WAPR News - February, 2003

By Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

Hello everyone, hope you're staying warm. It's been a less typical winter here in Wisconsin. At the time of this writing, we've been in a cold snap after above-normal temperatures. This has been hard to get used to.

More on 802.11b

In December, I mentioned the efforts of the ARRL High-Speed Multi-Media Working Group and their work on the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard with the goal of bringing it to ham radio.

Lately it seems that the pace of activity in this newer (for us) method of data transmission has increased. There has been more public comment, as well as more activity on the 2.4 GHz band. By "public" I not only mean the general hamming public, but also the general computing public. There are more than a few misconceptions about our presence there, and the word is now just getting out about our allocation in that band. Many non-ham computer users are apprehensive about our presence there.

I have done a little reading on this in forums frequented by the so-called "Computer Geek" crowd and am somewhat surprised at the lack of knowledge shown on this subject. These Part-15 users are not only ignorant of ham radio's role in emergency communications (they cite the familiar "Everything will be all right - we've got Cellphones" argument), but also concerned that we'll come up on that band with high-powered amplifiers and "swamp" existing operations. They don't realize that we currently have authorization to operate on a portion of that band, and that we are subject to Automatic Power Control rules which prevent us from running a Kilowatt-powered station. They also don't realize that Part-15 users are afforded no protection from users that are "FCC allocated", and must not interfere with them.

They also don't realize that we don't necessarily wish to "take over" the ISM/Part 15 portion of 2.4 GHz and would prefer to operate within our own allocation. Some of the Part 15 spread-spectrum "channels" are placed in the amateur allocations, and we'd prefer to not interect with existing Part-15 users. Not only are there legal issues involved in allowing our network to be used by non-licensed people, but there are strategic reasons as well.

Ham radio has a long and proud tradition of emergency operating and packet radio is (ar at least should be) an integral part of this operation. We really don't want to "mix it up" with non-licensed users as we could be shooting ourselves in the foot when we need the bandwidth required for emergency operating. More on that in a little bit.

We'd simply like to move forward and do what we normally do - carry on hobby communications and drills in anticipation of the times we will be needed - times of emergency, when normal communications channels are overloaded or out completely.

While the ARRL has made progress in technical standards and the like, nothing has been firmed-up just yet. As a result, anyone who wishes - meaning non-licensed people - can have access to your 802.11b equipped packet setup. For those who are operating these Part-15 devices as Amateur Radio Operators, I make the following suggestions:

While all of this may seem excessively paranoid (we generally trust our fellow ham radio operators), we are now in the real "networked" world. And the real world can be a scary place.

Why We Need High-Speed Packet

I have been "Beating the Drum" for high-speed packet for quite some time, citing the need to provide computer network services in times of emergency. While I'd hardly call myself a visionary, it was with great interest that I saw a message that made it's rounds through the packet system. Mike, DL1GBM put it out on the packet BBS system, quoting an article that originally appeared in Computerworld. Although it has a date of 2001, it supports what I and others have been saying for the last few years. I'll sumarrize it here.

The article explains how the System Administration Networking and Security Institute (SANS) has asked ham radio operators to consider setting up an emergency network designed to carry emergency traffic in times of internet outages, communications infrastructure emergencies, and the like. The article has comments from ARRL President Jim Haynie, who says this is right up our alley. And of course, he is right.

In effect, this is a call to action on our part, one that has not received much publicity and has not been answered as of yet. If we don't do this, we will be "routed around" - meaning that someone will listen and form their own emergency groups to fill this need. Which would leave us out in the cold and make us, in effect, not needed.

Here is where I do a little bit of editorializing. We can't meet this challenge with our current infrastructure, period. We need more solid activity by packet and current non-packet amateurs in order to make this a reality. We need people who know and are comfortable working with the internet.

This may be a good time, especially now that we are moving toward the 802.11b wireless standard for packet radio, to "buddy-up" to that computer person you may know - the one that works with computers, has a technical interest, and maybe has a spark of radio interest in their soul. Introduce him or her to Amateur Radio and let them know of the potential of the hobby, and how they can do a lot of experimentation in our hobby that they may not be able to do elsewhere.

In order to understand all of the subleties of this situation, I refer you to the complete article via this link:


Please take this to heart and realize that we are being called to action, and we should listen and respond. Even though the article is dated a year-and-a-half ago, the situation has not changed and recent events have shown us just how vulnerable the internet is.

That's all for this month. Until next time, 73 from Andy.


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