Experimental operations now under way on HF appear aimed at leveraging low-latency HF propagation to shave microseconds from futures market trades and gain a competitive edge in a field where millionths of a second can mean winning or losing. Bloomberg on June 18 reported on a secretive antenna facility near Maple Park, in Kane County, Illinois, and speculated that futures traders might be looking to take advantage of lower-latency HF propagation over state-of-the-art microwave links and undersea cables, where even the slightest path delay could compromise a transaction. The facility is not far from a major futures data center. As the Bloomberg article explained, “Rapidly sending data from there to other important market centers can help the speediest traders profit from price differences for related assets. Those money-making opportunities often last only tiny fractions of a second.”
Radio amateur Bob Van Valzah, KE9YQ, said in a May blog post that he recently stumbled onto the first evidence of HF radio futures trading at a site in West Chicago, Illinois. There, he spotted HF log-period dipole arrays on a pole, and a microwave dish he determined was aimed at a Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) data center. Additional research led him to the antenna facility in Maple Park, Illinois, which also sported a microwave dish that appeared aimed in the direction of the CME data center. Two approximately 170-foot towers on the site support a directional wire array for HF. Van Valzah is a performance engineer on leave from the high-frequency — no pun intended — trading field.
Bloomberg said the company behind the Kane County project is New Line Networks, LLC, a joint venture of Chicago-based Jump Trading, LLC, and New York-based Virtu Financial, Inc. While no FCC Part 5 Experimental license appears to have been assigned to New Line Networks, WH2XVO is assigned to partner Virtu Financial, which assumed the license from Services Development Company LLC.
Sites listed on the license are Aurora and Chicago, Illinois, in addition to Homer, Alaska, and Secaucus, New Jersey — home to several financial firms and right across the Hudson River from many more in New York City. Part 5 Experimental license WI2XAJ has been assigned to Toggle Communications, which is using the West Chicago site and appears to be experimenting with a similar system from other sites. Other entities may also be conducting similar experiments.
The Experimental licensed systems use a variety of frequency shift-keying modes, including FSK, AFSK, QPSK, and 8-PSK, on frequencies ranging from about 6 MHz to 24 MHz and power levels from 20 kW ERP to nearly 50 kW ERP, depending on the Experimental license in question. Van Valzah pointed out in his blog post that, while HF is low bandwidth, unreliable, and expensive, “you can’t beat it for latency.”
Speculation is that the systems are taking advantage of software-defined radio (SDR) techniques and technology. Transmitter equipment information on the Experimental license application for WH2XVO was redacted from the public filing.
ARRL reached out to the point of contact listed on the WH2XVO application but has not heard back. — Thanks to Southgate Amateur Radio News for some information
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