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Ham operators were the pioneers of social networking

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A lot of brainstorming happens when Hams of Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad meet

After hemming and hawing for long enough, Ham operators (Amateur Radio operators) are coming together with a common agenda of seeking greater role during emergencies. The fraternity, which enjoys a unique social networking powered by radio waves, mostly uses this mode to make friends through incidental contacts on an amateur radio, a wireless transceiver (radio transmitter combined with receiver) that works as the networking platform. Now they want the governments to recognise and utilise the vast potential it presents.

In Andhra Pradesh, there are about 1,000 hams but not all of them are active. For the first time, the Academy of Ham Radio in city, in coordination with a group of amateur radio operators, is planning a Karthika Samaradhana at a farm house on the banks of River Krishna in the suburbs on Sunday (November17). “I am really excited about this gathering, being organised on a big scale for the first time. We have Hams from the two Telugu-speaking states coming to be part of this robust gathering, says Ramesh Babu Arza, chief programme coordinator of the Academy that has trained nearly 2,000 people in last 34 years. Experts from Hyderabad have been invited to enthuse the greenhorns and share their knowledge.

Ashhar Farhan, a long-time radio ham and founder of Lamakaan, a cultural centre in Hyderabad, will be one of the star participants. Last year, New York-based international magazine CQ Amateur Radio included Ashhar’s name along with 11 others to its 2018 Hall of Fame and the former is the only living Indian on the list. The other Indian was Kalpana Chawla, the NASA astronaut died in 2003. The ace ham operator shares the space with prominent people like Hollywood actor Marlon Brando, NASA astronaut David Brown, cybersecurity expert Mark Pecen and World War-II photographer Ed Westcott.

Ashhar has designed an affordable open source kit for a radio transceiver known as the Bit-X and his work has received worldwide appreciation.

“We are hopeful that Ashhar’s presence will kindle interest among young people for this hobby that seems to have earned an unfashionable reputation. Ham has some serious practical advantages,” insists Ramesh.

R. Rajasekhar, a consultant for aqua culture industry by profession, is a ham by passion. “As a high school student, I listened to short wave radio. The interest grew and in 1988, I acquired a license to operate this equipment,” he recalls. In 2008, Rajasekhar designed a low cost radio transceiver and short wave radio equipment that costs less than Rs. 4,000. “Born and raised in Vakadu village in Nellore district, a cyclone-prone area, I have seen many super cyclones battering human habitations,” he says, explaining how he reached out to help people in distress through Ham radio.

Rajasekhar, along with his family, will be part of the Sunday’s motley crowd.

K. Ashok Kumar, a mining contractor and a licensed ham operator and Sharath, a national-level disaster coordinator from Amateur Radio Society of India, are among other invitees.

The get-together, says Ramesh, will discuss developments like the Qatar Amateur Radio Society’s new geostationary satellite, the Es’HailSate-2 that provides the first amateur radio geostationary communication capability linking Brazil and India with all the areas in between. “Many ham enthusiasts, especially students, are not aware of this development,” says Ramesh adding that this satellite carrying amateur radio transponders was launched from Kennedy Space Center on November 15 last year.

“I got interested in it after reading an article about how this hobby to communicate to hams across the globe can be a boon at the time of disasters,” says Veda Prakash, undergoing training to be a licensed operator.

The beauty of this alternative form of communication is that sitting at home, one can make contact with anyone and anywhere across the globe, provided the other person also has the required equipment.

“In the past, the training period was for around two months because of Morce code (a character encoding scheme used in telecommunication to encode text characters called dots and dashes or dits and dahs). But now technology has made it very simple shrinking the training period to a few days,” Ramesh smiles.

Not many know that low cost communicators are available now. he says pointing to his walkie-talkie, which he says, can be linked to the Repeater (an electronic devise that receives and transmits signals) which in turn can be connected to an EchoLink for global communication.

Role in disasters

In the 1999 Orissa super cyclone, a 15-member team of ham operators from Andhra Pradesh rushed to the cyclone-battered land where communication network was severely disrupted and the government authorities were unable to contact the emergency services to summon assistance. “We established a communication network at key points linked to the Secretariat and helped the officials in supply of manpower, food and life-saving drugs to the affected population,” recalls Ramesh.

When earthquake shook Bhuj in 2001, Ramesh was part of the three batches of hams who rescued the victims.

For the likes of Ramesh, Ham radio is the coolest thing and there is a growing feeling that young people should wake up to the many practical uses of this medium.

(The hams of Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad met ion Nov 17 for Vanabhojanam)

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