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Amateur-created “Varicode” Adopted as ITU Recommendation


On Tuesday, February 19, François Rancy -- Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau (ITU-R) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) -- announced the simultaneous adoption and approval by correspondence of a new Recommendation entitled Telegraphic Alphabet for Data Communication by Phase Shift Keying at 31 Baud in the Amateur and Amateur-Satellite Services. The alphabet -- commonly called “Varicode” because the more frequently used characters (in the English language) occupy fewer bits -- was developed by Peter Martinez, G3PLX, in the 1990s. Martinez was awarded the ARRL Technical Innovation Award for the year 2000 by the ARRL Board of Directors for his development of PSK31, which uses Varicode for transmission efficiency in much the same way as the Morse code. In ITU parlance, it now becomes Recommendation ITU-R M.2034.

Adoption of the Recommendation is the culmination of work conducted in ITU-R Study Group 5 and its Working Party 5A during 2011 and 2012. Working Party 5A is responsible for studies of techniques and frequency usage in the Amateur and Amateur-Satellite Services, as well as certain aspects of the land mobile and fixed services.

The Recommendation was proposed by the United States, and ARRL Chief Technology Officer Brennan Price, N4QX, advocated for the Recommendation’s adoption as United States spokesperson for Amateur Radio issues at Working Party 5A. “The text of the Recommendation borrows heavily from the technical description of PSK-31, prepared by Steven Karty, N5SK, on the ARRL’s website,” Price explained. “ Steven’s thorough description of Peter’s invention enjoyed relatively smooth sailing within the United States preparatory process and at the ITU.”

Adoption of an ITU-R Recommendation requires multiple levels of review. Following proposal by an administration, a draft Recommendation is vetted by one or more relevant ITU-R Drafting Groups, Working Groups, Working Parties and Study Groups, usually through several meeting cycles. “We are grateful to United States 5A delegates -- particularly delegation leadership from the FCC, NTIA and the State Department -- for supporting this effort at every step of the process,” Price said. “We also appreciate the deliberations of ITU delegates from dozens of countries who evaluated the draft as it proceeded to adoption and approval.”

“Nothing that radio amateurs do on the air will change as a result of this ITU decision, but it is significant nonetheless,” observed ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. “It provides further documentation in an important international forum of radio amateurs’ continuing creativity and contributions to the art and science of radio communication.”



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