Welcome to the broadband networks column. During Austin Summerfest, I was appointed as Special Services Assistant Director – Broadband Networks by West Gulf Division Director, David Woolweaver, K5RAV. I’ll be providing material in this column to share ideas on amateur radio communications techniques gaining popularity in different areas across the country.
I believe amateur radio has reached an important turning point, one that has implications for all served agencies and hams who are involved in disaster response. This turning point is the concept of broadband awareness. Let me explain, If you have a home wireless network fed by a cable modem, DSL link or a fiber feed from your TV provider, you already use broadband. If you set up your wireless router yourself, you have already configured a broadband network. If you use a smart phone, laptop or tablet computer to connect to the Internet, you use broadband to do so.
Amateur radio is quickly able to deliver a range of standard services. We come to the scene with VHF and UHF voice nets, situational awareness, position reporting via APRS and long-distance communications via Winlink over HF. We can quickly organize ourselves to assist in site to site communications, event status reports, and the transport of small attachments along with email over Winlink. However, our served agencies don’t normally operate in that manner. They have laptops and cameras. They request supplies and turn in reports via email. They call people in other offices or join conference calls, and view video clips or presentations of each other’s pictures. This information moves between computers at an office and from this office to other locations via Internet protocol at broadband speeds. What amateur radio does NOT bring to the table is a data network that is faster than a dial up modem.
However, amateur radio can do more. New tools are now available to deliver broadband speeds in the field via battery-powered, portable computer networks that are quickly set up and used at the site. Tools available on these networks include Web servers to share information, network drives to provide reference documents, IP cameras showing live video, VoIP telephone systems complete with a portable PBX, ham responder tracking databases and keyboard chat services to assist hams who administer the network. These networks are set up and operated by network skilled amateur radio operators. When needed, the laptops, document scanners and local printers needed by our served agencies can be attached to these networks and used on-site.
To remain relevant in a data-driven world we need to expand the skill set of at least a portion of our member hams to deliver broadband services that allow served agencies to use similar tools to the ones employed in their offices.
Amateur radio benefits by raising the skill level of hams able to respond to disasters or specific events. Becoming broadband aware also presents amateur radio to the non-ham public filled with computer programmers, network engineers, and wireless or Wi-Fi specialists who believe amateur radio has nothing to offer in their world. It will also appeal to the young people who are smart phone users because they regard fast networks as second nature. These users aspire to be programmers and network specialists, systems administrators, and application developers, or authors of the next killer smart phone app. These non-hams should become members of the amateur radio community and contribute their skills doing something they enjoy. The “broadband aware” viewpoint needs to become a part of our public service activities.
In future columns, I will cover details of what now exists, how it can be used, and the training we need to undertake to do so.