Ham radio - CB radio - Hamsphere

Ham radio - CB radio - Hamsphere

Postby ronfarmery » Wed Nov 25, 2020 4:33 pm

Ham radio (amateur radio)

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, has been around for a very long time. It started way back at the end of 19th century. The beginning of the 20th century saw it grow rapidly. At this moment, it is not clear how many ham radio operators are active worldwide but it should be well over two million, perhaps even three million.

The purpose of ham radio is simple: use a good chunk of the radio frequency spectrum for the exchange of non-commercial messages, experimental transmissions, or just recreation. However, one extra important purpose cannot be ignored: emergency communications. In the U.S., when tornadoes hit a particular region and wipe out the phone systems, perhaps also the electricity, ham radio operators are always ready to help out. Such emergency relaying of messages is very important. Of course, when electricity fails, you would imagine one cannot do any type of communication but there are some alternative ways of still being able to do so. First of all, when you live in tornado country, you generally have some sort of generator for your home. Or, if that is not the case, you can operate the transceiver with a battery or while your car is running. Ham radio operators in the U.S. are often also ‘preppers’; they have contingency plans for all sorts of emergency. In fact, I believe we should all have some sort of contingency plan, especially in these troubled times…

If you want to become a ham radio owner and operator, there are restrictions and rules (and these are worldwide). You first need to pass an exam and qualify for a licence. There are several types of licences, from basic to full licence. The latter is sometimes called HAREC (Harmonized Amateur Radio Examination Certificate) although this is simply the certificate that goes with the full licence. HAREC licences can be used in many countries. This is not the case for the base licence. These days, being able to use Morse code is no longer a requirement to obtain a licence (but it is still in use and called CW mode).

Of course, passing the exam requires studying. You will have guessed that the full licence requires much more complex studying than the basic licence. You will learn things like regulations, frequency ranges and permitted usages, antennas, radio wave propagation, radio protocol and etiquette, plus all sorts of other related stuff.

Ham radio clubs worldwide offer various types of courses, often for very little money. The courses are given by people who have lots of experience with ham radio. It’s more than just theory, it’s about practical things, antennas, experiences, etc. The ham radio world is a tight knit community. They help each other and love to help others, even people who don’t have the faintest clue about a transceiver (a radio that can receive and transmit), frequencies, antennas, etc.

My friend Doug in the U.S. is just as old as I am (72), but has been using and having fun with ham radio since he was 16. He used to nag me, “Get a licence, get a licence!” but work and other personal activities prevented me from spending time to study. However, right now (November 2020), I have already followed the course for the basic licence. Due to this worldwide crisis, in the country I live in (Belgikistan - i.e. Belgium), the government institute that lets people pass a certification exam has (temporarily) closed its doors. I need to be patient and wait until they decide to reopen. Since I can’t get that basic licence yet, I decided to follow the HAREC-Full licence course that starts mid December. I will probably be ready by April 2021. Hopefully, by then, exams will again be allowed and I will pass the full exam instead of the basic one.

What is the next step after obtaining an official ham radio licence? Obviously, you will need to buy a transceiver. The same people who gave the course, i.e. from the radio club, will give you a good idea of what to buy (and where). Is it going to be expensive? That depends on what you wish to do. Do you want to experiment with something simple that does not even require a special antenna? Well, I’ve got good news for you. Buy something cheap like a Baofeng UV-5RTP (around 35 pounds!). It will give you access to the 2m and 70cm bands, i.e. the VHF-UHF bands. Of course, the transmission power will be low (1W to 8W) but you might be able to talk to another station located 3 or 4 miles away. It’s a starting point for very little money! Once you feel you want more, then you will go out and shop for other equipment that will give you access to other frequencies like HF. I would say, prepare a budget, but don’t overdo it because even with a simple HF transceiver and a good antenna you might be able to talk to someone on the other side of the world.

I will finish this section with a word of warning: DO NOT OPERATE a ham radio if you do NOT have an appropriate licence! If you have obtained a licence in a particular country, do NOT use it in a different country without checking if it’s valid there! Equipment can be confiscated; licences can be suspended or even revoked.

For more info about ham radio in the U.K. visit this official site: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/manage-your-licence/radiocommunication-licences or check out the Radio Society of Great Britain: https://rsgb.org/main/get-started-in-amateur-radio/

Having said all this…

By now, some of you might think they do not wish to go through the hassle of learning stuff to obtain a ham radio licence. I will offer you two alternatives.

CB Radio

Alternative number one has been round for a long time, and certainly in the trucker community. It’s CB radio: Citizens Band radio.

With a CB transceiver, you will not be able to reach the rest of the world but it will allow you to talk to other people with a CB radio within a range of 3 to 5 miles, sometimes perhaps further away. You can buy units that can be mounted in a car but such units can be used in your home too, usually with simple antennas. The prices vary but start around 50 pounds.

Why use CB radio instead of ham radio? You do NOT need to pass an exam; you do NOT need a licence.

For more info on the usage of CB radios in the U.K. visit this official Ofcom page: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0022/84406/citizens-band.pdf


Alternative number two is the simplicity itself: download an app called Hamsphere (https://www.hamsphere.com). It is a VIRTUAL transceiver! Of course, you need a connection to the internet to make it work but it will allow you to explore the ham radio world without exams and licences. It does NOT transmit outside of the virtual ham radio environment so you are not doing something illegal.

What do you need to do to use it?

Register for a free identification. It will be valid for 30 days without limitations. If, after 30 days, you find it useful, you can subscribe. The cost for one full year is around 35 pounds.

The app is easy to operate but you will need to become familiar with the buttons of the (default and virtual) transceiver. There is a complete tutorial in the app. You will then select a certain frequency range, e.g. the 40m band and you will see, on screen, a waterfall display of the current activity in that frequency range. If you see a peak somewhere, click on the peak or rotate the large frequency selection button to listen in on the conversation. Of course, if you press PTT (push to talk), you can join in. Unlike real ham radio where a particular protocol is used if you want to start transmitting, the Hamsphere world does not enforce a protocol. However, once you get familiar with this environment, you might want to learn things like CQ calling sequence so you can participate in conversations using the ham radio etiquette. It's a question of being polite since everyone is listening.

Have fun!

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Re: Ham radio - CB radio - Hamsphere

Postby iamani » Thu Nov 26, 2020 12:31 am

Hi ronfarmery

Welcome to the forum, and thanks for the info.

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