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The real masters

The real masters
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First Published: Tue, Mar 23 2010. 09 33 PM IST

On the pulse: India has around 16,000 HAM radio operators. Raajan / Mint
On the pulse: India has around 16,000 HAM radio operators. Raajan / Mint
Updated: Tue, Mar 23 2010. 09 33 PM IST
Simply put, any amateur radio is referred to as “HAM radio” and the operators are called “Hams”. By definition, the term amateur would imply that the radio and its operator are either committed to helping communities or pursue it out of individual interest without any ambition of financial compensation, unlike commercial radio operators.
The term amateur is not a reflection on the capabilities of the system or the skill of the operator. It simply indicates that the operators are committed to helping communities without financial gain. This also helps as a classification basis for the licence, with enthusiast licences (for Hams) being cheaper than commercial ones.
On the pulse: India has around 16,000 HAM radio operators. Raajan / Mint
HAM radio operators usually enjoy communication with each other and can support their communities during emergencies or disasters such as floods, earthquakes, cyclones, or whenever “normal” communications fail. Simultaneously, they can learn more about electronics and radio communication theory.
According to rough industry estimates, there were around 16,000 operators in India in 2008, and around six million worldwide. HAM radio operators also regularly participate in contests where they go on air and compete to see who can make the most contacts in a specified time. Some lucky Hams get to speak with astronauts since space stations have HAM radio equipment and some astronauts use them to make contact with base stations.
Since there is no censorship board for amateur radios, there are two generally accepted guidelines for amateurs. Think of them as fair-use policies:
• HAM radio is a hobby and cannot be used for personal financial gain.
•HAM radio operators cannot “broadcast” to the public. This means that HAM radio transmissions are meant to be received only by other HAM radio operators. While a short-wave radio will allow you to listen to HAM radio bands, what you will hear is Hams talking to other Hams, not music or other radio programmes of “general” interest. (Note: HAM radio operators are designated or known by their call signs. These call signs consist of a country code and a unique identification number, which is issued by a central regulatory authority.)
Getting started
If you prefer a structured approach, you can get involved in the amateur radio field by finding a local club on the Internet. The club will provide information about licences and local operating practices. It will also provide technical advice, such as information about purchasing equipment locally. Many clubs organize meetings and classes to teach the basic skills of radio operation and prepare people for their HAM radio licence test. At the end of the classes, a test is given. If you pass, you’re a ham. You can also learn the skills on your own, by reading books or getting help from another amateur radio operator.
Meeting point
Ham meets are organized in India too. Hamfest India has been an annual event since 1991; last year, it was held in Bangalore, alongside the golden jubilee celebrations of the Bangalore Amateur Radio Club VU2ARC.
Most major cities have clubs. And Hams also meet up in January, March, June, August, October and December in Ajmer, Bangalore, Darjeeling, Gorakhpur, Jalandhar, Goa, Mangalore, Shillong, Ranchi, Srinagar and a few other other places where the monitoring organization of the ministry of communication and information technology has offices.
Licence and examination details
Most amateurs purchase a hand-held VHF or UHF (or a combined “dual-band” VHF+UHF) radio. You have the option of connecting an external antenna at your home for extended range. A mere hand-held, running at low power, is sufficient to gain access to most local repeaters, so this is enough to get you started. The price of these hand-helds can be obtained from manufacturers and varies with the make and features. Some popular brands are Alinco, Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu.
Amateur radio transceivers can be made by enthusiasts with locally available components. Several Hams have come up with their circuit design, PCBs (printed circuit boards) and construction of low-cost amateur radio equipment. You will need this when you have passed the Restricted Grade II class “no code” licence test and are looking for a radio.
Equipment you will need
Amateur radio operators have to qualify in an examination conducted by the Union ministry of communication and information technology and obtain a licence for operating/possessing a radio station. Any individual above the age of 12 is permitted to appear for the Amateur Station Operator License Examination; no educational qualification is prescribed. It takes just two months (which means training for 2 hours a day) to become eligible for the examination.
One should clear a simple test in three subjects:
• Morse code (transmission and reception)
• Communication procedure
•Basic electronics
The officer in charge, wireless monitoring station, of the Union government’s department of telecommunications (DoT) is the authority for conducting these tests in the applicant’s own town, provided there are a sufficient number of applicants. The licences are issued by the wireless planning and coordination wing of DoT, after the test has been successfully completed in any of the following grades:
a) Restricted Grade II—Permitting use of VHF/UHF only (i.e., walkie-talkies)
b) Grade II—permitting HF/VHF/UHF frequencies but with limited transmitting power
c) Grade I—permitting all amateur frequencies with higher power, including the latest techniques
d) Advance Grade—permitting higher power and advanced techniques, including satellite communication.
The ability to handle Morse code at the rate of five words per minute, sending-receiving, will make you eligible for Grade II, and 12 words per minute, sending and receiving, will make you eligible for Grade I. For the Advanced Grade, a higher level of technical knowledge in electronics is essentially required. Basic knowledge can be obtained by purchasing study manuals and books on Morse code from any of the amateur clubs.
The exam fee should be paid in the form of a demand draft drawn only from the State Bank of India in favour of “Pay & Accounts Officer (Head Quarters), department of telecommunications, New Delhi” and payable at New Delhi service Branch No. 7687. The fee structure is as follows: For Grade II or Restricted Grade II, Rs10; for Grade I, Rs20; and for Advance Grade, Rs25.
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First Published: Tue, Mar 23 2010. 09 33 PM IST
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