Chapter Nine: Technological Future
9.1 Changing Technology
Veteran radio amateurs have witnessed remarkable changes over the past 75 years, from sparks to satellites. But relative newcomers to the hobby have also seen dramatic changes; the advancement of electronics technology has been more nearly exponential than linear over the years. Particularly in the last decade have new devices, techniques, and processes opened doors to possibilities not dreamed of earlier. And promises abound of even greater changes to come.
Technological progress of the human race has outstripped its behavioral development so rapidly that mankind now lacks the maturity to manage and employ for its collective benefits the abundance flowing from its scientific achievements. Whether or not this view is merited, we must acknowledge that examples of misuse exist within our own amateur ranks.
We must take care, therefore, to ensure that whatever scientific breakthroughs and revelations await us in the decades ahead, their application is in harmony with the basic purpose of the Amateur Radio Service. Improvement of the human condition, not technological progress alone, should be the ultimate goal of science.
Attempts to pierce the veil of the future produce tantalizing glimpses of some of the opportunities that beckon. Although it is possible to extrapolate on what is presently known and understood, affairs may intrude in unexpected ways to alter the nature of the future. Let's take a guess at what changing technology will produce in five years, ten years, and twenty years. The following sections give skeletal portrayals of the future scene as it may emerge for Amateur Radio.
9.2 Five Years
- Increasing use of packet-radio techniques.
- Expanded use of home computers in Amateur Radio communications.
- Growing use of visual displays for CW and RTTY, and of electronic keyboards and programmable keyers.
- More extensive linking of repeaters and remote base stations at 220 MHz and higher.
- Digital voice experimentation.
- Increased use of ASCII communications.
- First geostationary amateur satellite. 8) Increased use of solar, natural and alternative sources of power.
- Improved networks for disaster communications, with national and hemispheric coverage.
9.3 Ten Years
- Routine portable and mobile communications through satellites.
- Widespread use of digital techniques on amateur bands.
- Refinements in application of selective and personal calling devices.
- Development of practical narrow-band video transmission systems.
- Possible General World Administrative Radio Conference.
- Increasing number of computer commanded and controlled stations.
- Availability of computer-stored information on wide range of topics for access by radio.
- Continued assistance for scientific investigation.
9.4 Twenty Years
- Worldwide geostationary satellites capability for ATV and high speed data rate communications.
- Linking of satellites for worldwide coverage.
- Development of new communications systems, permitting denser spectrum occupancy.
- Probable General World Administrative Radio Conference.
- Many homes with some form of computer.
- Increased use of the moon as a passive reflector in routine amateur communication.
These last predictions take into account the nature of our world and its society twenty years from now; however, they are extremely speculative. Our sustained collective efforts might, by that time, have produced worldwide recognition of Amateur Radio. It will be available to all qualified citizens who will be aware of its vital role in public service, a contribution to the quality of life, an entitlement to continued public and governmental support, and an encouragement as an avocational pursuit.
9.5 Traffic Technology
There is promise of new and exciting changes in the future of the National Traffic System (NTS) and the way it operates. Digital techniques such as packet radio, AMTOR and spread spectrum are already past the experimental stages, not to mention the unlimited possibilities by utilization of the new generation of satellites being launched.
The ARRL Committee on Amateur Radio Digital Communications is studying the question of how to incorporate the new techniques into our Amateur, Radio Operation, a topic that is also being discussed by the National Traffic System's three Area Staffs at their meetings and by other traffic and public-service minded amateurs. While our present system is adequate for most of the traffic we handle, it certainly does not take advantage of what radio communication can offer and is not really suited for emergency communications, despite the fact that the National Traffic System is the long-distance arm of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service.
The new technology will be used in traffic work, regardless of whether NTS makes provisions for it or not, If not, NTS may become irrelevant as an emergency service. But if NTS finds a way to incorporate digital communications on a regular reliable basis, Amateur Radio will be able to provide a nationwide emergency communication service to meet almost any need, with traffic being delivered in a matter of seconds-not hours.
There will still be important applications for traffic handling with current methods, such as handling health and welfare traffic in a communications emergency. Health and welfare traffic tends to be neglected by those involved in preparation for emergency communications because they rightly believe official traffic is more important. But, in most cases, there is ample opportunity to handle both. If they are not to interfere they should be kept separate with teams for each. Let the ARES people handle the official traffic, which is usually local in nature, and the NTS people take care of the health and welfare long-haul traffic.
The most effective traffic system of the future will probably combine the best features of new technology with our traditional ways. Extensive use will be made of satellites, linked repeaters, packet communications, AMTOR, electronic mailboxes, automatic switching, HF, VHF, UHF, and microwaves. But the high-tech system will be accessible to amateurs without sophisticated equipment. It should be possible to program the microprocessor at any station where amateurs have access to the system, in such a way that CW can be used if CW is the only mode available to the amateur. FM and repeaters have given our VHF bands a completely new look. Sideband did the same a generation ago on HF. Even the rest of this decade could prove to be very interesting!
9.6 Technology and Skill
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, and we have difficulty trying to exercise our hobby in an age of computers and modern technology. Certainly, Amateur Radio has a place for everyone in its state of confusion; experimenters, observers, talkers, and listeners may all find room in our truly democratic hobby.
As the science of radio progresses, it is only fitting that we show no resistance to keeping ourselves current. Sure, we should know more. We should study advancements in theory, construction, and methods of communication-but we dare not lose the foundations upon which today's hobby is built. We must not forget our history or neglect to practice the skills which have served us so well.
Don't be an appliance operator. Don't forget some of the basics in operating technique and skills. Don't limit yourself to one activity or mode. Do keep your CW skills in practice. Do listen more than you transmit. Do some building or tinkering as well as operating. Do understand and learn all you can about the technical aspects of radio operation.