Think the Ham Bands are Safe? Read This.

The October 2010 issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineer’s (IEEE) Spectrum has an article titled, “The Great Radio Spectrum Famine.” The culprit, of course, is the wireless Internet. As more and more people buy smartphones, they demand more and more bandwidth.

The article states:

Regulators have few options to head off the coming bandwidth crisis. They can’t realistically expect to reduce demand. Nor can they expand the overall supply. That leaves the daunting chore of squeezing today’s users into narrower slices of the radio spectrum, thereby eking out more space for other things. That’s sometimes possible, but it’s not easy. To reengineer existing radio systems—or their users—is a bit like trying to overhaul a car’s engine while it’s barreling down the highway.

Policymakers, at least in private, sometimes hold out hope for a fourth option: that some game-changing technical breakthrough will save the day at the 11th hour. But nothing now on the drawing board suggests that technology alone can get us out of this predicament.

It goes on to target the swath of spectrum that’s currently the most coveted:

Every application of radio works best within a certain range of frequencies, and mobile broadband is no exception. Its sweet spot is relatively narrow, roughly in the range of 300 to 3500 megahertz. That’s because radio waves that are much above 3500 MHz (shorter than about 9 centimeters) do not penetrate well into buildings or through rugged terrain, leading to frustrating dead spots. Lower frequencies are better in this regard, but they require awkwardly large antennas for efficient transmission; 300 MHz is roughly the lowest frequency compatible with a reasonably efficient antenna that’s small enough to fit in a handheld device.

While the article doesn’t mention amateur radio in particular, read between the lines. No service is sacred. At the very least, this should make you think about joining the ARRL if you’re not already a member, and if you are, supporting the spectrum-defense activities a little more solidly.


  1. Elwood Downey says:

    I donate specifically to the ARRL SDF and encourage others to as well.

  2. Right on. At least frequencies below 300 MHz are under less pressure, which is a relief to us HF & 2M troglodytes. Still, vigilance is required. Support ARRL.

    There is a problem with the VHF and higher bands that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Amateurs are not very good at utilization. The bands are almost always completely empty, and this makes them targets for commercial use. Around here in CT, the 2M repeater segments are mostly allocated and unavailable for new applications, but they are still unused most of the time.

    By contrast look at 14.070 – 14.073 kHz. I can often copy dozens of PSK31 QSOs in progress there in 3 kHz of spectrum. Also look at the cell/CDMA bands that support 100s of “QSOs” in a few MHz all the time. Hams do need to pay more attention to band occupancy.

  3. Dan KB6NU says:

    Not only that, I’d say that hams aren’t utilizing our bands at 900 MHz and above nearly enough. Someone needs to think up a “killer app” or “killer project” for the 900 MHz band and 2.3 GHz bands.

  4. I’d like to operate up in those bands myself. There’s not a whole lot of activity though. For 900mhz you rely on either commercial equipment that’s been modified (sometimes heavily) or transverters. Even the commercial gear is pretty limited. I haven’t yet found either a homebrew radio or a radio made for hams that works in 900mhz. 2.3/2.4ghz bands have maybe one or two ham radios, transverters or high-speed multimedia activity. I’ve heard a lot that people prefer to operate in Part 15 for hsmm because of the limitations on what kinds of traffic can be handled under part 97.

    Who knows what could inspire activity in those bands. HSMM isn’t taking off. Although, now I kinda want to cobble something together to use a wifi card in the ham allocation to transfer digital voice. There was even a wifi voip phone in circuit cellar a few years back I could reference. Some ready made gear or some kits for 900mhz would be nice.

  5. Necessity is the mother of invention. With the ‘spectrum crunch’ looming, creative people are finding new and innovative ways to do more with less, or to squeeze bandwidth in where they can. I recently attended a technical forum at an unnamed large multi-national software maker in Redmond, Washington (get it?) and learned a lot about ‘Whitespaces’, or ‘White-fi’. Basically using the extra bandwidth in the TV bands (now that they have moved to digital, and dont need quite so much BW per channel) for wireless networking. The cool side note on this is that the range is greater, so fewer access points are needed. It’s worth having a look.

  6. Neil Xenias says:

    Very good article! FCC has been very good to us if one thinks about it. That said, our allocations have not been without their challenges. ISM is making 902 really tough. 440MHz is rough on either coast, especially near naval installations … so many things we’ve worked around and so many spectrum-hungry folks have worked around us as well. It’s a zen sort of thing to me, but so long as we continue to use the resources, and innovate on them also, industry and the FCC tend (imho) to help us out. I hope that mutual support continues :-)

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