Internet and HAM Radio

Internet seems to become more and more indispensable in the world of HAM Radio. Why, what and how?

Internet is a huge source of information right at your fingertips for anyone who knows where to go and how to use a search engine. Personally I’m a classical Internet user and I use Internet to collect information about topic I am interested in.
If I want to know about a certain type of radio I scan the users group for that radio or I check out YouTube for reviews for that radio. I am an active member of the Kenwood TS-480 mailing list on Yahoo. If I want to buy something, I check out eBay for prices, eHAM reviews to check out if im buying the right thing, vendor websites for manuals and webshops to find the right price for the article I want to buy. If i want to know where to send my QSL after i made contact, i can look that up in a callsign database. Do i need to go on?
But there is more you can do with Internet to make your HAM Radio hobby even more interesting as it already is.

DX Cluster

One of the most used functions HAM operators use not he Internet are the DX Clusters. A DX Cluster is a group of servers all over the world running a piece of software that allow operators to send Spots. These spots are replicated to all servers in the cluster, so if one operator sends a spot to one server, another operator can see that spot on the server he is connected to and then knows where, on what frequency, a station is active.

Now, clusters are a good and a bad thing. They are a good thing because operators are informed where the action is, so they don’t have to scan the band to find the next DX.
But for exactly the same reason clusters are a bad thing. Thousands of operators are following the cluster and if an interesting DX is published on the cluster, many of those thousands of operators immediately start calling to that DX. The result is a huge pile-up for any interesting station that is  published on the cluster.

If I look at myself, I am running with less than optimal station conditions. When an interesting DX is published on the cluster, many times for me the fun is over. It is almost impossible for me to work that station if thousands of stronger stations are calling. Therefor I have and am still developing strategies to hear and possibly work the DX before he is published on the cluster.

HAM Radio online

There are many radio operators who are willing to connect their radios to the Internet and make those radios available for other operators to listen what is happening on the air and sometimes even let them be used to make contacts.
What these operators have done is to publish their CAT control on the Internet (most of the times using the web) and stream the audio from the radio to the Internet. Like this they enable other operators to use a radio that might me geographically located thousands of miles away.

A good example of online transceivers is the website GlobalTuners.com

HAMSphere
HAMSphere is merely a HAM Radio simulation where you are connecting to a server that simulates real conditions. You are not really on the air like when operators hook up physical receivers to the Internet.
The reality of the simulation is fabulous and because you are not operating a real radio you don’t need an HAM Radio amateur license tu use it. Everything is there, people make contacts, conditions are varying day by day simulating propagation, people exchange QSL’s, etc. All just like in real HAM Radio.
I am a member of HAMSphere (although I don’t use it that much anymore lately) and I think it’s a great way of getting to know HAM Radio without having the need to build a station, get a license, etc.



EchoLink

EchoLink is a service where radio operators, mostly 2m operators, broadcast the audio of their radios on the Internet thus enhancing the reach of their radios. EchoLink can be used without owning a radio at all. You just install the software, connect to an existing radio and start talking.

I don’t like EchoLink. I see it as a bad quality MSN Messenger. But that’s probably because I don’t understand the purpose of EchoLink (yet).

Propagation Prediction
To be able to make contacts all depends on if there is propagation or not. Therefor there are plenty of websites that talk about propagation and show those typical propagation numbers. I don’t really know what those numbers mean, but if you want to know more about this (i don’t, really), you can read about it on Wikipedia or do a search on Google.

If you are like me and you don’t understand the numbers on the right here, you can go to a wonderful website called RigReference.
Not only does this website present you the technical specs and user reviews of all the rig you can think of, but also they publish nice propagation gadgets which translate these cryptic Solar-Terrestrial Data into something understandable you can even use on your own website or blog.

Now, for me, the ultimate in Propagation Prediction is the VOACAP (Voice of America Coverage Analysis Program).
Not only does this software create nice graphs of what the usable frequencies are in which part of the world and on what time of the day, but they also run an HP Prediction tool where you enter your station details, the receiver station details and the year and month you want to make the contact and VOACAP will calculate which are the best hours to try and which are the best frequencies to use.
For 11 meters it will calculate which areas of the world are best to work at what time of the day depending on the transmitter and receiver station configurations.

Example VOACAP output for 11 meter

As you can see, there are a lot of areas of HAM Radio where the Internet can help you finding what you need. However, all these tools don’t help you if you don’t know how to use your radio.
About how to tune your antennas, how to tune your audio, how to make a QSO efficiently and with respect for your fellow station calling, all those topics will be covered in future articles.

Again, if you have any comments, if you feel i missed something, if i got something wrong, please leave a message. I love feedback, good or (constructive) bad.