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NU9N SSB Audio News Editorial - May, 2005

(Is It A Good Idea - Or A Terrible Idea?)

About NU9NNU9N News - May, 2005

Do We Really Need New 3 kHz Phone Bandwidth Rules?

Since the inception of Amateur Radio, hams have enjoyed an outlet and means to experiment, create, design and enjoy the implementation of new ideas without any major restrictions regarding modes of phone bandwidth.

Now, word has it that the ARRL is getting ready to propose a "3kHz" SSB (J3E) bandwidth restriction for phone emissions operating within the HF bands.

Some have argued, and not very convincingly, that a 3kHz SSB bandwidth limitation would give way for more operators to squeeze into our overcrowded HF SSB phone bands. But I should point out that we are loosing more amateur operators than we are gaining! And, even if a good case were made that the HF amateur bands are overcrowded, I would be quick to point out that it is primarily because of the way that the ARRL has influenced the current FCC licensing structure to accommodate membership with little or no technical training. I often hear the ARRL complain about two things; The amateur HF bands are overcrowded - and - The amateur HF bands are underpopulated and we need more membership to keep it alive! Well, which is it?

Because of competing voice communications technologies like "Voice Over Internet", CB, Skype, and even EchoLink for hams, the HF phone spectrum will soon be underpopulated in my opinion, if we do not bring in fresh amateurs. Especially the CW sub-band with less amateurs than ever concerned about CW due to recent changes in the amateur radio licensing requirements. After listening to the high quality attributes of the Internet voice protocols, is it any wonder why young people do not want anything to do with amateur radio SSB audio that sounds like a tin-can or Donald Duck with distortion?

How To Bring In New Amateur Operators
I believe a perfect way to capture the interest of young people is to keep in the spirit of experimental radio and inform them that amateur radio phone does NOT have to sound bad as it has in the past. I know from personal experience those who have initially shown an interest in amateur radio until they heard how bad it sounded, at which point they were not interested. Conversely, those who I have talked to considering an amateur radio license who have heard what eSSB (Extended Single Sideband) sounds like have been more than excited about getting their license and setting up their audio for high quality sound.

eSSB (Extended Single Sideband) actually has several advantages over traditionally narrow SSB:
- Better Signal To Nose Ratio
- Less Fatiguing to Listen To
- Inherently Cleaner Because Distortion Is An Audiophile's Arch Enemy!
- Higher Reliability in Communications Accuracy
- Encourages Experimentation and Learning
- Encourages New Amateur Membership, Thus Protection Of Our Bands and New Commerce

For more on eSSB details, see the "eSSB Apologetics Pages".

To listen to a 10 minute eSSB segment from Art Bell on his "Coast to Coast" Broadcast, and from a 10 minute interview I had with "This Week In Amateur Radio" regarding eSSB, click here.
Copyright © 2005 TWIAR - All Rights Reserved

If the ARRL were to actually push their 3kHz SSB bandwidth agenda, not only would thousands of us have to go backwards in audio technology and scrap our current transceivers and processors, but thousands more would potentially not be interested in our amateur service due to the general "crappy" sound of standard SSB practice. There are other problems as well including how to implement such a restriction with the current influx of new advanced transceivers and the older gear that does not have any "narrow" bandwidth options at all. Not to mention (although I'm going to) that the "Radio-Cop" self regulating approach to enforcement has never really worked on a large scale, especially so since I have found very few individuals who even know how to properly assess an operators occupied RF bandwidth or how to accurately measure someone's I.M.D.

Besides, The FCC, in their recent ruling (DA-04 3661) regarding the petition "RM-10740" filed by a couple of disgruntled hams that wanted to limit SSB phone to 2.7kHz and AM phone to 5.4 kHz, was flat out rejected and denied by the FCC, that basically stated that they did not want to impose any new restrictions in the amateur radio service, where experimentation is its basis and purpose, or create any new rules in a service that has sufficient rules in place currently to manage operations. The FCC got it right... and did so for the protection of our amateur radio service as defined in FCC Part 97.1 as stated below.

Protect and Defend §97.1 - The Basis and Purpose of the Amateur Radio Service
I know that it would seem that my agenda here is specifically promoting eSSB practices (Better sounding SSB) so that I can feel more justified in the operation of a wider SSB mode. And even though there is an element of truth to that in my reasoning, there is a bigger issue at hand that is much more important to me than just eSSB operations. It's the protection of the basic philosophy of Amateur Radio itself; Non-Intrusiveness by governmental agencies regarding the experimental aspect and mandate of Amateur Radio! Why was this service, or hobby if you prefer invented? Simple; Read the following in FCC Part 97.1b, c and d:

FCC Part §97.1 - Basis and Purpose of the Amateur Radio Service
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians and electronic experts.

How can we really pursue these important philosophies if we are hog-tied with more restrictive rules?

A Better ARRL Proposal
I have said this before and so have many others, but it is worth mentioning again... If the ARRL really wants to better accommodate the changing interests in amateur radio and give EVERYBODY a better way to get along, they should forget about any new bandwidth rule and start thinking about two things; 1) Restructure the HF CW sub-bands giving some of that wasted bandwidth that is not being used to phone, and 2) Partition the HF spectrum by mode, so that CW, standard SSB, eSSB, AM and Digital modes are totally in separate portions of the band! This way, anyone wanting to experiment with wider SSB modes can do so without worrying about interfering with those who are only interested in the traditional SSB operations, and vice-versa! This would also give a long needed break to the AM operators who put up with constant QRMing from Sidebanders in the so called "AM Windows" who act like AM doesn't even exist or act as if it shouldn't. Well, it does and it should!

If the "CW ONLY" sub bands (typically 200 kHz wide) were restructured to about 50 kHz, which in my opinion would still be plenty for this extremely narrow mode given the fact that CW operators are getting fewer and farther between, then 150 kHz of recovered bandwidth could be given over to phone modes where the bandwidth is really needed. The AM'ers could be given a reasonable band segment where they no longer have to operate 5 kHz apart and then squeeze everyone into a 15 kHz window. That's insane... Even CB AM'ers enjoy 10 kHz frequency spacing.

Given the huge interest in eSSB and the general desire to experiment with technology, especially with new Digital forms of audio on the horizon, I believe the ARRL's rumored 3 kHz bandwidth proposal is a terrible idea. We do not need a restructure that is more restrictive, but if anything, we need one that is more accommodating to amateurs wanting to explore and "advance the state of the art"! The current lack of bandwidth restrictions is a good thing and we as ham operators can find a way to make it all work so that we can all enjoy our freedoms without additional RF handcuffs.

I think it is time that we all respect each other's personal interests in the ham radio, weather it be CW, SSB, eSSB, AM, Contesting, Paper Chasing, Nets, or whatever... It's also time that the VEC's and the traditional operators wake up and smell the new coffee that's brewing in the 2000's where more and more hams are becoming concerned about signal quality and not just signal quantity. Lets embrace technology and not be afraid of it just because it is not the old standard or because it is something new that we are not familiar with or educated about. To quote a famous cliché; let's "Live, and let live!"

Again, Amateur Radio is an experimenter's hobby. It is also a service to our community. It is a medium in which we can share our help, our passions, our ideas and simply play radio. Enjoy it, embrace it, experiment with it and encourage it... But above all... Protect it !!!


John Anning, N U 9 N

John M. Anning - NU9N
Phone: 1-815-631-5042
  e-Mail NU9N
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