Thursday, July 03, 2008

HF: Defend It or Lose It!

I have never been more serious than right now. The use of HF radio is OVER unless all of us organize and fight with a single voice.

The situation:

Everyone wants high speed Internet access and digital video on demand. The current Internet cannot carry all this information. Whoever solves this problem will become very wealthy indeed, and will also have made a major contribution.

Unfortunately, in the rush to open up new information pipelines, a number of ill-conceived or self-serving schemes have emerged. For our purposes in the radio hobby, the worst of these is communication using power lines, which almost always involves putting wideband RF energy into ready-made antennas by any other name.

We haven't learned to live with BPL (Broadband Over Power Lines) yet, but now there is a far worse problem. It's PLC (Power Line Communication), and it's taking off like wildfire in Europe and South America. It's supported by the United Powerline Association, a global industry association with several very powerful and influential corporate members.

The first I knew that anything had gone badly, nightmarishly wrong was when two of this column's contributors in the UK suddenly stopped doing radio altogether. They reported huge blasts of high-pitched noise, hash, and general crud blanketing everything pretty much from DC to daylight.

Since this was new to the UK, it took a while to figure out what was going on there. What's happening is that British Telecom (BT; a phone company that also operates HF comm sites, and thus should know better) is providing its customers with power line adapters which send Ethernet through the house wiring. Not the power company's lines, but the wires in your house.

You plug one adapter from the Internet/Video on Demand box (called a BT Home Hub) into the power line, and plug in the second one near a television you want to use for the video.

It is probably well known to most technically aware people that Ethernet is basically RF. These adapters are broadband HF transmitters which turn your house into a giant radio station which can radiate hundreds of feet.

These are being made by the usual companies, and being widely promoted as the solution to the previous expense of running Ethernet cables through homes. These things will undoubtedly spread worldwide if they are not stopped right now.

The future:

It's not hard to imagine the result of millions of these gadgets being installed all over populated areas. The side effect will be the worldwide deployment the most effective HF jammer ever invented. It will create vast areas in our populated regions that are little more than HF exclusion zones. The HF spectrum, which used to belong to the public by way of its national and international licensing bodies, will have been hijacked!

As long as there's a buck to be made, there will be influential people and companies seeking to send RF through any available conductors for computer networking and digital media. Wires were designed to conduct electricity, fence off property, etc etc. They were never intended to be used in place of cable or Cat5 twisted pair. When used in this manner, they become antennas. It's simple physics.

The only conclusion:

HF is over unless we fight for it. As a hobby, we must become as united as the corporations we need to fight. We must make it clear that denying the use of internationally regulated radio services so that someone else can profit from cheap, badly designed consumer electronics is NEVER all right - EVER.

Let's get started.