Amateur Radio today - my view
The Role of Amateur Radio
Amateur Radio is a legal facility granted to individuals by government authorities. It is meant to allow citizens to experiment and research on all modern and conceivable information and radio technologies. It is an educative as well as a citizen-based emergency service which has proven vitally helpful in most natural disasters like floodings, tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, avalanches etc.
So what is different as compared to CB radio? Amateur radio differs firstly in the concept that not devices are certified but people. In CB radio, devices may not be tampered and there are very severe restrictions on the operation modes and transmission power - allowing people without any technical expertise to operate and use radio devices. In Amateur radio however, it is necessary for each participant to pass a challenging scientific exam held by government authorities. Any participant must prove that he or she has a deep understanding of the technical fundaments of radio technology, is able to understand and follow the legal parameters, and knows to conduct radio contacts in decent discipline. Therefore, successful exam participants are granted an individual, personal license and a callsign and are allowed to handle every conceivable radio device. Licensed Radio Amateurs are authorized to own and operate any conceivable radio device - provided that they stick to the legal parameters they have proven to know. For licensed Radio Amateurs, there are no such things as "forbidden radio transmitters or receivers".
In recent years, seeing the emergence of the internet and mobile phones, public interest in amateur radio has decreased: Back in 1990 I owned a very little portable communication transmitter. I predicted that in 10 years' time, everybody would own such a little device - which people could not at all imagine in those days. Today, ownership and usage of small radio devices is omnipresent and the most common thing. Today, nobody would wonder about Bluetooth, WLAN, GSM, and the sorts. Radio technology has become commonplace and there is no longer any special aura which used to exist back in the 80s and early 90s. Today, every child is able to transmit data with a speed of 108 Megabit per second at home. And the necessary devices cost nothing but a few euros.
However, even though everybody uses these technologies, almost nobody understands how they work. These little boxes we use to call our buddies, are black boxes and their workings seem secret to ordinary people. What a dissatisfying situation! Our customs, our entire culture is based on technology nobody can judge. The development of these devices is secretly left to a few corporations around the world, and the public is almost totally isolated to be dumb and paying users. There is no communication whatsoever between those who use and those who devise these technologies.
In my perspective, Amateur Radio is the way to break up this deadlock of knowledge isolation and to bridge the gap between the few knowledgeable engineers and the wide public. It is comparable with Open Source, which has proven to be a tremendous force in Computing Science, unleashing the creativity of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of programmers. Amateur Radio can enable interested common people to understand and creatively use GSM, WLAN, BlueTooth, Digital Radio and all these common facilities.
In order to archieve this, Amateur Radio has to change. The service has to widen its traditional focus on radio electronics and embrace computing sciences. Computing and radio technologies are natural twins, and today they can no longer be seen seperately. Radio today is digital and computers today use wireless communication. It's a fact, it's true, and Amateur Radio must recognize it.
Computer Scientists who don't have a solid understanding of radio technology, miss important aspects of the field they're working in. Being a computer science professional, engaging in Amateur Radio guarantees me to keep up with the other side of the same medal. You cannot talk about WLAN-based data networking and have no idea about radio propagation at the same time. This is why my research in radio technology often has a digital aspect.
If you ask me about the future of radio research, I will propose this development: Computer Science has been driving radio communication to use higher and higher frequencies, mainly because of the higher data bandwith which is possible with SHF frequencies. There has been a mentality of dumb expansion, of grabbing ever more and more frequencies, without regarding questions of efficience. At the same time, the wonderful properties of short wave seem to have been forgotten: Have you ever thought of communicating across oceans with a transmitting power of 2 watts? Direct and dumb expansion, the conquest for ever higher frequencies is coming to an end. We come to live in an era in which growth is no longer possible but through a strict focus on efficience. This is why I propose the rediscovery of short wave frequencies by going digital. Satellite radio is fine but it requires enormous amounts of money, time and people. What if you can transmit the same amount of information (NOT data!) with a fraction of the effort?
The information monopoly held by a few broadcasting corporations is currently being broken up by jounalistic individuals using blogs. Though, this development is still containted in the sphere of cable-based, networked computers. In broadcasting, the information monopoly is still solidly alive and untackled. It's about time to break the broadcasting monopoly and Amateur Radio can guide the development for quite some way!
Some Comments on the alleged Harmfulness of Mobil Telephony
Here's a short link to a news report saying that a major study over the recent 10 years has not found any significance on the assumption that the usage of mobile phones is causing brain cancer:
This is something I expected. But given the fact that every year 5000 people in Germany die in a car accident and given that 30.000 people die in car accidents per year in Russia, the lethal menace is clearly somewhere else.
Yet, given the fact that the life an uncountable number of people is saved grace to the occasion that someone nearby carries a mobile phone and can call for medical assistance or call the fire department, there is clearly no point in being afraid of mobile phones and their network infrastructure. Instead, there is a good reason to accept radio technology as a great cultural advance and the underlying technology as a cultural masterpiece.