WiFi: the new Ham Radio?

It used to be that the only way to experiment with radio transmission in the UK was to become a radio amateur, or radio ham. In order to be considered fit to do this, you had to pass one exam on a variety of technical topics and another one on the terms & conditions of the licence. In order to be permitted to work on the prized HF bands (below 30MHz), you then had to learn to send an receive Morse code at speeds exceeding 12 words per minute.

This ensured that radio amateurs were a pretty arcane breed ( I went through all this at the age of 14, earning the snappy call sign G6FNE, but I haven’t had cause to use it for many years). But the resulting experimentation produced lots of discoveries and innovation in fundamental radiowave propagation science and in many aspects of RF circuit design.

As computing rose in popularity, the sorts of peple who would formerly have been motivated to become radio amateurs turned their attention to experimentation with programming. The radio amateur authorities progressively relaxed the rules in order to attract new blood, but it is still very much a minority sport.

These days, the spirit of wireless experimenttation has been revived, however via the rise of technologies operating in licence-exempt bands, particularly WiFi. What’s more WiFi links the worlds of radio and computing, so that we no longer need to see these as separate worlds.

Mind you , I used to regularly speak with folks in Italy, and often further afield, using my amateur licence: try that with WiFi! (and no, WiMax doesn’t go that far!)


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