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April 17, 2020

Why World Amateur Radio Day is key to highlight crucial services: Timothy Ellam

World Amateur Radio Day is being observed on Saturday, 18 April. Timothy Ellam, President of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) shares his views on why the day is important and how amateur radio plays an important role in improving lives worldwide.

What is the significance of this day to your association and members?

Every April 18, radio amateurs worldwide take to the airwaves in celebration of World Amateur Radio Day. It was on this day in 1925 that the International Amateur Radio Union was formed in Paris.

Amateur Radio experimenters were the first to discover that the short-wave spectrum — far from being a wasteland — could support worldwide propagation. Amateur Radio pioneers met in Paris in 1925 and created the IARU to support Amateur Radio worldwide.

Since its founding, the IARU has worked tirelessly to defend and expand the frequency allocations for Amateur Radio. Thanks to the support of enlightened administrations in every part of the globe, radio amateurs are now able to experiment and communicate in frequency bands strategically located throughout the radio spectrum.

“Today, Amateur Radio is more popular than ever, with more than 3,000,000 licensed operators!”

From the 25 countries that formed the IARU in 1925, the IARU has grown to include over 160 member-societies in three regions. IARU Region 1 includes Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Northern Asia. Region 2 covers the Americas, and Region 3 is comprised of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific island nations, and most of Asia.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has recognized the IARU as representing the interests of Amateur Radio. Today, Amateur Radio is more popular than ever, with more than 3,000,000 licensed operators!

April 18 is the day for all of Amateur Radio to celebrate and tell the world about the science we can help teach, the community service we can provide and the fun we have. Some of the activities we have planned can be found here.

Today, digital dominates every aspect of global communication. Where does amateur radio fit in today’s communication ecosystem?

Amateur Radio still makes use of the oldest form of digital communications: Morse Code or CW. In addition, the Amateur Service utilizes a number of digital modes for weak signal HF and VHF/UHF propagation including many which have been developed by radio amateurs, such as Nobel Prize winner, Joe Taylor, K1JT. Over the years, the Amateur Service has been at the forefront of developing new modes of communication and will continue to do so in the future.

In what ways are you seeing amateur radio operators contributing to the fight against COVID-19?

Radio amateurs have a long history of community service. You will find radio amateurs involved with emergency communications and working with emergency services to provide communication when required. This is as true in developing countries as it is in developed nations.

Radio amateurs come from all walks of life and I know many are participating in the community to serve us during this time of crisis whether that is in the medical services or helping keep supply chains open. In these days of social isolation, radio amateurs have also been contacting those who are shut in to check on their welfare and just to pass the time of day. Amateur radio offers a unique way for us to maintain our social contacts while remaining physically separate from each other.

“Amateurs have the equipment, the skills, and the frequencies necessary to create expedient and efficient emergency communication networks under poor conditions.”

Many radio clubs and national societies are activating local repeater and other emergency communications networks to be prepared should the need for their services arise. Now is a good time to get on the air to exercise our equipment, our skills, learn something new by trying a new band or mode, and expand our circle of friends. In fact, in the last month, there has been an unprecedented interest in the Amateur Service by the public and many of our member–societies are offering on-line courses to help them get licensed.

During a disaster, amateur radio operators can be vital first responders. What support do they provide to the affected communities and what role do they play in disaster risk reduction efforts?

Radio amateurs have a long and proud history of providing communications to alleviate suffering in the wake of natural disasters. With only a low-power HF transceiver, an automobile battery, and a piece of wire for an antenna, a skilled operator can establish communication from almost any location. Amateurs use their VHF and UHF allocations for many applications including local networks that operate independently of the commercial telecommunication infrastructure and continue to function when regular communication links are disrupted or overloaded.

Amateurs have the equipment, the skills, and the frequencies necessary to create expedient and efficient emergency communication networks under poor conditions. They are licensed and pre-authorized for national and international communication.  And all of this comes at no cost to the served agency, whether that is an arm of government or a disaster relief and mitigation organization. We have developed a guide for our member-societies to assist them in helping provide support.

How is your Union’s collaboration with ITU important to improving lives worldwide? 

The IARU was admitted to the work of the CCIR, the forerunner to today’s ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU‑R), in 1932 and has been contributing to the work of the ITU ever since.

As a Sector Member, the IARU participates fully in the relevant ITU‑R Study Groups and Working Parties. This makes us one of the longest-serving sector members in ITU.

The IARU is also a Sector Member of the ITU Development Sector (ITU‑D) and participates actively in Study Group 2 on issues related to disaster communications and human resource development. We have also worked with many ITU initiatives including Emergency Communication Workshops, the Smart Sustainable Development Model and joint IARU/ITU training sessions for regulators, to name a few.

“We recognize very well that what amateur radio means to one generation does not mean the same thing to a younger generation.”

We are pleased that ITU recognizes the value of the Amateur Services in times of crisis and we are equally proud to assist ITU with the goal of improving lives.

Your association is looking to remake amateur radio for the 21 century. What are some of the plans that you have?

The Amateur Service has changed and will continue to change. We have always adapted to new communication challenges and been among the first to embrace new technology. We will continue to do so.

We find now that the world moves at a much faster pace and the demands on spectrum require us to move quickly and to adapt and work with other communication services. We recognize very well that what amateur radio means to one generation does not mean the same thing to a younger generation.

IARU is actively engaging through programmes such as the Young people on the air (YOTA) to ensure that there is a next generation of amateur radio enthusiasts. We are looking forward to embracing new communication techniques and utilizing our spectrum above 144 Mhz for networking and linking amateurs during communication emergencies.

One thing that will not change is our interest in advancing the art and science of radiocommunication as we move into the next century.

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Why World Amateur Radio Day is key to highlight crucial services: Timothy Ellam

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