AMATEUR RADIO AT CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY

Concordia University holds callsigns VE2CUA (SGW campus) VE2CLO (Loyola campus) and VE2RCU. The station trustee is VE2JBP Robert Paknys, a professor in electrical and computer engineering.

The amateur radio repeater VE2RCU operates on 147.045 MHz(+) with no PL tone and an EIRP of 50 Watts. The repeater is housed by the faculty of engineering and computer science.

WHAT IS AMATEUR RADIO?

The following is directed towards technically inclined people who want to learn about practical aspects of radio.

Q: The first question is usually "Why use amateur radio when you can use the phone and/or Internet"?

A: This question is almost impossible to answer. Why do some people ride a motorcycle if they can drive a car? Why read books if there is TV? And so on...

In short, amateur radio, or "ham radio" is fun. It is the hobby of radio communication. It is certainly different from using a phone or the Internet. However, you might not really "get" it unless you try it.

Contacts can be person-to-person, or with groups. The mode can be voice, video, or a keyboard. Some like to use Morse code, to cut though the noise under weak-signal conditions. Some hams participate in organized international contests, trying to contact as many stations as possible, in a limited time. In some countries, amateur radio contesting is officially designated as a sport.

An important function for many hams is volunteering as experienced "message handlers" and coordinators for sporting events, parades, and other civic events. In disasters such as floods, parts of the phone system can be destroyed. Cellphone systems quickly fail when there is no power. Hams assist the Red Cross, municipal governments, and other such organizations.

A distinct feature of amateur radio is that unlike the telephone or Internet, the vast majority of communication occurs by using the transmission and reception of radio waves through the air. To reach people thousands of kilometers away, you might bounce your signal off the earth's ionosphere or bounce it off the moon, or even work through an amateur satellite. You can use a repeater on a tall city building to relay your signal and contact other hams around town. Hikers use hand-held radios in regions where cell phone coverage is poor or nonexistent. You can even talk to astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).

Some hams connect their computer to a radio, and use the radio to contact an Internet gateway. It is not necessary for you to have an Internet service provider (ISP), phone line, or cable TV. You can send email from a ship in the middle of the ocean.

Some hams buy their equipment, set it up and focus on making contacts. Others might experiment with antennas, electronics, and computers. Some are active as communications volunteers. What you get involved with is a personal choice.

What kinds of people do this stuff? Amateur radio is a worldwide hobby, so you can expect to meet many different types of people on the air. You do have to pass an exam... but it's not that hard, and well worth it.

SOME DEEPER QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q1: Can't I do wireless computer networking (WiFi) already?

A1: Yes, you can, but only over distances of several hundred feet. A radio amateur license entitles you to experiment with high-gain antennas and amplifiers. Ranges of 100 km at 2.4 GHz are entirely feasible. You are also allowed access to other frequency bands that are off limits to consumer-oriented WiFi products.

Q2: How is amateur radio different from CB or FRS?

A2: CB and FRS are limited to voice only and low power. Hams are able to transmit and receive voice, video, and data. Digital communications can involve computers, with the soundcard plugged into a radio. This permits radio teletype (RTTY), phase-shift keying (PSK31) and other modes.

A licensed radio amateur is permitted to use high-power transmitters, typically 5 to 100 Watts, and in some cases as much as 2250 Watts. (The exact power limit depends on the type of license you hold.)

Q3: How far can I communicate?

A3: This depends on a lot of things. Most hams begin by purchasing a small 5 Watt VHF hand-held transceiver. Much like a VHF television signal, the range performance can be from just a few km to over 200 km, depending on the location and height of your antenna.

To avoid the need for an elaborate antenna, many hams use a VHF or UHF "repeater". This is a is a transmit/receive relay station that is usually located at a favorable location such as a mountaintop or the roof of a tall city building. This can reliably extend your range to 20 km- 200 km. Repeaters are set up and maintained by hams in many cities, often as part of a club. They are generally open for use by anyone who holds an amateur radio license.

Another mode of long-distance communication uses the high-frequency (HF) bands in the 1.8 MHz- 30 MHz range. HF signals are able to reflect off the ionosphere and propagate over thousands of kilometers. This is exactly what "short wave" broadcasters use.

Amateur radio satellite communication is also possible. The multinational amateur radio organization AMSAT (AMateur SATellite) supports the development, launch, and maintenenance of amateur radio satellites. In this case, communication is possible over half of the earth. Microwave frequencies are often used, opening up the option of very high speed digital communications.

Q4: How does amateur radio relate to the Internet?

A4: Ham activity links up with the Internet- if you're interested. But, you can take it or leave it. The Internet is more of an option, rather than a requirement, for world-wide communication.

Some repeaters (mentioned above in Q3) are set up with their input/output connected to a computer and the Internet. This allows for the interconnection of repeaters, using the Internet Relay Linking Project (IRLP). You can then use your hand-held radio for portable VoIP into repeaters around the world.

Some repeaters are configured as Internet gateways. Your home computer, with its own IP address, can contact a remote gateway, via radio. Then, for example, you can telnet from the Internet at a friend's house into your home computer.

Q5: Why do I need a license?

A5: To ensure that you have an adequate technical knowledge so that (a) you know about the proper procedures of station identification and orderly communication with other ham stations (b) you don't accidentally interfere with other radio systems, amateur or commercial (c) you don't cause interference to radio and television receivers, and (d) you know about safe operating practices- it is possible to get burned or even killed by a high power radio frequency transmitter.

Q6: I heard that I must learn Morse code to get a license. Is this true?

A6: No. There are two types of exams, leading to "Basic" and "Advanced" Certificates. (Most people call it a License, but legally speaking, it's a Certificate.)

The "Basic" exam covers some basic electronics, safety aspects, and operating practices. The Basic Certificate entitles you to operate in the ham bands above 30 MHz. In practical terms, this means you can do pretty much everything described above, except for using the so-called high frequency, or "HF bands". You are allowed to use a transmitter that is commercially made, or built from a pre-packaged kit.

If you score 80 % or more on the Basic exam then you are also given access to the HF ham bands at 30 MHz and below.

There is an "Advanced" exam mainly on electronics and safety. With this qualification you are entitled to using maximum power, and a home-made transmitter of your own design. You are also permitted to modify commercially made transmitters and kits.

You can take a "Morse Code" exam and have this qualification on your certificate. This is useful if you wish to operate on HF when travelling to foreign countries that have a Morse code requirement.

Q7: What can I build without a license?

A7: Any students interested in projects involving radio transmitters should be aware of the following federal regulation. You must comply with Industry Canada's requirement RSS-210 - Low Power License-Exempt Radiocommunication Devices (All Frequency Bands). In particular, see Section 5.14: Home-Built Devices, and Section 8: Standards For Low-Power Devices Identified as Category II Equipment.

STUDYING TO GET YOUR LICENSE

To obtain study guidance and sample exams, your first stop should be the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) website. This is the national body representing amateur radio. See also Coax Publications for study guides.

I sketched out some block diagrams, which are helpful for understanding some of the technical content in the exams.

You can take an Amateur Radio course that is offered by the Montreal Amateur Radio Club (MARC) every January. Or, if you prefer, you can take the self-study route. That club also administers the exam every April; contact them to find out the precise date.

All radio transmissions, including amateur radio, are regulated by Industry Canada. On the website, use the search term "amateur radio".

SOME FURTHER READING

To learn more about the myriad of topics discussed above, I recommend that you visit the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

Amateur radio satellites are managed by AmSat.

Radios and radio books can be purchased from many outlets; consider using a local supplier, Radio HF.

Note: Industry Canada (IC) has been renamed "Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)."


Last update May 24, 2018 by Robert Paknys VE2JBP.