Thursday, August 22, 2013

Personal Reflections on Grove Interview

ALL views are the PERSONAL OPINION of this writer only, and DO NOT necessarily reflect any views or policies of Grove Enterprises/ Monitoring Times.

A number of points were made in this interview, by both the interviewer and the interviewee,  which raise interesting issues. They deserve some thought.  My summaries of these (in bold face) are from memory, and some are undoubtedly wrong.

Let's get this going:

HF utility radio will continue to lose listenable signals, and possibly eventually wither away completely.

Not likely.  What it will continue to lose is high powered USB voice signals, which once covered the maritime, aero, and fixed service bands. 

There is currently a lot of interest in developing high-speed data links over HF. This is something of a Holy Grail in military R&D right now. 

Research into this interesting technology continues. I have seen any number of PowerPoint presentations, documents, and such. These all say the same thing, which is that while satcom represents an advance over old style HF radio, it is not the guaranteed, always-on, global platform that it was once billed to be. If HF data rates can be increased from the current 600-1200 baud, which they probably can, it will sell a new generation of equipment.

The shortage of transmitter parts is forcing users off HF.

That's a maybe.  Right now, transmitter parts ARE short, and getting shorter, as new-old-stock inventories sell out and "parter" units are exhausted.  Indeed, this is one cause of the widely bemoaned problem that no one, at least in the USA, makes HF transmitters over 1 kW power any more.  However, if it's possible to find relatively affordable (if extremely bad) 8-10 kW amplifiers for 11 meters, which it is, then obviously someone's getting parts.

Things like this become cycles in economics.  Nobody wants it because nobody makes it, and nobody makes it because nobody wants it.

Sooner or later, someone will discover that demand still exceeds supply here, which it does, and sell an awful lot of stuff.

HF broadcasting has no commercial potential, and it will die.

HF broadcasting suffers from an identity crisis.  Its original purpose was never to sell toothpaste and sugary sodas.  They had local radio, or out-of-market AM flamethrowers, for that.  Its original purpose was for governments and religious organizations to sell themselves.

This demand declined to practically zero in many places, due to new technologies and the end of the Cold War. Suddenly, we were staring directly at the inconvenient truth that HF broadcasting has never had very much commercial potential. 

Thank goodness for that.  It's what made SWBC such fun.

SWBC is now revealed clearly as a niche product, and marketing to a niche audience has never been easy. A different model is necessary than the one used by, say, Clear Channel or Citadel.

The future of HF broadcasting, therefore, is undefined.  It's a mature technology looking for new uses.  However, until high speed Internet gets to the Third World, we will continue to see companies competing to sell wind-up and/or solar HF receivers.

The ionosphere is just too unreliable for modern communications.

Many recent advances in technology have come from the need to render the ionosphere as reliable as satcom. Both are subject to solar outages, and neither is invulnerable to the various causes of communication loss.  It appears that the modern military wants both, as do some civilian users.

It also remains a sometimes inconvenient truth that the ionosphere does not cost anything, while satellite time costs a lot.  Given that satcom is human-made, while the ionosphere just is, this will not change.

Digital communication offers ways to cope with the more common ionospheric issues, such as selective fading and changing signal levels. It's not spark gaps or people shouting into mikes any more.

Only backward countries want HF. Others want high-tech.

No, what's happened is that people always want The Latest Thing.  It's new, and sexy.  Its marketers promise everything short of making everyone's morning coffee.

It's also very, very, very expensive."Backward" countries also tend to be poor countries. This to a certain extent becomes more important than sexiness when it's time to actually spend money.

Eventually, someone listens to the engineers, and comms wind up on the frequencies and modes that do them best.  There is still an underlying need for people to communicate.

Contrast this with the so-called "First World," where the common pattern is to keep throwing money at an unsatisfactory communication system, trying to force it into working.  This is actually more common on the "scanner" frequencies (VHF/UHF). We have seen any number of American cities creating fiscal black holes as regards their emergency comm, forever adding or updating high tech gear while the problems stay the same.

The radio hobby's demographics are too old, and it might die along with the baby boomers.

This misconception is harder to get rid of than termites in Los Angeles.

Some activities appeal to a young demographic.  Some activities appeal to an older demographic.  This means a lot if you're selling zit cream, but it's relatively irrelevant for leisure time activities.

You never see anyone bemoaning the young demographics of, say, extreme skateboarding.  No one publishes one article after another predicting doom as soon as everyone involved hits 30.  Obviously, they don't have to, since new kids come in every day.

However, we do see everyone bemoaning the old demographics of radio, and predicting doom as soon as everyone doing it dies off.  No one ever considers that some of the people who gave up extreme skateboarding years ago might want a more peaceful pursuit. 

It is very likely that, in the computer age, radio is just an inherently older demographic. It certainly does appear that new adults come in every day. 

Stop worrying about The Kids.