|Issue:||Latin America II 1999|
|Topic:||Amateur Radio: A National and International Resource for the 21st Century|
|Organisation:||Amateur Radio Relay League, USA|
The Amateur Service is one of the oldest internationally recognised radio services. The historic contributions of amateurs to the development of radio technology and the opening of the short waves to worldwide communication are well known. It is less clear to some observers that radio amateurs play a continuing role, even as radio communication enters its second century. Rodney Stafford takes this opportunity to explain why in our technologically advancing world, it is not surprising that increasing numbers of people are being attracted to amateur radio.
The Amateur Service is one of the oldest internationally recognised radio services. The historic contributions of amateurs to the development of radio technology and the opening of the short waves to worldwide communication are well known. It is less clear to some observers that radio amateurs play a continuing role, even as radio communication enters its second century. With personal communications becoming almost ubiquitous and with the communications devices themselves becoming ever tinier and more complex, where is there a place for the individual experimenter? What needs can still be met best by a service whose licensees have no financial interest? How does the existence of amateur radio move us closer to the goal of universal access to telecommunications? Are there regulatory issues that are of particular relevance to Latin America? Let us try to answer these and other questions. General Mandate As the name implies, amateur radio encompasses individuals who pursue an interest in communication as an avocation. Of course, many radio amateurs are also employed in related occupations, but many are not. Radio amateurs are well known for their public service work in times of natural disasters, providing communications when normal services are interrupted or overloaded. Amateur radio also makes significant technological and sociological contributions to those nations that sanction and support it. The amateur radio movement as we know it today emerged shortly after the beginning of the 20th Century, and in 1927 achieved formal international recognition at the International Radiotelegraph Convention in Washington, D.C. Today, the service operates under a general mandate that has remained essentially unchanged since that time. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) provides these formal definitions: · Amateur Service: A radio-communication service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, by duly authorised persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest. · Amateur Satellite Service: A radio-communication service using space stations on earth satellites for the same purposes as those of the amateur service. From the beginning until the 1950s, the majority of radio amateurs were located in the US. Even so, interest in amateur radio developed in nearly every country of the world, and Latin America was no exception. As early as May 21st, 1924, Argentine radio amateur Carlos Braggio succeeded in accomplishing two-way communication with an amateur station in Gisborne, New Zealand, establishing what was at that time a world distance record. Virtually every country in the world licenses radio amateurs and permits them to communicate with their counterparts in other countries. One initiative that promises to increase the universality of amateur radio is the introduction of an International Amateur Radio Permit (IARP). The IARP was developed through the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), and after approval by CITEL, it was presented to the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS), where the Inter-American Convention on an International Amateur Radio Permit was adopted on June 8th, 1995. It provides for the mutual recognition of amateur radio licenses issued to the citizens of the participating countries. To date, seven administrations are parties to the IARP: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Peru, the US, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Different Roles of Amateur Radio: Disaster Communications Resources When natural disasters cause normal communications channels to be lost or overloaded, radio amateurs can respond swiftly and effectively to calls for assistance. This tradition is especially strong in the Americas, where hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods provide all too frequent opportunities for amateurs to demonstrate their capabilities. When invited to do so, they maintain close ties with government and relief agency officials to assure prompt availability of their emergency communications resources in the event of a need. Radio amateurs take pride in their ability to provide this unique public service. They maintain a state of readiness through various training exercises, including on-the-air networks that stress operating discipline and accuracy, competitions that lead to improvements in equipment and operating efficiency, and well-supported field exercises employing equipment powered from independent sources of electricity. This capability is internationally recognised. In 1991, the Tampere Declaration on Disaster Communications “encouraged the development of the amateur radio services and their application to disaster communications.” The 1997 World Radiocommunication Conference invited the ITU Radio-communication Sector “to continue to study, as a matter of urgency, those aspects of radio-communications that are relevant to disaster mitigation and relief operations, such as decentralised means of communications that are appropriate and generally available, including amateur radio facilities and mobile and portable satellite terminals.” National Source of Electronics Expertise As electronic devices and telecommunications systems proliferate in our world, there must be a corresponding increase in the number of individuals who can understand them. Radio amateurs train themselves in electronics, in radio wave propagation theory, and in telecommunications techniques. The practical, hands-on experience that one gains as a radio amateur is valuable across a wide range of disciplines. Electronic Innovations Dedicated amateur experimenters have contributed heavily to the development of electronics technology from its early beginnings to the present day. Amateur radio provides extensive opportunities for experimentation in a wide variety of communications disciplines. What is learned and discovered is to the advantage of employers, governments, and the public itself. Amateur activities have yielded developments and breakthroughs in such areas as: propagation research, satellites (since 1961 amateurs have designed, constructed, and arranged for the launch of more than 40 satellites), packet radio and other digital data modes, a Global Positioning Systems (GPS) based automatic position reporting system, directional antenna design and applications, and improved utilisation of the radio-frequency spectrum. Before wireless video-phones were offered to the general public, the concept was proved in the Amateur Service. Exploration of Signal Propagation Phenomena and Development of Techniques Because they are enthusiastic, numerous, and widely dispersed, radio amateurs are able to observe, measure, and record propagation phenomena and anomalies that otherwise would remain mysterious and unpredictable. They have demonstrated the feasibility of using a variety of propagation modes such as moonbounce (in which the moon is used to reflect radio signals from the earth back to the earth), meteor scatter, auroral propagation, tropospheric ducting, sporadic-E, transequatorial spread-F, and low-power satellites. Because of the large and growing number of licensed stations using portions of the radio-frequency spectrum, radio amateurs have developed unique time and frequency-sharing techniques. International Friendship and Understanding Amateur radio offers the opportunity for regular, direct, person-to-person, international contact among the peoples of the earth. In our rapidly evolving world there is a great need for the world’s people to understand one another. Amateur radio requires no physical connection to the telecommunications network and recognises no political, geographic, ethnic, religious, age, cultural, economic, or other barriers. It is, therefore, a unique bridge, unrivalled in human experience, among all peoples of the world. National Image Radio amateurs can be said to represent their countries over the airwaves. When amateurs engage in international contacts, they convey a positive image of the country as being friendly, progressive, and interested in the rest of the world. Learning Opportunity for All As a learning opportunity for the youth of the world, the value of amateur radio is abundantly clear. It is serving increasingly as a productive outlet for older persons as well, for it is an activity that can be conducted from one’s own home while providing stimulating social contact and opportunities to be useful. For the physically handicapped, amateur radio offers an exceptional opportunity for external contact. It is a unique window to the world for the visually impaired; many sightless amateurs have distinguished themselves by their technical and operating achievements. Disciplined and Self-Regulating Service Radio amateurs are licensed by their government administrations. Each licensee becomes a registered and identified user of radio communications equipment. Radio amateurs are often applauded by governments for their ability to monitor and regulate their own activities effectively, and to avoid interference to other radio services. It is a reputation that is well deserved and one in which all amateurs take pride. The International Amateur Radio Union, (IARU) is a worldwide federation of national amateur radio organisations in 148 different countries, including 40 in the Americas. Nearly every country with resident radio amateurs is represented in the IARU. The IARU has three regional organisations, corresponding to the three ITU radio regions. Each regional organisation holds a conference every three years, on a rotating basis. The most recent Region 2 Conference was held in Porlamar, Isla Margarita, Venezuela, in September 1998; the next one is scheduled for Antigua, Guatemala, in 2001. Requires Reasonable Access to Radio Spectrum It is important to remember the benefits of amateur radio. They are available to all segments of society throughout the world only because of the enlightened and long-standing international policy of allocating adequate segments throughout the radio-frequency spectrum for use by amateurs. This provides the means whereby experimentation and discovery can flourish and the environment in which the many benefits and services of amateur radio can be delivered. As a growing service, amateur radio must have access to spectrum in keeping with its requirements. Growing Service In our technologically advancing world, it is not surprising that increasing numbers of people are being attracted to amateur radio. Worldwide, the number of amateur licensees has been increasing at the rate of approximately 7% per year for several decades and is continuing to increase, to a totalof almost three million as we approach the end of the century. In the Americas alone there are 840,000 amateur operators, including 114,000 in Latin America. Conclusion For a radio amateur, the ionosphere and other mechanisms of radio propagation are as the wind and the ocean currents are to a sailor. They will take you anywhere you want to go, if only you learn how to harness them, and learning how is as meaningful as the voyage itself. New generations of radio amateurs will be learning these lessons in the 21st Century, to the benefit of all.