Ham Radio Needs To Embrace The Hacker Community Now More Than Ever

PUBLISHED ON NOV 24, 2020 — DIGTIAL VOICE, LIFESTYLE

An Open Letter To All Ham Radio Operators

“Ham Radio is dying!” A phrase all to often uttered that it’s become cliché, but it’s partly true. You can’t deny a considerable section of the ham radio operators in the world are in the latter part of their lives.They won’t be around forever so naturally new people must assume their place. The good news is amateur radio licenses are on the rise. The bad news is the people induced to ham radio these days aren’t interested in pushing the limits of RF technology. To be blunt I’m talking about preppers and those solely interested in emergency communications. Neither of which have any desire to explore ham radio beyond a disaster fetish in which they use their $25 BaoFeng HT to save the world. So what can ham radio operators do? Easy, reach out to the hacker community! First, allow me define the word hacker since there are nefarious connotations of the word’s meaning. When I use the word hacker, I’m talking about the type of individual who wants to comprehend how a given technology works and who explores all the possibilities that technology has to offer. These are the people who grew up dismantling electronics just to appreciate how they work, the people who stayed up late into the night teaching themselves to code, and these are the people ham radio needs to propel it further into the future. To attract and retain hackers within the ham community there are a few things that we need to do.

1. Stop Primarly Promoting Emergency Communications

Every day I see on the r/amateurradio subreddit a number of people who solely promote ham radio’s role in emergency communications. Does it have a place within the hobby and community? Certainly, however, there is little interest from the hacker community in relaying messages about the state of the weather during a thunderstorm. Ham radio offers so much morel. You do it a disservice when you either dismiss the other areas of the hobby as secondary to emergency communications or fail to mention them at all. For crying out loud, we launch our own communications satellites and utilize them every day. Satellite communications, the blending of RF and VoIP to communicate around the world, software defined radio represent the things we need to promote to the hacker community. To effectively communicate, identify your audience.

2. Start Promoting Software Defined Radio

Will SDRs like the HackRF One be the future of ham radio?

Will SDRs like the HackRF One be the future of ham radio?

There is a lot of interesting work that’s currently being done within the hacker community with RF. Most of this work is currently centered around WiFi, LoRa, IoT networks. It not difficult to imagine someone who has an interest in these communication technologies wouldn’t be open to software defined radio. They just need to be presented with easy to understand examples and a little encouragement to become licensed. Kelly Albrink’s 2020 DerpCon talk Ham Hacks: Breaking into the World of Software Defined Radio does just that.

Software Defined Radio is here and we as hams need to explore all the potential the technology has to offer. Currently full SDR transceivers are available from Flex Radio, and the major ham radio manufactures are beginning to produce hybrid SDR transceivers. With SDRs such as the BladeRF 2.0, LimeSDR and the HackRF One the entry point into software defined radio is relatively low. These lowcost SDRs make excellent platforms for experimentation within the VHF/UHF bands. The YouTube channel Tech Minds has some excellent videos of what these little radios can do.

3. Provide Communities That Foster Technical Discussion and Exploration

It’s been my experience that local radio club are more focused on emergency communications rather than the more technical aspects of ham radio (Seriously, why so much obsession with emergency communications?). Most of the anecdotal evidence I’ve collected has suggested this is a common occurrence around the United States. This type of focus doesn’t foster an environment of learning and exploration. Why would the hacker community want to participate, in discussions about who’s going provide communications “support” on the corner of Elm and Main St. during the annual Forth of July parade? You need to create the type of environment where the discussion is focused on RF technology. If you can’t do that locally in person or over the air, then it’s time to turn to the digital voice modes. That’s right, DStar, DMR, and System Fusion provide an opportunity to essentially create local communities of common interest. Access to these communities are as easy as connecting to one’s hotspot; I guess you could present the argument that some repeaters are connected to these digital networks and blah blah blah. Hotspots! That’s what the cool kids are doing these days. As an aside, check out my new hotspot.

Introducing the Radio Hackers YSF Reflector

In my efforts to better understand the System Fusion and WiresX Network and how they relate to each other, I created a YSF Reflector called Radio Hackers. As you may have guessed this is the beginning stages of the hacker community, I’m fostering among ham radio operators. This is by nowhere complete and I welcome you to assist me in any way that you can. The most significant thing you can do is inform others and join in on the discussion on the reflector.

If anyone knows more about bridging networks together with XLX please reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you more. My contact information is provided on the home page of this site.

Radio Hackers YSF Reflector Status

As of 2021-02-11 the Radio Hackers YSF reflector has been shut down for the time being. See my post Shutting Down the Radio Hackers YSF Reflector for addtional details.