Wednesday, May 16, 2018

20 years ago...

After being in the hobby only a few years and having been running a 9600 baud packet station I was looking to go faster.  At the time there was an ongoing TAPR project to create a 128 Kbps frequency hopping spread spectrum 1 watt, 900 MHz radio.  I was interested, the problem was it had been stalled for a while.  And to make matters worse; the only real price clue was that it would be under $500, and it would be dual marketed, to hams and for unlicensed use.

Barry, VE3JF had a webpage dedicated to higher speed options using wireless LAN modems.  At this point consumer networking products where switching from 900 MHz to 2.4 GHz.  And the price had dropped to the $100 range.  I started to make a ruckus on the TAPR spread spectrum list, why weren't hams embracing this technology?

There were a lot of naysayers.  Some said the 1 Watt automatic power control rule made Part 97 operation less desirable than Part 15.   Later this rule was done away with.

This was the start of what later became HSMM.  It was clear to me that direct sequence was going to win over frequency hopping for the newly emerging 802.11 (now legacy standard) circa 1997 or so.  This was good and bad, but sure made shifting the operations totally withing the ham radio overlap easy.  It was clear to me, that 802.11 was going to be common placed in the average home in a few short years.  And it seemed since this stuff was already operating on ham radio frequencies, we might as well at least draw some attention to it, and see what we could do with it to use it for slightly longer distances.  Heck, I just snagged a bunch of partial screen parabolic antennas for the band that were being removed from service from a rural "wireless cable TV" provider that went under.

I know I as well as others wrote letters to the ARRL at the time.

Fortunately the ARRL president at the time (Jim Haynie, W5JBP) had open ears, and formed a working committee that reported to the Technology Task Force.  It was actually Paul Rinaldo (chief technical officer), W4RI's recommendation to the ARRL board that the group be formed.  A survey conducted by the ARRL Technology Task Force, of League members and other amateurs revealed that the number one interest in new technologies was in high-speed digital networks.  Amateur radio, particularly EmComm (this was just after 911), needed some means of data transmission significantly faster than conventional packet radio.   The group was chartered to find out what it would take to do high speed data and other modes on frequencies above HF.

Now about this time in my life, I had just been transition from high school to college and started working, bought a house.  So at the time I actually didn't know Jim had appointed this group.  I didn't end up catching up with what was going on till about 2005 or so.

I learned that John Champa, K8OCL became the chairman of the working group.  The group had made several recommendations that ultimately all went no where.  Some were a matter of policy; like the regulation by bandwidth proposal that hams weren't ready for yet.  Another was trying to get TAPR to help develop 2.4 to 3.3-3.5-GHz transverters, a 70 cm OFDM modem, etc.

But the groups publicity, drew people out of the wood work to try things.  And the enthusiasm continued past the official working groups dissolution in 2006.  I felt this was good.  I had actually hoped there would be other working groups formed.  Like SDR, etc.

Anyway, the work continued without the ARRL.  By the Fall of 2008, a group of amateurs from the Texas area announced development of their own custom firmware for the WRT-54G to enable HSMM-Mesh networking.

In my opinion, this was a major thing, and this is when hams really paid attention to what others were doing.

Sadly ham radio really doesn't have enough enthusiasm and/or skilled folks to build our own stuff to do things that we are able to do now a days with commercial networks.  The market is simply not there either.

The model of the TNC, where it started by hams, initially as a kit, and then something that small manufacturers started to sell to amateurs and to a commercial market is a very unlikely thing to see again. 

VHF and above ham radio has always pretty much adapted things from the commercial market.  Now a days that market is pretty slim.  The heyday of two way radio has come and gone.  What is left is the public safety market.   Heck we had to adapt 802.11. 

That is basically the best you can realistically hope to for.  It's important to keep eyes and the mind open to things abroad.  Things that might have a commercial market in other (perhaps less developed) countries that could be imported and used in ham radio.

The rules should be relaxed as much as possible so that if future things from the commercial market can be adapted to use in ham radio, that there won't be a need for any drawn out future requests to have that emission type permitted etc.

The present generation of hams should ban together to religiously petition that the rules be relaxed as much as possible to prevent anyone in the future from being denied from trying to do anything. Experimentation is the key to new ideas.  And lastly if you hear someone saying "you can't do that", kick them in the nuts and don't listen to a word they say.