Worlds Collide: Wifi and HAM Radio

When you hear or read the terms Ham Radio or Amateur Radio, what images spring to mind? Are they pictures of old men taping away on a Morse code keyer? Maybe you imagine huge, HOA rule breaking, gaudy antennas?

While neither of these thoughts are technically incorrect, there is much more to the hobby. The core of the amateur radio hobby does seem to be the ability to communicate on a global scale, though to the relief many, Morse code has largely been replaced by voice communication. Still, there are many aspects of the hobby which I feel deserve some better advertising.

Before getting into the meat of this post, I’ll let you sample this tasty teaser for my next. We have satellites. Yes, there are satellites in low Earth orbit which were built by radio amateurs, are operated by radio amateurs, and are used daily by radio amateurs for voice communication. On a personal note, one of my most exciting accomplishments in radio was a voice contact with Col. Doug Wheelock while he was on-board the ISS.

You already work with radios in your everyday life. Take your smartphone for example; that little guy has no fewer than four radios. It’s the other radio you use commonly that is the focus on this post.

WiFi

WiFi is all around us. Homes, stores, offices, and schools around the world are flooded with the tiny 13cm waves of digital communication. In America, the FCC assigns portions of the RF spectrum to various user groups and regulates them under parts of US Title 47. Your WiFi router, and your operation of the radio(s) within, are regulated under part 15 of title 47; specifically as unlicensed operation.

To the layman this simply means that you are limited to using the device as it comes from the manufacturer. Some accessories are offered, such as slightly larger antennas, which boost performance but still keep the device under part 15 compliance.

The real fun happens in part 97 of Title 47. Amateur radio gets its own section of the law. We get big, high gain antennas. We use massive power amplifiers. In short, we get a lot of cool toys. So what happens if we strap some of those toys to the guts of a 2.4 GHz 802.11 radio?

Broadband HamNet happens.

The fine folks over at BBHN have created something quite beautiful. They've taken the flexibility of the old Linksys WRT54g, combined that with the capabilities of Open-WRT and OLSR mesh routing, and created a WiFi radio which auto detects and connects to the other modified routers within range creating a high speed, digital, 802.11g HAM radio network.

Here’s the trick: The first six channels of the 14 available within your router’s settings are shared with the 13cm band allocated to HAM radio. The BBHN firmware operates on channel 1 (2412 MHz), on which HAM radio is the primary operator, we get first use!

In the end, this opens a whole new world to HAM radio, and more importantly, the services radio amateurs provide during local emergencies. Did you know that the Red Cross uses volunteers from the HAM community to provide communications when shelters are activated, or that your local Emergency Operations Center depends on HAMs to provide reliable comms in the event that the cell towers become overloaded (common) or the trunked Fire/Police/EMT radio system is adversely effected by the emergency?

PLUG: Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES)

With BBHN, HAMs are no longer providing just voice communication; now we’re in the business of video streams, file transfers, text based chats, site hosting, and VoIP over high speed digital transmissions.

So what are you waiting for? Get your technician class amateur radio license and start playing with this exciting and rapidly growing next generation of HAM radio.

Study up, take some practice tests, and find your next local testing session.

Your Thoughts?

Please comment with your thoughts or ask questions on this topic.