The ever-shrinking radio spectrum (10 May 2021)

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The ever-shrinking radio spectrum (10 May 2021)

Postby aardvark_admin » Mon May 10, 2021 7:05 am

This column is archived at: https://aardvark.co.nz/daily/2021/0510.shtml

Has ham radio had its day?

Is there now insufficient interest to justify the allocation of dedicated frequencies to a bunch of amateurs who could just as easily use the internet to engage in their long-distance communications?

Are we doing enough to promote ham radio as a viable and attractive pastime for young and old alike?

And even within the ham community, are too many hams now treating this hobby as a kind of "CB radio on steroids" rather than an opportunity to get your hands and feet wet in the wonderful world of DIY electronics engineering?

Will commercial demand for the valuable spectrum allocations given to ham radio eventually force its demise?
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Re: The ever-shrinking radio spectrum (10 May 2021)

Postby goosemoose » Mon May 10, 2021 8:14 am

I don't think ham radio has had its day. Not as popular as it once was, sure, but there is still the interest out there. It's on different things though, not just the traditional morse on 80M. Arduino, mesh networking, digital modes etc etc etc.

And you're right, who builds rigs these days. I certainly didn't, and why would I? I can get a do everything rig that will last for ages for a couple of thousand dollars by companies that have far more technology and experience in it than I ever will. I still have to run cable and get antennas up though.

Also the HF bands are pretty vacant, just check out the dearth of shortwave stations around. I think its pretty safe to say there's quite a bit of spectrum to go around there. Perhaps facebook and twitter on 20M will attract people.
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Re: The ever-shrinking radio spectrum (10 May 2021)

Postby roygbiv » Mon May 10, 2021 6:37 pm

To be honest, it has had its day. I was fascinated back in the 80s when a friends father showed me his ham radio set, he hooked up his BBC micro to it and was able to 'text' people all over the place. At the time CB radios were just made legal (UK) and he was scoffing at them.
The world has moved on, mobile phones, the internet and Google has granted us lot with much more communication capability than the amateur radio ham, and without understanding how it all works. If one of the kids expressed an interest in radio waves I would point them towards wireless, bluetooth, 5G even TCP/IP etc - something up to date that would be more use.
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Re: The ever-shrinking radio spectrum (10 May 2021)

Postby dingram17 » Thu May 13, 2021 8:42 am

Australia and NZ have a big advantage over the US (and UK to a degree) when it comes to emergency comms. The respective governments have invested in their emergency services (the 8 State/Territory Emergency Services in AUS, and Civil Defence in NZ) and they have HF, VHF and UHF systems that are independent of telcos. Amateur Radio communities support the paid and volunteer emergency services, but are not the front line. In a disaster it is great to have extra operators, but the advancing tech of two way radios means that a strong electronics background is no longer required. ALE (automatic link establishment) means that HF is now as simple as entering a phone number and the 'magic happens' behind the scenes. Not sure how automated CD's VHF network is. Heck, even the power company I worked for five years ago had digital HF and VHF, with strong encryption and cross patches between the systems and into the phone network -- leaving some military comms for dead.

A lot of ham radio experimentation is taking place, in digital HF modes, satellites, and in microwave. Lots of room to play, provided the telcos don't swipe all the spectrum that was "useless" (and hence allocated to amateurs) but then gets shown to have benefit.
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Re: The ever-shrinking radio spectrum (10 May 2021)

Postby Weasel » Thu Jun 10, 2021 7:32 am

There's little commercial interest in the HF spectrum 1.8 - 30 MHz, most of the allocations are globally recognized with minor differences between the IARU regions, though that doesn't stop any one country from taking a bite out of them for commercial use.

In Europe and North America at least the HF amateur radio bands are widely used, full of activity, and experimentation with new digital modes among other things is ongoing, there's more happening than just people randomly talking to each other for something to do in their spare time - though this social aspect is also an important part, and one I quite enjoy along with the technical stuff I find interesting and tinker with.

The biggest nuisances to HF are the proliferation of electronic devices in every home that create interference due to poor design and little to no enforcement of regulations, over the horizon radar has made a come back and often occurs with-in HF amateur radio allocations from some countries.

The real commercial pressure is now on the UHF and microwave bands, and chunks of the microwave bands are in the process of being or have been taken away from amateur radio allocation in some countries.

"Plug and play" gear doesn't cover every allocation, for example:

137 kHz (2200m).
476 kHz (630m) - believe it or not there is active experimentation on this one and to a lesser degree 2200m, most gear has to be home brewed, and building antennas with any sort of efficiency is a challenge, but global communication is possible and regularly done using CW (morse code) and narrow band digital modes.
220 MHz (1.25m) - only available in North America, Kenwood and Alinco make FM rigs, but for other modes, e.g. SSB for weak signal or digital modes requires transverters or home brewing another solution.
900 MHz (33cm) - available in North America and NZ, only way to use this band is to modify commercial 900 MHz two-way radios for FM use, or use transverters like with 220.
Bands above the 1296 MHz (23cm) ham band (I think only Icom has a current model that covers this band - IC-9700) require home brewing equipment and/or the use of transverters.

5 Mhz (60m) - this is a newer allocation but access varies country to country and only newer HF radios transmit here with out modification, 70 MHz (4m) only in Europe some newer HF radios will transmit here as sold in Europe.

Yes part of the magic is long gone now since anyone can communicate globally at near zero cost thanks to the internet. Computer and software development related hobbies have potentially drawn large numbers of newer generations in that direction vs perhaps getting involved with radio related activities to scratch a technical itch. The barrier to entry is very low compared to what it used to be in an attempt to keep "the numbers up", and large numbers are simply appliance operators with no real interest in picking up a soldering iron or discussing technical topics, but there are exceptions. This lowering of the bar and dumbing down has likely driven many of the smarter folks away elsewhere in pursuit of something interesting to do.

There's plenty of interesting stuff to do and learn if the time is taken to look for it. But the instant gratification generation has little interest in anything that requires some patience and effort.

> Why waste valuable RF spectrum just to allow a group of hobbyists chat amongst themselves when they could go online and use any one of a thousand different VOIP apps or something like Discord, Twitter or whatever?

Title 47, Part 97 Amateur Radio Service Subpart 97.3 Definitions:
(4) Amateur service. A radiocommunication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, duly authorized persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.

^ NZ and every other country has a similar worded set of rules. How does one self train, perform technical investigations with personal aim if we have no spectrum with which to do so? Some of the greatest advances in radio communication technology came out of amateur radio, and still do today. It's also about practicing and furthering a set of skills, you could throw a box of wire, some coax, bits and pieces, a radio and power supply at me, and I can put something together that'll communicate in a short amount of time with a good understanding of what works when and where with out the need of any intermediate infrastructure.

An analogy would be people who like to tinker with cars and drive them for fun or sport for something to do and learn from, that's like saying you cant do that anymore, roads are only for official activities and you're only allowed to use approved unmodified vehicles from which you cant learn anything about out of interest, and all the race tracks are now closed, find a new hobby.

The challenge is getting people interested in something that most are just not interested anymore or have no way to relate to it. Sometimes I look at the thousands of dollars of equipment I have and think, why bother when so few seem properly keen anymore? But the obsession and curiosity persists one way or another..
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