[CQ-Contest] Distributed Contesting

Paul O'Kane pokane at ei5di.com
Sun Oct 4 11:49:33 EDT 2020

Last month, W3LPL and K3LR announced that they had decided not to 
compete in any multi-op category in the 2020 CQ WW contests.


They went on to say they "remain hopeful that science will allow our 
teams to resume Multi Multi operations in 2021"

There are at least two ways in which science will permit this.  The 
first depends on the availability, and uptake, of effective vaccines 
within the next 12 months.  Right now, that's uncertain.  The second is 
that science, or rather technology, will help remote multi-op entries to 
be competitive.

There are many positive aspects to remote contesting, including -

   It gets more people on the air - meaning more QSOs and more contest 
   It saves the ops time and money - they don't have to travel to the 
   It's safer - no close contact between operators, whether day or 
night, over several days.
   The RF is exactly the same, no matter where the operators are - so 
what's not to like?

There are some disadvantages -

   It's expensive, and technically challenging, to configure a station 
for competitive remote entries, and particularly so for multi-op.
   Latency can be a problem, especially for CW - though 5G may provide a 
   As those who work remotely know, team spirit can be affected - it's 
"just not the same".

Regardless of these disadvantages, it's likely that multi-op contest 
stations/owners generally are gearing up for remote operation - if only 
to have the option in future.

So, it's all good then - or is it?

Not quite.  We're in the early stages of what I call Distributed 
Contesting, of which remote operation is an example.  Until a few years 
ago, it was a requirement in contest rules that all station equipment 
had to be located within a given area.  With the increasing take-up of 
remote, "equipment" was changed, typically, to "all transmitters, 
receivers, and antennas" - meaning, in practice, that not all station 
equipment had to be located within a given area.  In other words, 
stations are becoming distributed.

Further, CQ WW 160 permits the use, for SO Assisted, of one "remote 
receiver located within 100km of the main transmitter site".  For a good 
reason, of course - the rule is "designed to accommodate new technology, 
and for those who experience high noise levels at the transmitting 
site".  This is an example of the increasing distribution of stations, 
whether remote or otherwise.  If follows that, since "high noise levels" 
can apply to any band, and we all aware of increasing noise levels in 
urban areas, there will be pressure to permit this concession more 

There is, simultaneously, an inexorable trend towards SDRs - Software 
Defined Radios.  With faster communications technology and utilities, 
there is less need for all software components of an SDR to be available 
in one discrete location.  If there's better processing power in "the 
cloud", in terms of modes supported (especially new digital modes), or 
filtering, or noise reduction - why not use it?   This represents 
distributed receivers, and they're on their way.

Remote operators are quick to point out the disadvantages, outlined 
above, they have to live with.  What they prefer not to be reminded 
about is the opportunity value of remote capability.  They can compete 
in circumstances where others cannot even enter.

Neither do they like to be reminded that, at all times, they are 
dependent on public utilities (internet, 4G, whatever) for their QSOs.  
Further, they are simultaneously communicating over those same public 
utilities - they require more than RF alone to have their QSOs.  This is 
easily demonstrated by asking them to disconnect from the utility, and 
then see how many QSOs they have.

My point is that distributed-station operators, in order to realize 
their not-insignificant opportunity to compete, are obliged to abandon 
the communications-independence that  until recently has been the 
hallmark, the defining characteristic, of ham radio.

There's nothing wrong with distributed contesting - it's the preferred 
option for many operators.  But it is different from RF-all-the-way, and 
evolving rapidly - driven partly by the constraints imposed upon us all 
due to the pandemic.  Could we have reached a tipping point?  It seems 
to me that this evolution is largely unregulated, with individual 
contest sponsors doing their best to keep up with evolving technology as 
it affects their particular events.

My question is - will WWROF (the World Wide Radio Operators Foundation) 
help to regulate Distributed Contesting in terms of a general set of 
recommendations, including categories, for contest rules - with 
particular emphasis on the major events?  The WWROF was created "by a 
group of radio operators who saw a need for an independent organization 
devoted to the skill and art of radio operating."  Surely this is within 
their remit, and isn't "now" the right time for them to act?


Paul EI5DI

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