Death of short wave imminent

Amateur radio as we know it could be extinct by the year 2020. That is the only possible conclusion to draw from an unpublished EU policy document that has been leaked to several ham radio bloggers including myself. The document proposes that existing RFI standards protecting the short wave frequencies be torn up as “preventing the use or increasing the cost of essential technology in order to protect the activities of a small number of hobbyists makes no political sense.” This policy has already been unofficially in place at the UK’s Ofcom, which was one of the major contributors to the report.

The report suggests that withdrawing the standards relating to short wave RFI would save significant costs by removing the need to deal with complaints about interference. It also suggests that the UK Telecommunications Act (and similar laws in other EU countries) be amended to remove any right to protection from interference of the broadcast, amateur or CB services.

To support its recommendations the report claims that “short wave broadcasting is in rapid decline, with most broadcasters moving to the internet” and that “the intended use of Citizens Band as a personal communications service has largely been replaced by cellphone usage.” Amateur radio, it says, carries “little communication of any importance that could not be made using the telephone, cellular network or the internet.” The main use of ham radio, it suggests, is “largely recreational” and could be replaced by “online simulations and VOIP chat services.” Hams could also make more use of the largely interference-free bands above 400MHz which otherwise could be sold to commercial users. Radio amateurs “could still experiment with radio in the time-honoured manner, they just should not expect to be able to enjoy interference-free reception on the short waves.”

The reason for the desire to remove the protection of our frequencies becomes clear when you read the part of the report that describes forthcoming technologies that are expected to cause problems with RFI compliance. In order to meet carbon emissions targets and deal with expected power shortages caused by the early closure of nuclear power plants in countries such as Germany, the EU plans to introduce smart grids in all European nations by 2020. These smart grids use BPL technology to communicate with smart meters in each individual home. The smart meters, in turn, use PLT technology to communicate with smart devices in order to regulate their use. When demand for electricity is high, power cuts or the switching on of expensive standby power stations can be avoided by shutting off inessential devices instead. Examples of inessential devices given in the report include amateur radio linear amplifiers – assuming it’s still possible to hear anything on short wave over the BPL and PLT QRM in the first place.

The EU is also proposing that 80% of properties in member states should be equipped with solar panels by 2020. To achieve this target, installation costs will be heavily subsidized by governments, which clearly want to cut costs as far as possible. Estimates produced by a Chinese manufacturer of solar power systems suggest the cost saving that would result from eliminating the need for RFI suppression circuits in the power converters would amount to 4 billion Euro for the whole of Europe.

The report concludes that “the cost of protecting the short wave spectrum from interference from technologies that are essential to be installed throughout Europe in the next decade to meet emissions targets and maintain the well-being of all European citizens is quite simply prohibitive” and urges that EU Commissioners pass the necessary laws by 1st April 2012.

Julian Moss, G4ILO, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Cumbria, England. Contact him at [email protected].

15 Responses to “Death of short wave imminent”

  • Clair K7IE:

    That’s very funny – Happy April Fools Day to you too !!!!!

  • Wow, you had me with this post. Good job! 🙂

    However, this may not be a joke in 20 years or so. I predict sometime in our lifetimes HF will be deregulated worldwide where you can operate wherever you like, but forget about interference protection.

  • Matt W1MST:

    Wow. I ain’t been taken for a ride like that in a very long time.

    Superb job, Julian. You really had me! And as Anthony correctly noted, it may not be far from reality in the not so distant future.

  • BX2ABT:

    If this is an April fools joke then it qualifies as not funny. EU policy document or not, the big money is going to stretch its arms even further and in the end we will lose many privileges, amongst them interference free reception. 3 million amateur radio operators in the world is not enough to spend much “valuable” bandwidth on, be it HF, VHF or above. Then again, there will always be ways to experiment with radio, only not the way we were used to. And if push really comes to shove, then I can always take up gardening again, hi!

  • I’ve often thought that 100 years from now, if amateur radio is still around, the only thing left would be 6 meters. HF will be all dorked up with interference and commercial interests will get everything from 2 meters and up. 6 meters would be off the radar of the commercial lobby and high enough to not be dumped on with powerline and plasma TVs. It would be a somewhat strange world…everyone listening to static for weeks on end waiting for sporadic E. But the amateur spirit would live on.

  • Mark HB9AZT:

    Good april joke, but could be sad reality in a few years. Why our “shutdown-ministers” close down all medium- and shortwave broadcasting sites? Just the first step to free the radio spectrum of “unnecessary” emissions and to open it for plc-junk and filthy CE-marked (“chinese export”) electronic devices. Why our environmental protection authorities and silly green politicians do not care about saving the radio spectrum? It seems to be easier for them to blame radio amateurs with radiation declarations than to prevent the destruction of the radio spectrum…

  • Jeff N1KDO:

    Not funny.

    It’s like your doctor telling you you have cancer — Oh, never mind. April Fool.

    Not funny at all.

  • Andrew, W8FI:

    I, along with some, do not find it that funny.

    However, perhaps it’s best to look at how we might react to this kind of reality. The fact of the matter is that we as hams do in fact get great purview from our elected officials in order to enjoy our hobby, mostly RFI free.

    We’ve seen in America the attempts to take away our 70cm band, in the name of money and profit. Thankfully we have what we hope is a representative government that will listen to the hoard of angry amateurs. But for how long? And really, is it even fair?

    I do not think it’s wrong to question the need for so many bands and so much bandwidth. Most would present the emergency communications argument, and to that, just how many frequencies get used for such things? Do you think 200kHz on the 20 meter band is needed for phone emergency communications? I don’t.

    Perhaps 20 meters is a bad example due to its popularity, but the argument is valid enough that we should take a serious look at how our hobby affects the progression of new technology in our new century. Clean and free airwaves are something every amateur wants, and something our governments want too (supposing your elected officials are the ones you want in place); it is the corporations driven by profits that seek to maim and steal our electromagnetic space in the name of greater efficiency.

    We must use the facilities of our governments and freedoms of expression to fight what we are promised, but we shouldn’t forget our responsibility as human beings evolving on this planet together.

    Hams are some of the most ingenious people on the planet, I just don’t understand why we haven’t figured out how to make BPL, or more appropriately, smart grids, exist in peace. I see no reason why our collective intelligence can’t solve the world’s EMF problems of today, or tomorrow.

  • gfkeith ka5qfi:

    Lets see,what happens now or then when the earthquakes,floods,etc hit and both cell towers,land lines do not work and of course no internet? Even Hitech Japan had problems and let’s not forget Haiti. Even the military still uses HF. Over the years the military attempted to do away with MARS and even Armed Forces Radio via shortwave, but they are still around as is loads of other operations by shortwave! I agree technology will advance and countries, including the U.S.will attempt to hack up the spectrum and mostly for commercial uses.

  • Andrew, W8FI:

    Keith, I live in the Metro Detroit area, and when we were hit by the 2005 blackout, our situation was exactly what you explained. Guess what, the government did rely on our services, but not to the degree at which you explain. I think sometimes hams get a little too fanatical about the services they could provide, and seem to have little, if no, faith in their county governments to plan for such disasters.

    I’m not disputing the use of the bands in emergencies, I merely posed the question as to whether we really needed all the bandwidth we’re afforded.

  • Randy - KB3IFH:

    Well done!

  • John kd0jek:

    I too enjoy a good April Fool’s Day joke. But, as others have stated, this could be all to real in the future. I for one worked 40 years in the telecommunications industry and I can tell you, an ice storm, hurricane or other such natural disasters will solve the problem of cell phone and internet usage. those things will not work without electricpower to the field equipment. My thought is that most hams have equipment that can operate with out the power company..

    Just a thought!

  • art,, al2o:

    . George was right. 1984 speaks. its all about Kontrol, art, AL2O

  • Clive GM4FZH:

    Sad, but this is typical of EU bureaucrats living in glass houses. It is also a case of big companies ruling the roost in order to make even more profits. Our governments have been incompetent in planning future power sources for the future, they don’t like to make unpalatable decisions because they always look after their back-ends – we just have career politicians now instead of those that care for the populace.
    Might I suggest turning off TVs (especially on standby) would save an awful lot more power as well as educating people to turn off lights etc. Turning off power amplifiers ? The saving is infinitesimal compared to wastage by business. (I’m turning in to a grumpy old man!)

  • Clive GM4FZH:

    Or is this an April fool?

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