[Olsr-users] ham radio and community wifi

Bob Keyes (spam-protected)
Thu Oct 2 08:01:50 CEST 2008

On Thu, 2 Oct 2008, Kim Hawtin wrote:

> Hi Bob,
> Bob Keyes wrote:
>> any ham radio users on this list?
> I think you will find a few.


> There are many folks that have trod the path to HAM radio via
> WiFi after needing to understand more about radio and radio systems
> in the quest for better WiFi systems =)

I started off as a radio guy back when I was a kid, but I was also 
interested in computers. When computers became available to me, they 
eclipsed my radio interest, but I always continued my interest in some 
way. Years ago, there was little that could be done with Amateur Radio if 
you couldn't master morse code (I used to lock up when challenged in 
code (such as an exam), which was also the case with foreign languages - 
luckily I am getting better at both). With the CDA in 1996 I banded 
together with others to overcome the threat - and found that radio was the 
only way. We tried to use pre-wifi wireless data cards, such as the early 
Wavelan devices, but didn't have much success (those cards SUCKED!). The 
threat of the CDA has receeded, and with it the interest of some of our 
crew (I think they were mostly worried that they couldn't get their pr0n 
over the net). But some hard-core types, like myself, have stuck it out, 
and with the relaxation and eventual dismissal of morse code requirements 
in the US, we have obtained (and advanced) our amateur radio licenses.

>> I've got my license. I am trying to
>> revive the slowly dying ham radio club at my university. It's got a lot of
>> resources but not many members, and is particularly short of
>> undergraduates. It's the oldest club in the US (centennial in 2009), the
>> Harvard Wireless Club (W1AF). I am thinking that the club can attract new
>> members by expanding its projects in terms of datacomm, particularly by
>> branching out into areas which are not ham radio per se, such as
>> community wifi.
> The main issue that I have come across is the requirement not to carry
> 'third party' traffic on HAM networks.

Yes, and this is a good thing - to a point. I think that amateur radio and 
community wifi networks can intersect at a point, and as long as traffic 
is handled correctly, the law is obeyed. For instance, different IP space 
on a wifi router can determine how packets are routed and filtered. The IP 
space can either be static, or assigned by DHCP, with the differentiation 
being the SSID to which one associated - ham or public.

At the same time, it is important to keep in mind the purpose of the 
regulations on amateur radio content, and use that to discern what traffic 
is allowed on amateur networks and what is prohibited. For instance, the 
prohibition on encryption (at least in the USA, I don't know about other 
countries) was enacted to allow the policing of amateur frequencies to 
prevent commercial traffic from being passed. As such, there is no 
prohibition against digital signatures. Signed packets are all the 
security that is neccessary for a wide variety of applications.

> Otherwise some countries have limitations on not carrying commercial
> traffic on WiFi networks, but as long as its all for 'hobbyist' purposes
> you should be fine =)

I recall that there is great troubles for amateur packet data networks in 
Germany, but I believe these have been resolved. In any case, Germany (and 
Austria) seem to have very healthy community wifi networks, so I am not 
sure that they need as much help as English speaking countries such as the 
US and Commonwealth countries.

>> Those of you who are University students may want to see if you have a ham
>> radio club. Most universities which are medium or large do, particularly
>> if they are schools with a strong engineering program. Colleges known more
>> for liberal arts often have ham radio clubs, but they are often
>> atrophying. I recall that the Dartmouth club was in danger of death.
> Many clubs are undergoing change. We have seen some clubs shrink and merge.
> Others grow significantly.

Around here, the MIT club is healthy, but I am told there was a membership 
crisis a few years back. It would be interesting to see if there is a 
commonality between University radio clubs that prosper, or a link between 
those that wither and fail.

> The change to the regs. to change the 'novice' type license to a new 
> 'foundation' license in VK land has created all sorts of interest from 
> 'community wireless' clubs and associations (read using WiFi for 
> computer networking).

Yes, and this is good. That term 'wireless' was displaced by radio years 
ago (1930s?) but came back again at the close of the last century and has 
now displaced 'radio'. Well, my club has had 'wireless' in its name, and 
never 'radio', for 99 years ;)

>> I have to repeat, that this club has an amazing amount of resources (radio
>> gear, test equipment, computers, space, money).
> I was surprised to see the same when I joined my local club =)

Well, there's a lot of accumulated history (and equipment!). I am sitting 
(alone) in a radio shack with $30,000 worth of equipment (at least - 
never mind the collectors value of the "museum pieces").

I was appalled at the rather inefficient, paper-based exams and processing 
at the exam session I recently attended in order to upgrade my license to 
'general' class. I blame this process on the delay in my advancement from 
being reflected in the FCC database (it's been two weeks). I believe that 
an efficient examination process, using computers as opposed to paper, 
would be an asset to those who would become licensed operators. I don't 
know where the breakdown in technology exists, but I suspect that it is 
not with the FCC (government).

I'd also like to breach the subject of the real gap between the analog and 
digital electronics people around here. The radio guys seem afraid of 
computers (especially Linux) and the computer guys seem to not be able to 
grok radio (nor, often, see the reason to do so - even when they are 
working on wifi networks)! It's a bad situation, and I hope that it is 
something that can be fixed. I'd like to think of myself as equally 
half-assed in each sphere (making myself a full ass).

It's too late to catch a train or bus home, so I am stuck at the ham shack 
until morning.

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