Tag Archives: Ham Radio

IEEE Spectrum: “Is Ham Radio a Hobby, a Utility…or Both?”

Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post readers who have shared a link to the following article that follows the debate and discussion over an FCC proposal–RM-11831 (PDF)–to “Reduce Interference and Add Transparency to Digital Data Communications.”

The IEEE article, written by Julianne Pepitone, covers both sides of the debate:

Is Ham Radio a Hobby, a Utility…or Both? A Battle Over Spectrum Heats Up

Some think automated radio emails are mucking up the spectrum reserved for amateur radio, while others say these new offerings provide a useful service

Like many amateur radio fans his age, Ron Kolarik, 71, still recalls the “pure magic” of his first ham experience nearly 60 years ago. Lately, though, encrypted messages have begun to infiltrate the amateur bands in ways that he says are antithetical to the spirit of this beloved hobby.

So Kolarik filed a petition, RM-11831 [PDF], to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposing a rule change to “Reduce Interference and Add Transparency to Digital Data Communications.” And as the proposal makes its way through the FCC’s process, it has stirred up heated debate that goes straight to the heart of what ham radio is, and ought to be.

The core questions: Should amateur radio—and its precious spectrum—be protected purely as a hobby, or is it a utility that delivers data traffic? Or is it both? And who gets to decide?

Since Kolarik filed his petition in late 2018, this debate has engulfed the ham world. Fierce defenders of both sides have filed passionate letters and comments to the FCC arguing their cases.

On one side is Kolarik in Nebraska. In his view, it’s all rather simple: “Transparency is a core part of ham radio,” he says. “And yet, you can find tons of traffic from automatic[ally controlled digital] stations that are extremely difficult to identify, if you can identify them at all, and they cause interference.”

The automatically controlled digital stations (ACDS) Kolarik refers to can serve to power services like Winlink, a “global radio email” system.

Overseen and operated by licensed volunteers around the globe, Winlink is funded and guided by the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation, Inc. (ARSFI). The service uses amateur and government radio frequencies around the globe to send email messages by radio. Users initiate the transmission through an Internet connection, or go Internet-free and use smart-network radio relays.

On Winlink’s website, the service says it provides its licensed users the ability to send email with attachments, plus messages about their positions, and weather and information bulletins. Representatives of the service say it also allows users to participate in emergency and disaster relief communications.

But Kolarik’s petition argues two points: First, because such messages “are not readily and freely able to be decoded,” the FCC should require all digital codes to use protocols that “can be monitored in entirety by third parties with freely available, open-source software.” Secondly, he wants the rule change to reduce the interference that he says services like Winlink can create between amateur-to-amateur stations—by relegating the often-unattended automatic stations to operate solely on narrower sub-bands.

Loring Kutchins, the president of ARSFI, says he believes Kolarik’s petition is “well intentioned in its basis. But the fundamental conflict is between people who believe amateur radio is about hobby, not about utility. But nowhere do the FCC rules use the word ‘hobby.’”[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article on the IEEE Spectrum website.

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FCC: RM-11843 seeks creation of a new 8-meter Amateur Radio allocation

Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post readers who have shared links to this petition for rulemaking–created by Michelle KU3N–to create a new 8-meter Amateur Radio allocation.

I’ve included the author’s notice about this proposal and also a news item from the ARRL below. First, however, just a quick tip on filing comments via the FCC system:

Making a comment

If you’re interested in commenting on this petition, you can do so via the FCC Electronic Comment Filing System until July 26, 2019.

Using the system the first time is a little confusing–here’s a tip:

Open the comment form on the FCC Express Filing site.

Next, type in the filing number in the first field:

The filing number should auto-complete as you type. Once it has been selected (as in the screenshot above) continue filling out the rest of the form with comments and then submitting it. It’s pretty simple, but if you’re not used to the comment system, selecting the proper petition can be a little confusing.

Of course, the FCC also has the following help page: “How to Comment on FCC Proceedings

For more information about this proposal check out the articles below from the petition author at REC Networks and also a notice from the ARRL:

(Source: REC Networks)

Today, the FCC has assigned a rulemaking (RM) number to a Petition for Rulemaking filed by REC Networks, through its founder, Michelle Bradley, KU3N as RM-11843.

This petition calls on the Commission to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Aministration (NTIA) to allow for amateur radio operations in the 8-meter band. This petition was in response to activities taking place in ITU Region 1 where more administrations are starting to authorize very limited operation on 8 meters.  Ireland, Slovenia and South Africa have already granted amateurs regular access to all or portions of the band being asked for in the petition.   In fact, ComReg, the Irish regulator has even gone far enough to allocate virtually the entire VHF low band (30~49 MHz) for amateur radio use.

In the petition, REC/KU3N notes that this spectrum could be used for weak signal experimentation and general amateur use primarily along transatlantic paths using CW, SSB and digital modes such as FT8 and digital voice.  As no radios are currently manufactured for this band, it could encourage “makers” to design new equipment and antenna design.  REC/KU3N predicts low usage of this band except during scheduled activities such as Field Day and contests as well as periods of sporadic-E, high sunspot numbers and other periods with a higher maximum usable frequency.

In the petition, REC/KU3N is asking to use 40.51 to 40.70 MHz, allowing beacons, prohibiting repeaters and discouraging FM operation.

This spectrum is currently used by the Federal Government as part of an older channelized land mobile radio system, mainly by the Department of Agriculture for national forests and parks.  It is also used for federal and non-federal telemetry and wildlife tracking. The spectrum is also sporadically used by the military for short-range communication.  Industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) devices also operate in the 40.66 to 40.70 MHz area.  REC/KU3N notes that this spectrum would be of most interest to those who wish to conduct transatlantic experimentation and thus will have more amateur activity in the eastern USA where it is likely that federal use of this spectrum is more likely in the western USA.

Comments on this petition will be accepted by the FCC through their Electronic Comment Filing System until July 26, 2019.  Select proceeding RM-11843.

A copy of the petition can be found at the following URL:

Questions and media inquiries should be directed to REC Networks at our Contact REC form.

(Source: ARRL News)

The FCC has put on public notice for comment a Petition for Rulemaking (RM-11843) that seeks the creation of a new 8-meter Amateur Radio allocation on a secondary basis. The Petition suggests the new band could be centered on an industrial-scientific-medical (ISM) segment somewhere between 40.51 and 40.70 MHz. The spectrum between 40 and 41 MHz is currently allocated to the Federal Government and, as such, within the purview of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). ARRL member Michelle Bradley, KU3N, of Maryland, filed the petition in May on behalf of REC Networks, which she founded and described in the Petition as “a leading advocate for a citizen’s access to spectrum,” including Amateur Radio spectrum.

“REC feels that the time is right for the Commission to open a Notice of Inquiry and eventually a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and in cooperation with the NTIA, this new band opportunity can be realized to spark the next generation of ‘makers’ in the fields of science, technology, education, and math (STEM), especially women and girls,” Bradley told the FCC in the Petition. “The more opportunities we give to make things, the more opportunities we have to build a pool of experts in STEM, right here at home.”

The Petition said the objective of a new band would be “an effort to foster experimentation into the propagation characteristics of this band midway between the 10- and 6-meter bands.” An allocation in the 8-meter band is available to radio amateurs in Ireland, where the Irish Radio Transmitters Society has developed a band plan for 40 – 41 MHz.

“REC perceives this spectrum can be used for weak signal experimentation and eventually general amateur use, especially along transatlantic paths using CW, SSB, digital modes such as FT8 and digital voice,” the Petition said. “As no radios are mass-produced for this band at this time, this opens up new opportunities for ‘makers’ to construct transmitters, receivers, and antenna systems that can be used in this spectrum.”

REC anticipates “very low” usage of the new band, “with peak usage around sporadic-E episodes, operating events such as ARRL Field Day, and VHF contests, as well as during the peak of sunspot cycles,” Bradley told the Commission. “[W]e feel that the sharing of 40 MHz can be accomplished in a manner that serves the needs of the Amateur Radio Service while meeting the organizational missions of Federal Government agencies that utilize this spectrum.”

Interested parties may file short comments on RM-11843 via the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing Service (Express). Visit the FCC “How to Comment on FCC Proceedings” page for information on filing extended comments.

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Hamvention Highlights: The Polar Explorer 500 watt transmitter

Each year at the Dayton Hamvention I enjoy checking out the latest radio products and services. This year (2019) I found an exceptional number of innovations and will share these in Hamvention Highlights posts. If you would like to check out 2019 Hamvention Highlights as I publish them, bookmark this tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights

The Polar Explorer

Compared to others, the Polar Explorer booth at the 2019 Hamvention was quite modest. As you can see in Polex Technology photo [at the top of this page], they only had an Elecraft KX3, a laptop, and their Polar Explorer on the table.

So what is the Polar Explorer exactly?

At first blush, the Polar Explorer looks like a 500 watt amplifier, but then you notice that it has both a microphone and key connected directly to it. The Polar Explorer also has a color backlit screen/display–and the one at the 2019 Hamention was attached to an Elecraft KX3 QRP Transceiver.

Turns out the Polar Explorer isn’t an amplifier at all–it’s an external 500 watt transmitter. As noted on the Polar Explorer website:

The Polar Explorer is a breakthrough in transmitter design which brings much higher efficiency to SSB and CW transmitters. Most ‘linear’ amplifiers run at around 55 to 60% efficiency, which means a lot of extra power supply capacity is required, along with extra cooling and dissipation capacity. By increasing efficiency, The Polar Explorer significantly reduces power supply requirements as well as cooling. From this, significant reductions in cost, size, and weight can be realized for a given power output level.

[…]The Polar Explorer interfaces to your transceiver using the CAT interface to obtain frequency and mode information. It automatically follows the transceiver as you QSY or change modes. Your transceiver never transmits; The Polar Explorer handles those functions, and includes a T/R relay to protect your transceiver.

By connecting your transceiver to the Polar Explorer, you’re essentially bypassing and delegating the transmitter portion of your transceiver to it. Your transceiver still provides the receiver section and full interface/user experience–the Polar Explorer provides the muscle.

Note that the Polar Explorer is a project in development. I know that at least initially it has been designed to interface with the Elecraft KX3, but I imagine additional compatible transceivers will be added in due time.

At the 2019 Hamvention, the company was seeking beta testers that would be willing to pay for the Polar Explorer–essentially in kit form–at cost. If all goes well, they hope to finish all beta testing by the end of the year and potentially start production in early 2020.

As for the price, I don’t think they have a firm number yet, so I would either contact them directly or watch their website for updates.

If you’re interested in becoming a beta tester or learning more about the Polar Explorer, I encourage you to check out the Polex Technologies website!

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Hamvention Highlights: The QRP Labs QSX 10 watt, general coverage, low-cost HF transceiver kit

Hans (G0UPL) of QRP Labs holding a QSX transceiver prototype at the 2019 Hamvention

Each year at the Dayton Hamvention I enjoy checking out the latest radio products and services. This year (2019) I found an exceptional number of innovations and will share these in Hamvention Highlights posts. If you would like to check out 2019 Hamvention Highlights as I publish them, bookmark this tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights

The QRP Labs QSX Transceiver

Hans (G0UPL) of QRP Labs was, without a doubt, one of the most popular guys at the 2019 Hamvention — especially within the QRP community. In fact, at the Four Days In May (FDIM) vendors’ night his table was so busy I didn’t bother trying to force my way through the crowd to speak with him.

As luck would have it, our own table for ETOW was directly across from QRP Labs table at the the Greene County Fairgrounds so, in the end, I spent some quality time with Hans over the course of the Hamvention.

I’ll also make prediction: if the 10 band QSX transceiver delivers what it promises, it will be a serious disruptor in the ham radio transceiver world! This is a good thing. Why?

The QSX is a feature-packed, all-mode, high-performance, affordable, QRP transceiver.

The QSX will have a 24-bit Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) and a 24-bit Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). It will be a fully stand-alone unit and, since it’s an SDR and sports robust DSP, when connected to your PC, it will be recognized as a high-performance sound card. This equates to nearly native digital mode integration without the need for an external sound card interface.

The QSX Prototype Back Panel

The QSX Transceiver will be a through-hole kit with the surface-mounted components pre-installed on the circuit boards. This means the kit should be accessible to anyone with soldering skills.

Hans has even managed to include a mini spectrum display on the front backlit LCD panel.

The price? Around $150 US in total for the transceiver kit, 10 band filter module and enclosure. Unbelievable!

If Hans can pull this off — and I feel pretty confident he can — the QSX will set a new bar for QRP transceiver pricing and performance.

If you’d like more details about the QSX transceiver, check out the following resources sent to me by SWLing Post contributor, Pete Eaton:

The 10 band QSX will sport a general coverage receiver and although though the modes supported currently don’t include AM, Hans plans to add AM for at least reception purposes. This could make for a high-performance stand-alone SDR field radio for HF broadcast listening.

Of course, I also see the QSX transceiver as an accessible entry radio for new ham radio operators who are nervous about forking out $800+ for a new HF transceiver.

I will certainly grab the 10 band QSX transceiver kit when it becomes available and review it here on the SWLing Post. Stay tuned!

If you would like to follow other Hamvention Highlights, bookmark the tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights

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RSGB Archives Film: Field Day 1947

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Kris Partridge, who shares the following film from the archives of the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB):

Click here to view on YouTube.

Wow!  Thanks so much for sharing this film, Kris.  What an amazing number of classic rigs. Hams back then needed some serious muscle to take their gear to the field!

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