I understand that the trend in amateur radio these days is towards self regulation. However, recent events in the digital sub-bands lead me to believe that this is just a recipe for chaos. I refer to the recent appearance of ROS, a 2.2kHz wide digital mode apparently developed for weak signal work.
Soon after the ROS software was made generally available, chaos ensued with ROS users causing interference to IBP beacons, established APRS and ALE networks and Olivia users, not to mention other ROS users. Any chances of making DX low-power contacts were dashed by the number of people trying to use a limited number of frequencies to make short range QSOs that could have been accomplished using PSK31 and one twentieth of the bandwidth.
The band plans do not set aside specific sections of the digital sub-band for different modes. I am told that this is so as not to hinder experimentation. However, many popular modes such as PSK31, WSPR, Olivia etc. have established their presence on various parts of the bands and this is normally honoured by "gentleman's agreement." This all goes out the window when someone posts on the net that a new mode is available and hundreds of people download software and go mad with their new "toy" without any authoritative guidance as to where to operate.
The experience with ROS throws into question whether different digital modes can co-exist in the same band space. Many digital users seem to treat signals in another mode as QRM to be transmitted over rather than somebody else's contact. The problem in the case of ROS is exacerbated by the fact that the transmission of this mode is 2.2kHz wide, which makes it harder to avoid causing interference to somebody. I think we should also be asking if there ought to be a limit on the width of digital modes that can be used on the HF bands, because there just isn't enough space in the digital sub band for many people to each have a clear 2.2kHz wide channel.
I am not against experimentation, and would suggest that a small part of each band be set aside for experimental modes, experiments being conducted by the developer and a few chosen testers. However, before a mode can be made available for general use it should be approved by an international committee which would take into consideration the benefits of the mode, the amount of bandwidth it occupies and what frequencies it may be used on.
CC: Andy Talbot, G4JNT, Data Modes columnist