Friday, 17 June, 2005

BPL and ham radio innovation

One of the groups most critical of the Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) initiative is the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL)--ham radio operators.  Their (our) contention is that BPL causes harmful interference across the HF and and lower VHF radio spectrums.  Many uninformed critics of the ARRL and hams in general say that our opposition to BPL is just a knee-jerk reaction--that the interference caused by BPL is minimal at best and easily countered by turning up the amplifier.  (Which works, by the way, for transmitting.  But the interference causes problems with reception.)  They go on to point out (wrongly) that ham radio is a dying hobby and that any value provided by amateurs was in the past.  In short, in the minds of BPL advocates, we hams are stuck in the past and refuse to give up our useless hobby and release our radio spectrum for other uses.

See the ARRL's BPL area, Broadband Over Power Line (BPL) and Amateur Radio for more information about the ham community's position on this topic.

One of the primary purposes of the amateur radio service is, according to the FCC, technical investigation.  Over the years since the service was created, amateurs have made many innovations in advancing the state of the art in radio communications.  Kevin McQuiggin has a detailed discussion in his thesis Amateur Radio and Innovation in Telecommunications Technology. Click on the link at the top of the page to see the entire thesis in a PDF file.  Whereas it's true that opportunities for innovation are fewer now than in this past, amateurs do still experiment and often pioneer new technologies or techniques for using current technology.

The July 2005 issue of QST, the magazine of the ARRL, has an article about a group of hams in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley who used commercial off-the-shelf 802.11 wireless gear to create a wide-area wireless network.  This gear is intended for use at a range of 250 to 300 feet.  By adding some home-built microwave antennas, they were able to extend the range in an early experiment to 34 miles.  For Field Day last year, they set up a solar powered 802.11 router at a remote site and connected it via microwave link to another relay station 17 miles away.  That station relayed to a home station that was 2.4 miles away.  Users at the Field Day site were able to check their email and browse the Web from their laptops, all over a wireless link constructed from standard wireless gear.

That is innovation.  You can bet that people who are trying to put together community-wide or city-wide wireless links will be talking to these guys.