Monday, March 22, 2010

Giving up the fight

Back in December I wrote that the RSGB had set up a Spectrum Defence Fund to enable radio amateurs to contribute towards the cost of a legal challenge to the UK spectrum management authority's failure to take action over the interference caused by power line networking devices. Pleased to see some positive action being taken I made a donation and also posted links on my blog and website to encourage others to do the same.

Today I noticed, at the end of the RSGB Annual Report, the statement that "following advice from the Society's solicitors ... it was decided not to proceed at this time with any legal action." So the RSGB has given up the fight and I have removed the links to the Spectrum Defence Fund from my website so that no-one else wastes any money on it.

Although PLT devices are a killer for any radio amateur unfortunate enough to live next door to one, it is clear from the noise at my own station and the comments I received from others with a similar problem that PLT is just the thick end of the wedge. A far greater number of short wave enthusiasts are having their enjoyment of HF ruined because of rising noise levels from a multiplicity of devices that individually would not be particularly intrusive. Whilst it is possible to track down and do something about a PLT installation, eliminating the noise that most of us in urban areas now experience from all directions would require the willingness of all neighbours to co-operate with finding the interference-generating devices and agreeing to replace them. This isn't likely to happen. I fear the battle to keep the short wave bands free of interference is over and ham radio is a lost cause.

The only place to enjoy HF radio nowadays is out in the country, which unless you happen to live there means operating portable or mobile. The question is whether only being able to operate portable or mobile is enough to maintain most people's enthusiasm? Although I recently enjoyed operating from my car on a couple of fine afternoons, it is no substitute for being able to go into the shack on a wet day or a winter evening and have a tune around and make a few contacts. I find I am turning on my K3 less and less often these days and when I do I often turn it off again soon afterwards without making any QSOs.

Will ham radio will still exist in ten years' time? Many former short wave and FM radio stations now broadcast over the internet rather than the airwaves and I suspect that an increasing number of ham radio operators will end up doing the same. They will get worn down by the losing battle against electrical noise and antenna restrictions and be forced to swallow their objections and switch to online "virtual ionospheres" like QSONet and HamSphere (shown above) where there is no QRN. You only need to visit the HamSphere site to see the number of amateur license holders that have taken this step already.

The RSGB's apparent acceptance that it can't fight even a clear case of interference to short waves is clear evidence that this is a war we can't win. Final surrender is just a matter of time.


M0JEK said...

Hi Julian,

I don't think we should give up totally, but rather try and work around the problem? How about working using the computer power we have around us these days, and use fancy digital modes that can "pull out" signals deep in the noise, much like the "not to be named in this QTH" mode. I enjoy the hobby from both the social aspect, chatting to other HAMS either on the radio or via the "internet", and the technical side, the hands on. It will be a shame to throw away our skills.
I do understand, I am often depressed when I turn on the radio and hear nothing but painful noise.
The other day I connected to an EchoLink HF node in New Zealand, and tuned it to 80m (Ok, being a EchoLink Gateway, it has set frequencies), and my was it quite, i.e no QRM, just QRN :-)

I often get the feeling that amateur radio does not get the recognition in the UK as it seems to get in many other countries. It could be that unlike faraway places, where radio is a life line, here in the UK, it is now seen as just a curious hobby.



Jeff Davis, KE9V said...

Hi Julian. I have seen the clip of the intereference at your home QTH and it's very disheartening. The mass migration away from HF as a result of the proliferation of the Internet seems really to be an issue about 'romance' versus 'content'.

For instance, those here in the States who want to listen to audio from the BBC or other international sources would do best to listen online. In this case, radio is simply a transport agent to get data from one location to another and now there's a much more robust "agent".

For those who prefer to experiment, tinker, build their own, or who actually prefer to listen to music through deep fades and static crashes, radio is a romance.

Like you, I suspect that those who prefer the content, sans the old-time romance, are not only in the majority, but are going to prevail.

Unknown said...

André, I realized recently that my reluctance to use any other mode than digital except on VHF was a subconscious reaction to the noise I'm subjected to using modes I need to listen to. But digital modes lack the romance (as Jeff says) of hearing a distant person's voice or hand-sent CW.

I enjoy the discussion with other hams but I prefer to do it by blogging, or by participating in forums and mailing lists, rather than by pretending to be on the radio as with HamSphere, which cannot provide the excitement of not knowing what propagation God (or the ionosphere) will throw your way until it happens.

I also like to tinker, have some technical input to the station I'm using, which is why I've tried but stopped short of being a regular user of one of the W4MQ Remote Base operated stations like HB9Z.

I may end up being one of those hams who only uses his transmit privileges to verify that something I've made actually works. But there are times when it's nice to just turn on a radio and talk to people, and that seems to be getting more and more difficult.

Paul M0PCZ said...

Hi Julian, as a newly licensed M6 I feel very sad reading your post, I currently (touch wood) do not suffer any man-made interference but I know that I would feel the same as you do currently should that situation ever change.

Fingers crossed and the wind in the right direction, I hope to continue to enjoy this fine hobby.

73 Paul

takis perreas said...

I am sorry to hear that Julian.
I thought RSGB was a RADIO society.
Maybe I was wrong!
Most of the time in London (South Tottenham) I don't have more than 3-4 S units of QRN on my TS-830s on most bands!
Don't give up!!!

Mark Salter said...

May I humbly suggest that RBSG are stating the current position and not any future plan not to act?

The text in the report actually says:-

17. Post Balance Sheet Event

During December 2009 a fund was established, (the Spectrum Defence
Fund), to contribute towards the legal costs that would be incurred in
the defence of the Radio Spectrum. In the first instance it was agreed
that the money raised would be used to meet the costs of the current
legal challenge to Ofcom in relation to the Power Line Adaptor issues.
Following advice from the Society's solicitors the Board conducted a
teleconference on 7 February 2010 during which it was decided not to
proceed at this time with any legal action. Donations received at the 31
December 2009 totalled £4,780 against costs of £13,400 These have been
included in the financial statements for the year ending 31 December 2009.

Unknown said...

Yes, Mark. However, if now is not the time to act, when is?

Unknown said...

I have received private email from a representative of the RSGB who felt that I had given a false impression of the Society's current position in this matter. He did not wish to post a comment himself. But he wished to make it clear that although the RSGB had been advised not to resort to legal action at this time it was still energetically pursuing the matter. Further information will, I am told, appear on the RSGB website later in the week.

Theodore said...

Hi Julian,
Sorry to hear about your situation. I am surprised about the virtual ionosphere hosting many hams.
I personally would never engage in that as it seems about as exciting as shooting lions in the zoo.
I use a vertical and have the usual problems with S7-8 noise from all the appliances around the community.
Digital modes are my salvation, as I can turn the sound down and use the waterfall for hunting and imagining the real thing!
With the sunspots improving, perhaps 17m or higher may prove less noisy, at least seems so here.
If you have the MFJ Loop still, would it improve things to have a stylish but quirky new sundial in the garden?
Anyway good luck, and stay in there, put in the 500hz filter, DSP on, and enjoy it as much as possible.
As an aside, and if you have time to reply, I am about to build a 1 metre diameter copper STL like the MFJ.
As I know you have a lot of experience with it, is it a reasonable DX antenna? Have you compared it to others?
Anyway, enough babble, love to read your blog, good luck and cheers.

Unknown said...

Hi Theodore. You are right, digital modes are the only answer. I'm just missing the feeling of actually hearing someone's signal pop out of the ether.

I still have the MFJ Loop, but the garden is my wife's domain and it's so small you can't get away from the noise anyway.

I have compared the MFJ loop in the attic with the dipole in the attic and they are quite evenly matched. Sometimes a signal is stronger on one than the other, but it can change. It would be interesting to try diversity reception, but I don't have the sub-rx option in my K3. But I have never heard a signal on one antenna that I couldn't hear on the other. Perhaps if I could hear right down to the atmospheric noise level I might notice a difference.