“100 Year Old Technology”


FWIW – this alone is a cornerstone/basis for an emerging media discussion about “100 year old technology” some have spouted about ham radio, and the reality of how the basics of radio differ from the evolving technologies that use radio.

Have been developing this discussion as the some in the media have begun to explore local ham radio on OUR local UHF linked repeater network.


In this age of ‘devices’, Wi-Fi, ‘bars’, “unlimited data”, marketing, engineering, implementers, manufactuers, retailers, have been purposefully hiding some amazingly basic technology behind ‘apps’ and user-experience facades for over a decade.  For some of us this is the ‘consumerization’ of I.T.  For others of us this is pulling the “tin foil hat wool” over the eyes of investors, regulators, developers and manufacturers and ultimately consumers.

Consumers are intentionally distracted to NOT think of the core “100 year old technology” buried in their i- and droid-things.  The thousands of practitioners who make, install and maintain the core, essential pieces of “100 year old technology” cringe everytime some media pundit or politician yammers on about ‘new’ x-generation ‘technology’ that appears to make your point-and-click devices/apps be more/better/faster/cheaper.

Those practitioners are your basic device and antenna and tower and network design engineers, the “tower dogs” who traverse the country to install those ‘mere’ towers, the fiber-optic or microwave backbone components to feed those towers your data, and seem to catch most of the flack when power goes out, cellular networks are overloaded, etc.  Good or bad – consumers have no awareness, clue or care HOW their unlimited data gets to them – and in that have no idea how their device and service providers are deceiving them!  Worse than ignoring the core ‘technology’ and skills that deliver that data, are everyone in that supply chain that fail to recognize the world is running out of people who know HOW to deliver to the promises of your ‘unlimited’ contract.

A specific and amazing example follows, with background…

Zello, Facetime, Zoiper, iaxrpt, etc are no more or less than specialized/evolved application models on top of a layer or two of IP network technology traversing some pretty ‘trick’ “4G” digital radio protocols to do none other than to get the human voice from one human to another via one ‘appliance’ to another. Most/all domestic and long distance “landline” telephone implementation is now voice-over-IP – not much different from Skype, Google Voice, etc.

Evolved and evolving “digital two-way radio” – P25, NXDN, Fusion, Trbo/DMR, and older digital trunking are again voice (radio) over IP implementations providing for human voices to get from one mouth to another’s ear.

Underlying ALL of that is the “100 year old technology” of radio transmission. Actually 100 years is ambiguous. Marconi, et al discovered/proved that radio transmission is a thing over 100 years ago. The first radio transmission occured in 1896/1897 (121 years.) Voice transmission over radio first happened in Canada in 1900 (so 117 years.) First (AM) broadcast radio in 1920 (93 years.) First two-way police radio use – 1928 (most like a majority of public, commercial and amateur radio.) FM in 1933 (84 years.) First portable two-way radios – 1940. Common public safety and commercial voice radio implementations

So – one can ponder the actual vintage of which specific, practical “old technology” dates modern radio implementations? Radio itself is 121 years old. Practical evolved two-way radio use is 77 +/- years old. Paging then 2-way radio began in 1955 and ramped up through 1960 (57 years.) “Car phones” became a thing circa 1970 (47 years) – I had a car phone at 18 in 1973 – as the engineer for a mobile phone company. Digital two-way radio technology didn’t really become a practical reality until 1995 (22 years) about the time digital cellular phone services evolved.

Today’s radio – be it analog or digital – resembles nothing of the primitive 121 year old “RF noise” Marconi created and detected. It more resembles first the evolved FM methodology of 1940-1955 – where there is a constant controlled RF carrier transmission, modulated by any number of analog or digital methods.

One core point is, once we began to understand, were able to measure and characterize RF, then refine transmitting (radios and power amplifiers), emitting it (antennas) and detecting it (receivers) – pure ‘radio’ technology has not changed in 50-60 years. We make and broadcast RF energy (transmitters and antennas), apply information (audio or data) to it in various methods, detect it (antennas and receivers) and extract information from it. TV – analog or digital – all the ‘same.’ Radio is radio.

Huge differences because of the frequency of the radio waves, and the transmitted power, dictate the size and types of antennas and inter-coupling to get power from a transmitter into the ‘air’, understand how it ‘travels’ through the ‘air’ and, due to the characteristics of the ‘air’ – where it can be detected – and Mother Nature plays a HUGE part in that variable.

In MANY critical, essential, scientific ways, your iPhone is no more or less innovative that the first “walkie-talkies” developed for soldiers during WW2!!! What differentiates them is the “application layer” of how you interact with the device to achieve essentially the same effect – communications between two or more people.

It is that “application layer” that people are most emotional, romantic, compelled, purist, critical, concerned about. In many cases that application layer is life or death, or otherwise an overt risk depending on use and need. THIS we must be cognizant and considerate of – not just how pizzazz or nifty, profitable or convenient – but what parts you can rely on.

Once you get the ‘radio’ parts understood, then you have to be aware of the underlying application and other dependency parts. Analog/voice radio depends on VERY little other than two radios and their operators.

‘Apps’ depend on HUNDREDS of mostly but not always reliable middle-parts that can and DO fail at the most needed times – because of power loss, physical damage, cable/fiber damage, server, network, firewall, router, management computer or myriad other VERY complex systems in between the sender and the receiver.

Zello for example managed to survive ONLY through an amazing maze of easily fallible points of failure. Neither it nor any of the hundreds of variables between sender and receiver can be relied on in all locations at all times. These are NOT things you can hinge your life on. You can be appreciative IF they do help save lives, but NO ONE of the many service providers, etc. in the middle can or will provide ANY assurances they will be available and sustained in time of critical need or casual wants. It is simply NOT possible!

We simply must keep this discussion of awareness and reality open and sustained. The “100 year old technology” as we radio folks know it, and some few truly understand, as pure radio science, is under constant ‘threat’ by ‘application’ vendors looking more at “application advantage” and thus revenue than delivery of the prime motivator – two or more people communicating – preferably in REAL-TIME, NOT network/device processes time.

Stay tuned!

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