Time to Change the FCC Rules for EmComm?

fcc-1The FCC continues to drive out any ambiguity on how it interprets Part 97.113. (See previous post EmComm Trouble From the FCC. ) On October 20th, the FCC released Public Notice DA-09-2259, which reiterates the principle of no amateur radio communication on behalf of an employer, even if the employer is a government agency such as a fire or police department. OK, I think they got that point across.

The FCC also described a process for requesting a waiver of this rule for a specific emergency preparedness drill. A governmental entity, not the amateur radio operators involved, must apply to the FCC for a waiver in advance of the drill. According to N5FDL, the FCC intends these waivers to be for very specific events and not a regularly scheduled activity such as a weekly net. This can help facilitate a major event but is still fairly limited. I wonder how many waiver requests the FCC be receiving? I suspect there will be many.

A group of radio amateurs, The Amateur Radio Policy Committee, consisting of N5GAR, WB6NOA and N5FDL have filed a Petition for Rule Making with the FCC to address this situation. Basically, they propose that an additional item be added to the section of  rules (Part 97.111) that calls out Authorized Transmissions:

(6) Transmissions necessary for disaster relief or emergency response, including training exercises, planning, drills or tests, without regard to whether the amateur operator has related employment, where the transmissions are for the exclusive use of amateur radio operators for noncommercial purposes.

This seems like a reasonable and measured approach to changing the rules to support emergency communications training activities, without opening the door too wide. I am not sure why they proposed to modify Part 97.111 instead of 97.113 where other employment exceptions are handled (e.g., control operator of a club station that sends telegraphy practice, teacher in a classroom setting). The RAIN Report has an interview with N5FDL concerning this petition.

I still believe the FCC could have avoided this ruckus with a slightly more liberal interpretation of the rules. They didn’t do that, so now we will have to go through the rule making process to deal with the situation. I suppose that the FCC could decline to address the issue but this seems unlikely to me given the legitimate public interest in supporting emergency communications. (Anyone remember 9/11 ?) We’ll likely get to a reasonable outcome that protects the amateur radio service from undesirable encroachment while still enabling emergency communications training.

What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

2009 Fall TechFest

Announcing the 2009 Fall TechFest, an all day technical program for the continuing education of ham radio operators

Schedule of Workshops
(times are tentative)
November 7, 2009
Morrison, Colorado

Time

Topics

9:00 –   9:50

Digital Modes

Jim Stitt, KAØNZZ

10:00 – 10:50

Ohm’s and Kirchhoff’s Laws

Larry Weinstein, KØNA

11:00 – 11:50

Block Diagrams And Schematics

Steve Finch, AIØW

12:00 – 12:50

Lunch (on your own) Question and Answer Session for those who stay to eat

1:00 – 1:50

What Test Equipment to Buy

Bob Witte, KØNR

2:00 – 2:50

Taking the Mystery Out of SWR

Bill Rinker, W6OAV

3:00 – 4:00

Propagation Basics

Larry Weinstein, KØNA

Additional Information

When

Saturday, November 7, 2009:  9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.   Check in:  8:00 – 8:45 a.m.

Registration

Space is limited! Pre-registration recommended. Please e-mail k0nnc@arrl.net to pre-register. Please pay at the door.

Cost *

$5.00 (cash only)

Where

The Inter Canyon Fire Department Station #1. Go to www.intercanyonfire.org. Click on “Our District”, then “1”, and then “Google Maps – Station 1″. The address is 7939 South Turkey Creek Road, Morrison, Colorado OR check our website – www.na0tc.org.

Carpooling is recommended.

Refreshments

Free coffee and water will be available. Muffins, rolls, soda pop will be available for purchase (cash only). PLEASE BRING A SACK LUNCH.

*The 285 TechConnect Radio Club will donate 50% of net proceeds from this event to Deer Creek Elementary School Ham Radio Program.

Website:    www.na0tc.org for more information.

Talk-in frequency 147.225 MHz

Handouts will be available on the website one week before the TechFest.

Pacifico Fake Ham Radio

I was flipping through the November 2009 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine and noticed an advertisement with the title “building your own ham radio”.

Wow, what’s up with that? It was an ad for Pacifico beer. The text in the ad says:

Become the envy of friends and locals as you join the elite club of fake ham radio operators worldwide.

A little searching on the interwebnet found this video:

Let’s see: beer, sand, beach, palm trees and ham radio…. now that is something I can relate to (but it might be a niche audience)!

73, Bob K0NR

AMSAT Focuses on LEO Cubesat

amsat-logo-semi-officialAMSAT has recognized that they need to get some new hardware flying in space and is now focused on getting a small LEO satellite developed. AO-51 (originally called ECHO) has been a very popular satellite and one of the few clear successes from AMSAT in recent years. It appears that the AMSAT engineering team has recognized this and wants to emulate that success.

>From AMSAT HQ SILVER SPRING, MD.
October 18, 2009
To All RADIO AMATEURS
BID: $ANS-291.01

The Board of Directors has adopted the Engineering Task Force
recommendation that low-cost launch options be immediately pursued.
The AMSAT engineering team will develop a 1U CubeSat design effective
immediately. Tony Monteiro, AA2TX, Vice-President of Engineering said,
"We are recommending an approach that gets AMSAT back up in space with
new satellites by leveraging the skills and technology we have today."

The new AMSAT CubeSat's initial capability is planned to add to the
popular low-earth orbit FM transponder fleet allowing hams to continue
to use their existing handheld and portable antenna systems. This also
allows an accessible entry path for new satellite operators to get
started. The existing FM satellites are starting to show their age.

The flight version of ARISSat-1 has been developed to fit into the
CubeSat model. AMSAT's flexible Software Defined Transponder (SDX),
simplified IHU, power control subsystem, external interfaces to ex-
perimental payloads and cameras will now allow a modular approach to
mission design using proven subsystems and components. The ARISSat-1
mission planned in 2010 will be the initial flight test of AMSAT's
modular satellite.

Here are some of the highlights ...

+ AMSAT will develop comparable AO-51 level of performance packaged
  into a 1U CubeSat. This includes a U-V transponder, V telemetry,
  U command receiver, IHU, power control. This can be done with our
  modular design.

+ This will be a U/V FM Transponder, not done before in a 1U CubeSat,
  which can be worked with a HT and a simple antenna. CubeSat power
  limitations are planned to be addressed through research and devel-
  opment of deployable solar-cells.

+ AMSAT will make our open-design satellite modules and technology
  available for other satellite teams to build into their missions.

+ This new approach will provide a reliable radio link for future
  CubeSats allowing university teams to concentrate on their scientific
  objectives.

+ The modular nature of the AMSAT CubeSat system will allow add-on
  missions utilizing several different types of modulation and band-
  width. These can be pursued with future low-cost CubeSat launch
  opportunities. 

AMSAT President, Barry Baines, WD4ASW Annual Meeting Powerpoint
Presentation has been posted at http://www.amsat.org

[ANS thanks the AMSAT Board of Directors for the above information]

/EX

AMSAT has often struggled with where to focus its energy, having a strong desire to get a High Earth Orbit (HEO) satellite deployed, but failing to pull it off. Also, there is considerable tension between doing something relatively simple (like an FM bird) and more advanced capability (linear transponder and advanced digital modes). Many of the techies in AMSAT want to do the next cool thing technically, and I do appreciate that. That desire sometimes drives things a bit too hard and has generated some very complex satellite designs. I am an AMSAT member but I am not in the loop on all the internal AMSAT politics.  (Be thankful for that, I think.)

I have had a lot of fun with the FM LEO satellites, activating and chasing grids. It is like a scheduled DX opening… you know when the “band” is going to open (for about 10 minutes) and you better work them fast. It has some of the same problems as working DX in that the single channel pile ups on the satellite can be very frustrating. I managed to check the box on Satellite VUCC and I activated a number of rare grids (e.g., FK52 as PJ4/K0NR).

Would I rather have a super whizzy HEO bird that sits overhead for hours supporting a wide swath of frequencies and all kinds of neat digital modes?  You betcha. But it seems that we don’t have the capability to pull that off.

What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

Update on the Crossband Repeater Project

In a previous blog posting, I wrote about the construction of a portable VHF/UHF crossband repeater. I published the results of this project in my FM/Repeater column for the Fall 2008 issue of CQ VHF Magzine. I’ve adapted portions of the article to provide an update here.

To deal with the issues of identification and control, I decided to use a repeater controller to control two independent 2M/70 cm transceivers. Most repeater controllers are set up for conventional repeater control with a fixed receiver and fixed transmitter. What I needed was a controller that incorporated the concept of two independent transceivers that could be linked together, independently controlled and independently identified. The NRHC-6 Bridging Repeater Controller is designed to handle this specific case of connecting two transceivers. The block diagram of this crossband repeater system is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Repeater system block diagram

Figure 1. Repeater system block diagram

I used a pair of FT-7800R transceivers which have a packet port on the rear panel that provides a convenient interface point for the repeater controller. This port has the required transmit audio, receive audio, PTT line and squelch line. The squelch line indicates the condition of the receive squelch, including the effects of CTCSS decode if enabled in the transceiver. (Not all transceivers behave this way… some only provide carrier squelch even if CTCSS decode is enabled.) Table 1 shows the signals available from the packet port and how they are used in the repeater interface.

Table 1. FT-7800R Packet Port

Pin

Label

Description

Repeater Interface

1

PKD (Data In)

Packet Data Input

Transmit Audio

2

GND

Signal Ground

Ground

3

PTT

Ground to Transmit

PTT

4

RX9600

9600 bps Packet Data Output

5

RX1200

1200 bps Packet Data Output

Receive Audio

6

PKS (SQL)

Squelch Control

CAS

The NHRC-6 controller has a versatile feature set that requires some programming to make it work. It supports two radio ports which can be configured to handle two back-to-back simplex radios. The controller has DTMF control, which can be accessed from either radio port. The five saved setups are handy for storing away specific repeater configurations. Each radio port can have its own courtesy tone and CW identifier, along with the usual set of hang timer, ID timer, timeout timer, etc. The crossband repeater can be turned on and off remotely using DTMF on either band.

Figure 1 shows two separate antennas, one for 2 Meters and one for 70 cm. In most cases, I use one dualband antenna and a 2M/70 cm duplexer to allow the two radios to feed the antenna. I also keep the radios set at less than full power to minimize the heat dissipation problem.

figure-5-crossband-repeater-system
Figure 2. The crossband repeater in a 19-inch rack mount case.

This crossband repeater is housed in a portable case that has standard 19-inch rack hardware (Figure 2). The two transceivers are mounted to a 19-inch shelf using their normal mobile mounts. The NHRC-6 controller has its own 19-inch rack mountable chassis. The case has a front and rear panel covers that snap on, protecting the equipment during transit. The system runs off of 12 VDC. I did not include an AC power supply inside the case. Depending on the location, I simply connect the repeater to a 12 volt car battery or a compact AC switching power supply.

I’ve used this repeater as a standalone UHF repeater by adding a small mobile duplexer to provide transmit/receive isolation. Of course, in this case, the two transceivers both operate on the 440 MHz band with 5 MHz offset. I’ve also used it as a crossband repeater, usually to extend the range of a 2 Meter repeater.

- 73, Bob K0NR

Golf November Tango

when-all-else-fails-logoAmateur radio has a deep tradition of providing emergency communications during all kinds of disasters. Of course, some emergencies are more urgent and serious than others.

The Golf November Tango frequency is an important frequency to always have programmed into your radio. Established as 146.55 MHz ( FM simplex, no CTCSS), the GNT Frequency is the critical logistics channel for certain types of incidents (to use ICS terminology).

This all started when three ham radio operators found themselves stranded on the shore of Lake Michigan. Well, actually they were not so much stranded as just sitting there watching the waves roll in. Without warning, they found themselves getting thirsty without any liquid refreshment in sight. Rather than make the long, treacherous walk back to the beach house, a 2M FM transceiver was employed to make the critical call. Fortunately, the wives of these dehydrated amateurs were also FCC licensed amateur radio operators monitoring the designated GNT frequency.

Without delay, communication was established with the beach house and the critical resupply of Gin and Tonic was delivered. There was some thought that the guys on the beach were just being lazy, but the requested GNTs were quickly dispatched anyway.

After that incident, 146.55 MHz was established as the GNT Frequency for all of North America.

Like they say, When All Else Fails.

73, Bob K0NR