Has Ham Radio Missed the Boat?

A recent article on the Computerworld website, describes a development by Georgia Tech computer science professor Santosh Vempala that envisions greater reliance on device-to-device communications using typical consumer phones after a disaster. This network, called LifeNet, uses free open-source software to allow consumer devices such as laptops, Android phones and battery-powered routers to form ad hoc Wi-Fi, peer-to-peer networks without relying on cellular towers or base stations.

This seems to me a perfect application of amateur radio. Someone should contact this guy to see how amateur radio might play a part in LifeNet.

The article goes on to say:

Keith Robertory, manager of national disaster emergency communications for the American Red Cross in Washington, said he has used robust peer-to-peer wireless systems in recent years that will forward a message through other radios. One that operates on the amateur radio band has a time-out feature built in so that the message does not keep repeating itself indefinitely. The peer-to-peer concept is sound, he said, but hasn’t been widely used.

Does anyone know what peer-to-peer networking the Red Cross guy is referring to? Why isn’t it being widely used?


  1. No inside knowledge, but it sure sounds like he’s talking about APRS…

  2. Amateur Radio is not a specific technology – it’s a community and a range of frequencies that require a license to operate on. For LifeNet, it makes sense to use low-power and short-range radios operating on unlicensed frequencies (WiFi and such) and that’s what they seem to be doing. It makes perfect sense to me. And once LifeNet is up and running, hams might be able to relay messages for them over longer distances. It’s not a either-or situation, we’ll all win by having a nice variety of channels and technologies at our disposal in an emergency.

  3. I probably sound like a complete newb. But that’s only because I am :)

  4. If they are successful it will surely be commercialized. I hope they do a patent search as Intel holds a general patent on this idea already. I was one of the authors of this patent and it would be pretty hard to come up with any scheme along these lines that didn’t touch it.

  5. I think the guy may be talking about APRS.

  6. He could be referring to plain old packet, or perhaps he was talking about Winlink but doesn’t know that’s not peer-to-peer? It’s hard to say.

    Has ham radio missed the boat? Quite simply, yes. We’ve failed on multiple fronts with networking: 802.11, open source software, extending and/or interoperating with open Internet standards. We should be putting more energy into systems like PSKmail which are decentralized, peer-to-peer, ad hoc, and capable of using the Internet where available to interconnect wireless networks.

Speak Your Mind