In yesterday’s post, I poked a bit about the record number of US amateur licensees announcement, and asked someone to explain why that was a good thing or not. I ask because if you step back and examine where the hobby seems to be headed, a reasonable person might conclude that preparations are already underway for us to accommodate a whole lot more signals on the air.
Let me explain…
I’ve spent a more than a year exploring the D-STAR system and I get it. It’s useful, interesting, and a thriving slice of amateur radio technology. But among those just kicking the tires of the digital voice modes echoes a common complaint — why does the audio sound so compressed and thin? Repeater users have become accustomed to the audio fidelity of FM and many see the “tin can” sound of D-STAR to be a step backwards.
D-STAR developers and advocates would push back and tell you that it’s all about reducing the bandwidth. A commonly chanted mantra is that you can fit two D-STAR repeaters, (and theoretically three), in the same occupied bandwidth of a single FM repeater. They will tell you that means we can squeeze in a lot more repeaters across the countryside. A fact that might not be so easily brushed aside if there weren’t already 5,000 FM repeaters that haven’t so much as been ker-chunked in the last 90 days.
It sure seems like the digital voice folks are building in a lot of capacity for future growth and have been willing to forego audio quality to do it.
The same can be said of the newest HF digital modes that are technically amazing and offer the possibility of radio contacts with others using very low-power and nearly non-existent antennas. Of course, these aren’t really intended to promote an actual conversation. No, these provide the ability for two computers to exchange unimportant tidbits of data.
A common thread among all of them from PSK31 to JT9 is that they consume less bandwidth than traditional modes and are able to accommodate multiple users in the same bandwidth as one SSB transmission. It’s interesting but it also raises the question, who are we making all this additional room for?
You wouldn’t be wrong if you said that most of this digital juju was being adopted by those on the bleeding edge and it’s nowhere near ubiquitous in the ham radio world. But there remains this common thread among digital developers — that they all want to make room to accommodate more users in the same bandwidth.
Which brings me full-circle to my initial question and I’m waiting for someone to provide a credible answer.
Let’s say 2013 is the year that ham radio exploded and by the end of the year, there are 1.5 million US licensees. Will we continue to promote and recruit new enthusiasts at that point?
At what point do we realize that, in order to accommodate all those who we’ve worked so diligently to attract, the usable modes become so devoid of human contact that our kind of radio becomes something we no longer recognize — or enjoy?
On the other hand, this old magazine image suggested that wireless telegraphy would ruin human relationships more than a century ago.
So perhaps this is all just a matter of degree and all forms of communication that don’t involve face-to-face human contact diminish our humanity and simply represent another unintended consequence of our advancing technology?