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Issue #39: The Future of Ham Radio

Discussion in 'Trials and Errors - Ham Life with an Amateur' started by W7DGJ, May 13, 2024.

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  1. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks, good comments and I get where you are coming from. AR has always had many different aspects to it, and not all easily “jive” with each other. That’s likely to continue .
  2. AC0GT

    AC0GT Ham Member QRZ Page

    I don't see one future for Amateur radio because Amateur radio has so many different aspects to it. One thing Amateur radio has to answer is, what can it do that nothing else can do? Or rather, what can Amateur radio do that can't be done elsewhere at a lower cost.

    What is meant by "cost" can be measured in ways other than money, though money will play a part. Amateur radio has to compete with GMRS, Part 15 devices, cellular phones, and so much else. One thing I see changing in Amateur radio is that the products being sold need to come down in price. Part of the cost of Amateur radio is in accessories and so Amateur radios will have to use much the same accessories as consumer electronics. I'm confused and frustrated that few handheld Amateur radios use USB-C for charging their batteries. It would be helpful also that Amateur radios use 1/8" TRRS phone jacks for headsets like so many cell phones and portable gaming devices. Connecting a radio to a computer for programming should not require a special purpose cable, USB-C would be nice there too.

    So many Amateur radios look like some kind of piece of industrial equipment, likely because so many Amateur radios are just industrial radios that were reprogrammed for Amateur frequencies. That may have been acceptable in the past but I have my doubts that will be so easily tolerated in the future. If someone can get a GMRS radio that does what an Amateur radio can do, and at lower cost, then people will choose GMRS. How can Amateur radios compete with that? By making an Amateur radio that is a reprogrammed GMRS radio. What would make people want the Amateur radio more than the GMRS equivalent? By offering capabilities that are not permissible with GMRS.

    Amateur radios becoming more like consumer electronics is just one part of the future I see for Amateur radio. The popularity of Baofeng radios shows that there's a market for lower monetary cost to get into Amateur radio. I expect manufacturers will learn from Baofeng in making radios more like cell phones and less like police radios or lose money to those that did learn those lessons.

    Perhaps that's more wishful thinking than an actual prediction but as pointed out in other comments the best way to predict the future is to make it. I'd like to make Amateur radio more affordable, but not at the cost of making it cheap. Baofeng also demonstrates that there's more to a product than being low cost, don't be so low in quality that people feel cheated of their time and money.
  3. WB9YZU

    WB9YZU Ham Member QRZ Page

    I read the article,
    Franky I've never heard of any of these so called famous hams; I don't know why we listen to influencers, or give even them voice.
    Their goal is to further their agenda, nothing more.

    I agree with KC2SIZ, all this rapid evolution of modes is not pulling us together. Saying so does not make us "Old Farts".
    There is a real possibility that with the advent of FT8 and other only Contest modes, that we have lost the ability to "Talk" to each other.
    When you just click on a button to have a 2 way "QSO", and another to log it, it is efficient, but where is the human element?
    I find it especially troubling when I work a Ham on 2M who drops their call to indicate they want a QSO, but when they are faced with one, they can't hold a conversation in a bucket - not even about the weather. These folks are used to texting.

    Another trend I worry about is that I see less and less young people at Hamfests, and an uptick of 60+ people, many of which interestingly enough are "new hams". That gets numbers the ARRL wants, but does it keep the hobby going?

    Ham Radio is also used as a substitute for FRS/GMRS in a number of cases.
    I've spoken to a number of college grads whose only experience with Amateur Radio was specific to an college activity, like a Society of Automotive Engineering endurance test where FRS wouldn't cut it. There was an effort by Hams in Off-Road clubs to get folks licensed so they could use higher power radios on the trail, instead of ponying up $ for a GMRS license. Neither of those efforts have generated long term interest in the hobby for most new Users.

    And who builds anything anymore, or understands the block diagram what comes with their manufactured radio?
    Heck, most hams buy their antennas.

    So what will the future of Amateur Radio be? Depends on where Society as a whole does.
    You don't even have to leave your home anymore> It reminds me of a 80's time travel show where they end up in a time where they are robots fighting in the street and Mankind is going extinct because they didn't hook up anymore, just played on their computers all day.

    That reminds me to get off my computer and say "HI" to the XYL.
    The future of Ham Radio, or atleast mine, depends on it ;)
    W7DGJ, KI7EZU and KC2SIZ like this.
  4. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    hi Kurt - thanks for being here ! Interesting set of comments. Seems to me that you’re looking through the lens of VHF/UHF interests. There’s nothing I could do to a GMRS radio to talk to my friends in Australia or Europe. And a $30 Baofeng isn’t going to do much for me either. If I just wanted to talk around town or monitor 146.52 I guess that would be ok. Pinning down “amateur radio” is about like the old fable of the blind men describing the elephant. Read Michelle’s comments in the article … she says that this is the best time there is or ever has been for Amateur Rsdio, as so much is free or cheap. But it will never be a consumer electronics business niche. That’s not what the FCC envisioned when they set aside spectrum for AR. Dave, W7DGJ
  5. AC0GT

    AC0GT Ham Member QRZ Page

    Not really, I needed an example to better make my point and using Baofeng radios as an example was just one thing that came to mind.

    That's true, which is why I started my comment that I don't see one future for Amateur radio, I thought I'd focus on one aspect of that future since I thought that would be the most profound change.

    Amateur radio has been a niche of consumer electronics since at least the end of World War Two. After the war ended there was a surplus of radios built for the military but no place to "dispose" of them other than Amateur radio operators. Once that supply dried up then came products built specifically for Amateur radio operators. It should not be a huge leap in logic that the use of military surplus radios by Amateurs set an expectation on what an Amateur radio should look like. People expected an Amateur radio to look like military hardware so that's what was produced. In time expectations changed, and what Amateur radios looked like and functioned like also changed. I expect that in 10 years or so expectations will continue to change.

    For those that were first introduced to radio communications in the military, like so many were during the Cold War, they expect radios to have a certain "look and feel". For people after the Cold War they'd have a different introduction to radio. They'd know radio communications by things like a Walkman, an iPhone, a remote controller for a video game console, or any of a number of other devices. They don't have expectations of what an Amateur radio "should" look like, but they have expectations on the "look and feel" of electronics in general. To them a piece of electronics will charge up by USB, as one example, because that's how so many of consumer electronic devices are charged. If an Amateur radio doesn't meet these expectations then it will not sell well. An Amateur radio is still a consumer device, and as a consumer device it has to be marketed. One easy way to find a market for a device is to meet consumer expectations.

    I expect that those making Amateur radios in the future will want their products to sell. To sell means meeting expectations.
    W7DGJ likes this.
  6. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Ron, I clicked on "like" because I appreciate someone taking the time to post a reply on the forum here. We want all types of hams, all kinds of feedback, That's what makes the ARS so interesting . . . the variety of places to go to play radio, and the variety of user types who are out there.

    Clearly, however, there was one item I wish you wouldn't have put in your comments. When you said you never heard of any of the people I brought in for their advice? Well, maybe that's more of a personal issue I think, and not one that needed sarcasm or a lot of bitterness. Each individual I referenced here has a stake in ham radio, just like you and I do. They are well known in their fields.

    Chip Cohen is everywhere in the ARS -- you see him on forums, giving talks, and generally being an advocate as he's got a zillion patents in technical areas that should interest us all. Roy Hook has been a ham for quite some time and is a heavyweight with the ARRL in his district. Michelle Thompson is the CEO of a ham-focused NonProfit and a very outspoken female ham in meetings like the QSO Today events. Sean Lynch is an entrepreneur who built a major cloud services company and who sold it in order to give his time and resources to ham radio. Steve Hicks is an RF engineer and a VP and Chief Technical Officer of a major radio company (Flex). Jason Johnston has probably the biggest YouTube presence of all the channels concerning the ARS. Phil Karns was instrumental in the founding of ARDC and past president of this organization that puts more hard cash back into the ARS than any other funder. Kenny Martinez is another entrepreneur, immigrant as a teen from Cuba and now CEO of the company selling a ton of linear amplifiers. Phil McBride's organization is Radio Amateurs of Canada RAC, the country's major radio amateurs organization. Marty Buehring is the President of a Georgia ham club that has been admired by other clubs for many years. Marius Lubbe is engaged at the highest levels of amateur radio in his country, South Africa. Finally, I got my two cents in because I'm a columnist here at the #1 website for ham radio, QRZ.

    Sorry to go through that litany of authors one by one, but I think that comment was unfair. These are good, solid voices who each know something about our Amateur Radio Services. None of them were spouting something that was advancing their own agenda. I had a few of those and I weeded them out. These are all personal opinions. Even David Minster of the ARRL was going to submit his personal commentary, but it fell through due to the hacker situation at the League. 73, Dave W7DGJ
    K8PG, N5MJ, AI7KI and 1 other person like this.
  7. N8TGQ

    N8TGQ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I think our radios are gonna see big changes. The "radio" itself will become a box with connections for power and antenna only. That part will disappear under the table or up on a shelf like modems and routers today. Maybe connected to the antenna out in the yard.
    All display and controls will be on your phone, tablet or computer. You will place readouts and controls where you want on your screen, or even have multiple screens you can swipe through. The manufacturer will sell you a front panel if you want, but it will just be encoders and a tablet dressed up to look good.
    That way the same radio could be used by several different services just by changing the program.
    N6YWU and W7DGJ like this.
  8. K1CWB

    K1CWB Ham Member QRZ Page

    The future has been here for those into the FlexRadio rigs.
    N9DG and W7DGJ like this.
  9. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page


    I am the opposite of an 'influencer': I don't want to provide you an opinion you can plug-in , instead of forming one yourself--I want you to form your own opinion. Which you have.

    Why don't you invite some of the folks you would LIKE to hear from here, to comment?

    Chip W1YW
    W7DGJ likes this.
  10. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Someone mentioned above that they were surprised no one mentioned POTA. In hindsight, I agree. POTA has sure been important in the last few years. I'm also sure it will still be around in a decade. What may happen, however, is that the success of that activity will bring others into the mix that will fail and disappear. It can't be duplicated easily now that it has such a head of steam. Dave
    K1CWB likes this.
  11. K1CWB

    K1CWB Ham Member QRZ Page

    I agree. As I mentioned in my post above I think POTA, SOTA, WWFF, and any similar program will be a part of the Amateur Radio future. Not that I need a reason to play radio, but activities certainly get more folks on the air including myself. QSO parties are another example of a casual activity that helps get signals on the bands. I don't know what the future will actually be, but as long as I can, I'll be playing with RF.
    AI7KI, AB2T and W7DGJ like this.
  12. G0DJA

    G0DJA Ham Member QRZ Page

    I read the article and skimmed through many of the replies. It seems a bit USA biased, not surprising I guess, but the FCC don't make the rules for a large part of the world of Amateur Radio.

    One thing I often see is that mobile phones and internet communication makes Amateur Radio less relevant, but I think this misses a point, in that when you make a general call you don't know who will reply, or even if anyone will. Using a mobile phone you need to know someone and their phone number to call. A Scandinavian telecoms provider ran a scheme that people volunteered to be randomly called by someone else. The UK TV show "QI" (hosted by Sandi Toksvig, who was from Denmark) used it in an episode, but that's a bit different from going on a frequency and calling CQ and hoping someone will answer you. I'd make a similar arguement for platforms such as Facebook, TicTok and others. Yes, you can look at a general feed, but it's influenced by algorithms designed to point you where the advertisers make the most money and, in my observation, similar people flock to other similar people.

    So, will this unique selling point of Amateur Radio be incorporated into communication tecnology over the next 10 years? I guess only if someone can figure out a way to make money from it by adding some sort of random element to the way that people get in touch with other people. Even dating apps proudly advertise that you'll only find 'compatable' matches, or read for that 'people like you'.

    As a group it always seemed to me, right from when I first got into the hoby, that Radio Amateurs are good at the technical skill of communication but not necessarily as good at communicating. The aim was making the contact but then the next step of communicating ideas or finding out about other interests seemed to be more difficult. So, we slipped into a sort of contest culture, and I'm as quilty of this, counting the number of countries and squares worked on various bands and/or modes of communication rather than finding out more about the people we've made contact with.

    The RSGB, the body representing Radio Amateurs in the UK, has a mantra when asking for, or justifying allocations of new frequencies that activity should not be "more of the same" but the 'innovations' are often very similar to what is being already done, just maybe using different modes. Like DATV in the 145 to 146MHz band, various 'digital' modes which seem to be very similar to the existing FM or SSB contacts but with the added complexity that you have to know which communication standard was going to be used. Get the wrong one and you can't make a contact.

    So, onto my predictions... Looking back at my log for 2014 I was using legacy modes that I still use today and older digital modes, like PSK31 or JT65, that have been replaced by modes like Q65, FT8 and other submodes. My guess is that, if I live until 2034 (by then I will be in my 70s so I hope so), that the Amateur landscape will probably look very similar to today. People will 'work' people to try and fill in squares on a map, or additional countries. There will be people who regularly talk to other people, mostly who share their own background or interests. Displays might be more generated by computers, but they have their own issues. One of my screens puts out a high level of interference on 70MHz, a band I enjoy, so I sometimes switch it off to be able to hear weak signals and that brings me onto another prediction. The level of local and not so local RF interference from various types of equipment, whether it's cheap PSUs recharging phones or powering domestic and commercial equipment, WiFi and in the home internet equipment and communication systems associated with them, will increase. Someone in the artical mentioned using AI to overcome this but that seems, to me, to be hoping that the problem will provide the answer.

    Dave (G0DJA)
    W7DGJ and K3XR like this.
  13. K3XR

    K3XR Ham Member QRZ Page

    There is no comparison between amateur radio and cell phones. You give one example, but there are others.

    Show me the list of cell phone to cell phone WAS, DXCC or contests. What about experimenting with cell phone antennas? If you understand the "magic of radio" you understand the difference.
    W7DGJ likes this.
  14. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hi Dave, Thanks for the nice additions to the prognostications and for your time in posting this. In all likelihood, there will be far fewer changes than us "forecasters" have indicated, because whenever someone is asked to go through such an exercise, they start to think all fantastical and sci-fi-like stuff emerges. You should have seen some of the things we eliminated, like nuclear-powered transceivers, antennas that defied gravity and so on. Those folks were having a bit of fun with my request, whereas the majority of the stuff we pulled in from these hams was quite possible. As to the worldview, of course as the writer (me) is in the USA, there's always a slant to think of radio as the way we play it here. But you'll note the comments of our South African contributor are not much different . . . Perhaps there's a future article in arranging to get more (exclusively) "rest of the world" commentary on the subject. Thinking about possible futures is fun and an important exercise because in doing that you realize that we are all building the future of our amateur radio services, and occasionally being reminded of that is not a bad thing, eh? Thank you for doing your part.

    One area of commentary in your post spoke about the need for amateurs to actually do more communicating. Not just checking off boxes. I had a very poor experience recently after spending a ton of time developing an idea on how to "fix" that problem, by changing the way that we work to instantly give the other operator a bit of knowledge about us. This list of hobbies and interests was extensive and all were tied into numbers. You talk to another 840 and you know you're speaking to someone who loves to hunt. You talk to another 310 and by golly you know you're in a QSO with another person, like you, who loves to work on old cars. If a person cares anything at all about learning more, the radio waves are wide open and you have something to ragchew about with the other amateur. If you're only into collecting QSO's, you simply ignore it. But it takes no more time than the usual exchange in a contest. Anyway, I mention this because I know that we could help this issue if we wanted, but I brought it to the ARRL (and to QRZ) and neither wanted to do anything different than the way that QSOs and contests are managed today. Dave, W7DGJ
  15. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks Dan. Great comment. I came into the field back in the 60's because of this magic. In my opinion, the magic of radio is still there and there's even a cool "secret language" that young kids can learn easily (the code). Dave
    K3XR likes this.

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