Ham Radio May Speed Up Soon

The FCC is circulating a proposal for new rules pertaining to amateur radio in the United States. In particular, they want to remove certain baud rate restrictions that have been in place since 1980. It appears the relaxed rules would apply only to some bands, notably some VHF and UHF bands along with the 630 meter and 2200 meter bands, which — we think — are lightly used so far. We’ll save you from grabbing the calculator. That’s around 475 kHz and 136 kHz.

Ham radio operators have long used digital modes like radio teletype and with restrictions on antennas and increasing interference from wireless networking to solar panels and more, digital has become even more popular than in the past. Besides that, cheap computer soundcards make it easier than ever and sophisticated digital modulation techniques have long left the old, clunky TeleType in the dust.

However, the FCC currently limits the baud rate to 300 baud or less, ostensibly to restrict signal bandwidth. No one wants to have an entire band consumed by a 10 Gb RF network. However, modern techniques often squeeze more into less and the FCC will finally recognize that by converting the limit to signal bandwidth, not baud rate.

What’s the bandwidth? For the common bands, it sounds like 2.8 kHz is the answer. For the VLF bands, they are asking for suggestions. The 2200 meter band isn’t even 2.8 kHz wide to start with!

All this talk makes us want to build something for the 2200 meter band. We better start winding the coil now. Then again, maybe we should go piezo. You know, just in case Thomas Dolby tells us that one of our submarines is missing.

FT8: Saving Ham Radio Or Killing It?

It is popular to blame new technology for killing things. The Internet killed newspapers. Video killed the radio star. Is FT8, a new digital technology, poised to kill off ham radio? The community seems evenly divided. In an online poll, 52% of people responding says FT8 is damaging ham radio.  But ham operator [K5SDR] has an excellent blog post about how he thinks FT8 is going to save ham radio instead.

If you already have an opinion, you have probably already raced down to the comments to share your thoughts. I’ll be honest, I think what we are seeing is a transformation of ham radio and like most transformations, it is probably both killing parts of ham radio and saving others. But if you are still here, let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on in ham radio right now and how it relates to the FT8 question. Oddly enough, our story starts with the strange lack of sunspots that we’ve been experiencing lately. Continue reading “FT8: Saving Ham Radio Or Killing It?”