February 2020

February 2020

DEC Bulletin

Is our Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) still relevant today? When amateur radio operators are asked to define the amateur radio service most of the time, people will respond not by telling what the amateur radio service is today or what it can be. They respond with what the amateur radio service was back in the “good ole days.” Through experimentation and development breakthroughs by amateur radio operators the amateur radio service has been on the cutting edge of technology for years. But, yet for some reason we are putting so much emphasis on outdated technology and as a result technology is passing us by.

Don’t misunderstand me. The outdated technology has an important place in the history of the amateur radio service. But technology has come a long way since those “good ole days.” This generation of the working class knows and understands computers and email. That is what they are most comfortable with. The amateur radio service must keep progressing with time. Otherwise amateur radio services will die. It will die from lack of interest.

I remember the first command and control system computer I worked on when I joined the Army. The computer room was larger than both W5ES and K5WPH buildings combined. It housed rows and rows of chassis with vacuum tubes. As time progressed, we advanced to the solid-state technology and then integrated circuits. Today that computer room would fit inside of a laptop. I would not expect today’s soldier to have to learn vacuum tube theory when we are in the microprocessor age. Likewise, we should not expect the new amateur radio operators to endure those “good ole days” either.

In the September 2007 issue of QST the ARRL CEO K1ZZ’s editorial on page 9 said in part:

“…the traditional role of the Amateur Radio Communicator no longer matches what the Emergency Management Officials is looking for. Replacing their missing telephone is no longer enough…”

So, asking ourselves if our services are relevant is a question we have been asking for years. If there was ever a reason to give you cause is that the standard analog FM capabilities, we have today served us well. But if somebody can pick up a Smartphone and do the something, we can we have to ask ourselves a question. How is amateur radio better than what somebody can buy off the shelf? In many ways our competition for the future is going to be in people who can run out and buy an FRS/GMRS radio and provide the same voice only communication that we are currently able to provide in amateur radio. So if amateur radio is going to stay vital and participate in emergency communications we are going to have to be willing to step up to the plate, and be able to start providing capabilities that are above and beyond what somebody else is going to provide using standard FM radio. If we don’t start embracing other technologies in amateur radio, we’re going to end up at the bottom of the pile with all the others. Amateur radio should be setting the standards for all the other EMCOMM followers.

I would also like to briefly touch on Spectrum Efficiency. Spectrum pressures are going to grow especially in metropolitan areas where spectrum space is at capacity. As a result, there are waiting lists for repeater owners to get their repeaters on the air. At some point the FCC will probably have to put limits on repeater owners and limit the amount of bandwidth their repeaters can use. This is already happening in the Public Safety community. At the present time they are still around 12.5 KHz. They are required to get their bandwidth down to 6.25 KHz to accommodate additional users.

D-Star offers improved spectrum utilization. It took the lead in the amateur radio community and reduced its bandwidth to 6.25 KHz. By better utilizing the spectrum we get more functionality from the system. With 6.25 KHz bandwidth and 10 KHz channel spacing we can sandwich a D-Star repeater between two analog repeaters. If a repeater owner would replace an analog repeater with a D-Star repeater we could put three D-Star repeaters on the air in that same space.

Analog repeaters are not going away just yet. People are looking for ways to integrate newer digital technology and blend it with existing digital technologies.

Questions and comments are welcome and encouraged regarding the content of this article. Send an email to the address shown below.

The terms ARES® and Amateur Radio Emergency Service® is both registered trademarks of the American Radio Relay League, Inc. and are used by permission.

Lew Maxwell, KB5HPT
DEC, District 6, WTX Section
Email: kb5hpt@arrl.net