In part one of the series “Why Amateur Radio?”, I discussed the public service aspect of the amateur radio service. In this article I will explore the technical aspect of amateur radio, and it’s appeal to those with a technical inclination.
Amateur Radio not only has an important public service aspect, but it also provides the participants a rich opportunity of experimentation. The regulations of the amateur radio service creates a framework where licensed amateurs may use communications equipment in prescribed frequency bands and permit experimentation within those bands. Those who attain an advanced license are permitted to build equipment from scratch, and press this custom equipment into service. The result of this framework (found in many countries) has resulted in a wide array of equipment and modes of operation across the frequency spectrum. Amateur Radio now encompases digital transmissions, both point to point and packetized. GPS and digital transmission have been married together to create APRS. Packetized voice, voice over IP, and and robust digital transmission modes for extreme conditions have all developed out of the work of amateurs.
Indeed, many of the wireless modes used in current wireless equipment was developed by amateur radio enthusiasts. One classic example is Single Sideband or SSB. This technology, which projects most of the power into the intelligence potion of a signal in AM allowed for long range and lower power. This technology allowed the US in World War II to place amateur radio equipment into ocean crossing bombers and provide continuous communications from take-off, to target, and back again. More recently, robust digital transmission modes, such as JT65, are being used by the US military for it’s ability to overcome noise. JT65 has the amazing ability to transmit digital information below the noise threshold!
All of the foundational technologies that are currently present in the latest handsets, are found in amateur radio. It is no mistake that many of the engineers who developed the wireless portions of handsets are themselves amateur radio operators, and that they cut their teeth on amateur radio projects.
The homebrew groups that exist within the amateur radio clubs are tremendous sources of self-education in the areas of electronics, RF engineering, antenna design, computer programming, and micro-controller development. Anyone wanting to make a career in these and like fields can gain hands on experience with patient and wise mentors with the homebrew groups.
Even though amateur radio has been around a long time – the public service dimension and the self-development opportunities it provides are in need today, more than ever. As society becomes more complex, the ad-hoc and portable nature of amateur radio skills make it ideal to assist in various crises and to quickly re-establish both voice and data communication. The open and collaborative nature of amateur radio allows the dissemination and democratization of specialized knowledge, and helps to insure the existence of skilled individuals in both public service and in industry. The engagement of the amateur radio service and it’s practitioners with society at large, create a virtuous cycle, that sees benefits flowing both ways. It is with this in mind that the practitioners of amateur radio, the public at large, and our leaders need to be reminded of, in order to help preserve and promote this incredible endeavour.