What is QRP Operation?

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In amateur radio (HAM radio), it can seem as though there is an almost endless number of different terms and jargon, each referring to the many different ways that the hobby can be enjoyed.

So what is QRP?

Essentially, this is a short hand for reducing powder. The Q is derived from standard Q code used in radio communication – Q being a question and RP being ‘Reduce Power’.

The opposite of QRP is QRO, which is high power operation.


So what is the usefulness of QRP? Why might this request be made?

Consider that most amateur two-way radio transceivers are capable of transmitting at roughly 100 watts. However, in some areas of the world (like the US), amateurs will be able to transmit up to 1,500 watts. QRP supporters however believe that this is not necessary – and that doing so will not only waste power, but also increase the likelihood of interference to nearby televisions, radios, and even important communications for satellite phone, weather radio, and emergency radio interactions.

In fact, even in the United States, the FCC Part 97 rule states that the minimum power necessary should be used to achieve the desired communications. QRP power is power that meets these guidelines and satisfies those who take the concept very seriously.

A similar, related concept is QRSS. This means transmitting extremely slowly. The idea here is to use slow transmission to compensate for a decreased signal-to-noise ratio that is involved in QRP. QRS is actually the correct term in Q Code for ‘should I send more slowly’, but the term QRSS has been adopted instead.

In Practice

In practice though, things are a little different.

For one, there is no agreement on precisely what level of power should be considered to be QRP compliant. Many organizations believe that the transmitter output power should be 5 watts or less, with the maximum sometimes being quoted as 10.

This can make QRP communication difficult, seeing as the weaker signal will mean that propagation challenges pose a more significant threat. Rather than being seen as a deterrent however, many radio operators instead see this as an actual boon to their activities. Contests and competitions are run for instance to see who can transmit and receive messages over the furthest distance, using the lowest amount of power.

But of course in some cases, the primary objective of the broadcaster is to spread their message as far and wide as possible. There is certainly some ego involved in this practice – as we all like to have an effect on the world around us, and spreading a message across a large section of the globe certainly would fall into that category!

Just remember that there is also a skill and an art to the best radio operation, and that you should always be mindful of others and of the impact that you are having on the airwaves around you. Otherwise, your practices may be tantamount to ‘littering’ the airwaves!

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