NU9N SSB Audio News Editorial - January, 2004
NEW BAND PLANS? - WHERE ARE WE GOING?
The ARRL Is Trying To Simplify License Requirements
and Modify the Band Plans Again... Is This Good or Bad?
Read the ARRL Proposal by Clicking Here:
The ARRL has plans to convince the FCC to drop Morse code requirements for novices interested in working a portion of the Amateur HF phone bands and allocate additional frequencies.
I have mixed feelings about this... because I believe it is both good and bad. I will explain.
On one hand, I know that change is inevitable and often a necessary thing in order to keep up with ever changing technology and Amateur Radio interests. After all, the move from AM to SSB was change... The introduction of the digital
modes was change... The codeless tech privilages was change... The list goes on and on.
In 1986 when the ARRL convinced the FCC to change the license structuring so that novice operators could legally operate 10m phone from 28.3 ~ 28.5MHz at low power, it was enough incentive for me to get my Amateur Radio license! In my case,
at least, it was a welcome change and yet, I'm sure that there were seasoned operators who profoundly disagreed with the League on that decision. The "Codeless Tech" license also brought in many new hams to the fraternity who
have since upgraded to higher license classes. It was a nice way to introduce Amateur Radio to the average Joe while taking some of the sting and pain out of the entry level process.
The ARRL argued that we needed these license changes in order to bring in fresh blood to the hobby keeping it propagated, lest we loose operators faster than we gain them, leading to under-usage of the Amateur bands and possibly loosing
the bands to commercial interests. So in this sense, perhaps these changes have preserved the hobby, even at the cost of some technical integrity and truly qualified operators in the process. But I will always argue that a more educated
ham is not necessarily a better behaved ham! This is a separate issue as human nature can and does supersede knowledge to some degree. (Okay, so I'm getting philosophical here.) It worked, and the Amateur Radio bands are alive and kicking!
It can also be argued that US Amateur Radio licensing should be more compatible with international standards and band plans for various reasons that I can certainly agree with. If Amateur Radio is to work with international relationships,
we all need to be on the same page and on the same frequencies !!
On the other hand, like any specialized fraternity, there are certain minimum criteria and standards that need to be fulfilled in order to preserve the integrity and philosophy of such a given organization. Some feel that Amateur
Radio privileges are being so generously offered that the next evolutionary step in the licensing process may come from simply purchasing a box of a Crackerjacks! There would no longer be a distinction between an Amateur Radio operator
and a non-licensed non-technical two-way recreational radio operator. (Unfortunately, it is already starting to sound like this.)
Is it really too much to ask for an Amateur Radio operator candidate to be required to pass a 5 WPM code test for HF phone privileges? Even though CW operations are somewhat antiquated and not as widely used as in the golden years of Ham
Radio, it has been the distinguishing requirement for those serious enough and passionate enough to enter this privileged and technical hobby that holds a higher standard of responsibility than the non-licensed services.
We, as US citizens, often boast of our ingenuity, technical excellence and higher standard of moral responsibility. Perhaps we need to "Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is" regarding our higher standards. Will requiring Morse Code
insure that the fraternity will preserve such integrity? Perhaps not, but at least it will present a stumbling block to those who are not willing to "Pay A Price' for such privileges! And even though the rest of the international Amateur
community is lowing their standards, perhaps the more reason we need to hold to a higher standard of operating integrity. If I sound like a proud US Amateur Radio operator who worked hard for my license, I am.
My real question is this:
If the ARRL really believes that dropping CW requirements for Novice HF phone privileges is desirable and consistent with modern operating, and that the highest code speed required for any license should remain at 5 WPM, believing that
CW is antiquated and of little importance in these modern times, then why is nearly half of every HF band allocated for CW ??? This is absurd !! Especially since the average occupied bandwidth of a CW signal is only 400 Hz or less
One evening, I counted a total of 10 CW stations operating on a busy 75m band from 3.5 ~ 3.75 MHz. This is a 250 kHz wide segment for US CW operators with a an average bandwidth of 400 Hz each ! The allocated phone segment of 75m is from
3.750 ~ 4 MHz, the other 250 kHz of the band. However, SSB phone uses an average of 3kHz of bandwidth per station, and AM at least 6 kHz of bandwidth. If you average SSB and AM together, we could say the average phone signal needs about
4.5 kHz as compared to CW that only needs 400 Hz. Doing some simple math, and dividing 4500 by 400, we can say that phone requires 11.25 more bandwidth than CW for the same amount of operators. But even this is generous since there is only
a fraction of CW operators compared to phone, probably in the order of 1000:1. So, multiplying 11.25 times 1000 results in 11,250. So dividing the entire 75 band (500 kHz) by 11,250, the CW band should only require 44.44 kHz of bandwidth
! Not the current 250 kHz of bandwidth. 44.44 kHz can support many 400 Hz wide CW signals. Okay, lets be generous and make it an even 50 kHz. This would support 125 CW operators spaced 400 Hz apart. Actually it would support 250 operators
at once in any one demographic since they will most likely be communicating with another station. And in the light of propagation limitations, even more activity can be supported. You will NEVER find an HF band where there will be this
many CW operators at once at any given time.
And, What About AM?
After working the AM mode for the last few months, I have come to realize that these poor guys are operating in a couple of recognized 10 kHz windows for crying out loud. And even these frequencies are polluted and mixed with SSB activity
making the AM mode of operation nearly unworkable at times. It only seems right that some of the recovered CW bandwidth be designated for old fashioned AM and ONLY AM !!
The AM mode has seen much revival in the last few years as there are Amateur Radio operators who are traveling back in time to our phone roots. It is a very exciting mode and offers challenges and rewards not seen in some of the newer modes.
And, I am finding that the core of operators using AM are much more knowledgeable about electronics and radio in general than any other mode I have run across. This mode needs to be preserved and encouraged, espcecially for the newcommers
who want a taste of the old nastalgia that "Ham Radio" has been known for by those who handed it down to us.
10 kHz of an AM bandwidth window via a "Gentleman's Agreement" is pathetically narrow for this great mode. I strongly believe that the AM "Windows" on all bands should be expanded to at least 100 kHz, and again, be AM
ONLY and would support about 16 QSO's !!! This would still allow the other additional 100 kHz of recovered CW bandwidth for SSB. I also believe that the band plan for all modes should be segregated; a segment for CW, one for AM, one for
narrow SSB, one for wide SSB, one for SSTV, another for Packet, another for RTTY, etc... But most importantly... NOT ALL MIXED TOGETHER !!! CW has its own segment... Now it's time to segment the rest and divide it up accordingly. It is
simple, and EVERYONE is a winner... not a whiner!
The HF phone bands are populated enough. In fact, over populated given the minimum necessary bandwidth required to make the phone bands work with less QRM. Why add more codeless operators to the confusion, when simply adding and fairly
reallocating the phone bandwidth makes so much more sense in these modern times, especially given the fact that CW is so extremely over allocated in the bandplan and AM is so under allocated. 50 kHz of total bandwidth is more than enough
bandwidth to support CW in its current state. And adding the remaining 200 kHz for phone, plus the proposed extra 25 kHz for phone would make good sense, and be more compatible with international standards.
Keep the current code requirements, revise the phone and cw bandplans. That's my prescription for preserving some integrity and yet modernizing U.S. Amateur Radio for the 2000's and beyond !
-John Anning, NU9N