Whenever the locations have been swapped (or moved), the propagation prediction is re-calculated and shown on the prediction wheel immediately.

2. The Date


The whole concept of setting the date in VOACAP Online has been changed from the original setup after I implemented the grayline terminator functionality over the Google Map, and this has been quite a while ago. Earlier, I was showing the grayline terminator but it was always fixed to the current time and day -- the user was not able to set it to a specific time and day in order to see how the grayline terminator looked like at a particular point of time. I felt that a more flexible grayline map could be used as a way of trying to determine signal enhancements on the low bands, and therefore a new way of setting the time and day was needed.

This was the reason I chose to use a pop-up calendar for this purpose. Also, any month the user would select from the calendar for the grayline would also be used as input for all propagation predictions. The pop-up calendar is located just below the Google Map, and looks like this:

Always select a day number in the pop-up calendar, and press the Set button. Press the Reset button to return to the current time and date.

To set a date, click on the calendar icon on the right of the date field. It will prompt a calendar where the user can browse the months (and years) backward and forward, by pressing the arrow icons. You select a month by picking any day number in that particular month. Please note that you must select a day (although the day selected is not used for any propagation calculations)!

The month selected will be used for propagation prediction calculations, and the day selected (and the time set by the user) will be used for drawing the grayline terminator over the Google Map. Please note that the selected day will not be used for propagation prediction calculations as VOACAP will not calculate any daily predictions.

When you have selected a month and a day, and have set the time correctly for your purposes, then press the Set button. This will finally use all the parameters set. To return to the current month, day and time, press the Reset button.

3. The Propagation Parameters


The section "Propagation Params" include a number of user-adjustable parameters that will affect propagation predictions.



a) Es, or setting the ionospheric sporadic E layer (Es) on and off. This may (or may not) prove useful during summer months when Es propagation conditions are quite common. The default setting is OFF (No). Please note that the use of the Es layer is otherwise discouraged as the sporadic-E model was not fully tested during the development of VOACAP. Nevertheless, the effects of the sporadic-E layer are not totally excluded in VOACAP calculations although the layer would not be set.

b) Model, or selecting the propagation model. Three choices are available here: Auto, Ducted, and Ray-hop.

  • The default "Auto" or automatic model refers to Method 30 in the VOACAP speak. It's a propagation model that chooses automatically either the ray-hop model or the ducted (forward-scatter) model to predict the signal power. There is also a smoothing function for ranges of 7,000 km or greater.
  • The (forced) "Ducted" model refers to Method 21 in the VOACAP speak. Typically, this model is used for paths of 10,000 km or more. The Ducted model forces VOACAP to simulate the ducted or forward-scatter mechanisms that can prevail usually at distances having three or more hops. This model may produce unrealistic results at shorter distances where the ray-hops should occur.
  • The (forced) "Ray-hop" model refers to Method 22 in the VOACAP speak, typically used for all circuits less than 10,000 km. It's a model that contains multiple ionospheric reflections, and includes all of the ionospheric and earth bounce losses. This model may produce extremely pessimistic predictions at the distances beyond the third ionospheric hop where ducted/forward scatter mechanisms can occur.

c) SSN, or user-settable smoothed sunspot number. Here you can set a specific SSN (i.e. sunspot number) to be used for calculations. Note that VOACAP Online knows the current predicted smoothed sunspot numbers so it may be advisable not to set any value to the SSN field unless you wish to conduct your own propagation experiments. After you have entered a value in the SSN field, press the TAB key (instead of the ENTER key) to validate the number entered, and run the new prediction for the prediction wheel.

At this point, I would like to take a few moments to discuss the pros and cons of this feature. By default, VOACAP Online does internally know the current SSN to be used for all the months of the years available. You can ask how can that be as the sunspot number varies day by day? The simple answer is that VOACAP does not operate on daily SSN figures but smoothed monthly SSN figures which are being predicted for many years ahead and which are re-adjusted at regular intervals.

The predicted SSN figures are based on the Lincoln-McNish smoothing function, and they have been maintained by the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These are the sunspot numbers used in the database reduction for the worldwide ionospheric maps used in IONCAP and now VOACAP. This is why only these figures should be used with VOACAP. Read George Lane's discussion on the sunspot numbers for VOACAP use.

However, please note that, at the end of 2016, the NGDC/NOAA discontinued providing this invaluable predicted data, instead directing users to the SIDC website.

Jim Watson, one of the key figures behind VOACAP Online and a maintainer of his own Proppy website, has conducted a survey, comparing the effects of three SSN data sets: Original NOAA values, SIDC values, and adjusted SIDC values. The results indicate that VOACAP performs best with the original NOAA SSN values. Now, going forward, we will need to use 'adjusted' SIDC SSN values as a substitute. Read Jim's blog post or the full version (as PDF).

In addition, there have been months in the past where the conditions have been well above the average for a couple of months, and a re-adjustment of SSNs would have been appropriate. Now this power has been given to the user. Just remember that, strictly theoretically speaking, entering a daily SSN value in the SSN field does not generally give you better (or more precise) predictions as VOACAP is not suited to real-time predictions at all. Read more about the theoretical background of VOACAP in my Quick Guide.

d) Min. TOA, or setting the minimum takeoff or arrival angle for antennas at the steps of 1 degree, starting from 0.1 degrees (the default), up to 5 degrees. My default value has always been 0.1 degrees, due to some practical reasons. However, in the VOACAP literature, a value of 3 degrees is commonly recommended, as it can be a common lowest angle for arriving skywave signals due to the roughness of the terrain. Also, 3 degrees may be a good choice if your antennas are not located in a flat, unobstructed area. And if you are using isotropic antennas, you should avoid huge amounts of antenna gain at angles below 3 degrees. You are encouraged to experiment between 0.1 and 3 degrees to see differences in predictions, using different antennas.

4. Sunrise and Sunset Times


The section under Propagation Parameters labeled as "Today's Sunrise/Sunset Times (UTC)" offers the Sun's rise and set times at various regions of the ionosphere, calculated at both the transmitter and the receiver coordinates. All times are UTC.

These calculations were originally inspired by Steve's (G0KYA) more-than-15-year-old article about grayline propagation. In short, the best predictions for grayline propagation or trans-terminator enhancement on low bands can probably be achieved by a close examination of grayline maps. Some also swear by W6ELProp. To make this section even more informative, a new Point-to-Point prediction option - All-year grayline - has been developed. See below for more information. Also, you may be interested in VOACAP Greyline.

The abbreviation GND (for Ground) refers to sunrise and sunset at the sea level. The letter "D" refers to sunrise and sunset at the bottom of the ionospheric D region. Similarly, the letter "F" refers to sunrise and sunset in the ionospheric F region.

In the summer, if you place the TX or RX marker close to the Arctic Circle, you will see that "--:--" will appear in the D and F region fields. This simply means that sunrise and sunset times cannot be calculated for those regions e.g. because the sun does not set/rise during the summer at high latitudes. Alternatively, in the winter, the sun may not rise/set.

Please note that all the calculated values can be clicked on (as they are in fact buttons), and the Google Maps above will show how the terminator line will run across the map at the time clicked on. This can be very useful in determining the best times for low-band signal enhancements.

5. The Transmitter Site



a) Selecting QTH


In the Transmitter Site (TX) section you can, besides dragging the red marker to the appropriate location on the map, choose the location from a list of DXCC countries. The QTH pop-up menu features 483 locations around the world, including all DXCC entities. When you choose a location from this list, its name and the coordinates (latitude and longitude) will automatically be entered in their corresponding fields below. Much care has been taken to find the exact coordinates of even the smallest of the islands! If you happen to find a location with wrong coordinates, drop me a note!

When you drag the markers over the map, you are advised to use the Name field for entering a label for the TX site (otherwise, the Maidenhead grid locator will be used). And you can also enter the Maidenhead grid locator in the Name field, and press the "Loc calc" button: the corresponding coordinates will then automatically be calculated from the grid locator and entered in the Latitude and Longitude fields. The latitude and longitude values can also be entered manually. When you do that, please press the TAB key to validate them and run the prediction.

b) Selecting antenna and power


At the moment, only one antenna can be chosen for all amateur bands. If you need more freedom in selecting different antennas for different bands, you can try VOACAP Propagation Planner. In the VOACAP P2P service, the default antenna is a dipole at the height of 10 meters (33 ft) above the ground. All TX and RX antennas are artificial in the sense that they are omnidirectional, which allows the user to see all possible openings to all parts of the world. In dipole-type of antennas, the height of the antenna is related to the elevation angle and the number of elements to the gain. When you choose an antenna, you should think about the elevation angles and gain, rather than the physical structure of the antenna.

In the TX power, you can select powers from 1 watt to 1500 watts at the steps given. 100 W is the default setting. Some line loss is assumed so that the actual power used for the calculation is 80% of the power chosen. In the TX mode, you can choose from CW, SSB and AM. CW is the default setting.

c) Short-path and long-path, and specials


You can decide whether you want the predictions to be calculated via Short-Path or Long-Path. Short-path means the shortest distance between the TX and RX, and this so-called great-circle path is visualized with a red line on the Google Map. If you set this to Long-path, you will go from TX to RX in the opposite way: the longest great-circle path. On the red great-circle line, the geographical midpoint of the path is shown as a small red circle.

Last but not the least, there are three buttons:

  • Swap TX-RX,
  • Set Home, and
  • Unset Home.

If you click on the Swap TX-RX button, the TX and RX locations will be swapped: the current TX location becomes the RX location, and the RX location becomes the TX location. You can accomplish the same effect by double-clicking the red (TX) or blue (RX) marker on the map. In this way, you will see that the predictions for circuits are not always 100% reciprocal. In VOACAP calculations, this is mostly due to the different level of noise power in the RX site.

By clicking on the Set Home button, the TX Name, Latitude and Longitude information is stored in a cookie, as well as the RX Name, RX Latitude and Longitude, along with the TX and RX antenna selections. And when you press the Unset Home button, the cookie will be destroyed. Remember to allow your browser to set the cookie on this page if you want to allow this feature to work.

6. The Receiver Site



In the Receiver Site (RX) section, the input options are similar to those of the Transmitter Site. The RX location can be selected from the pre-defined DXCC list, or coordinates can be entered manually in the Latitude and Longitude fields. If you enter the values manually, please then remember to press the TAB key.

The Name field is used to give a label for this site, or alternatively you can enter a Maidenhead grid locator in this field and press the "Loc calc" button, and the latitude and longitude values will be calculated automatically.

Also the receiving antenna selection is exactly the same as for the Transmitter Site. Also, there is an option of choosing the noise level at the RX site. This will affect the QSO probabilities: when there is a lot of man-made noise, the probabilities are lower; when the noise level is minimal (e.g. “Quiet” (default) or “Remote”), then the probabilities are better.

Four types of P2P predictions available


So, after setting all the input parameters properly, you can always see the immediate results on the 24-hour prediction wheel on the right of the Google Map. For most users, this may be enough for an overall understanding of the predicted propagation conditions.

The 24-hour prediction wheel shows the Circuit Reliability (or VOACAP's REL parameter). The prediction is always re-calculated as soon as any of the input parameters changes. The colors indicate the probability of a contact (QSO) over the days of a month at the given hour, using the TX mode set.

Then again, three more advanced prediction options are available, and these predictions can be calculated by clicking any of the three buttons below the Receiver Site section:

  1. All-year grayline
  2. All-year prediction, and
  3. 1-month prediction


1. All-year grayline, or all-year solar info to support determining grayline propagation


The All-year grayline calculates a wealth of solar-related information for the Transmitter and Receiver, and for the geographical midpoint of the circuit, covering the entire year from January to December.



There are seven different times which will be calculated for each site (TX or RX): three related to sunrise, three related to sunset, and one related to solar midnight. The eight time parameter (MIDPT MNITE) is the solar midnight at the geographical midpoint of the circuit in question.

Sunrise-related times:


  • DAWN = a point in time when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon before sunrise
  • RISE = the sunrise time at the horizon
  • POST = a point in time when the sun is 3 degrees above the horizon after sunrise

Sunset-related times:


  • PRE  = a point in time when the sun is degrees above the horizon before sunset
  • SET  = the sunset time at the horizon
  • DUSK = a point in time when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon after sunset

Solar midnight


MNITE (and MIDPT MNITE) = This is the time opposite to solar noon when the sun is closest to the nadir (the direction pointing directly below a particular location), and the night is equidistant from dusk and dawn. The solar midnight rarely coincides with midnight on a clock. Solar midnight is dependent on longitude and time of the year rather than on a time zone. [Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midnight]

POST and PRE times 


The POST and PRE times are based on an educated choice; there is no pre-meditated scientific theory behind "the 3 degrees above the horizon". We know from experience that the low-band propagation starts to deteriorate at some point after sunrise, and that the propagation starts to get enhanced before the actual sunset, and "3 degrees" was my personal choice for this purpose.

There can be cases where no time is calculated but "--:--" is shown instead. This means that the sun does not reach the degree position set for the calculation.

2. All-year prediction, or point-to-point predictions for all months of the year at one go


The All-year Prediction calculates the point-to-point predictions for the circuit (from TX to RX), covering the entire year from January to December. The colors in the table indicate the probability of making a contact between the TX and RX, using the TX mode selected (CW, SSB or AM). All user-settable input parameters will be observed, except the Sunspot Number (SSN).

The prediction tables are extremely informative as they nicely combine the Probability (REL) and Signal Power (S DBW) data as well as solar data for TX and RX in one compact, interactive format.

An all-year prediction for the circuit, showcasing the months of January 2017 and February 2017.

In the table, the elements of the top row are as follows (from left):

  1. Label for TX and RX,
  2. Short-path (SP) or Long-path (LP),
  3. the distance (kilometers & miles) of the circuit,
  4. the bearing (in degrees from True North) from TX to RX, and
  5. the Sunspot Number (SSN) used for calculations.

Below each prediction table, the sunrise and sunset times for TX and RX locations have been calculated and visually presented in the table cells below the UTC time row. The gray color denotes night-time and white day-time. The exact sunrise (SR) and sunset (SS) times (in UTC) will come up as you hover the mouse over the TX and RX label texts on the left column. Here, in this example, the sunrise (SR) at TX is at 0605 UTC and the sunset (SS) at 1813 UTC. The similar calculations are available for the RX site, too. The day used in the calculations is always the 15th day of the given month.

The sunrise and the sunset times for the Transmitter (TX) site.

All charts are interactive: if you hover your mouse over table cells, you will see a pop-up text, indicating the (VOACAP's REL) probability in percentages, and the (VOACAP's S DBW) signal power values in dBW (it’s always a negative number!). For instance in the example below, the signal power value of “-127” equals to a median signal strength of S5 whereas “-93” would correspond to S9 on the S meter. Read more about translating the signal power values (S DBW) into S-meter values here: http://www.voacap.com/s-meter.html .

The pop-up window over the table cell shows the VOACAP's REL output value in percentages and the signal power as a (negative) S DBW value

All colors, except grey, indicate QSO-making probabilities. In the prediction table per se, white means 0%, blueish 10%, greenish 30-40%, yellowish 50-60%, yellow-orangeish 70-80% and orange-reddish 90%, and pure red 100%. The color of grey does not indicate any probability value. Instead, it shows that, although VOACAP does not predict any probability for that specific hour, some signal power has been predicted which may translate into workable conditions. So, in a sense, grey indicates a heads-up note -- "a grey area" where QSOs may (or may not) be possible. Typically, these grey areas can mostly be found in low-band predictions (40 to 80 meters).

Propagation predictions use a color scheme from white (worst) to red (best).

All predictions charts start at 01 hours UTC. You may ask, "Why not start at 00 UTC?". Well, it's a matter of taste. All VOACAP predictions span 60 minutes but not necessarily the way you may think. A prediction for 01 UTC does not span from 01:00 to 02:00 but, in fact, from 00:30 to 01:30 UTC! So, I decided, being inspired by the original makers of VOACAP, to start at 01 UTC and end at 24 UTC. Following the same logic, 24 UTC means a time frame of 23:30 to 00:30 UTC.

3. 1-month prediction, or the original VOACAP P2P graphs


The button “1-month prediction” is the original button used at the VOACAP Online P2P site, but now it’s with a new name, and pressing it will calculate the detailed propagation prediction graphs for the entire frequency range from 2 MHz to 30 MHz, showing the REL (Circuit reliability) and S DBW (Signal Power) graphs for the circuit.

The Circuit Reliability graph, one of the two graphs calculated for the "1-month prediction".