More than just a Ham radio blog.
is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Evolving Ham Radio

A lot is being talked about ‘Cloud Computing’ Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers often using the idle time of the others on the network. One of the first implementations of such a system was the SETI@home project where software on home computers was used to examine massive amounts of data generated by the Search for Extra Terrestrial Life’s scanning of the galaxy with radio telescopes all around the world. It should take the Internet to the next stage of evolution empowering every user with computing power beyond anything we know now.

There is some indication that mobile telephones and other devices could soon utilise similar technologies allowing devices between a base tower and a distant station to aid downloads or boost signals. All sorts of devices from public and private WiFi networks to wireless linked laptops and mobile telephones could be part of such a system.

Cloud communication may be the future of both professional and amateur radio too. In computing the system works by utilising unused processor cycles. Mobile telephone networks work by switching the working frequency and base station as a device moves location. I suggest we could replace the current repeater network by a digital network that could seek out the unused frequencies and shift frequencies when another signal was detected within in its range. I propose that a first step might be a new digital mode based on an SDR (software defined radio) transceiver that could examine the activity on a band or bands and choose its clearest operating frequency and also lock on and synchronise to the desired signal wherever it was in the band or bands. One advantage might be an ability to automatically find the best band for the current state of propagation and move higher or lower in frequency so as to maintain the link without disrupting other users already using the band. It would certainly be better than the recent wars of words about whether a particular mode should be allowed to monopolise a frequency already allocated for another use.

One of the reasons I am sceptical of things like D-Star and DAB is I think that standardisation leads us in some cases down a blind alley and there is built in obsolescence in these systems. I think the future of technology is almost beyond our comprehension and we do not want to restrict its development. Those in the amateur community that decry developments such as IRLP linked repeaters as ‘not real radio’ probably will not like what the future is about. It is about the blurring of lines between what is communication and what is entertainment, what is voice and what is data, what is broadcast TV/radio and what is the Internet, and a multitude of other convergences. That means all sorts of convergences are likely within the next few years in out hobby too. If amateur radio is not innovative it is obsolete. To keep our bands the hobby needs to remain relevant in an ever-changing world and to do that we must be innovative so that those who need to know can see we are viable and forward looking. Hopefully there will always be a place for the simpler methods that amateur radio was founded on, but if we bury our heads in the past like some would like us to do then ham radio will be as extinct as the Dodo before too long.

Resistance is futile!


  1. I think people who look at ham radio the same way they look at modern consumer trends are making a big mistake.

    If you follow the path of technological evolution then ham radio will become obsolete, because it is essentially a pointless activity in the context of modern communications like the internet, in the same way that broadcast radio is becoming obsolete and will no doubt one day be delivered exclusively over the internet. But I believe ham radio should be viewed as a craft, like basket weaving or carpentry, where doing it the traditional way is the point of the exercise and it is irrelevant that you can achieve the same result another way for much less work.

  2. I certainly don't view the hobby in the way that you suggest and the only reason we are tolerated in the face of massive commercial pressure on our frequencies is that some of us innovate. Some of us do it in small insignificant ways but the real experimenters make a difference. Think of the digi-modes that you play with; all innovations that were not around when we got our licences.