Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Encouraging experimentation while maintaining interoperability: A commentary on "Going Digital"

How does one experiment with new modes, thus advancing the hobby and the radio art, while also maintaining interoperability, a necessity in a radio service dedicated to emergency communications and the maintanance of an international community?

In this month's QST, David Sumner, ARRL CEO wrote a letter regarding Digital Modes in Amateur Radio.  He said it better than I can... So I have posted the letter to my website for everyone's reading pleasure.  The original can be found on Page 9 of March 2013's issue of QST.

The letter addresses the issues of interoperability and experimentation, which are concepts often at odds.  Certainly regulations would promote and maintain interoperability, but such regulations would stiffle advancement; Voluntary standards don't inhibit development, but certainly don't encourage change; A free marketplace will promote advancement, as the standards that matter will be the ones that succeed - However, such a market creates a chicken and egg problem, no one will buy a technology unless the community is there, and the community may not exist unless someone buys the technology... The risk exists that seperate standards may be adopted regionally, discouraging national or international interoperability.

The problem doesn't have an obvious solution, and certainly no solution is proposed in the letter, only the suggestion that any experimentation should be done using codecs that inherently promote interoperability, such as Codec2.  It's a long-shot to hope for commercial support of such an adoption...  And such hope even alienates existing and growing incumbent communities, such as those surrounding DMR, P25, and D-STAR.

Still, hope should be maintained... For hope is all that will promote open experimentation and development that may someday solve these problems.  Maybe the problem isn't as Mr. Sumner suggests at all...  Maybe no problem exists at all:  The Amateur Radio Service has the fundamental purpose of advancing the communications and technical phases of the radio art;  As long as the radio service has engineers, experimenters, and just plain curious people, interoperability will come as a result.