What is a beacon?
A beacon is a station that transmits continuous signals for use in the study of various propagation modes over different paths, and to provide early warning of band openings.
Beacons also provide stable signals of reasonably accurate frequency and constant signal strength which can be used as a reference signal source for receiver alignment.
There is a network of beacons on the HF bands, coordinated by the IARU through the International Beacon Project. The IBP network consists of 18 beacons around the world which take turns to transmit on a series of frequencies. These frequencies are: 10.149 MHz, 14.100 MHz, 18.110 MHz, 21.150 MHz, 24.930 MHz and 28.200 MHz. There is one Australian beacon (VK6RBP) in this network.
There are also a number of other HF beacons that are not part of the IBP network. Most of these are on the 10 metre band between 28.200 and 28.300 MHz. Unlike the IBP network, the beacons in the 28.200 - 28.300 MHz segment transmit continuously. There are a number of Australian beacons operating in this segment.
6 metre beacons
On 6 metres, most overseas beacons operate between about 50.025 and 50.080 MHz. There are some Australian beacons operating in this segment. In recent years a number of Australian beacons have moved into a new segment between 50.280 and 50.320 MHz. This helps to reduce overcrowding in the lower part of the band. There are also several beacons still operating in the old 52.300 - 52.500 MHz segment.
Beacons on 2 metres and higher bands
On 2 metres and higher bands, Australian beacons operate within a 200 kHz wide segment which is the same on each band. On 2 metres the beacon segment is 144.400 - 144.600 MHz. On 70 cm, it is 432.400 - 432.600 MHz, and so on for all higher bands.
Callsigns: Unattended beacons must be licensed by the ACMA, and most Australian beacons have callsigns that begin with the "R" suffix. Beacons normally transmit their callsigns at least one per minute.
Modes: On bands below 30 MHz, the standard mode for beacons is keyed CW. On 6 metres, most beacons use CW but some use narrow FSK keying. On 2 metres and higher bands, most beacons use FSK. With increasing interest in digital modes, new beacons are being developed that will transmit in one or more different digital modes.
Antennas: Vertical polarisation is normally used on bands below 30 MHz. Horizontal polarisation is standard for beacons on the VHF-UHF bands. Directional antennas are often used on the higher bands where the aim is to study propagation over a specific path.
Beacon frequency planning on the VHF-UHF bands
Frequencies of VHF-UHF beacons are allocated according to a geographic allocation plan. The main features of this plan are:
Each major region in Australia has unique frequencies reserved for it, so that every beacon can operate on a clear channel.
Where possible, the frequency spacing between beacons is in proportion to the distance between them.
Beacon frequency spacing is 2 kHz (1 kHz on 50 MHz and lower bands). This spacing is a necessary compromise that allows a reasonable number of beacons while retaining a reasonable frequency spacing between them.
Beacons in each state or geographic area are grouped together in the same part of the beacon segment.
Multiband beacons operate on the same corresponding frequency on each band.
Further information on beacon planning and technical standards is available from the National Technical Advisory Committee.
Latest Australian beacon listings are on the Beacon Data page.
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Page Last Updated: Thursday 7 January 2010 at 14:4 hours