Ham radio is also called amateur radio. There is just one major distinction that sets amateur radio apart from other forms of radio communication services: it’s more of an experimentation hobby than formal communication with protocols and commercial usage.
The radio frequencies are used by a lot of different telecommunication services. Some users are cellphones, some are radio channels. But all those are official, and most of them commercial in some way. Ham radio, or amateur radio, is the complete opposite. It’s about using those radio frequencies in a non-commercial way for experimentation, as a hobby, and for emergency communication sometimes. Check the next section for all the uses of ham radio.
Don’t be fooled. The name might have “amateur” in it, but ham radio is nothing short of professionalism. The non-commercial nature of the usage of ham radio is the only thing that keeps it an “amateur” service of sorts. Learn more about it in the second section.
The many uses of ham radio
It’s called amateur radio for a reason. It’s utilized primarily for non-professional work. For example, if a plumber wants to contact their head office from their job site, they won’t be using ham radio.
Here are the uses of ham radio in the modern context:
- Message exchange and communication of the non-commercial nature: Communication is the primary usage whenever it comes to any kind of radio service. Here, the exchange of messages is of non-commercial nature. The subjects vary from region to region, but it can be used for a lot of things, local news being extremely helpful for the area’s residents.
- Experimentation with wireless technology: A lot of people become quite fascinated with radio technology at a very young age. Ham radio gives them the opportunity to do further experimentation with transmission and reception of long-distance communication, often requiring them to build parts of hardware for the entire system themselves.
- Recreation and hobby: As a hobby, ham radio gives one more room to explore, because the license means you can use better equipment and have lesser restrictions. Private recreation is a large part of overall ham radio usage.
- Emergency communication: Ham radio enables users to indulge in emergency communication when other services are down due to natural disasters. Ham radio equipment easily run on batteries or generators. Therefore, they can be used to dispatch critical information, advice, and warnings, as well as run as the standard emergency communication channel when other services are down, including cellphones.
- Contests and radio sports: There are many radio contests that ham radios facilitate. Besides contests, there are radio sports, award ceremonies, and entire groups devoted to exchange contest information.
Amateur radio: not so amateur after all
Technical knowledge, licensing, and the importance of building your own parts actually makes amateur radio one of the most non-amateur hobbies.
Do you know that ham radio can even be used to contact the International Space Station? Well, the reason is a lot of astronauts aboard the ISS use ham radio themselves! There are lots of amateur radio equipment on the International Space Station. If you hope to contact the ISS, you have many options, like the ARISS-US team has a bi-yearly plan to accept proposals from US educational institutes to build contact with a crew member on the ISS. NASA astronaut Col. Doug Wheelock who is a flight engineer for the Expedition 24, uses the NA1SS amateur radio station to make contact using his Kenwood TM-D700E transceiver. He uses it from the Zvezda Service Module aboard the ISS.
Furthermore, there are entire networks and groups of people who coordinate to use the ham radio service. There are many ham radio stations that not only make contact with individual “hams,” but also participate in discussions as groups. These round table discussions are often terms “rag chew sessions”.
There are also “Net Controls,” which are basically radio stations that facilitate regular on-air meetings with fellow “nets.” Although nets can run many different kinds of communication like emergency communication training, self-training programs, round table discussion platforms, etc. they are most widely known to be home to “chat rooms” for specific interests. This serves as a powerful platform.
A lot of us might wonder at one point of time or the other, why the name “ham” for this radio service. Well, the etymology breaks down to this: In the 19th century, many wire telegraphy operators had poor Morse code sending skills. Morse code is still a huge part of telecommunications. These users were called ham-fisted.
Soon afterward, wireless telegraphy, the radio, and host of other communication technologies were invented. The term continued to be a sign of nuisance for unskilled or amateur operators across the land- and sea-based services that people used to communicate with.
However, the amateur radio community adopted the term ham with quite the pride. With the 20th century, the word ham radio lost its derogatory meaning and was used with pride instead.
Licensing: what you need to do in order to have a functional ham radio service yourself?
If you plan on having a working ham radio service, there are certain requirements you must meet to qualify for the license. There are also various technical training programs that help you build relevant skills.
Radio waves travel cross-country, so a lot of licensing laws are regulated by international organizations like the World Radio Conferences and the International Telecommunication Union. But the actual licensing is done by organizations within a country.
There are many countries that have organizations in place to license common citizens to use the amateur radio service. How do you get a license? You need to show your understanding of key aspects, the environmental impact, technical knowledge, and so on. This is usually done by passing an exam.
If you pass an exam like that and receive a license, you can operate more powerful equipment. This enables you to operate in a wider segment of the entire radio frequency spectrum, have equipment with higher power levels (unlike CB radio, PMR446, and FRS), as well as use a larger variety of telecommunication techniques without any hassles or legal trouble.
What’s the point of licensing besides the free-hand in running a less restricted radio service than others like the CB radio? Well, you are not limited by mode, range, and power that limits many others.