The Conejo Valley Amateur Radio Club is a not-for-profit international organization of amateur radio enthusiasts. We provide education forums, publications and peer interaction opportunities that enhance the knowledge, skill and professional growth of our members.
Andy Ludlum – K6AGL
2017 will be the Year of Next Generation Technology! As this year has been the Year of the Project, the club’s board has decided to emphasize new amateur radio technology in CVARC’s monthly programs and projects next year. You can see the topics our Speaker’s Committee is working on at CVARC.ORG.
In discussing the 2017 theme, I began thinking about the future of amateur radio. I read about a dozen articles from all points of view and came up with a number of takeaways that seem to have general agreement.
- Computers and digital signal processing already play a big role in newer amateur radio transceivers – even in entry-level HF transceivers.
- Thanks to low-cost processors, Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology has rapidly evolved as the performance of analog to digital converters and programmable logic devices have improved.
- Because SDR is much more versatile and adaptable, radios and computers will continue to merge.
- We are moving towards true digital modulation instead of analog. As some point everything will be digital and software driven.
- Due to the many different standards and proprietary aspects it may take some time for digital modulation to take over on VHF/UHF.
- A digital voice mode will eventually replace SSB on the HF bands.
- CW will make a comeback as SDR becomes widespread.
- But most CW will be computerized and manually keyed CW will become a niche.
- The real power of SDR is most of a transceiver is built by a programmer with software instead of electronic components that quickly become obsolete.
- SDR technology could lead to the development of transmitters that generate multiple signals that are remote controllable from a personal computer.
Other authors argued that hams, at a certain point, deliberately chose to ignore the future and instead returned to the past. They point to the network of repeaters we built that greatly extended our range with just a handheld or even a mobile radio. We had created ways to pass data at speeds comparable to the landline methods of the time. Hams developed satellites and new methods of space communication. But then we stopped innovating at the same pace. Critics contend industry leaders turned the focus on “emergency communications” resulting in hundreds of thousands of hams who have no interest whatsoever in electronics or learning more about radio communications.
Meanwhile in the non-amateur world the future marched ahead without us. Cellular technology exploded allowing high speed data transmission over the air. Commercial radio and television changed dramatically with voluntary and mandatory digital standards. Our military began using satellites and mesh networking for voice and data communications. And we’ve come to believe we’re “roughing it” when we don’t find the RF transmitted data that keeps our mobile devices connected to the internet.
Some fear ham radio is in danger of becoming overly dependent on computers and it will become difficult to distinguish amateur radio from the internet.
But I think it is important for clubs like CVARC to maintain a “big tent” approach. One of the big attractions of the hobby is that there’s something in it to interest everyone. I think it is important for the club to explore and support these new technologies while still enjoying the innovations of the past that got us where we are today.