WIA Presidents BLOG
Monthly Comments From the WIA president
Each month the column "WIA Comments" appears in the Amateur Radio magazine written by the WIA President. It sets out the WIA's position on current important matters and often contains information regarding its activities.
The WIA Comments are also published monthly on this website with the aim of improving communication with all radio amateurs.
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December 2016 - December again!
Every time December comes around I can’t believe it’s been another year. This year in particular has been very difficult, as I’m sure all readers will be only too painfully aware. However, the good news is that we now have two very capable people looking after the WIA’s financial systems, and although there are obviously some serious issues to work through, real progress is being made.
Let me introduce our new Treasurer, Chris Hendry VK3PAT, and Assistant Treasurer, Jeff Tubbenhauer VK5IU.
Chris has very extensive experience in all facets of business and financial management. In his early years, Chris served in the Royal Navy as a Navy Gunnery officer on HMS Hubberston, based in Singapore. He then then went on to fill very senior financial management positions in banking, business management, facilities management, and founded the company You, Me, and Him Advertising. Chris is currently the Honorary Treasurer of the Wesley College Parents Association 4x4 Touring Club, something that many radio amateurs can identify with, I’m sure.
Jeff previously served the WIA back in the late 1970s, and for 32 years operated his own business as a Certified Financial Planner in Alice Springs. Chris is very experienced in business management and the finance and insurance industries, and has also served on a number of Boards, including the Cancer Council NT, and rugby union and golf clubs. Jeff is currently assisting Chris and is advising the Board on issues in relation to the Club Insurance scheme.
I am certain these two very experienced volunteers will be a great asset to the WIA. They have certainly hit the ground running, and they advise much work needs to be done to be able to report the finances accurately. It is fixable, but at a great cost of time for our Treasurers. I also expect there will be some major changes coming soon including a recommendation to undertake a strategic review. Remember, the national WIA is only 13 years old, and it’s time to review our operations and how we can best meet our member’s diverse needs.
At the time of writing, the WIA has just circulated a new draft Volunteers Charter to all current Committee members. This is a first for the WIA and has been developed from principles embodied in publications by Volunteer Australia (www.volunteer.com.au). The Charter will clarify what volunteers should be able to expect from the WIA, and in turn, what the WIA should be able to expect of its many volunteers.
We are working to have the Charter introduced very early in the New Year, and we are receiving a lot of valuable feedback and suggestions from Committee members. Following adoption of the Charter, we plan to commence a review of the Committee system.
The other big event this month is the publication of Peter Wolfenden’s ANZAC feature series of articles about radio amateurs in wartime. I am sure you will all agree that Peter’s articles (and those of other contributors) in Amateur Radio over this year and last year were a fabulous read, and now we have brought them all together into a new commemorative publication: Wireless Men & Women at War.
Owing to the imperative to not financially overcommit the WIA at present, the Board has decided to offer pre-release sales of this publication at a discount to the planned members’ price of $29.95. Discounted pre-release sales will continue to 21 December, and the book will be printed in January, with sales expected from within and outside the amateur community. Peter Wolfenden VK3RV and the Publications Committee have done a terrific job on this, and it is set to be a real classic. Please do buy a copy during the pre-release sales period.
So, another year has passed. I would like to sincerely thank all those who have supported the WIA over the past year, and all those that have done their bit for Amateur Radio. Members must remember that the WIA represents all Amateurs, whether a member or not, and there are external forces that do not see the value to society of Ham Radio. The WIA must promote our volunteers to be vigilant of our bands and our contribution to society.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year and remember to tell Santa Claus “You can’t have too many radios”.
November 2016 - The WIA through the looking glass
As you know, the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) is governed by seven elected members who work together as Directors on a Board that meets each month by teleconference. Recently, the Board has been subjected to numerous assertions and allegations by those who seem to want to take the Institute in a different direction, and a lot of misinformation has been published in the process.
The matter came to a head at an extra meeting of WIA Directors in September, where a motion was put by Directors Andrew Smith VK6AS and Paul Simmonds VK5PAS requiring an external audit of the WIA finances, accounting procedures and operations, for the three years 2014 - 2016. The audit would be performed by a registered auditor.
The other five Directors were concerned that this type of audit could incur very substantial open-ended costs, and they voted to amend the motion to refer such a significant decision to a General Meeting of members, in addition requiring at least two fixed-cost quotations obtained by the original proposer and seconder, to be presented to that meeting. The amended motion was passed unanimously.
There is also concern about the time and effort required to attend to an Audit when the WIA must focus significant efforts and resources over coming months on advocating future licence conditions, responding to the update of the Australian Radio Frequency Plan, public consultation on the new Radiocommunications legislation, and the upcoming STEM symposium in Canberra.
By the time this magazine is published, no doubt there will be lots of information supporting the yes case for bringing in the auditors, and/or the no case to forgo the significant expenditure.
Let me give you my personal view about this.
The WIA has been through a busy period with many government submissions on radio communications issues, and a reform of the WIA office procedures that has delivered improved customer service to members and prospective radio amateurs. What is abundantly clear to me is that everyone involved with the WIA – its Directors, officers, staff and volunteers, are all working in what they believe is in the best interests of the organization. In all the years I have been a Director, I have never seen anything that could possibly amount to fraud or wrongdoing by anyone involved in the WIA.
It is also clear that the WIA is not at any risk of insolvent trading. Although there have been losses in recent years, with a strong asset backing given its turnover, a predictable and regular membership income, and mostly known costs, the WIA is in a strong financial position. Also, the Board has identified potential areas for increased revenue and cost savings in future years.
So what else could be wrong? Could it be a financial mismanagement issue?
The WIA has also been through a challenging period, with the unexpected resignation of two Treasurers and the appointment of a temporary, paid professional Treasurer for the period from February to the end of June. At the time of writing, the WIA’s accounts are in the process of being brought up to date, and simplified, by an external team of MYOB specialists. By the time this Comment is published, I expect the accounts will be up to date and we will be well on the way to having a new WIA Treasurer.
The WIA’s accounts are reviewed each year by a Registered Auditor (appointed by the WIA and ratified by the members at an AGM) and the Financial Statement they prepare states that the financial accounts are accurate and meet accepted accounting practice and the law. As the WIA is a Tier-2 corporation with a turnover of less than $1M per year, its accounts are Reviewed rather than Audited. This is normal practice, and quite appropriate for a small company, as yearly Auditing is a very expensive process – about twice the cost of a Review, I understand. So, are we questioning the authority and competency of the WIA’s independent Auditor/Reviewer or the appropriateness of a yearly Review?
What else could it be?
Some people have challenged the appointment by the Board of a company, in which Fred Swainston VK3DAC is also a Director, to carry out an office review in mid-2015, and the subsequent appointment of Fred as a contractor administering the office to implement a change program in the six-month period up to the commencement of a new Executive Administrator. This has been perceived by some as a conflict of interest. Is the conflict real, or manufactured? There are some important factors here that need to be considered.
WIA Board members stand aside during any decision where there could be a possible conflict of interest, as required by both our Constitution and the Corporations Act. As is normal practice, Fred stood aside (indeed, left the room) during the decision in August 2015 when he was appointed as a contractor to manage the office. This decision was a unanimous Board decision (in the absence of Fred), and no objections were raised by other Directors or officers present at the time.
As Fred has intimate knowledge of the functions of the WIA, the ACMA contract work, and the WIA Assessor system, it was a pragmatic decision to appoint him for a limited period and in the best interests of the organisation. Anyone else with the necessary skill and experience would take many months to come up to speed with the complexities of the WIA’s operations. Over the few months following his appointment, Fred made many significant improvements in the office operations, including increasing security, controlling access and documenting processes and procedures. He wrote over 30 new office procedures in that time.
Working (executive) Directors are very common in all types of organisations and Fred has a very long history of performing this exact type of work. The fee Fred was paid was equivalent to the salary and on-costs of the previous Office Manager role, and far less than what we would have had to pay a contract manager hired on the open market, or indeed, what Fred would have received doing the same type of work for his other clients. In my view, and supported by my own legal advice, Fred did not derive any unreasonable personal benefit. There is no real conflict of interest.
Many of you will be aware that Fred’s company is also the WIA’s training organization for the training and assessment of new amateurs. Fred’s company provides this service on a voluntary basis and Fred does not derive any benefit.
Some of your Directors have also come under criticism because they are doing “too much work themselves and not acting as Directors”. Experts in corporate governance will tell you that there should be a clear delineation between the executive (managers and staff) and the Board. The executive should be responsible for all the work of an organization and should focus on targets, outcomes and achievements. Directors, on the other hand, should be free to take a “helicopter view” of the organisation, without the burden of actually having to produce anything, in order to make unbiased long-term decisions in the best interests of the corporation. Those decisions may be at odds with the short-term view of the executive. That is perfectly correct and appropriate for a larger organization.
However, much like in a small-sized business, the WIA evolved over time to meet the conditions of its environment; short on cash and short on people able or willing to put in the hard yards. In the WIA, Directors have performed much of that executive role themselves. That does put a strain on Directors and some things do slip, and some decisions are made expediently, but, unless we either win the lottery, have a large increase in membership, or find many more skilled volunteers who are willing to totally manage particular functions (not that we haven’t tried flushing them out), I can’t see that changing anytime soon.
Some people have even called for the resignation of several Directors. However, if the end-game is the removal of some WIA Directors and some as-yet unannounced new direction for the WIA, that doesn’t make any sense either, as elections for three Board member positions occur over the first quarter of next year, with appointments confirmed at the AGM next May. So the membership will get ample opportunity to make that decision for themselves.
So, what else could it be?
The WIA has always had its detractors – that’s just the nature of the beast – but, more recently, there has been an orchestrated campaign against the WIA, both in social media and elsewhere, which, quite frankly, doesn’t seem to have any cohesive focus.
Personally, I think all this is to do with personalities and perceptions; the perception that something serious and hidden must be wrong with the WIA. The WIA’s detractors have been very actively promoting this and, together with some heightened sense of corporate grandeur and of injustice, it makes for a bit of a storm on the horizon.
Voluntary organisations are never perfect and, no doubt given a large enough looking-glass and the benefit of hindsight, an auditor will probably find some things that could have been done differently, and some things that could have been done better, but nothing so critical as to threaten the organisation. When I go to the dentist, there is always something to fix and it’s usually expensive, with some pain involved. I’m sure any outcome from the proposed three-year comprehensive audit will be no different.
Will it be expensive? – Naturally, very. Will they find anything serious? – No, I’m certain they won’t. Will it be worth the expense? – I very much doubt it.
That’s why the motion was amended, so that the members should decide how to proceed.
P.S. Don’t forget the WIA STEM symposium in Canberra. I have just heard that Australia’s last TAFE course providing RF training in Australia is in danger of closing. If we ever needed to spark an interest in wireless technology, which is so pervasive in our modern lifestyle, it’s now. Check out the WIA website for details.
October 2016 - Don’t let Elephants stand in the way
It’s impossible to start this month’s President’s Comment without mentioning the “elephant in the room”. That is, at the 16 August Board meeting, two WIA Directors proposed and seconded a motion of no-confidence in the WIA Board.
The Director moving the motion expressed the view that the Board was not acting in the best interests of the WIA, and therefore proposed that in view of its incapability of acting properly, it should resign, an independent administrator be appointed to run the business of the WIA, and elections be held. The motion was put and defeated five votes to two.
Only the members in a general meeting can remove Directors, as provided by the WIA Constitution or the Corporations Act. Secondly, motions of “no confidence” have no effect or validity in corporate law, according to a text on company meetings compiled by HA Davidson, a solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW. A judgement in a modern-day case said: ". . . the Parliamentary convention which required a government to resign on the passing of such a motion was not applicable in corporation law, and there was no convention 'that a board of directors against whom a no confidence motion is passed must tender their resignation . . .'; And: ". . . it does not appear . . that a motion of no confidence would be a motion which could be validly passed by the appropriate meeting." [Stanham v The National Trust of Australia (NSW)].
In other words, a motion of no confidence moved by a Director against the WIA Board has no effect, but in this instance I chose to allow the motion to be put in the interests of open discussion. The two Directors have more recently publically announced they have obtained legal advice and say they will be making further announcements, though at the time of writing the Board is not aware of what those “announcements” may be.
No doubt this issue will continue to play out as the year progresses, but the Board is determined to act in good faith in the best interests of the corporation, and that its advocacy work and the services it provides to its members and to the wider Amateur Radio community, and its important international work, should not be affected during what is shaping up to be a fairly difficult period.
Now that’s said, let’s get on to what I really wanted to talk about: The diversity of Amateur Radio.
One of the great things about Amateur Radio is its diversity. Amongst the fraternity you will find a huge variety of people and interests, from highly trained technical and engineering specialists to people who have simply taken amateur radio up as a bit of light entertainment, and everything else in between.
For some, Amateur Radio is about building, experimentation and learning, or working DX and entering competitions, or education, or being part of a community or, for some, seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they achieve their licence and first get on-air.
This diversity is what makes Amateur Radio strong and enduring in the face of other rapidly advancing communicating technologies, but it makes the job of the WIA all the more difficult. The WIA can’t possibly be all things to all people, and it shouldn’t try. In my mind, the role of the WIA is to be an advocate for the diversity of Amateur Radio and to work to improve the regulations, conditions and opportunities for individuals to do whatever they want to do in the hobby, within the law and without causing problems for others, naturally. That is the major role of the WIA; to advocate, facilitate, encourage and support, rather than promoting some type of activity or technology over another.
My particular interest is building things and experimentation, though I’ve had precious little time to do any of that lately and it doesn’t look like getting any better! If (when) I get the time, I would like to see where I can take the low power LORA technology on 433 MHz, which is basically a chirp modulation scheme that allows decoding a digital signal way below the noise floor, without the usual critical frequency control. Google ‘LORA wireless’, you will be surprised what you find.
Speaking of facilitating, the WIA is holding a STE(A)M education symposium in November, where we hope to get together the various people already involved in youth and vocational education through Amateur Radio, and to try and come up with some strategies and ideas for Amateur Radio’s involvement. There is not likely to be a one-size-fits-all approach to STE(A)M, but rather a diversity of approaches to meet local needs, which the WIA may be able to help facilitate.
Some people seem to have the impression that the WIA has a 10-story building at Bayswater with steam coming out the top, with operators sitting by the phone ready to take your call. Anything is further from the truth: with two full-time staff members, one who works almost solely on the examination and callsign work, and the other doing just about everything else, the WIA’s National Office is a very small and very busy place. Most current issues relate to a lack of resources, rather than any lack of will, energy or enthusiasm.
A recent example where the WIA primarily acted as a facilitator was during the ANZAC Centenary Commemorations, where the WIA organised and issued special event callsigns that were then taken up and used by a very large number of amateur stations. That job alone was a major exercise in organisation and logistics done on behalf of the Amateur Radio community.
As I said above, the WIA cannot be all things to all people, and again I emphasise – frankly, it shouldn’t try. If Amateur Radio is going to be relevant in tomorrow’s society it’s going to be individual amateurs following their individual passions that take it in new directions. The WIA can represent amateurs internationally, and advocate for the necessary regulatory environment, and facilitate, encourage and support, but it can't pull some magical rabbit out of a hat that makes it all happen without grass-roots innovation and support.
P.S. Please check out the advertisement for WIA Treasurer on the website (and, soon, elsewhere); this is an opportunity to really help your hobby and the Institute. Next month I will be visiting the Hong Kong Electronics Fair, which I attend every few years for my work, and will be spending some time in China. So, Vice-President Fred Swainston will step-in and give me, and you, a break.
September 2016 - Dollars in, dollars out
In this President’s Comment, I’m going to resort to some “bucket economics” to explain where I see the WIA is heading.
As was the agreement when he took the role in January, our paid Treasurer, Murray Leadbeater CPA, finished up at the end of the financial year to attend to the needs of his many other clients. Murray is still available to us as required, but by the time this magazine is distributed we will be looking in earnest for a new WIA Treasurer with appropriate qualifications.
So, I have been spending some time recently looking at the financial position of the WIA, and I thought I’d share some observations.
The vast majority of the WIA’s income comes from membership fees. However, membership numbers are down from 4487 at the end of last year to 4246 at early August this year, representing a reduction in membership income of about 5%, or in dollar terms, about $20,000 for this year. These figures come from the monthly Memnet membership reports.
I think it is fair to say that the WIA membership is fragile around the edges, and there continues to be quite a lot of churn. Some membership reduction is expected as the total amateur population declines in numbers due to age, but the negative publicity on social media recently certainly hasn’t helped, and it is interesting to note that the fall is greater than that experienced after the last membership fee increase.
At 10th August 2015 the WIA was trading at a loss of $27,184, and finished the year with a balance sheet loss of $12,608. As at the 10th August this year, we are trading about $5,500 behind the same time last year, but with the reprinting of the Foundation Licence manual, contractor expenses in the first month of the year and, until recently, the costs of a paid Treasurer, that result is not unexpected. Financial questions received by the Board at the AGM this year, and in other correspondence during the year, were referred to the Treasurer and the Auditor, generating unanticipated costs of at least $4,000.
On the positive side, the cost of the AGM and Conference weekend this year, including very minimal Directors’ travel and accommodation, was much lower than last year, and we are now holding a stock of 4689 Foundation Licence Manuals which is a perennial money spinner for the WIA.
Let’s be blunt. Managing a business in a period of decline is a very difficult thing to do successfully. At every turn there is an expense that needs to be cut, or an expectation for a service that can’t be delivered. We need to make savings at the WIA, but we also need to find more and different ways to make money and be less reliant on membership fees.
In recent years the WIA has made a loss on the examinations and callsign work it performs on behalf of the Commonwealth, largely due to increases in insurance, salary and postage costs. Last year was no different, with a small loss to the WIA of about $2,000. Those losses have been absorbed in the past in order to keep examination and callsign fees low and to encourage new people to become radio amateurs (call it a marketing cost), but small losses add up and there is a limit to how much members should cross-subsidise these services.
The greatest single expense, next to employment expenses, is the publication and distribution of AR magazine, with the cost very roughly equally split between production, printing, and postage. On a show of hands at the Open Forum in Norfolk Island, 40% of those present indicated they preferred the website download version of AR magazine, and that they do not read, or want, the paper copy. In the real-world, if only 20% of members chose to opt-out of receiving the paper magazine without any membership fee reduction, the saving to the WIA on postage alone would be about $14,000 per year. Owing to the scale economics of the printing industry, to achieve significant savings on printing, a much larger number of members would need to choose to opt-out of paper, but $14,000 per year is still a significant saving.
The middle of the year is a difficult financial period every year for the WIA because, for one reason or another, the majority of income comes in the second half of each year. The positive news is that we have a large stock holding of Foundation Licence Manuals, which is a steady seller, and no unusual costs on the horizon. Last year, the revamp of the WIA office and an associated redundancy payment occurred in the second half of the year. We will not have those costs this year and naturally we will be alert to other savings.
If we can contain costs, the WIA's trading position should improve significantly towards the end of this year. The unusual costs in the second half of 2015 were substantial one-off's, so if unusual costs are not incurred this year, and if membership income follows the same trend, we should be able to turn it around in the second half of 2016.
However, the longer term is more difficult to predict. If we want the WIA to remain a strong advocate for amateur radio, and to continue to protect our spectrum and privileges both nationally and internationally, we need to find more and better ways to make money and reduce the dependence on a slowly shrinking membership income.
For instance, publications like the Foundation Licence Manual, which remain current for many years, are great money spinners. The WIA is on-track to release an ANZAC publication later this year, and if only half the membership buy one, that initiative alone would rebalance the WIA’s finances this year, and more.
The WIA, or most other small business for that matter, does not produce detailed accounts on a half-yearly basis, let alone monthly, as the resources necessary to do this would simply detract from essential functions, but this sort of rough analysis does help. As I said, bucket economics.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
P.S. I was really pleased this month to present Dale Hughes VK1DSH with his GA Taylor Medal at the CARC clubrooms, on a freezing Canberra night. I can’t think of a more deserving recipient. A fuller report from CARC on the GA Taylor presentation is reported elsewhere in this magazine.
August 2016 - Ideas from Paradise
At the WIA’s Open Forum this year on Norfolk Island, which immediately followed the AGM, there were a number of good suggestions with the potential to increase membership and to improve the WIA’s financial position.
Both these issues are of intense and current interest to the WIA Board as, like most other community organisations with an aging membership profile, we find ourselves in a period of rising costs, rising member expectations, and slowly declining membership numbers.
I expect to have more to say about those issues and the WIA’s financial outlook next month, but for now, let’s concentrate on two suggestions from the Open Forum: the ability to opt-out from receiving the paper copy of AR magazine; and free WIA membership to new radio amateurs for a limited period.
It appears that many WIA members do not read the paper copy of AR magazine now that the digital version is available. On a show of hands at the Open Forum, about 40% of attendees indicated that they do not read or want to read the paper copy of AR, and would be more than happy to only receive the digital version that they download from the WIA website. Importantly, most also indicated that they would not expect a membership fee reduction as a consequence. Clearly, 40% is a high number, and in the wider membership that figure is more likely to be around 20%, but even if only 20% of members chose to opt-out of receiving a posted paper copy of AR magazine each month, the saving to the WIA in postage alone would be about $15,000 per year. That single initiative could wipe out the type of operating deficit we experienced in 2015.
The Board is considering how such a paper magazine opt-out scheme could be put in place. We can commence the AR digital-only immediately, but will announce the initiative and then request members email the Office to take up this offer.
The second suggestion was about how to encourage a greater number of new radio amateurs to join the WIA when they enter the hobby. This issue is more complex, and there could be unintended consequences to the WIA’s income and costs.
The proposal was to give one year’s free non-voting Associate WIA membership to all new radio amateurs, with access to the digital-only edition of AR magazine, not the paper edition. Prior to the expiry of the free period, each Associate member would be contacted and “encouraged” to renew their WIA membership at the normal membership fee.
The advantage for new amateurs is that they can get involved in their representative organization quickly, without the additional burden of forking out another $95 after having just spent hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars gaining their licence and callsign, buying equipment and getting on-air.
The advantage for the WIA only comes if those people choose to follow-on and become full-paying members. The unintended consequence of this suggestion is that: (1) new Radio Amateurs who would have joined the WIA and paid the membership fee, will now delay joining until after the free period, and (2) there would be increased administrative costs to the office in setting up a free Associate membership and then cancelling it at the end of the free period. These costs have to be weighed against the potential for increasing the number of full fee-paying members in the longer term.
The WIA Board is investigating the effect of the free initial membership suggestion on the WIA’s finances.
Currently, the WIA sends promotional material to new licensees, and some do join the WIA at the time, though it seems the ‘strike rate’ is not high. This is understandable, as they’re keen to make the most of their time, effort, emotional and monetary investment and the first instinct for most is “why do I need this?” To encourage new members, the Board is considering including a membership application in an envelope with the examination material so the new amateur will be able to take this away at the end of their exam.
Another suggestion is that, instead of giving away free WIA Associate memberships, we simply give free access to the digital edition of AR magazine for a limited period. That would allow new amateurs to become familiar with the WIA and the Club network and, as it could be an automated process, it would certainly reduce the administrative overhead.
So, we have a couple of good suggestions from the WIA’s Open Forum. There were others, such as improving youth participation through the WIA’s involvement in science, technology and maths vocational training STE(A)M education initiatives, and the production of special subject magazines (termed one-shots in the industry). In this regard, the WIA is already advanced in the production of an ANZAC one-shot for release later this year.
One thing is for sure, we need to increase the income to the WIA and finesse the expenditure. That invariably means having more attractive offerings, and simplifying processes and systems, wherever possible. In my view the suggestions from the Open Forum would be a step in the right direction and worthy of thorough consideration. To be continued….
PS: Don’t forget that you can pay your membership fees in quarterly instalments, if that would make things easier, and to all those racing yachties out there – be very careful of the big rock off Edwards Beach in Middle Harbour… ouch!
Phil Wait VK2ASD
July 2016 - Back to Business
Many people have commented that this year’s AGM and Conference weekend on Norfolk Island was the best the WIA has ever held. I wouldn’t go that far, because they are all different in their own way, but it was held in a unique and beautiful location, and catered to a multitude of interests. In addition to the AGM and Open Forum, there were DXpeditions, Norfolk Island Awards, sightseeing, SOTA and Parks activities, and even a new Norfolk Island distance record for 10 GHz!
I must admit to having two minds about Norfolk Island as the location for our AGM, initially. In previous years, we have relied heavily on the local clubs to organise much of the AGM weekend, but as there is no local club on Norfolk, that responsibility fell most heavily on WIA Directors Fred VK3DAC and Robert VK3DN. Fred and Robert pulled it off expertly and I’m sure everyone who attended is as impressed as I am.
Largely owing to the remote location and the fact we wanted to be as inclusive as possible, this year we trialled live video streaming of the AGM and Open Forum proceedings and took questions from members on notice via a member log-in facility on the WIA website. That worked very well, with many people commenting on the good picture quality, even with the limited facilities on the Island. The WIA Board would like to make live streaming a regular feature of our AGM and Open Forum weekends. We only received a relatively small number of questions via the website this year and, obviously, if we receive large numbers in the future we would need to select questions for ‘live’ reply, or group similar questions together.
The AGM is largely procedural, being concerned mainly with corporate matters, accepting the Directors’ and Treasurer’s reports, welcoming the newly elected Directors, and remembering the Silent Keys. The Open Forum follows the AGM and offers members the opportunity to express their individual opinions and ideas about amateur radio and the WIA. This year, the Open Forum discussed the content and delivery of AR magazine, options for increasing WIA membership, options for attracting young Australians to amateur radio, and a variety of other issues.
The WIA has been running small deficits for a number of years now and, although in no way a threat to the organisation at current levels, we really need to try and turn our finances around. One of the great challenges the WIA now faces is how to both meet the ever increasing need for advocacy at a time of rapid regulatory change, and also meet ever-increasing expectations for services, all with just two full-time staff members and a shoe-string budget.
Some good suggestions came from the Open Forum discussion on how we might be able to achieve this. One suggestion is to introduce a digital-only option for the delivery of AR magazine. A show of hands in the room suggested that about two thirds of those present would prefer to receive their AR magazine digitally, not by paper in the mail. So, if say half the membership preferred to receive their AR magazine digitally that would halve the postage costs. It would also reduce printing costs a little, (though not by half, due to the scale economics of the printing industry). That single initiative could go a long way to reducing the WIA’s expenses and could off-set further membership fee increases.
Another good suggestion was to offer a short-term free Associate Membership of the WIA to all new radio amateurs, including a digital-only copy of AR magazine. This would give new amateurs an introduction to the WIA, and hopefully they would choose to rejoin when the free period expired. Each person could be followed-up with a phone call towards the end of the free membership period.
The retention of existing members may be improved by introducing a system similar to that prevailing in many other community clubs these days, where rejoining each year is automatic unless the member advises they no longer wish to be a member, i.e. an opt-out rather than an opt-in membership renewal process.
The Open Forum also discussed the obvious need to attract more young Australians into the hobby, and the possibility of amateur radio having a part to play with the STE(A)M initiatives being introduced into high schools.
The first meeting of the new WIA Board took place on the Sunday morning. In addition to all the normal business conducted at the first Board meeting each year, such as introducing the new Directors, declaring and recording potential conflicts of interest, and appointing the Executive Officers, the Board identified three key areas for extra special attention. These largely reflect the discussion and feedback during the Open Forum session, and are:
(i) Young Australians;
(ii) Increasing WIA membership;
(iii) Strengthening the WIA’s Committee system.
These three items will be at the forefront of Directors’ minds this year, and we hope to have more to say about each of them shortly.
So, it was a very successful AGM weekend and we are looking forward to advancing some important issues identified in the open Forum. Am I glad it’s behind us and we can get back to business? You bet!
P.S. I would like to thank my fellow Directors for their confidence in me for a further year as WIA President, by which time I think it will definitely be somebody else’s turn. The WIA reminds me of Winston Churchill’s comments on democracy: “no one pretends that democracy is perfect or allwise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Phil Wait VK2ASD
June 2016 - Preparing for the AGM in Norfolk Island
Things have been pretty busy at the WIA in the lead-up to the AGM weekend on Norfolk Island. As you read this comment it may already be underway with about 100 people attending, about the same number as AGM weekends in previous years.
The meeting takes place in two parts. Firstly, a closely-managed formal AGM where the Directors’ report and the Treasurer’s report are presented and discussed. Any questions on those reports are taken. No special business or special motions have been received for the formal AGM. The second part of the meeting is the Open Forum, which is a more wide-ranging question-and-answer discussion on any topic relevant to Amateur Radio or the WIA. The meeting then goes into an afternoon session of interesting presentations. This year, we have arranged to have live audio and video streaming; so, if you’re near a computer or smartphone, you should be able to log-on and view the proceedings.
The WIA has arranged for a commercial “LiveStream” server and is using Norfolk Telecom for the internet feed. Access to the Livestream feed is provided via a page on the WIA website.
One of the issues we constantly face is trying to allocate the various WIA Merit Awards to a large number of very worthwhile nominees. This year is no different, but we have decided to introduce two new WIA Merit Awards: the Michael J. Owen Distinction Award for distinguished service to the WIA and the Foundation Award for outstanding work with the Foundation licence.
The inaugural recipients of those awards will be announced at the AGM.
One other thing we have initiated is a review of the WIA Constitution. We have formed a Constitution Review Committee comprising Peter Young VK3MV, Peter Wolfenden VK3RV and Jenny Owen (Michael Owen’s daughter), with a view to identifying areas in the constitution that need updating. Naturally, any proposed changes to the WIA Constitution will need to go before next year’s AGM in 2017, so there will be plenty of time for discussion and feedback from members in the meantime.
It’s been a busy year of change and it’s fair to say there have been some issues which have sparked some vigorous debate. I’m sure some of those will feature this year.
The WIA has been a strong advocate for Amateur Radio during the federal government’s Spectrum Review process, lodging numerous submissions and attending meetings with both the Department and the ACMA. Recently, the Minister announced the formation of an entirely new Radiocommunications Act, fundamentally changing the way spectrum is administered in Australia. The WIA has recently updated and resubmitted it’s suggestions to the ACMA for changes to the Amateur Service, including the possibility of greater self-determination by adopting a Band Manager or Service Manager approach.
One possibility is that the Commonwealth, through the ACMA, could set the “paddock fence” conditions that regulate Amateur Radio, the interference potential and the international compatibility issues, such as permitted frequency bands and power, licence grades and knowledge requirements, third party traffic conditions etc., together with operational things like permitted modes and bandwidth, usage issues inside each band, etc., could be administered by an “Industry Code” developed by radio amateurs themselves, in much the same way that band plans are now. An Industry Code is much easier to change than subordinate regulation, so this would give Amateur Radio a great deal more flexibility and self-determination.
The WIA has always struggled with a shortage of funds, too much to do and too much reliance on a few key personnel. Along with amateur licence numbers, WIA membership numbers have been slowly declining for some years. However, member expectations seem to be steadily increasing. The WIA is now often benchmarked against large societies like the ARRL or the RSGB, but many people forget that the WIA has only two full-time staff members (the ARRL has almost 100!). How are we going to meet those increasing member expectations while working on a shoe-string budget? The solution may be to make more effective use of technology, or use our volunteer and committee network to a greater extent, or maybe simply better explain what the WIA can and can’t do – the solution probably lies in all those things. I believe this is going to be one of the major challenges for the WIA in the years ahead.
With membership at 31% share of the total Australian amateur population, we are doing significantly better than both the RSGB and the ARRL (both running about 23%), but the very best way to ensure the WIA is an effective representative organisation is to increase the number of members. I believe we do need to put more effort into attracting new members and retaining existing ones, but that’s a job for everyone – not just the WIA, and some recent discussions on social media have not helped the cause. I believe we need to find some creative ways to attract new members.
A highlight of the 2015 year was certainly the ANZAC Centenary celebrations, commemorating the Centenary of ANZAC troops landing at Gallipoli. The WIA initiated the use of the VK100ANZAC and VI#ANZAC callsigns for use by individuals and groups, and over 30,000 on-air contacts were made from an estimated 250 participating stations, with coordinated events in Turkey and New Zealand. Apart from that, it was also good to see so much Parks, SOTA and experimental high altitude balloon activities adding yet another facet to Amateur Radio.
I would like to sincerely thank all those who contributed in a positive way to the WIA during 2015. Particularly all the Directors, WIA Secretary David Williams, our Treasurers, our dedicated staff, the Publications Committee and all other committee members and the very many volunteers who spend countless hours working to provide WIA benefits and services.
Without all of you, there would be no WIA and the Amateur Service in Australia would be a very different thing.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS. The WIA’s Executive positions are appointed at the first Board meeting after the AGM, usually on the same weekend. It’s been a pleasure acting as President for the past four years. I’m prepared to serve again, but I’m firmly of the view that being President should not be a life-long job.
May 2016 - What does the WIA do for me?
We constantly get asked “what does the WIA do for me - why should I be a member” and when we tell them what we do they retort “why do you hide your light under a bushel”. Fair comment, so I’m going to tell you what the WIA has done this month.
The month kicked off with the ACMA’s two-day RadComms 2016 conference in Sydney, entitled “Discovery, disruption and demand”, and with a theme focusing on “enabling innovation”. We heard about the vision for a connected world where everyone, everything, everywhere, is going to be connected and monitored via the Internet of Things. There’s one thing certain, it’s going to be a very fast-paced and connected world, where collection and analysis of data generates the big dollars, and there are going to be huge demands on spectrum.
At RadComms, the Minister for Communications, the Hon Senator Mitch Fifield, distributed a Consultation Paper for the proposed new 2016 Radiocommunications Act. In the Minister’s words, “A new Radiocommunications Bill will modernise our regime, and allow industry greater scope to respond quickly in the market to emerging technologies and services.” As expected, apparatus and spectrum licensing will disappear, to be replaced by parameters-based licensing, and Class licensing will be replaced with ‘spectrum authorisations’. Spectrum administration will increasingly become the work of private band managers, or in the case of Amateur Radio, possibly a service manager.
The new Radiocommunications Bill holds both challenges and opportunities for the Amateur Service, but we believe it also holds a rare opportunity for Amateur Radio in Australia.
Shortly following the release of the Consultation Draft by the Minister, the WIA made a major submission to the ACMA in which we suggested variations to the conditions of all three amateur licence classes, and to the Spectrum Plan. The intention is to both improve the operating privileges for Australian Radio Amateurs, bringing them up to parity with other western nations, and also to make Amateur Radio more relevant in the modern, digitally-connected age. As I write this comment, we are preparing to meet with the ACMA to discuss the WIA’s submission, and other matters which may eventually lead to greater self-determination for the amateur service. I expect that, by this time this comment is published, the submission will be available on the WIA website.
Work has started on the WIA’s response to the Consultation paper itself, which is due by the end of April, representing many tens of hours of highly specialised work.
The National Office has been working on the WIA’s Club Insurance Scheme over this month, with the able assistance of Ted Thrift VK2ARA. Ted has been administrating the Club Insurance scheme for the past 10 years, and has recently retired from that role. We all thank Ted very much for so expertly handling this tedious and difficult job for so long, and the WIA Office is very quickly learning just how time consuming it really is chasing Affiliated Clubs for their membership numbers in order to make the required single insurance payment by the due date.
Last month, I mentioned in my Comment that the WIA had attended a PLT/BPL workshop hosted by the ACMA in Sydney. Following that workshop, we made a submission to the ACMA expressing the WIA’s concerns about the consumer and interference risk of PLT/BPL devices, and the rising level of electromagnetic pollution generally. The WIA’s submission is available on the WIA website.
Each year, the WIAs accounts are reviewed by our Auditor for presentation to the membership at the AGM. This year is no different and, at the time of writing, over the past week or so the WIA’s Treasurer and Executive Manager have been working closely with the Auditor/ reviewer. The fi nal result is not known at the time of writing, but everything has gone very smoothly with the Review this year, especially considering the total restructuring of the National Office operations. I expect the fi nancial report will show a small loss, which is pretty good, considering the unusual but necessary expenses last year associated with the restructure.
Add to all this activity the normal day-to-day workload, the callsign and licence assessments carried out on behalf of the Commonwealth, supporting the work of the WIA Assessors, the 60 or so emails received by the WIA offi ce each day (most of which require some sort of redirection or follow-up), sending out ‘welcome aboard’ packages to new members, new initiatives to pursue such as STEM/STEAM education, updating and reprinting the Foundation Licence Manual (now in Edition 3), and getting everything together for the AGM at Norfolk Island in late May, and you should be getting some idea of the work the staff and volunteers at the WIA do for you each month, continuously, day-in day-out.
Why wouldn’t you want to support that?
During May, we will have the added task of organising everything for the AGM on Norfolk Island. There has been a lot of discussion about the cost of hosting that event, and the fact that Directors may be getting a “free holiday in the South Pacific at member’s expense”, as a vocal brigade has alleged. Let me dispel a couple of myths. Firstly, the WIA has secured a very good deal, and the cost of holding the venue is expected to be less than previous years’ AGM events in capital cities such as Canberra, Darwin or Perth. Secondly, I am of the opinion that being a Director of the WIA should not only be a rich man’s game, and (in accordance with the Constitution) the WIA should cover Directors’ reasonable expenses when they are on WIA business. This has been the WIA’s custom and practice from the get-go. Having said that, this year, I have allowed Directors to pay their own travel expenses to Norfolk, strictly on a voluntary basis. I have no idea what arrangements individual Directors are making, and I don’t want to know, but I suspect the overall cost to the WIA this year is going to be very low indeed.
PS: Following my April Comment, a good friend of mine (Volcanologist, Arthur, for those of you who know him) reminded me that, over recent decades, we have had two PMs called Malcolm. Malcolm Number 1 would have lamented that “life was not meant to be easy” (to be a WIA president). However, Malcolm Number 2 would enthusiastically proclaim that “there has never been a more exciting time” (to be a WIA president). His advice is, go with the latter guy.
April 2016 - Life as a WIA Director was never meant to be easy
Italian philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, made some sage observations about change and reform: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things”. It would be fair to say that last year was difficult for the WIA, with an office restructure, the appointment of a new Executive Administrator, the resignation of one Director, and the resignation of two Treasurers, one after a very short term. Last year, life as a WIA Director was never going to be easy.
In this issue, you will see a Letter to the Editor from Chris Chapman VK3QB. Chris raises a number of issues in his letter concerning governance and financial practices at the WIA. The Board is addressing several issues Chris has raised, including instigating a full review of the WIA corporate governance and procedures. I refer readers to the WIA’s reply.
A couple of days after Chris resigned, I attended a meeting at the WIA office with Fred Swainston, our new Executive Administrator Bruce Deefholts, our accountant Murray Leadbetter, and the WIA’s Auditor to get to the bottom of the financial concerns.
We spent several hours analysing the accounting system and the financial records and determined that the WIA did not appear to have any major accounting issues. Accounting processes and record keeping has been very much improved in the last few months, and major problems with the WIA’s upcoming annual financial review are not anticipated. On the information available at the time of writing, it seems the WIA has no major financial issues. We expect the Auditor’s review to go smoothly and the financial result for 2015 will be available after that.
Governance issues like those raised in Chris’ letter to the Editor are now extremely important, much more so than a few years ago. The WIA continues to function on the goodwill and considerable time and effort put-in by volunteers, but all Directors and Officers of the WIA now carry a considerable burden.
Our society is a very different place in 2016 to what it was in, say, the 1980s and 1990s. An organisation now has to devote a great deal of attention to process and, sometimes, achieving the actual outcome seems secondary. I guess that is just symptomatic of our increasingly legalistic society.
Under the WIA’s Constitution, WIA members are elected to the Board of Directors by popular vote. There are no qualifications required, and I think it would be fair to say that most WIA volunteers have not had a great deal of experience with corporate governance issues. I am an outcomes driven person myself, and I do tend to focus on the end result. To improve that situation I have directed all WIA Directors to attend a short course on corporate governance issues (myself included).
This begs the question: why would anybody want to become an Officer of a volunteer organisation these days anyway? I must admit I’m asking myself that same question right now. However, I am very much encouraged by the number of people who have put up their hands this year to be a WIA Director – I might get to have a holiday after all!
Issues affecting us all
On a totally different issue, last month, in March, the WIA made a submission to an ACMA discussion paper about in-home BPL/PLT modems. These are the power-line modems that can be purchased from retail outlets, or supplied with a broadband entertainment service. The supply and operation of these devices is largely managed under the ACMA’s electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) requirements. Up to now, the ACMA has required compliance to the International Standard CISPR-22.
The development of specific EMC requirements for in-home BPL/PLT technology has been highly contentious and, despite extensive work over many years, agreement has not been reached anywhere in the world. Australia, through Standards Australia technical committee TE-003, of which the WIA is a member, has consistently opposed the inclusion of BPL/PLT-specific requirements in CISPR 22.
As a result of the unsuccessful attempt by CISPR to amend CISPR-22 to introduce specific limits for BPL/PLT equipment, the European Standards organisation CENELEC has developed an alternative standard, EN50561-1, which is more accommodating. The limits in EN50561-1 are the same as CISPR 22, but because it classes the modem as a telecommunications device, and the modem is not required to be in active mode when testing emissions on the mains connection (they may as well test a toaster). However, EN50561-1 does require ‘notching’ of the transmitted signal to protect various radiocommunications services including amateur, aeronautical and broadcasting.
The ACMA recently undertook an audit of suppliers of BPL/PLT devices in Australia and assessed that there is a systemic non-compliance issue, they say, caused by confusion about the application of the Standards.
However, despite the widespread noncompliance of equipment they report “in practice, the associated interference risk has not materialised” and “to date, the ACMA has not received any complaints regarding interference to radiocommunications services from PLT devices”. The ACMA has now implemented an interim approach to allow the continued supply of in-home PLT devices, while attempting to manage the interference and any consumer risks. A longer-term decision is expected to be made by the ACMA by the end of June.
The introduction of transmission masks that notch the amateur bands have no doubt reduced the interference experienced by radio amateurs. However, we are surprised about the apparent lack of interference complaints about BPL/PLT devices from Australian radio amateurs. Could it be due to the difficulties identifying and finding the source of BPL/PLT interference, is the interference reporting process through the ACMA website too difficult, has a complaint about BPL/PLT interference received no attention or, as some contest, is there simply no problem?
Let’s call it for what it is – Electromagnetic Pollution, where every unwanted noise source just adds to the pollution level. It is the WIA’s view that, in order to protect existing and emerging technologies, we must maintain the strongest vigilance against radio noise pollution from all identifiable sources. If you do have a confirmed case of interference from a BPL/PLT modem, and if you have subsequently lodged an interference complaint with the ACMA, we could be pleased to hear from you.
March 2016 - Innovation: getting a head of STEAM
Innovation is the buzz word for this year. Depending who you subscribe to, the federal government’s new innovation policy is either going to “turn fresh ideas into successful products”, ensure Australia’s place in an uncertain global economy and “drive a new boom to generate jobs and prosperity for all” (http://www.innovation.gov.au); or, in the words of Chris Berg, a senior fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs and author of Liberty, Equality & Democracy and Magna Carta: The Tax Revolt That Gave Us Liberty, “the only thing governments can do to the ‘culture’ of innovation is hurt it”.
Being the product of an engineering father, and having developed an early interest in electronics and amateur radio leading to a lifelong career in business, electronics and telecommunications, I am a strong supporter of innovation, especially in an era when Australia can no longer rely so heavily on its mining and primary industries.
Innovation is nothing new to Australians. The development of Wi-Fi, the Cochlear Implant, the heart pacemaker, and the black-box flight recorder are all Australian inventions - not to mention winged keels on racing yachts and Aussie Rules football. I believe, given the right conditions, regulatory and tax settings, and enough interest from institutional investors, Australia is uniquely placed to be an innovative leader in the new era. The government’s new innovation policy may be the right thing at the right time.
So, how does amateur radio and the WIA fit into this?
My high school radio club operated in a partitioned-off area in one of the science labs. The school was one of the first to introduce the Rex Black Youth Radio Scheme in the late 1960s and, although more of a social club come extortion racket (Sydney’s Oxford Street disposal stores were just around the corner), many of us kids followed through into successful careers in science and technology. I know how a little encouragement early-on can go a long way, and some of those guys are still active radio amateurs.
There is a new initiative in schools across Australia that also has the potential to spark an interest in science and technology amongst our youth, and hopefully provide many of the new innovators as a result. Originally called STEM, for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, but more recently called STEAM with the addition of Arts (yes, there is technology in art and even art in technology – think ‘design’), and may possibly be expanded into STREAM to include Rocketry (!), STEAM is a curriculum course with each of the modules taught as part of a total package.
STEAM is basically about “applying creative thinking to real-world technical and scientific challenges through a more hands-on approach to learning”. The hope is that learning outcomes and information retention will be improved through STEAM’s experienced-based learning.
It’s very early days, but along with other engineering elements, such as computer projects and coding, I think there is a place for students to also learn about wireless technologies, so they can become something more than just consumers of pre-packaged technology.
The WIA is interested in exploring the potential. It would not be anything like the old Rex Black Youth Radio Scheme, where the end-game was to acquire an amateur radio licence. The end-game with STEAM is to spark a much wider interest and knowledge in technology, and naturally to meet the relevant curriculum requirements. Maybe some students would be interested in amateur radio, but only as a spin-off, and then probably only if the Foundation licence permitted digital modes and use of self-constructed kits, which took student’s learning experiences much further.
What amateur radio may be able to provide is a pre-packaged, simple, out-of-the-box learning resource in wireless technologies, with a very simple hands-on project or two. We may also be able to provide some willing and educationally experienced volunteers to help teachers in the classroom.
These are very early days, and it’s not something the WIA has any expertise in itself, but we are looking to get a group of interested and experienced people together to progress this idea. Some members have expressed an interest in forming a group for Youth education and I believe there is an opportunity there. There you go – innovation in action!
PS: There’s no truth to the rumour that Amateur Radio magazine is going to feature each Board member, one by one, on the cover over the year, now that a Board member appeared on the cover of the January/February issue!
December 2015 - What have the Romans ever done for us?
In the November edition of this magazine, two “Over to You” letters were published that warrant a response from the WIA.
The first is from Rob Cummings VK3NBC. Rob shares his thoughts on why people do not join the hobby, breaking it down to three broad categories of “Difficulty”, “Expense”, and “Old Fashioned”. When I was young, amateur radio had a very high entry barrier indeed; I can remember studying for my Z-call amateur licence in high school economics classes –“Samuelson Economics” was a very large text and could nicely hide the ARRL Handbook. Thankfully, all that changed with the introduction of the Foundation licence over 10 years ago. But, there is still more to do to make the hobby more accessible and attractive.
We would all like to see more youth attracted into the hobby, but my personal view is that they are unlikely to be attracted by the traditional aspects of amateur radio, such as contesting and chasing DX, etc. Rather, I think, they will come into the hobby when they see a benefit in using amateur radio as an educational or communications tool to enhance some other interest, such as space, satellites, robotics, ballooning, yachting, orienteering etc. - think SOTA-type activities. Also, I think there is a strong vocational and educational component to amateur radio which is yet to be fully recognised or developed.
So, if Rob reads my President’s comments over the past couple of years, and takes a look at the various WIA submissions in the “Hot Issues” section of the WIA website, he will see that the WIA largely agrees with him. However, actually progressing these issues is much more difficult due to the rigidity of the legislation and regulations that control us, including the examination syllabi. Hopefully, the current Spectrum Review processes will enable us to have greater control over our own destiny.
As far as membership of the WIA is concerned, at 34% of the total amateur population the WIA does a lot better than most other societies, even the ARRL or the RSGB, which are both running at about 24%. I have always thought that, at any one time, about 50% of licensed amateurs are either not active, or for some other reason (such as their financial status, or something the WIA did many years ago, or maybe they would never join a member organisation anyway), are unreachable and would never join the WIA. If I am correct, the WIA’s penetration of the available market would be at much higher levels.
The second item, on page 39, was a copy of letter from Stephen Ireland VK3VM, sent to the new Minister of Communications, Senator the Hon. Mitch Fifield. The crux of the letter was that amateur radio licensing fees should be abolished, or at least significantly reduced, and that the WIA is incorrect in suggesting that the level of service from the ACMA would be affected if fees were reduced.
I refer readers to both the OTY letter from Dale Hughes VK1DSH on page 32 of November, and my President’s Comment, also in the November issue, discussing the long-term benefit amateur radio has derived as a licence fee-paying service. Mr Ireland omits to say that the Commonwealth has in fact just reduced the cost of our amateur licence fees to $51 - not an insubstantial cut.
Changes to the amateur service are expected to be an outcome of the review processes currently underway within the Department of Communications and the ACMA, but at this stage we don’t have a clear view of what those changes will be, and the impact that they will have on the amateur service. The WIA remains opposed to any outcome which diminishes the relative status of the amateur service in relation to other radiocommunications services and, for now, that also involves licence fees.
Where I do have serious issue with Mr Irelands’ letter is where he expresses the view to the Minister that the WIA no longer represents the interests of radio amateurs in Australia, and he states that WIA membership is declining at the rate of 100 members per month. This is deplorably incorrect. The WIA’s membership declined slightly from 4,465 members at the end of last year to 4,425 members at the end of October 2015, i.e. less than six per month! The rate of new memberships, or lapsed members returning to the WIA, almost compensates for departing members and the increasing number of silent keys.
I think everyone would raise an eyebrow when Mr Ireland raises a view, though he carefully doesn’t actually say he shares it, that the fees the WIA charges for reinstating accidental licence drop-offs and renewals (late payers) benefits the WIA, or persons within the WIA, and this could be the real reason the WIA goes soft on pushing licence fee reductions (i.e. a conflict of interest). Naturally, the WIA charges for the work it does under the Deed with the ACMA, and is independently audited with respect to costs and charges under the Deed. To include such an unsubstantiated view in a letter to the Minister begs readers to draw their own conclusions about Mr Ireland’s intention in stating it.
At the end of 2015, there is a view circulating, particularly on social media channels, that the WIA has not been effective enough in its recent dealings with government and the ACMA. I’m reminded of the scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” (said to be the motion picture destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world, and severely annoy the other third), when Reg, aka John Cleese says: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
I do have some sympathy for those who think change in amateur radio is happening too slowly. However, as I said previously, we find ourselves in a period when the entire radiocommunications landscape in Australia is being re-crafted, and amateur radio is only a very small part of that very big picture. The WIA has recently resubmitted to the ACMA our list of proposed changes to the amateur licence conditions (the LCD), first submitted in 2014 and recently updated for the latest submission. Change will come, but we must be patient, and we need to make sure it’s compatible with amateur radio’s longer-term objectives.
So another year has passed. As I always say, have a very safe and happy Christmas, and see you in 2016, whatever that year brings!
Phil Wait VK2ASD
November 2015 - The power of acting collectively
The International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) represents the interests of over 160 amateur radio societies like the WIA, worldwide, and indirectly the interests of about three million individual radio amateurs.
The IARU divides the amateur world up into three regions: Region 1 – Europe, the Middle East, Africa and East Asia; Region 2 – the Americas; and Region 3 – most of Asia and the Pacific, including us. These IARU Regions mirror the three regions of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which is the United Nations agency that deals with information and communication technologies, including the amateur radio and the amateur-satellite services. The Radiocommunication Sector of the ITU (ITU-R) manages the international radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits.
All Regions are very diverse, with a mix of large and small nations, developed and developing, with varying regulations and operating conditions governing the amateur service in each nation. Our Region comprises nations with very large amateur populations such as Japan (1.3 million - the world’s largest), Thailand (176,000), Korea (140,000), rapidly growing amateur populations, such as Indonesia (27,000) and China (last count about 70,000), mature stable populations like Australia and New Zealand, and small isolated amateur communities like Fiji and most other Pacific Island Nations. The IARU is governed by an Administrative Council consisting of a President, Vice President, Secretary and two representatives from each Region.
It’s important to us that the IARU is strong and able to work effectively within the ITU structure in order to protect the international interests of amateur radio, especially in relation to amateur radio spectrum and the amateur satellite service, and also to promote the value and interests of amateur radio generally. The IARU also maintains an International Monitoring System where a number of operators around the world monitor the amateur bands for intruders, or non-amateur radio stations, transmitting on amateur assigned frequencies, and brings intruders to the attention of the relevant authority. The IARU also maintains a number of international beacons and administers the “Worked all Countries” award, the oldest operating award in amateur radio.
As I write this Comment I’m preparing to travel to Bali, together with Peter Young VK3MV, for the 16th IARU Region 3 Conference, hosted this year by the Indonesia Amateur Radio Organization (ORARI). These conferences are staged every three years around each Region and are a chance for societies to get together and discuss the important issues. This year’s agenda is very full, with intruders and interference, youth and amateur radio, harmonisation of bandplans, digital modes, ARDF, and disaster communications all on the agenda, to name a few. Conference submissions are publically available at http://iaru-r3.org/16th-triennial-conference-of-the-iaru-r3-documents/
It’s going to be a busy week and I’m hopeful that some concrete decisions can come out of it.
The WIA is a strong supporter of the IARU and the critical role it plays within the ITU. Over the past few years the Institute has directed a significant amount of member’s funds towards supporting the international work of the IARU, such as investigating the feasibility of a new amateur allocation at 5 MHz, harmonising the 7 MHz band, HF bandplanning, cooperation on regional disaster communications and so on. WIA past President Michael Owen VK3KI was the Chairman of Region 3 prior to becoming a Silent Key, and the three HF WARC bands came about from an IARU initiative, championed by David Wardlaw VK3ADW.
Australia has always punched well above its weight internationally, considering its population, and it’s no different in international amateur radio circles considering the WIA has only about 4500 members. Nationally, the WIA is yet another example of how a representative organisation can exert significant influence in a pluralist society, much greater than the power of its members acting individually. However, in acting collectively, every now and then the WIA must make a stand for what it believes is in the best interest of amateur radio and its members, and sometimes not everyone agrees.
Recently the WIA Board became aware of a campaign, circulated by email, to lobby the new Minister for Communications to “review the pricing of amateur radio licences, to bring them into line with other countries” . WIA Director Roger Harrison was tasked with preparing a news item for the weekly VK1WIA news broadcast explaining the facts and warning of the negative consequences, and Jim Linton VK3PC followed up with a news item entitled Danger! A no-fee amateur licence fee could mean no service.
The other countries cited in the lobbying email are the United States, where “amateurs are issued a licence for 10 years, requiring revalidation after expiry, with no fee” ; the United Kingdom, where “amateurs are issued a licence for life requiring revalidation five-yearly, with no fee” ; and “in New Zealand, amateurs are licensed under a General Users Licence, with no fee” .
The proponents of this lobbying campaign are asking the Minister to direct the ACMA to drop Australian amateur licence fees to zero. They suggest writing a personal letter to the Minister in your own words, arguing that amateur radio's past and possible role in disaster communications deserves to be valued, as it is in “many countries of the world” , then citing the three examples above, along with the argument that a large number of Australian amateurs are pensioners, for whom “the annual licence fee has seen some simply abandon their hobby due to the cost, and to the detriment of the nation” .
As Roger explained, “At first blush, the proponents of this lobbying campaign seem to have the interests of Australian radio amateurs at heart, particularly those living on a pension. However, in Australia, it is government policy that ALL spectrum users pay a tax for the use of spectrum - even defence; that is, the armed forces” .
Let’s be very clear about this: In no small way, since the introduction of Radiocommunications licensing almost one hundred years ago, the protection and status the amateur radio service has enjoyed under apparatus licensing has allowed us to have a seat at the table in the negotiations about the legislation and regulations that control us. If amateur radio was afforded the same status as the Citizens Band Radio Service, or garage door remote controls, the situation would have been very different.
The WIA believes the recent email campaign is counter-productive and against the long-term interests of amateur radio. In fact, the NZART has told the WIA that they and many amateurs in New Zealand regret their introduction of the no-fee licence. It is obvious the outcomes of the Department of Communications Spectrum Review will impact amateur radio and change is in the wind, but we need those changes to be orderly and considered, and the WIA needs to be a strong advocate in that process.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS. Last month I encouraged you to log into MEMNET and check your email address and personal information was up to date. Well, what an embarrassment! The volume of database queries unearthed some interesting technical issues with the MEMNET Lost Password Reset feature, which emails a link to reset passwords, and also the password reset function. Thankfully all that now appears to be fixed, so for those who experienced difficulties, please try again and see if you can break it now. That’s software development!
October 2015 - It never rains but it pours
Last month I told you that the WIA Board was meeting in Melbourne to review the operation of the WIA National Office in order to improve member services and position the organisation so it can capitalise on future opportunities.
Well, a lot has happened since then.
Firstly, the Australian Government announced the implementation of the Spectrum Review recommendations. The current apparatus, class and spectrum licensing regimes will be replaced with a new, single licence type based on a set of key parameters, such as frequencies, geographical details, rights to renewal, terms for variation or revocation, together with price and payment methods.
Secondly, the ACMA transitioned from its old RADCOM licensing platform to the new SPECTRA system developed under Project HELM (Holistic Engineering and Licence Management). There are a number of changes that will affect both new and existing licensees; for instance, if you have just passed your first amateur licence assessment, the ACMA will now send you an invoice for the licence fees and you will need to pay the ACMA directly, not via the WIA; if you are upgrading to a higher level licence you will need to apply for a completely new licence, not just upgrade your old one; and if you are like me and leave things till the last minute, you will now have 90 days to forget to renew your licence following an initial Validation notice from the ACMA.
Thirdly, following the review of the WIA’s office, it was determined that that the existing office structure did not meet our current and future needs. A decision was made to remove the position of Office Manager and replace it with an Executive Officer position with a much more active responsibility for the development and implementation of strategies designed to improve member services, and increase membership and support the Board. As a result, Mal Brooks has left the WIA, and Fred Swainston VK3DAC is acting in the Executive Officer position for a limited time. The WIA Board thanks Mal Brooks for his past service and we wish him well for the future. Recruitment action to select a candidate for the Executive Officer position will proceed in due course.
Fred has hit the ground running, and is currently working his way through our business, e-Commerce, website and membership database (MEMNET) systems, and processes and procedures, with a lot of help from the crew of volunteers in Melbourne. That may not sound like much, but the exercise has revealed a significant amount of duplication and inefficiency, which will ultimately lead to savings in staff time and increase the profitability in areas like the bookshop. Most importantly, if all the recommendations in the Government’s Spectrum Review are adopted, the WIA will need to be ready to play a much greater role in the administration of amateur radio in Australia in the not too-distant future.
As I said last month, change is difficult, and there will be some speed-bumps along the way. The costs of the office restructure, coupled with our international activities protecting our current bands and pursuing a case for a new Amateur allocation at 5 MHz, including sending a representative to the 2015 World Radio Conference in Geneva (WRC-15) next month, and the IARU Region-3 meeting in Bali this month, where we also need to be represented, is turning 2015 into a very expensive year. So, who said "it never rains, but it pours"?
One thing is for sure, we need every licensee possible to join the WIA so we are in the best possible position to represent Australian radio amateurs through this period of great change, and beyond. If you're already a member, thanks; buy a book or three and don’t forget to renew. If you’re not a member of the National WIA, please do consider joining – it’s only through membership of the National organisation, seen by the authorities as the only peak representative body, that you contribute to these vital activities, get to have a say in the future of amateur radio in Australia, and ensure the future of the WIA as your representative.
Hopefully, by the time that the deadline for next month’s column arrives, the situation will have settled down somewhat and I can concentrate on other things.
Phil Wait, VK2ASD
PS. One of the glaring problems we have is that fewer than 50% of members are using the on-line MEMNET system. Sure, there are issues with forgotten passwords and lost membership numbers, and some members’ email addresses are incorrect, but if we can get it to work properly with your help, the MEMNET system offers very significant savings on postage and membership administration time. So, please log into MEMNET from the WIA website and spend a little time to set-up a user profile or to check that your recorded details are correct – particularly your current email address.
September 2015 - Even the WIA needs change
By the time you read this, the seven WIA Directors will have met at Melbourne airport. The WIA Board meets monthly by teleconference and, due to the considerable cost of flying Directors around the country, even if it’s only for one day, in recent years we have only met as a group once per year at the AGM. However, this time we needed to discuss some important changes at the WIA, and we really had to meet in person.
It’s now 11 years since the formation of the National WIA, heralding in a period of improved operational effectiveness and stability, especially in the WIA’s core roles of advocacy and representation, both locally and internationally, and the training and assessment of new radio amateurs.
However, many things have changed over those years, such as increasing competition for people’s time, the ageing of the amateur population, the pervasiveness of the internet, mobile devices and social media, greater regulatory complexity, increasing requirements for preparing submissions with very short response times, an increasingly complex technological environment, and immense pressure on the spectrum (especially between 400 MHz and 10 GHz), to name a few.
The work of the WIA has become more complex and demanding, and some of our volunteers are finding themselves doing way too much and more often than they planned or expected. Although there have been significant advances over the years in how the WIA functions, improvements have been incremental and member expectations are now challenging resources.
The traditional ivory tower style “command and control” corporate leadership is a thing of the past, and these days the most successful organisations have an open structure that is more social and engages people differently. The national WIA was formed along the lines of an ‘operations’ business model, which served us well during the establishment years. Now, it has become apparent that the WIA has to adopt a pro-active customer service business model to address current and future business issues facing the Australian amateur radio community.
The WIA Board met in person to discuss how the organisation can become more responsive to the changing needs and expectations of its members in the face of changing social conditions. Naturally, as I write this Comment, I don’t know what the outcome will be; however, I can tell you about three new initiatives that the WIA Board has already put in place.
The WIA website now contains over 2500 pages of information, and attracts over one million page visits per year. Vital information to radio amateurs, such as training and assessment resources, amateur licence regulations, band plans, affiliated club details, contest and award details, etc., all need to be kept up to date and readily accessible. Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of that information, sometimes pages have not been updated or are difficult to find.
We do not believe there are major structural problems with the WIA website, or that we need to throw the “baby out with the bathwater” and start again, and do a total redesign, but we have identified that information retrieval and site navigation can be improved, and it could become rather more mobile-device friendly. The WIA has embarked on a re-tune of the WIA website and, who knows, with that many visits per year it could provide a modest income stream in due course.
Over the past few years, the WIA membership has declined slightly. In actual fact, there is about 7% membership churn per year, with the number of new members almost replacing the number who cease to remain members. Naturally, age is a major contributor, with an increasing number of silent keys each year, but we don’t really have an accurate idea why other members simply don’t renew. Some may dislike us for some reason, some may simply forget to renew, others may believe that they can no longer afford it; we don’t actually know.
By the time you read this Comment, the WIA will have commenced a pilot project phoning lapsed members, in order to either sign them up again, or at least determine the real reason for their non-renewal. This process will be done with sensitivity and tact by an external contractor, and the information gained will be very useful for better targeting member services in the future, and we just may reverse the membership trend.
Those of you who have read my President’s Comments over the past few months will know that I am keen to improve the social relevance of amateur radio, particularly in the fields of education and technical experimentation. The WIA has just announced the second round of Special Purpose Grants for commencement in 2016. Unlike the previous Club Grants Scheme, WIA Special Purpose Grants are available to any club, individual or group and their selection will be aligned with the WIA’s development strategy of the time, with a focus on the benefit to the wider amateur community. In some circumstances, especially where there is developmental risk, the grant may be staged.
So, change is in the air at the WIA. Change is always difficult for any organisation, and I fully expect there will be difficulties and unexpected expenses, but every organisation needs to regularly take stock of itself and move forward – even the WIA. I hope to have more to say after our Directors meeting in Melbourne.
PS. Watch out for the WIA Special Purpose Grants information on the WIA website.
August 2015 - The inspector comes a’knockn
Last month the WIA received an enquiry from a member who had attempted to off-load a second-hand amateur transceiver through a popular on-line amateur radio marketplace. His advertisement disclosed that the equipment had been previously modified (by a previous owner) to transmit outside the amateur bands, specifically the 27 MHz CB band.
Not long afterwards he received a surprise call from an ACMA inspector, and the following Email:
Further to our discussions today, find attached a warning notice issued to you for breaching Section 4 (unlawful possession of radio communications devices), of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act).
Equipment that operates on the Land Mobile HF bands, including 27 MHz must meet the specific Australian Standards. The equipment must also carry the RCM compliance label. Modified amateur radio equipment does not meet these Standards, nor does it carry the mandatory compliance labelling.
The Email went on to note the potential for interference from modified devices, and stated the maximum penalties of $255,000 including 2 years imprisonment for unlawful possession of radio communications devices and $255,000 for supply of non-standard devices. Our member was given 14 days’ notice to rectify the situation i.e. to get out the soldering iron and un-modify the radio.
All that came as quite a surprise, because he believed, backed up by some information on the WIA’s own website, that he was within his rights to own such a radio, so long as it was not used to transmit outside his amateur licence conditions. After all, even new amateur radio equipment is often capable of transmitting outside the HF amateur band limits, and military-surplus and some older equipment can go just about anywhere. Why the distinction?
In complex matters like this it’s always safest to refer to the Act. Section 158 (1): Possession of Non-Standard Devices, states: “Subject to Divisions 4 and 5, a person must not have in his or her possession for the purpose of operation a device that the person knows is a non-standard device.” Divisions 4 & 5 refer to emergency transmissions and equipment supply outside Australia etc.
So, the whole issue revolves around the existence of a Standard for a particular usage and/or device. As there is no applicable Radiocommunications Standard for amateur usage or equipment, equipment built solely for amateur radio use is not affected, but as soon as that equipment is modified in any way to make it suitable for non-amateur use, where another Standard does apply, it then becomes a non-Standard device. There is also no Standard for military gear, or for very old radio equipment which was manufactured prior to an Australian Standard being introduced.
The email was passed to the WIA’s Spectrum committee comprising Peter Young VK3MV, Roger Harrison VK2ZRH, Brian Miller VK3MI and myself. The guidance on the WIA website is clear that modified equipment, including modified CB and marine equipment, cannot be operated lawfully outside amateur spectrum. It is also clear that such equipment cannot be commercially sold. However, the guidance is less clear that possessing such modified equipment would also be unlawful.
If an Australian Standard is in place for a particular type of equipment, or usage, amateur equipment modified to operate in the same spectrum is effectively non-standard equipment. Our understanding is that the provisions under sections 46-48 and 158-160 of the Radiocommunications Act effectively prohibit the operation of such equipment, or its possession for the purpose of operation, or its commercial sale. Section 48 clarifies that such equipment is deemed to be in possession for the purpose of operation if it could easily be turned on and placed into operation.
Considering the number of recent criminal convictions following interference to police and emergency services (where modified equipment was used), we believe it would be difficult for an amateur to argue a case against any enforcement action by the ACMA.
So, at the end of the day, we advised our member that he should take it on the chin and comply with the ACMA inspector’s request, which he cheerfully did. However, many would argue that the current provisions about the possession of non-standard devices do not seem to support the experimental nature of the amateur radio service, and that is something we intend to take up with the ACMA with a view to creating more flexibility for amateurs to possess such devices in some circumstances.
For a fuller explanation see http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/nonstandard-transmitters-and-permits
July 2015 - Postcard from Dallas
This has been quite a month, and I’m struggling to know exactly where to begin, but since I’m sitting in Dallas Airport with a few hours to spare, I’ll start at the beginning.
The WIA’s 2015 AGM and Open Forum in Canberra highlighted several areas of strategic importance that will occupy the WIA Board’s attention over the next year.
The Friday afternoon prior to the AGM was devoted to finding a way forward to the many difficult issues surrounding the 2 metre and 70 cm bandplans. Happily, consensus was achieved at the meeting (no, it wasn’t a ‘done deal’) and over the next few days, John VK3KM, Peter VK3APO and Grant VK5GR refined the few outstanding issues and finalised the draft plans. When this magazine hits your mailbox, the new draft 2 m and 70 cm bandplans would have been published in the Hot Issues section of the WIA website for comment.
Importantly, the revised bandplans do not force any existing users to change frequency, but they do make some very fundamental and wide-ranging alterations to improve our band usage and efficiency and we are keen to hear from any special interest groups or repeater licensees who believe they are adversely affected.
After going through the necessary corporate matters in the formal AGM, which this time took about 20 minutes (thankfully, our AGMs are short affairs), we moved on to the Open Forum. This is where the rubber hits the road in WIA affairs and where members present are encouraged to air their views on subjects close to their heart. Initially, we heard a presentation from Dale Hughes VK1DSH about the IARU and his work at the ITU (Dale is chair of ITU Working Party 5, which is attempting to achieve a 5 MHz allocation for amateur radio within the ITU rules), and then we heard from Peter Young VK3PV about the impending changes to Australian Radiocommunications legislation and how it could affect amateur radio – more on that later.
Then, members were encouraged to ask questions of the Board and to air their views. A number of issues were discussed, but the biggest take-away opinion was that the WIA could improve and broaden how it communicates with members and the wider community. Although not a real surprise to the Board, it is something of a perennial issue – the more we do, the more people want! Constrained by resources, available time and to some extent cost, I am nevertheless amazed at the volume and frequency of WIA news produced and delivered via this magazine, the weekly broadcasts and the website, especially when compared against other societies having greater resources. That said, I recognise that it’s a constant battle getting the message out, especially to those members who may not listen to WIA broadcasts, carefully read this magazine or spend little time online, but we do need to find or make more avenues and opportunities to tell members what is going on, and extend that effort to the community.
In our defence, some readers may recall that two recent President’s Comments asked for suggestions about how we can improve the interface between the WIA and the affiliated clubs. Well, we only received two comments from individual members and none from the clubs themselves, so we won’t ask that one again. However, the WIA Board has taken notice, and with the help of Jim VK3PC, by the time this edition hits your mailbox, you should have noticed some early improvements.
Additionally, over the past year we have introduced a “Hot Issues” section on the WIA website home page where members can follow the most important current issues, and a summary of monthly WIA Board meetings is now published on the WIA website (in the “About the WIA” section) and emailed to members who have registered on MEMNET. These notes are also being emailed to the Presidents and Secretaries of all affiliated clubs.
During the Saturday night annual dinner, Mark Loney, Executive Manager, Operations and Services Branch at the ACMA, discussed the changes occurring within the ACMA and some of the possible outcomes from the Spectrum Review. At the time of writing this President’s Comment, the Department of Communications has only just released their recommendations in the Spectrum Review Report into spectrum management, which will now go to Government for their approval or modification. This is a very fast-moving area, and I will again refer readers to the Hot Issues section on the WIA website for the latest up-to-date information. The WIA has been working very positively with the ACMA over the last few years and, more recently the Department of Communications, in the lead-up to the release of the Spectrum Review Report. Although the recommended changes are far-reaching, advocating as they do a complete re-write of the radiocommunications legislation and spectrum management practices, they have not come as a surprise to us because we’ve paid close attention to what’s happening and participated in the public consultation. In fact, if things work out as we anticipate, the outcomes for amateur radio and for the WIA promise to be quite beneficial.
I’ve been trying to get to the Dayton Hamvention in the USA for about 10 years, but the WIA’s AGM date has always clashed. This year was different, so I took the opportunity and cashed in some points and headed off to Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is anything but a tourist destination, but if you ever get the chance, don’t hesitate – go! There was a healthy contingent of VKs there, judging from the pins placed on a world map at the ARRL stand, and I was joined by Co-Director Chris Platt VK5CP. Dayton is an amazing collection of people and amateur radio suppliers, with just about everything you can imagine to do with amateur radio, from the latest software defined radios to a healthy collection of “boat anchors”. The flea market itself takes almost a day to walk around and there was even a 180 foot tower on display. I bought a Heil microphone, some rig remote control equipment, and a 150TH valve (sorry, vacuum tube) for the mantelpiece.
The sign in the street leading into Hara Arena, which houses the Hamvention, was reassuring – “Per Ohio law, concealed weapons are prohibited on these premises for this event” – and the front-page item in today’s newspaper here in Dallas was a debate on whether university students should be allowed to carry their handguns into classes for self-protection, rather than leave them in their car. Only in America!
Several other societies were represented at Dayton, including the RSGB (UK), the DARC (Germany), the RAC (Canada),the Qatar Amateur Radio Society, AMSAT, ARISS, and of course the IARU. The ARRL contingent was very impressive, with all the major ARRL activities represented, and I spent quite a bit of time talking to their various leaders. It’s both impressive and envy-making to see what can be achieved with about 100 paid staff! Although their level of activity is way beyond the resources of the WIA, I believe there may be opportunities for us to leverage off some of their initiatives, especially in promoting a modern image of amateur radio to youth.
Before coming to Dallas, I spent a couple of days in Chicago, my favourite US city, with very late nights at Blue Chicago – a must-visit blues bar on Chicago’s north side – and a visit to the museums of science and technology and broadcasting, plus a few days in Austin Texas, now my second favourite US city. I’m about to board the A380 for the 16-hour non-stop flight back to Sydney, and back to work. Drat, it’s all too short!
PS. Don’t forget to register your support on the WIA website for Norfolk Island for next year’s AGM and Open Forum venue. As I write (end of May) we have over 100 people who have indicated they would attend, which is encouraging, but more would be better; we want to spread the excitement around!
June 2015 - Out from under the umbrella!
Late last year I found myself walking through Hong Kong in the middle of the pro-democracy demonstrations, coined the “Umbrella Revolution”, where more than 100,000 student protesters were attempting to force Beijing to revisit a decision by the National People’s Congress. Since the time of the handover from British administration in 1997, Hong Kong has operated under a “one country two systems” policy, which maintained its capitalist economic system and guaranteed the rights and freedoms of its people for at least 50 years. The decision by the NPC effectively gave Beijing control over the selection of candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, thus eroding Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms.
The struggle played out on social media and became an international public relations nightmare for Beijing, reviving memories of Tiananmen Square some 25 years earlier.
Also in Hong Kong at the time was Micha Benoliel, a 42 year old French born entrepreneur and CEO of a Silicon Valley start-up company “Open Garden” which had just released the Smartphone app “Firechat”, which allows smart phones to use their Bluetooth transceivers to form an ad-hoc mesh wireless network, passing messages to each other by bouncing from phone to phone, completely independently from the telecommunications networks.
To tech savvy protesters, Firechat offered a way to stay connected and organised, even if the authorities were to shut down the networks, and in a short time the app was downloaded several hundred thousand times with millions of messages being passed between protesters.
Key east-west arterial routes in the districts of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok were closed for over 70 days and, although there were violent incidences, I thought the authorities showed some restraint and avoided a repeat the disastrous events of 25 years earlier.
All that time sitting in Hong Kong’s clogged traffic got me thinking: In a mesh network, digital wireless transceivers called nodes become arranged in a self-healing mesh and pass messages to each other based on an automatically configurable routing table. Sometimes called a “web without the world wide web”, messages can be passed seamlessly from one node to any other without anyone really knowing (or caring) how they got there. Gateway devices can link isolated mesh networks together using telecommunications networks, satellite, or maybe even HF radio links.
So, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think that amateurs could build-out a wide-area mesh network themselves, so amateur radio related messages and small files could be passed around using simple low-cost equipment and small antennas. The applications for emergency communications are obvious, and the technology itself is interesting and leading edge. The more people that use it the better it gets.
Some amateurs are already doing this: Glenn KD5MFW, David AD5OO, Bob WB5AOH and Rick NG5V have formed a system called Hamnet, in their words “a high speed, self-discovering, self-configuring, fault tolerant, wireless computer network that can run for days from a fully charged car battery, or indefinitely with the addition of a modest solar array or other supplemental power source. The focus is on emergency communications”. http://www.broadband-hamnet.org/
Their system uses Linksys wireless routers and operates on channels 1-6 of the 2.4 GHz ISM band, which overlaps with the upper portion of the 13 cm amateur radio band – but maybe something at a lower frequency, providing greater range albeit with lower data speeds, could be more interesting. Just think if every amateur had a small low-cost, solar-powered, 6-metre mesh transceiver on their roof with a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi link down to their computer. Text messages, small files and news items, could be passed around between radio amateurs and the whole system would be available for emergency traffic if and when required.
Crazy idea... maybe, and there are probably better ones, but I wanted to start readers thinking about the possibilities.
Last year the WIA part-financed the GPS beacon locking project which was initiated and administered by Alan Devlin VK3XPD. Being a keen VHF/UHF/microwave operator with significant experience in weak-signal operation and the pursuit of distance records, Alan was very aware of the advantages of GPS-locking transmitters and receivers to enable very narrow band communications techniques. Alan also knew that many privately owned amateur stations were GPS-locked, but beacons – the very things intended to support weak signal operation by providing a propagation indicator and a frequency reference – were not.
In Alan’s words, “as an active amateur radio enthusiast, I want our beacon network upgraded to GPS-locking for the benefit of all amateur radio operators in Australia...” and he proposed that he and the WIA should share the cost of the Beacon upgrade, to a total of $5000, half provided by himself and half paid by the WIA. That project, which acted as a test-case for a new type of WIA special purpose grant, is now largely completed.
The WIA will soon be calling for submissions for the second round of WIA special purpose grants. Maybe you or your club have a good idea that would benefit amateur radio, and you need a little financial help to develop it. Whether it’s as adventurous as developing a wide-area amateur mesh network, or something a little more down to earth, if it could assist the development of amateur radio in Australia we need to know about it. So, if you have a good idea, let it out from under the umbrella and share it.
Watch out in the coming months for more information about the new WIA Special Purpose Grants, and a call for submissions.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
May 2015 - When is a Special Event special?
Phil Wait VK2ASD
There is no issue closer to a radio amateur’s heart than call signs, so I’m approaching this President’s Comment with a good deal of trepidation. Special call signs are issued for the purpose of celebrating significant events, and in Australia the letters AX can be substituted for the VK prefix on a temporary basis, and VI can be issued with a WIA call sign recommendation and ACMA approval.
The AX prefix is permitted to be used by all Australian radio amateurs for events of national significance. These are: Australia Day, Anzac Day and ITU Day, or a major sporting event like the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Use of the AX prefix was permitted over a whole year for the Captain Cook Bicentenary of 1970, a major occasion of national and international significance. In other words, the AX prefix is very tightly controlled and its usage is clearly defined.
The VI prefix on the other hand is permitted to be used by clubs, organizations, or groups of amateurs for occasions of special State or local significance, but only when the prefix is not required for use by other radiocommunications services. Special event call sign recommendations are made by the WIA to the ACMA, and in most cases the ACMA will follow the WIA’s recommendation and issue the call sign. Special event VI call signs would normally only be issued where the Amateur station concerned is actually participating in the event. Generally, only one VI licence would be issued per event.
However, the question often arises as to what constitutes a “special event”. According to the regulation, a special event is an event of international, national, state/territory or local significance and of broad interest to the Amateur or wider community. A special event call sign would not normally be issued for a recurrent event unless it is a particularly significant occasion, or for a 25 year, 50 year, or 100 year anniversary. Notably, special call signs are available for the annual Jamboree on the Air (JOTA), the VKnGGA-GGZ block for Guides and the VKnSAA-SDZ block for Scouts. A special event call sign cannot be issued in a situation where a competitive advantage may be obtained, such as in a contest or for use during Islands on the Air (IOTA) competitions, DX expeditions, or fox hunts etc.
Recently, the WIA has received applications for special event call signs that fall outside the defined requirements of a “special event”. For instance, one was for a 30-year anniversary of a radio club and another was for a DXpedition. The WIA’s view is that these occasions do not meet the definition of “special”, and the applications for the requested special call signs were not recommended to the ACMA.
However, in the past, the WIA has not been very consistent in its definition of “special”, and VI callsigns applications have been received for DXpeditions, for example. On one occasion, a single-letter 2x1 call sign (VI2R) was recommended by the WIA, and issued by the ACMA for an amateur station associated with the Rotary International Convention held in Sydney in 2014, even though its issue did not meet the regulatory requirements.
In order to apply a more consistent approach to the recommendation of special event call signs, the “specialness” of an event will now be determined by at least one WIA Director and a member who is knowledgeable about these matters, following receipt of an application. Consequentially, the Directors will be applying criteria for each VI call sign issued. Your thoughts in what warrants a VI prefix would be appreciated.
Each administration around the world has its own requirements regarding special event call signs. For instance, in Australia, we have been permitted to use commemorative call signs for very special events, such as the use of VK100WIA for the centenary of the WIA, and the current use of the commemorative ANZAC call signs; however, the FCC and some other administrations do not allow commemorative call signs, so our current use of the VK100ANZAC call sign would not be permissible. A good summary of call sign application and usage in Australia is in the WIA Callbook.
PS: By the time you read this, the WIA’s AGM will be only a week or so away. The Open Forum reports, submitted by each WIA committee, are placed on the WIA website a couple of weeks prior to the AGM, so please take a look at what has happened at the WIA over the past year. If you are coming to Canberra, please come up and say ‘hello’ to the WIA Directors, and let them know what you think (politely!).
April 2015 - The last 50 Years – a Personal Perspective
Phil Wait VK2ASD, with Roger Harrison VK2ZRH
A few months ago I asked WIA Director Roger Harrison to write a stand-by President’s Comment in case it was required while I was overseas on business. It was not used at the time, but I thought members would be interested and it’s probably a welcome change from your President banging on every month:
I realised last year that I had been licensed for 50 years; something of a milestone. This realisation led me to think about the changes that transpired in amateur radio over those five decades.
Encouraged by a local amateur, Alan Reid VK3AHR (SK), I sat for and passed my exam as a teenager in 1964. The exam required essay-style answers to questions; mathematical questions required answers showing the working-out. I had to sign a declaration under the Official Secrets Act to get my licence, and was subsequently issued the callsign VK3ZRY.
Through the 1960s, there were three Amateur licence grades: Full, Limited and ATV (your call with a /T suffix – you had to pass an additional exam to get it). Limited licensees were confined to all bands above 30 MHz. There were only five permitted transmission modes – hand-sent Morse, AM, FM, RTTY, SSB and TV. You could build your own equipment or modify ex-commercial or ex-military gear, generally without restriction – provided you kept transmitters within the proscribed power levels of 120 W on AM/CW, or 400 W pep SSB.
The minimum age for prospective licensees was 14, but you weren’t allowed on-air until the age of 15! I recall reports of US Novice licensees getting their tickets at ages 11-12. The question of having a Novice licence in Australia was widely discussed on-air and at amateur gatherings. The general idea was to attract young people. However, I distinctly recall that voice transmission for the prospective Novice licence (should the Earth turn upside down) was strongly frowned upon by a section of the extant amateur fraternity – new entrants to the hobby would have to know and use Morse; it was the amateur tradition, after all! Mind you, others expressed the view that Limited licensees (“Z-calls”) were “not real amateurs”, even though the introduction of the Limited licence in 1954 was strongly advocated by no less a figure than John Moyle VK2JU, the then Editor of Radio and Hobbies magazine (forerunner to Electronics Australia).
In the mid-1960s, the AM-versus-SSB wrangle was in full swing on the HF bands; SSB proponents were derided as “duck-talkers”. Use of SSB on VHF was in its infancy, but the rancour on the HF bands had not spread to the bands above 30 MHz. In 1964, we lost 50-52 MHz to Channel 0 TV, along with 288-296 MHz to other services. However, we gained the 420-450 MHz band on a secondary basis, shared with radiolocation, chiefly used by Defence. If you dabbled with transistors for homebrew amateur rigs, you were considered to be out on the bleeding edge. Three-legged fuses were legion; that’s how you learned.
Amateur radio entered the space age in the 1960s with the launching of the OSCAR satellites. Here, indeed, was a new frontier. A bunch of student friends and I established the RMIT Astronautical Society to pursue space science interests. Inevitably, we hooked up with the Melbourne University Astronautical Society (MUAS), who embarked on a project to design and build an amateur satellite using off-the-shelf parts. In May 1966, MUAS trialled a prototype 29 MHz beacon on a high altitude balloon flight, dubbed Bravo 5. I remember it caused a great deal of excitement in the amateur fraternity at the time; I recorded the flight and plotted the beacon signal strengths for the MUAS team. I still have that plot. Come 1970, the Australian-built Australis OSCAR 5 was launched in January. It established a number of firsts for small, low Earth orbit satellites.
The 1970s ushered in a revolution in the electronics sector – the microcomputer. This soon drove the development and adoption of digital ‘packet radio’. In due course, the regulator moved with the times and upgraded permitted modes for amateurs – digital data and slow scan TV were added and amateurs could exploit six transmission modes. Use of the amateur VHF and UHF bands grew rapidly, fuelled by surplus ex-commercial transceivers and plug-and-play rigs from the amateur rig manufacturers. Through the ‘70s there was rapid development and deployment of VHF and UHF beacons and repeaters. A series of OSCAR satellites with linear transponders expanded on the short-lived OSCARs 3 and 4 of 1965, popularising amateur satellite operations, which has carried through to today. Russian-built amateur satellites joined the bandwagon.
The CB boom of the mid-late ‘70s (‘those pirates stole our band!’) proved an unexpected boon as many CBers ‘saw the light’ and joined the ranks of radio amateurs. Many amateurs dabbled in CB, too. A Novice amateur licence was created in this era, but its first incarnation was a failure, with a two-year tenure limit, compulsory Morse test, a few HF bands and 30 watt power limit. It was subsequently ‘corrected’ and provided a stepping-stone for many new amateur radio newcomers.
In 1979, the three WARC bands at 10 MHz, 18 MHz and 24 MHz were agreed at an ITU meeting, thanks to the efforts of WIA representatives David Wardlaw VK3ADW in company with Michael Owen VK3KI (SK). When released in due course across the globe, the HF amateur bands grew by 60 per cent and amateur transceiver manufacturers added these bands to their rigs and promoted it as a ‘feature’.
Come the 1980s, our then licensing authority reluctantly agreed to packet radio networking, but limited it to only one methodology. Some assiduous advocacy saw that limitation lifted, later. A 2 m allocation (146-148 MHz) was added to the Novice licence amid some controversy. The pace of development on the VHF and UHF bands continued relentlessly, with more beacons and repeaters spreading across further reaches of the country. A new space frontier opened-up, with the first use of amateur radio on manned spacecraft – the Space Shuttle; another space project in which Australian amateurs were in the fore.
Technological developments in digital transmission in the 1990s saw amateurs exploring spread spectrum transmission modes as well as narrowband digital modes for weak-signal working. As these developments burgeoned, the regulator had to play catch-up and expand the amateur licence conditions. The Novice Limited licence was introduced, designed to attract young people, but low power and restriction to 2 m and 70 cm proved too limiting and take up was low. Amateur radio in space expanded over the 1990s, with operation aboard the Russian space laboratory Mir and the International Space Station establishing a strong following with passionate experimenters in Australia and around the world.
Since 2000, the number and variety of transmission modes has continued amazing growth and usage within amateur radio. Fifty years of continuous development has created a multitude of facets and niches that can now be explored in our hobby. I am astonished that, in this era, amateurs are able to take a small computer board, such as the Raspberry Pi or the Arduino, and then use mathematical software such as Matlab Home, adding signal processing or amateur radio modules to create a new transmission system not-yet-invented! And create another next week! All for less cost than a commercial off-the-shelf amateur rig with DSP.
Amateur radio has come a truly long way in the five decades since I passed my licence exam.
I am a product of the Rex Black Youth Radio Scheme which was introduced into my secondary school in the 1960s, and many hours covertly studying the ARRL Handbook in economics classes for a Z-Call (VK2ZZQ). Luckily I passed both! Things have certainly come a long way in 50 years, but the next few years promise to be even more interesting.
PS: If you receive your AR on the usual date, there will still a few days for your club or group to apply for a special ANZAC callsign. Please use the on-line application form on the WIA Web site and ensure your application is received by the WIA before the strict 31st March cut-off date.
March 2015 - Improving Connections
In early 2004, under the stewardship of Michael Owen VK3KI (SK), the WIA changed to a single national organisation, away from the model of State and Territory Divisions subscribing to a not-for-profit federal company, each Division having a Federal Councillor, with the seven-member Federal Council conducting WIA business that was in the national interest – producing AR magazine, liaising with the licensing authority, international representation etc.
The Divisions either dissolved (transferring their assets to the new national organisation for the benefit of the Australian radio amateur community) or agreed to continue as large radio clubs (e.g. AR NSW, AR Victoria).
WIA National is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, with seven Directors who are elected by the membership Australia-wide and responsible for ensuring that the company operates in accordance with the Corporations Act and within the Objects of its Constitution.
The WIA Board now meets monthly by teleconference, and one or two times a year face-to-face, responding to issues quickly as they arise; very necessary in today’s rapidly changing technological and regulatory environment. This is a much simpler and more efficient structure than the old Divisional system, which was plagued by a variety of operational issues, not to mention the difficulty in making timely decisions. In fact, I think many of the achievements of the past 10 years would have been very difficult, if not impossible, under the old Divisional system.
However, there is a rub – the Divisional system had one good thing going for it: for many decades, the Divisions held regular meetings and were therefore close to the grass-roots membership, and perhaps better understood the particular needs and concerns of their State or region. This held up pretty well until the amateur radio club system expanded rapidly over the 1970s and 1980s. In response to this development, some Divisions organised regular club conferences to discuss and thrash out issues facing radio amateurs in their regions. Over the 1990s, the devolution of amateur exams, the rapid and frequent developments in radiocommunications licensing and regulations, along with industry expansion, strained this organisational model; the formation of WIA National can be seen as a response to these considerable pressures.
Currently, the WIA has three Directors from New South Wales, two Directors from Victoria, and one each from Queensland and South Australia. However, no Directors come from Tasmania, Western Australia or the Northern Territory (although our previous Director, Bob Bristow VK6POP, has agreed to act as an emissary for WA).
Michael Owen VK3KI (SK) was very aware of these issues when writing the new National WIA’s Constitution, and proposed that State Advisory Committees should advise the Board on the various issues affecting members in each State. However, in practice, that did not develop to any great extent.
More recently, the WIA formed a number of specialist functional committees to carry on much of the day-to-day work and to advise the Board on matters in their specialist areas. This has been quite effective, and some advisory committees have been very active over the last year. For instance, the Spectrum Strategy Committee has been working on the 2.3 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum re-farming proposals, the Commonwealth Government’s Spectrum Review, the new Repeater and Beacon policy, the amateur band plans review, and the possibility of a new amateur frequency allocation at 5 MHz.
That said, I believe we can do more to improve the connections between the WIA, individual members and affiliated clubs.
Last year, the Board introduced a couple of initiatives which should also help: a “Hot Issues” section on the WIA website now tracks the top-most important issues the WIA is working on; a public comment and review process better informs members about policy reviews that may affect them and invites comments and suggestions; and a monthly newsletter is now being sent to all affiliated clubs summarising the discussion and decisions from the most recent WIA Board meeting.
But I still think we need to do more.
In the November 2014 President’s comment, Vice-President Chris Platt raised the possibility of reinvigorating the WIA Advisory Committees, either on a State or regional basis, where representatives from local radio clubs could meet, discuss, and coordinate activities relevant to their geographical area. This might include repeater coverage, maintenance and support, coordination of ham fests, club projects (or kits), Foundation licence and upgrade courses and promotional events such as field days, maker fairs, etc., and help to better connect the WIA to its members.
Chris asked for feedback on how the Advisory Committees could work. Unfortunately, the response was underwhelming.
On the other hand, when we have asked for feedback on other issues – contesting, the digital edition of AR magazine, issues with the Licence Conditions Determination, for example – we received gratifying levels of response. But then, I’m aware that these issues are heartfelt among many amateurs, a proportion of whom never hesitate to speak up. Is it that too few members care about Advisory Committees?
So, let’s ask again: How, without revising the past structures that outgrew their usefulness, can the WIA improve the “connections” between individual members, affiliated clubs, and the WIA Board? As President, this is one of the key areas I want to explore over the coming year. Give me your views through one of these ways: email: email@example.com; Fax: (03) 9729 7325 or snail mail to PO Box 2042, Bayswater Vic 3153.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS: The next WIA AGM and conference weekend to be held in Canberra over the weekend of the 9-10 May. Check out the WIA website and inside this magazine for more details.
January 2015 - Who said home-brew is dead?
For years, my shack has consisted of a collection of eclectic bits and pieces ranging from some old Collins (valve) S-line gear, a home-brew Class-E (MOSFET) transmitter and Class-D (MOSFET) modulator for use on 40 metres AM, as well as an FT-857 that I occasionally use mobile. I also have a Barrett 550 marine transceiver on a sailing boat with some fixed amateur channels programmed-in. My home antenna is an 88-foot doublet with open wire feed line to an antenna tuner in the shack; on the yacht, it’s a 15 metre backstay antenna.
Not very impressive by modern amateur standards, but I’m more of a constructor than an operator, and I get most of my fun from building things. My latest project isn’t even amateur radio: a 60 watt Class-A stereo amplifier using six 6SN7s and six KT120s in a Wiggins Circlotron arrangement, with low turns-ratio output transformers mounted at the speakers. Tragic, I know, but it sounds fantastic and it would certainly make a great AM modulator, but a frequency response of 10 Hz to more than 100 kHz would be a little over the top!
For many years I’ve reconciled myself to the view that maybe I’m a bit out-of-step with the rest of the world and that, apart from antennas and ancillary equipment, home-brew in amateur radio was pretty dead. But, this Christmas I took a look at the “What’s on your Workbench” discussion in the “General Discussion” section of the VK Logger on-line forum. Started by Peter VK3YE in April 2013, the thread is now 17 pages long with a wide variety of home-brew projects ranging across receivers, transceivers and transverters, antennas and amplifiers, and lots more. It’s well worth a look at http://www.vklogger.com/forum/viewforum.php
Projects that particularly caught my eye were: a WSPR transmitter using an inexpensive Raspberry Pi computer; a hand-cranked CW transmitter (which requires the operator to perform the physical and mental feat of cranking a handle with one hand while tapping out intelligible Morse with the other); and a U-Tube video of a home-brew phasing transceiver, all by Peter VK3YE - a very prolific forum contributor.
One thing is certain; the way an on-line construction project is developed and documented is very different to a traditional paper publication. What you won’t find are fully documented projects like you would find in publications like Silicon Chip, the ARRL Handbook or in AR magazine – the on-line world is much more dynamic than that – but you are likely to find a project, or the seeds of an idea, that sparks your interest. By publishing on-line, a home-brew constructor can showcase their project right from the start and track how it develops, and there are always lots of people who are more than willing to offer comments, their own ideas or constructive criticism.
Home-brew also came to the fore very recently when VK6DZ and VK7MO cracked the world 10 GHz DX record on 5 January - with homebrew portable gear. Derek VK6DZ and Rex VK7MO have each assembled sophisticated communications systems for 10 GHz and accumulated an understanding of how to exploit long-distance tropospheric refraction; years of construction and planning have paid off magnificently.
So, I now believe home-brew in amateur radio is very much alive and kicking, it’s just not so obvious. I’m sure AR Editor Peter Freeman would love to see a few of those great projects dressed-up a little and submitted to AR for publication to reach a wider audience, or maybe in the future our AR magazine may find a way to mesh with the on-line constructors.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
P.S. The WIA’s next AGM will be held in Canberra over the weekend of 9th and 10th of May. The theme this year is celebrating 10 years of the Foundation licence and amateur radio to the future, and there will also be special activities associated with the ANZAC centenary.
December 2014 - Christmas, again?
Christmas is always a good time to reflect on the achievements of the past year, and possibly the disappointments, so let’s look at what the WIA has achieved during the year, compared to what we said we would achieve.
It seems like only yesterday - not last December - when I reflected that 2013 had “largely been a year of consolidation” and that the new year (this year) would be one of working towards “improving the social/community relevance and accessibility of amateur radio, bedding down the new WIA Volunteer Committees and turning around the finances”.
In 2014, the Federal Government’s Spectrum Review process gave us a once in a generation opportunity to promote the value of amateur radio to government and policy makers, and to highlight how spectrum allocated to amateur radio can be used to greater public benefit for education and research, emergency response, and as a “spectrum park”.
The Department of Communications has recently released the "Spectrum Review – Potential Reform Directions" paper for public comment, containing a number of proposals of interest to amateur radio, such as: a single licensing framework in place of the current spectrum apparatus and class licences; delegation of spectrum management and licensing functions to other entities; strengthened interference protection resolution and enforcement tools; greater transparency in radio communications policy formation and application; and strengthening available ACMA enforcement measures. Many of the proposals contained in the Directions Paper are consistent with the recommendations in the WIA submission.
The Spectrum Review coincides with the scheduled “remake” of the Amateur Licence Conditions Determination, the LCD. The WIA has submitted to the ACMA a list of recommended changes to the amateur LCD, such as digital modes for Foundation licensees, new frequency bands, a minimum 5-year licence term which would reduce the administrative component of the licence fees, higher power for all amateur licence grades, and transmission restriction by bandwidth rather than mode (technical neutrality). We believe all these initiatives would make the hobby more attractive to newcomers, especially the “makers” and experimenters.
The WIA’s pro-active participation in the Spectrum Review, and to the recommendations to the remake of the Amateur LCD, all serve to improve the social/community relevance and accessibility of amateur radio.
I also said last December that “by far the greatest challenge facing the WIA right now is financial, with another loss projected for this year.” ” In February this year the WIA raised membership fees by about 18% - quite a large increase in percentage terms. Commentary at the time was pretty mixed, especially on social media with some people shouting the WIA was going to hell in a hand-basket, and that we were all doomed (many of these types of comments were from non-members anyway), and others suggesting the increase was justified under the circumstances.
I can now happily tell you that the WIA is on track to show a small profit this year, and the current membership is running about 4550, only very slightly down on last year and about on trend for the last few years. Inevitably, some members did not renew for a variety of reasons including the membership fee increase, and some had no choice due to age…, but it was very pleasing to see a strong number of new members and many lapsed members re-joining.
So, at this early stage we appear to have turned the finances of the WIA around without too much long-term pain, and there are further (though more difficult) opportunities for operational savings if required in the future, and we have some ideas to boost membership.
The third strategic target for 2014 was the WIA Committee system. WIA committees are currently operating mostly on an ad-hoc, issues driven, basis. Committees become very active when there is an important issue to address. In particular the Spectrum and Administrative committees have been very busy this year, as have others such as Radio Activities (contesting and awards), Marketing and Publicity. I would certainly like to see the committee system strengthened next year, but we must remember that volunteer time is precious and we don’t want to waste it on following process rather than solving important issues.
Detailed information on all these and the many other hot issues such as the band plan review, the WIA repeater and beacon policy review, our work with the ITU on the proposal for a new band at 5 MHz, and all the various spectrum issues such as 2.3 and 3.5 GHz, can be found in the Hot Issues section of the WIA website. Oh, and I hope you are all enjoying your digital AR magazine.
So, did we meet our objectives for 2014? I’ll let you decide. The most important thing the WIA does is advocacy, and next year looks to be largely be a continuation of the Spectrum Review process and following-up on the WIA’s proposals for the remake of the Amateur LCD, and importantly the 100 year celebrations for ANZAC.
Finally, I would like to sincerely thank our two staff members Mal and Dianne, our team of dedicated volunteers, my fellow WIA Directors and all WIA members for supporting us through a fairly difficult year. Have a safe and happy Christmas and see you all in 2015.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS: Please do make sure you have registered for MEMNET. Go to www.wia.org.au click on ‘For Members’, then click on ‘Log into MEMNET’, and register... it’s very simple.
If you are changing your email address, please remember to update your information in MEMNET.
November 2014 - The role of the advisory committees
With President Wait attending an electronics fair in Taiwan in his private capacity, this month it falls to me to write the President’s Comment.
I would like to touch on the topic of the WIA Advisory Committees.
At the time the Federal WIA was formed, the architects of the Constitution determined that each of the pre-existing State and/or Territory Divisions would initially be replaced by an Advisory Committee. It is interesting too that the use of the word initially in the Constitution provides a level of flexibility for the redefinition of the coverage of the Advisory Committees. It appears that it was contemplated that these Committees may not always be aligned to the areas governed by the pre-existing Divisions. Other geographical or interest based definitions could be applied in the future.
The membership of the Advisory Committees is determined by an election with the term of three years, plus one additional member which may be nominated by the WIA Board. I don’t have any recollection of Advisory Committee elections in the time I have been on the WIA Board, particularly with respect to my home state of VK5.
The work of each Advisory Committees is to advise the Board on matters relevant to their area and assist to promote amateur radio. In recent times I cannot recall receiving any advice from an Advisory Committee: it appears that the provision of advice and promotion has largely devolved to the Club level and individual submissions by interested amateurs.
This leads me to question the ongoing role of the Advisory Committees as they are presently constituted. I would have expected that State (or Territory) based Advisory Committees would be a suitable forum for Club representatives to meet and coordinate activities relevant to their geographical area. This might include repeater coverage, maintenance and support, coordination of hamfests, club projects (or kits), Foundation and upgrade courses and promotional events such as field days, maker faires, etc.
In my view, State-based communication and planning (in my home State at least) would be of benefit. It would ensure that our efforts are focused on those matters which will provide the greatest return and clubs work to increase overall participation in the hobby rather than cannibalising each other’s membership.
It also means that the smaller clubs can work together with the larger clubs to provide support for community based activities which they would not otherwise have the resources (intellectual and physical) to support. One example here was the recent provisions of Communications Services to the River Murray Marathon by Adelaide based AREG and the Riverland Amateur Radio Club.
I guess what I am looking for is feedback from the WIA membership on how you think the Advisory Committees as presently structured are working? Can they be improved, should the present State/Territory based arrangements continue? I look forward to receiving your feedback.
Talking about feedback, I must apologise for not yet having completed the detailed WIA Survey Feedback analysis. I hope to have it included in next month’s AR.
Chris Platt VK5CP
October 2014 - Spectrum Reboot
I have just returned from the first day of the Radcomms 2015 conference, convened by the ACMA and held over two days in the Sydney Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour. The title of this year’s conference, “Spectrum Rebooted – Taking Stock” is appropriate, given the overriding theme of how to maximise the overall public benefit of spectrum, how to reduce the regulatory costs to business, how to align spectrum allocation with the greater public interest, and how to integrate future spectrum reforms into the Australian radiocommunications environment.
ACMA Chair Chris Chapman opened the conference and discussed the outcomes and resulting productivity gains from the 1800 MHz and 400 MHz reviews, the latter affecting our 70 cm amateur band. He highlighted how the public’s increasing thirst for instant wireless connectivity, in a world where we are now accustomed to doing things in very different ways, is putting immense pressure on spectrum and spectrum management.
In Chris Chapman’s words “Demand is emerging for access to bands that are traditionally allocated to, or used by, other services”.... “especially for bands below 5 GHz and in high population density areas”. Telling words.
The opening address was delivered by the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Minister for Communications. The Minister highlighted how rapidly advancing digital compression technologies were increasing the information capacity and efficiency of spectrum at a rate of about 10% per year, and its positive effect on broadcasting and telecommunications services. The Minister also discussed the need to make spectrum management arrangements simpler and more flexible; citing that in the six years to 2013 mobile broadband alone had contributed some $33 billion to Australia’s GDP. In his words, “Spectral efficiency and harmonisation have obvious economic benefits”.
The following three broad ideas were canvassed by the Minister:
1. A clearer and simpler policy framework, with clear distinction between the processes of policy formation (in the hands of government) and technical regulation (in the hands of the ACMA).
2. Encouraging innovation and reducing regulation by moving to a single licensing framework, where the current arrangements of spectrum, apparatus and class licensing, could be replaced with a single more flexible licence type.
3. Recasting the current broadcasting policy framework to allow more flexible use of broadcasting spectrum, and moving to the more spectrum efficient MPEG4 standard for broadcast television.
Against this background of spectrum scarcity and pressure for change, most of the day was devoted to Industry and government representatives presenting their new technologies, all of which require more spectrum, not less: Ultra High definition TV broadcasting, machine to machine, mobile telecommunications, wide area cattle tracking systems, LTE wireless systems, unmanned aeronautical vehicles (drones), battlefield communications systems, seaborne defence, and airborne warfare systems on the new Joint Strike Fighters were the stand-outs.
All these new developments need either more spectrum, or greater spectrum efficiency to make their business models work and all users including ourselves are also looking for certainty in spectrum allocation and more flexibility in how they use their allocation. One example would be a technology neutral approach to amateur licensing, where the licensing of permitted transmission modes would be replaced by a simpler restriction on maximum occupied bandwidth.
In early September, and prior to the Radcomms Conference, the WIA lodged a submission to the Department of Communications review into the Australian spectrum policy and management framework. The Department stated the review is necessary to “modernise spectrum policy to reflect changes in technology, markets and consumer preferences that have occurred over the last decade, and to better deal with increasing demand for spectrum from all sectors”.
The WIA highlighted amateur radio’s long history of not-for-profit public service to the Australian community, through providing emergency communications and as an educational resource, and discusses ways that the public benefit of the amateur radio spectrum can be leveraged in the future.
We argued that public-usage spectrum needs to be valued in quite a different way to for-profit commercial spectrum, and that public interest, or public benefit, is difficult to quantify, is constantly changing and is often highly political in nature. In our view, public interest spectrum has an imputed value which cannot be measured by the same set of tools used for commercial services, and that certain spectrum bands and uses having an intrinsic or “intangible” value as a social good and not everything can, or should, be reduced to monetary value.
In short, the WIA believes public usage spectrum cannot be measured using a conventional market oriented-valuation approach. (The same situation would apply for, say, defence, governmental or emergency services, research, meteorology and safety of life services).
I was pleased to hear the Minister also talk in terms of the overall public benefit of spectrum, which puts a value on all spectrum uses, including those uses that do not provide an immediate financial return, but it remains to be seen how the value of public interest spectrum is to be measured.
I was also pleased to hear a number of speakers express their concern about the rising levels of interference from noncompliant imported consumer equipment. Radio amateurs are also experiencing increasing levels of interference from electrical and electronic equipment such as solar power installations, low-cost LED lighting and many other consumer items. The WIA also argued in its submission that the ACMA needs to be adequately resourced to protect the spectrum against a rise in the radio noise-floor, from noncompliant electrical and electronic equipment, which will ultimately affect all spectrum users in some way, regardless of technology.
In such a rapidly changing environment it’s not possible to predict the future, but the WIA is taking a very proactive stance in the government’s spectrum review and is committed to achieving the best possible outcome for amateur radio. Roger Harrison is attending Day 2 of the conference on behalf of the WIA, but it is magazine deadline today, so that will have to wait until next month.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS. A link to the Department of Communications Spectrum Review, and the WIA’s submission is in the Hot Issues section of the WIA website. The Hot Issues section also has a link to the WIA’s recommendations to the ACMA concerning the upcoming “remake” of the amateur service LCD.
September 2014 - Repeaters and Beacons – Again
Back in April this year, seemingly an eon ago, I asked the question “should amateur repeaters run 120 watts”, largely in response to a few comments received criticising the way the WIA handles amateur repeater applications. Several people had difficulty with the fact that WIA Coordinators were modifying their application for a repeater licence to show a lower power delivered to the antenna, typically from 120 watts (pY) to 50 watts (pY), and asking (often in fairly blunt terms) why the discrepancy, and why shouldn’t an amateur repeater be allowed to run the full power specified in the amateur LCD for Advanced licensees.
At the time I explained that the WIA had been able to avoid a very large fee increase for amateur repeaters and beacons by having volunteer WIA Coordinators doing much of the evaluation work that would otherwise have been done by the ACMA, so the ACMA would only have to check the repeater or beacon application for potential site interference prior to issuing a licence. The WIA is not a delegate of the ACMA as far as this work is concerned, so the WIA can only make recommendations about an amateur repeater or beacon licence application.
Responses to my April President’s Comment were fairly mixed, some suggesting that the WIA had overstepped the mark and had been implementing an overly restrictive policy, and others suggesting that the issues of spectrum reuse and the protection from cross-interference were the most important considerations. Tellingly, the responses tended to mirror the location of the responders, with those in rural or low usage areas arguing for less restriction, and those in urban or high usage areas thinking the policy setting was about right.
The issues are certainly complex, and go to the principals of spectrum management that attempt to allocate scarce spectrum in a way that provides the greatest overall benefit. The WIA believes the limited spectrum allocated in the amateur band plans for repeaters should be available to as many groups as possible, and power should be used as a tool to limit the range of repeaters and maximise spectrum reuse, especially in high density areas. Most clubs have gone to considerable trouble and expense building and maintaining their repeaters, and are now paying quite expensive site fees, so understandably they would be quite upset if another repeater was causing them interference, even if only occasionally.
However, where I live in Sydney, our 2 metre repeater spectrum is supposedly quite full, but when I tune across the band it’s mostly vacant space - even though there are probably ten repeaters within range of my QTH! The obvious question is, by applying a fairly rigid policy regarding spectrum reuse, have we manufactured our own brand of spectrum scarcity?
There is no use-it-or-lose-it element to a repeater licence, and a licensee will normally have exclusive use of a frequency pair as long as the yearly fees are paid. So if a club sits on a repeater licence without actually building one, or if it maintains a repeater with very low usage, that club will effectively tie up a valuable frequency-pair forever, within several hundred kilometres of the repeater site.
So, when you consider the spectrum engineering issues, and the fact that many amateur repeaters are located on co-shared sites with commercial services where issues such as cross-interference and inter-modulation are serious concerns, you can see that the job of a the WIA repeater and the ACMA in balancing all these competing issues is not easy, and not helped by a good deal of public criticism.
On the other side, somebody living in Kalgoorlie WA might think that this is all academic, and they should be able to do whatever they like within the provisions of the amateur LCD, given that the nearest big town is 550 km away.
To clarify the position we have released a draft WIA Repeater and Beacon Recommendation Policy for comment. The draft policy attempts to achieve a flexible balance between spectrum reuse and interference protection, and uses the ACMA spectrum density maps, (which divide the country up into high, rural and remote spectrum density areas), to tailor the policy to the differing regional requirements.
The requirements for beacons are altogether different, as beacons act as propagation indicators and attempt to achieve the greatest possible range. Also, beacons are typically located near major population centres where the greatest numbers of radio amateurs live. For those reasons spectrum reuse with beacons is not really possible, but luckily there are not too many of them.
I encourage readers to take a look at the draft WIA Repeater and Beacon Policy in the “Hot Issues” section on the WIA website, and also take a look at the other issues such as the Amateur Band plans review and the 2.3 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum re-farming. Please do let us have your comments on these all critical issues.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
August 2014 - Announcing a new WIA Grants Scheme
Earlier this year, the WIA Board was approached with a generous offer from Alan Devlin VK3XPD. Being a keen VHF/UHF/microwave operator with significant experience in weak-signal operation and the pursuit of distance records, Alan was very aware of the advantages of GPS-locking transmitters and receivers to enable very narrow band communications techniques. Alan also knew that many privately owned amateur stations were GPS-locked, but Beacons – the very things intended to support weak signal operation by providing a propagation indicator and a frequency reference - were not.
In Alan’s words, “as an active amateur radio enthusiast, I want our beacon network upgraded to GPS-locking for the benefit of all amateur radio operators in Australia...” and he proposed that he and the WIA should share the cost of the Beacon upgrade, to a total of $5000, half provided by himself and half paid by the WIA.
That gave us a bit of a dilemma. Although it was clearly a worthwhile project, the WIA Board is very conscious that members’ money needs to be spent in an open, transparent and proper process, and although the offer was very generous, it was a one-off and ‘out of the blue’ proposal.
Around the same time, the Board had been discussing the future of the WIA Club Grants Scheme, which provided about $6000 per year to WIA Affiliated Clubs in a competitive arrangement for almost a decade, where clubs submitted their proposals to an independent selection committee. However, the Club Grants Scheme seemed to have run its course, with fewer submissions received in recent years, and sometimes for fairly low-grade project proposals. The WIA Board was looking for a better alternative.
Alan’s offer to part-fund the Beacon GPS-Locking project, and his obvious enthusiasm to see it happen quickly, accelerated our thinking, and I can now announce that the WIA has introduced a new WIA Grants Scheme, similar to the old Club Grants Scheme, but with some important differences.
The new WIA Grants Scheme will be open to both affiliated clubs and individual members. It will also be open to non-members and non-affiliated organisations, so long as the project is for the benefit of amateur radio and the non-member or non-affiliated organisation contributes at least 50% of their own funds, with the WIA contribution paid retrospectively on completion of the project or at an agreed project stage.
But most importantly, the WIA will only fund projects that are in accordance with a strategic direction set by the WIA Board, and announced yearly, prior to the call for project proposals.
Each project will be vetted by an independent committee comprising Peter Freeman (Committee Leader and your AR Editor) VK3PF, Scott Watson VK4CZ, Gary Beech VK2KYP, Drew Diamond VK3XU and Peter Hartfield VK3PH, bringing a diverse range of skills and perspectives. The committee will evaluate proposals based on: benefit to the amateur radio community; not for-profit or non-commercial nature; stage of completion at the time of the application; likelihood of being completed within 12 months; and consistency with the WIA Board’s specific criteria (i.e. strategic direction).
The committee quickly determined that Alan’s Beacon GPS-Locking project met all the above criteria, and that it should be approved as the first project funded by the new WIA Grants Scheme. We expect there will be some interesting projects in the years ahead.
If Alan’s GPS-locking proposal is fully-subscribed, at least 25 individual beacons will gain GPS-locking; more than that quantity if a number of multi-beacon sites gain the facility. I urge all beacon owner-operators – don’t be shy, please apply!
On other matters, as I said in my last President’s Comment, the WIA is going through a very busy period with change quickly occurring on a number of fronts, including: the Australian Spectrum Review; the review of Radiocommunications legislation; the remake of the Amateur LCD; and a newly-initiated Amateur Band Plan review. Make sure you check out the new ‘Hot Issues’ section on the WIA homepage, where the WIA activities with the highest importance are listed, and you can track their progress.
P.S. Alan’s Beacon GPS-Locking project is featured in this month’s AR magazine.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
July 2014 - Shifting Sands and Strategic Thinking
Thanks to Trent VK4TS and his wife Lorraine, Richard VK4RY and all the members of the Sunshine Coast Amateur Radio Club, the recent AGM, Open Forum and Conference weekend went without a hitch. Some 90 members attended; a special visitor was NZART Business Manager, Debbie Morgan ZL2TDM, under a long standing WIA/NZART custom to send representatives to each other’s AGM, year about. The AGM, which is the formal part of proceedings, was brief. We announced the election results and thanked retiring Director Bob VK6POP for his service to the WIA and welcomed new Director, Rowan VK2ELF. Then we moved into the Open Forum, where members ask questions of the Board and express their views on any relevant issue. Next morning, the WIA’s Board of Directors met to finalise the Institute’s strategic direction for the coming year, taking into account the comments received at the Open Forum. So, what did the Board come up with, and why do we need a strategic direction, anyway? That’s going to take a little explaining, so please bear with me.
The first major issue concerns the affiliated clubs. For many years, the WIA Board has been concerned about the general lack of interaction and information exchange between the WIA and its affiliated clubs. Apart from the club insurance scheme, the examination service provided by the WIA under a business arrangement with the ACMA, and the club grants scheme of previous years, there is not much the WIA does to encourage our affiliated clubs and, predictably, some of those clubs have low WIA membership percentages. It’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed, as the affiliated club network is the grass-roots of amateur radio in Australia where much of the actual collective hobbyist activity takes place. The WIA is very serious about developing stronger linkages into our affiliated clubs in order to engender a two-way flow of information, ideas and activities and, let’s face it – encourage stronger WIA membership – but we need your ideas. One suggestion is to appoint a number of regional club liaison officers, dividing the country into regions rather than States, while another is to ask each club to nominate a liaison officer who would keep in touch with the WIA and report to club meetings. We are very keen to hear how you think we can strengthen the linkages between the clubs and the WIA, without burdening everybody with an overly time-consuming and bureaucratic system.
The second issue is probably even more important, as the sand has started to shift beneath the entire Australian radiocommunications regulatory environment, the Department of Communications and the ACMA. You really need to bear with me on this one.
The Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Amateur Licence) Determination 2013, (the LCD), specifies licence conditions for radio amateurs. These conditions include the type of communications permitted, with whom the operator is permitted to communicate, relevant transmission parameters and callsign usage, etc. – everything we can and can’t do on the air. Another piece of Federal legislation, the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, requires the Amateur LCD to be renewed by October 2015, or it will automatically expire (“sunset”). The Roman Empire had a similar requirement, where the power to collect special taxes and to activate troops was limited in time and extent, but Julius Caesar put an end to that following October 49 BC when he became Dictator for life. The LCD renewal process presents us an opportunity, and the WIA is presenting a proposal to the ACMA in order to improve the Amateur Licence Conditions, and possibly simplify the regulations, to benefit radio amateurs in Australia. In my last President’s Comment, I spoke about the importance of the Foundation licence to the future of amateur radio in Australia, and particularly the need to make amateur radio at all licence levels more attractive to new entrants, and more socially relevant. Although we don’t know the shape of things to come, the upcoming remake of the LCD is an opportunity to do just that, possibly by introducing – among other things – digital mode access for Foundation licensees, wideband mode access for Standard licensees and greater flexibility for Advanced licensees to experiment with technological innovation. We are certainly raising a raft of issues for discussion.
In addition to the sunsetting of the LCD, the Federal Government has announced a total review of spectrum management in Australia. This means that the Radiocommunications Act will be reviewed, and may change significantly, possibly moving away from the spectrum/apparatus/class licence system in place since the early 1990s, more towards a single technical “parameter-based” licence system that would allow much greater flexibility and adaptability in the use of spectrum.
Last year we had an insight into what the ACMA’s and the industry’s thinking might be: In opening Radcomms 2013, the Chair of the ACMA, Chris Chapman, highlighted the issue that “regulation must be responsive to innovation” and the fact of tension between interests in spectrum access where divergent views collided. To stay abreast of developments and the requirement of the ACMA “being an evidence informed regulator”, he outlined two studies commissioned to contribute to the agency’s future work: one being on forecasting likely future demand for spectrum, the other on the impacts of mobile broadband technologies on the Australian economy and society.
Rob Fitzpatrick from NICTA, Australia’s Information Communications Technology (ICT) Research Centre of Excellence, pleaded the case for having “sandpits” of spectrum for researchers to “play with” as needed from time to time, while the Secretary of the Department of Communications, Drew Clarke, gave a talk in which he canvassed the idea of “unchaining spectrum” to engender innovation: “what more can it do?”, he asked, raising the spectre of spectrum demand for uses as yet unimagined. Tellingly, he advocated the case for providing “adequate (spectrum) for public interest uses”. Several other speakers at Radcomms 2013 explored the issue of the “value” of spectrum – the economic or monetary value, the political value and the social value. The concept of spectrum having an “imputed value” was raised in one panel session, along with the concept of certain spectrum bands and uses having an intrinsic or “intangible” value as a social good – not everything could be reduced to monetary value.
So, it should be obvious from all that, that public benefit is becoming an increasingly important metric in spectrum decision-making, even though it’s value is intangible, and that the WIA needs to be in the strongest possible position to argue the public benefit, or social good, of the amateur service. Indeed, amateur radio has a rich history of public benefit, largely through provision of organised emergency communications in times of natural or civil disaster, and that is still the case, although the emergency services in Australia are now well equipped with modern communications infrastructure and amateur radio is more likely to be of value in the first few hours of an emergency before other services have time to respond, or as a skilled manpower resource, or as a form of back-up communications resource if all else fails.
However, there is another area where I believe amateur radio can provide a great public benefit in today’s society. Amateur radio already provides spectrum for public interest uses – albeit through a fairly rigorous set of entry criteria; since the very early years, amateur radio has exploited spectrum for experimentation, research and development. There are many examples from over the decades where amateurs have explored radio communications concepts that have been subsequently developed into successful commercial technologies – cellular telephony and PC wireless networking being telling examples. If the licensing conditions permitted, amateur radio could be used to a much greater degree by educational organisations for teaching and research purposes, the so-called sand-pit concept aired at Radcomms 2013, which gets me back around to digital mode privileges for Foundation licensees, which would be one thing necessary to attract any real interest from that quarter. The Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull MP, has invited all stakeholders – the WIA included – to participate in the review of spectrum management, and the ACMA has asked for the WIA to comment on the renewal of the LCD. It’s looking like a very busy couple of years at the WIA. Both items are strategically important for Australian amateur radio and for the WIA. Although very time consuming, we have a chance to put a case for some strategic changes designed to enhance the public benefit and societal relevance of amateur radio, and ensure its viable future in Australia.
PS: ...Written reports to the Open Forum are submitted by the 10 WIA functional committees, and make very interesting reading about the health of amateur radio in Australia. They can still be downloaded from the WIA homepage.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
June 2014 - Strong Foundations
I’m writing this Comment about 10 days out from the WIA’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Conference, being held this year on the Queensland Sunshine Coast, so my mind is focused on reports and statistics. It’s also possibly my last Comment, depending if I am ousted from the position (or not) at the first Board meeting following the AGM!
The AGM is actually a very short affair, dealing only with the statutory corporate requirements. The record for the shortest AGM is held by Michal Owen VK3KI (SK), at about six minutes long! The AGM session is followed by the Open Forum, where written reports from the various WIA committees are received and discussion happens between the Board and the members present. The Open Forum is where the real business takes place and substantive issues are dealt with.
In the past, published Open Forum reports have only been available from the time of the AGM, but this year, the Board has decided to place the Open Forum Reports on the WIA website in advance, so everyone with an interest has a chance to read them prior to the meeting.
The reports contain some interesting statistics that show the health of amateur radio in Australia. Let me share some important ones with you.
In 2013, there were 625 new amateur licences issued, (79 more than the previous year, but well below the 813 recorded in 2009), of which 414 were Foundation licences, 118 were Standard and 93 Advanced.
The total number of amateur licences at the end of 2013 was 14,190, some 186 less than the previous year and 408 less than in 2009. Silent keys and people moving-on from the hobby appear to be taking a toll.
Clearly, the Foundation licence is supporting the hobby to a far greater extent than many realise. If it was not for the introduction of the Foundation licence some nine years ago, with 414 Foundation licences issued last year, amateur radio in this country would probably be in a very different position. Interestingly, after decreasing for a number of years, possibly as pent-up demand washed through the education and assessment system, there was a small upswing in the number of Foundation licence candidates in 2013. The forecasts from doomsayers that amateur radio in Australia is in terminal decline seem to be rather premature (by some 50-60 years!).
It’s also interesting to look at the number of WIA members. At the end of 2013, the WIA had 4,538 members, (51 less than the year before, but only two less than in 2009). So, although the amateur population has been falling, the WIA has been able to sustain membership numbers and has actually improved its market share from 31% in 2009, to 32% in 2013. Not that we think 32% is a good number – there is much room for improvement, but it’s a good position from which to work.
The WIA Broadcast clocked-up 34,800 RF check-ins and 41,400 streaming downloads, while the WIA website had 11.5 million hits, and the inwards QSL bureau handled 90 kg of cards which, if stacked in one pile, would stand 19.36 metres high!
The other interesting statistics we have been looking at recently are the results of the recent Membership Survey. The 834 survey responses received would have to be judged as pretty good for a membership of 4,538 – 18.4% of the total membership – so we should be able to draw some valid conclusions.
As Vice President Chris Platt VK5CP said in his preliminary Survey analysis placed on the WIA website: “the most common entry points into the hobby were the old Limited licence (34%) and old Novice licence (21%), followed by the Foundation licence (21%). These results probably reflect the entry-level licence options that were available at the time, and show the importance of the previous Novice, and now the Foundation, licences as feeders into our hobby. Over 50% of respondents upgraded their licence within two years, and almost 70% within the first five years”.
Again, this shows the importance of the Foundation licence as a feeder into the hobby.
One pleasing result from the Survey was the length of time people have been a member of the WIA, with about 30% of responders being a member for five years or less. Either we are attracting a lot of new members to the WIA, or old members are returning (probably both).
Chris is working on a more detailed report that will include the raw survey data.
With a view to the future of the Foundation licence, the Board and the Spectrum Strategy Committee have been working through the many issues that need to be addressed to update the Foundation licence conditions, the syllabus and exams. Our goal is to introduce expanded privileges for the Foundation licence during the 10th anniversary of its introduction, particularly digital modes – not only digital voice, but also access to some computer-mediated digital modes. We anticipate that many future newcomers to the hobby will be sourced from the sphere of Hacker-Maker hobbyists who are mainly interested in digital modes and the crossover technologies between the IT and wireless worlds. We anticipate that this work will flow on to the Standard licence, too. Naturally this all depends on the views of the regulator, so no doubt there will be some interesting liaison sessions with the ACMA in the year to come!
From time to time we hear the question “what does the WIA do for me?” For anyone reading the Open Forum Reports for 2013, and the Membership Survey results, I’m sure that that question will be well and truly answered. Non-members are also able to view the information on the WIA website, and hopefully some will now see the value in becoming a WIA member.
I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the WIA over the past year. I’m not a particularly active radio amateur as I don’t have a lot of spare time, but being President of the WIA has been a great honour, and a lot of fun. In particular, I would like to thank retiring Director, Bob Bristow VK6POP. Being a West Australian, Bob has never been backward in coming forward and telling us easterners what he thinks, and together with Onno VK6FLAB, Bob pulled off an excellent AGM and Conference weekend last year in Fremantle. Bob may not be a Director now, but he has not escaped the WIA’s clutches.
By the time you read this Comment, the new WIA Board will have met and elected the executive positions. It will also have set a strategic direction and a broad agenda for the next year’s term. I hope to tell you something about that in the next Comment.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
May 2014 - A $30 membership fee? Simple!.... or, is it?
Generally, the membership fee increase announced in February seems to have been received rather better than we could have expected. We have received only a handful of negative comments at the WIA, and quite a few supportive ones.
Many people have shown strong support for the WIA’s advocacy role with the ACMA etc., and it is true that our political system works by limiting the number of actors, so a representative organisation like the WIA has greater political power than the sum of its members would have by acting individually.
So, let me address some of the comments received about the financial position of the WIA and its membership fees.
As Directors of the company, a primary responsibility of the WIA Board to the members is to ensure the on-going financial viability of the organisation. For several years, the WIA has been running at a small loss, and continued to do so through 2013.
Last year, we postponed introducing a membership fee increase, instead preferring to concentrate on reducing costs in a number of areas, including staff costs, Directors’ travel expenses, and by postponing the Club Grants scheme. However, other costs, especially those associated with the printing and distribution of AR magazine, and general expenses such as electricity etc., continued to increase, as they did for everybody else.
Looking back on 2013, if we did not achieve the savings that we did, the trading position of the WIA would now look a lot worse, probably with a loss for the year of around $20,000-$30,000.
Regardless of making losses for the past few years, the WIA is in a very strong financial position, with nett assets amounting to much more than a full year’s business turnover. The detailed figures will be in the WIA’s financial report, which will shortly be available to members, but there is no doubt that (as far as the balance sheet is concerned) the WIA is in a very enviable financial position compared to most small organisations.
The problem we face is that costs are still increasing and the easy savings have now all been made. If we did nothing more, the small losses would eventually grow and eat into the reserves, and in not too many years’ time, the WIA could find itself with no assets left or, even worse, could find itself trading insolvently. That is an unthinkable position for the WIA, but companies that fail to address recurring losses can find themselves in hot water very quickly, not only financially, but legally.
Some people try to compare the WIA to the RSGB or the ARRL and ask why our fee structure cannot be the same, although a careful analysis after allowing for the exchange rates and comparing like with like, will show they are not too different. In addition, both those organisations benefit from a very large home amateur population which, in addition to providing higher member numbers, has allowed them to build very significant publishing businesses. In many ways, these organisations are significant publishing businesses which support a membership organisation.
So, how do we ensure a viable future for the WIA.
The very best way to ensure the future for the WIA is to increase membership, but WIA membership has for many years been stuck around 30% of the total amateur population. Although this sounds low, when you take into account the number of inactive amateurs who have no reason to be a member, it’s probably a much higher penetration of the available market.
The WIA Board has committed to find and implement a persuasive way (or ways) to retain existing members, while recruiting new ones, as it requires only relatively small numbers to make a significant difference, which builds over time.
From time to time, we hear the suggestion that WIA membership should somehow be linked to the ACMA amateur licence fee – that is, the licence fee and WIA membership would be paid together, and WIA membership would then only need to be about $30 or so, about one-third what it is now. I understand that this would be contrary to the ACMA’s charter and is certainly not within its policies and practices. In addition, it would be contrary to Section 47 of the Trade Practices Act, which prohibits what is known as “third line forcing”. The classic third line forcing scenario occurs where a supplier requires (“forces”) the purchase of a second product or service from a nominated supplier – or, if the ACMA required membership of the WIA in order to obtain an amateur licence, as the suggested scenario would have it.
It has also been suggested that, if the WIA just dropped the membership fee to half of what it is now, then we’d easily double the membership! Leaving aside questions of “devaluing the WIA brand”, the available size of the amateur radio market (i.e. total number of licensed amateurs and other interested persons) and the costs of promoting such a radical change, there’s a fallacy in this thinking. In a perfect world, if we halved the membership fees and doubled the membership we would be in front, due to efficiencies achieved through running a larger organisation and printing more magazines. However, it is a very dangerous venture without any certainty that the membership would indeed double and, if that did not happen, the WIA could easily annihilate itself in the process.
Looking forward, one thing I would very much like to do is to improve the linkages and communications between the WIA and the Affiliated Clubs. I’m always surprised at how low WIA membership is in some WIA Affiliated clubs, possibly because people have the belief that they are, in some way, financially contributing to the WIA’s advocacy work through being a member of the radio club, which, of course, is totally incorrect. I think there is a lot of opportunity here to improve WIA services and increase WIA membership.
There is a view that we could significantly reduce operating costs and lower membership fees, by making fundamental changes to the way the WIA works. At this time, the majority of the WIA’s costs are associated with the printed magazine and two full-time office staff. As previously explained, significant savings could be made if we invested more heavily in IT, did away with the printed edition of AR magazine, and only provided on-line member service access without immediate telephone contact.
However, given the age profile of the radio amateur population, I would be very worried about the effect that would have. Many of our members enjoy receiving their monthly printed AR magazine and like to have somebody on the end of the phone to talk to at the WIA Office. Personal contact via the WIA Office is able to solve many problems and provide answers to issues as they arise, and the WIA Assessors, in particular, seem to rely quite heavily on day-to-day contact with the WIA Office – important to the on-going support of the Exam Service that is bringing new people into amateur radio.
So, it’s not as simple as saying cheaper membership fees means more members. Although this may be correct in part, cheaper membership fees would also mean fewer, or at least very different, member services. As WIA President, I’m not confident that our membership would accept the magnitude of change and the radically different business model that would be required to reduce WIA membership fees to the levels some suggest (only a meerkat would say “simples” to that).
Naturally, there is always going to be a small number of amateurs who simply can’t afford to be a member. It is unfortunate that there are so many who can afford it, but simply prefer to get a “free ride” to enjoy all the hard-won privileges of their licence at someone else’s expense.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
April 2014 - Should amateur repeaters run 120 watts?
For many years the WIA Beacon and Repeater Coordinator has handled all issues relating to the frequency allocation and licensing of amateur repeaters. However, just recently, we have received some complaints from amateurs asking why their club’s application for a repeater licence was changed from a proposed power of 120 watts (pY) to 50 watts (pY). Why the discrepancy? And why shouldn’t an amateur repeater be allowed to run the same power as any Advanced licensee? After all, repeaters (and beacons) are licensed under the Advanced LCD.
I am told the current amateur repeater frequency allocation and licensing procedure goes back many years, to a time when the ACMA proposed to charge all amateur repeaters the full commercial repeater licence rate, based on the fact that amateur repeaters, especially those located on shared sites with commercial services, required the same amount of frequency coordination work as commercial repeaters.
Apparently, the WIA was able to obviate that fee increase by offering to perform much of the evaluation work itself, as a WIA service to clubs, and the volunteer WIA Repeater and Repeater Beacon Coordinator was appointed from our members to screen applications and make recommendations to the ACMA. The ACMA would then only have to check the repeater application for potential site interference and issue a repeater licence. This protocol was implemented with the cooperation of the ACMA and has been the established custom for many, many years. More recently, the WIA appointed a second volunteer Repeater and Beacon Coordinator, and since then, over 30 repeater and beacon applications have been processed over the past year or so. The coordinators are both qualified to do the work; they work professionally in the field, and give their time very generously. Owing to the nature of the amateur repeater service, and the fact that many repeaters are located on sites shared with commercial services, the WIA has generally applied the land mobile communications engineering standards to amateur repeater licence recommendations, with the concession that antenna gain is not restricted. Although applying the land mobile standard does depart in a minor way from the spirit of the hobby, which is primarily about experimentation, and no doubt the crux of the recent complaints, amateur repeaters on co-shared sites do have characteristics, and require considerations, that are very similar to land mobile applications:
• A repeater licence gives exclusive use of a frequency pair to a comparatively small group of users, and geographic coverage and frequency sharing issues become important, particularly in urban areas on the east coast where clear frequencies are very scarce. Many amateur repeaters are located on co-shared sites with commercial services and issues such as cross-interference and intermodulation are a serious concern.
• Restricting repeaters to 50 watts average power ensures that most, if not all, will be Electromagnetic Emissions (EME) Compliance Level 1 and thus compliance requirements are reduced.
• Many amateur stations operate into local repeaters from handheld transceivers, so their effective range is restricted by the power of the handheld rather than the repeater’s transmitter power.
In general, the WIA believes the limited spectrum available for amateur repeaters should be available to as many groups as possible, and unnecessarily high power and range should be avoided. The WIA has applied that basic spectrum management policy to amateur repeater recommendations for many years, and the policy appears to have had wide support within the amateur community.
On occasion, the WIA does recommend repeater power levels up to 120 watts pY in situations where the additional power is shown to be justified, after considering factors such as remoteness and size of the coverage area, local site sharing constraints, and EME effects.
So, is the WIA doing the right thing? Should the WIA continue to apply the land mobile standards to most amateur repeater applications, or should we just operate as a “post box” and submit a club’s application requesting a 120 watt power limit?
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS - Please don’t forget to fill in the WIA survey in your March AR. If you have internet access, please do it on-line, otherwise copy or tear out the survey from the magazine and send it to the WIA office. Surveys must be received before the closing date, Monday 14th April.
March 2014 - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
December discussed the state of the WIA’s finances, and highlighted a fairly urgent need to reverse a comparatively small but tenacious financial deficit.
I explained that recent cost increases associated with printing and distributing AR magazine have not been fully offset by savings achieved in other areas of WIA activity, and that the choice we have is now very much between raising membership fees or moving to a digital-only AR magazine format, or a combination of those moves.
As you can imagine, such an important issue, which goes to the very fabric of the Institute, has dominated discussions between WIA Directors over the past six months and the Board has had to make some difficult decisions.
In many ways, the easiest option would have been to cease printing AR magazine and move to a digital only format, which would have resulted in an immediate saving to the Institute of about $105,000 per year. No doubt many members would have preferred that option, but the problem is, we just don’t know how members would react to such a fundamental change in the delivery of AR magazine. We do know that many older members, or those with slow data services, would be disadvantaged.
In the Board’s view, changing to a digital-only publication almost overnight would be a very risky proposition, quite possibly too risky, even if the alternative means a fairly significant membership fee increase to support the paper edition. We suspect that a very significant number of WIA members place a high value on finding AR magazine in their letterbox each month.
The WIA Board decided that the better option is to introduce a digital edition of AR in parallel with the existing paper edition, allowing its acceptance to be measured by counting the number of member downloads from the WIA website.
Accordingly, the WIA Board has asked the Publications Committee to introduce a digital AR magazine option in pdf format for members-only download from the WIA website - (the good news).
Naturally, that doesn’t fix the financial problem, in fact, it makes it slightly worse, and the drain on the WIA’s finances cannot be allowed to continue without any possibility of further large cost savings.
To address that issue, the WIA Board has decided to increase WIA membership fees to $95 per year for full members, with other membership categories increasing in proportion, from 1st July this year – (that’s the bad news).
The Board is very conscious that this is a fairly large increase in percentage terms. The increase will certainly allow the WIA to recover losses from previous years and should cover any further cost increases in the short-to-medium term, even allowing for a small attrition in membership. Most importantly, it will give us time to assess the uptake of the digital edition of AR, so a more informed decision about migrating to a digital-only magazine can be made sometime down the track, remembering that, if AR magazine does eventually go digital-only, further membership fee increases should be avoidable for some years.
Naturally, any fee increase will cause difficulties for some members, and no-doubt some members will be unhappy. To ease the burden as much as possible, the Board has decided to introduce an automatic quarterly payment option for payment of membership fees by direct debit from a member’s bank account.
Our treasurer, John Longayroux VK3PZ, is in the final stages of that implementation, which we hope will be attractive to some members.
I said before that one of the issues that prevented us from moving immediately to a digital-only format is that we just don’t know how it would be accepted by members. In fact, we don’t even know what percentage of members have internet access suitable for a large magazine download in acceptable time, or how you use the internet in your day-to-day lives.
In the centre of this magazine you will find a survey which is intended to give us more information about you, your potential access to an on-line digital magazine, and also your views about, and suggestions for, the WIA – (and I know that that could get ugly). I encourage everyone to take part in the survey. If possible, please complete the survey on-line, as it will assist in ensuring your views are accurately recorded and speed up the process of data analysis.
For those of you who do not have internet access, or find it too difficult to download or read large files, we definitely need to hear from you – so please remove, or copy, and fill out the paper survey at the centre of this magazine and post it back to the WIA office.
So, not all good news, but it was going to happen sooner or later. Personally, I am pleased the Board decided to keep the paper edition of AR magazine at least for the medium term as, although the WIA does a great number of other things for members, AR really is the most tangible member benefit we have.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
January 2014 - Christmas Presents for Eastern States
Radio Amateurs in the Eastern States received two welcome Christmas presents this year – firstly, with the announcement of a new regulation amending the NSW State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) on exempt and complying development, which includes specific coverage of “Aerials, antennae and communication dishes”, and secondly, advice from the ACMA that “amateur operations in the 50-52 MHz band will no longer need to be curtailed in order to avoid interference to Channel 0 stations.”
Erecting amateur radio antennas in NSW has been a bit of a fractious affair for decades, with local councils often applying different interpretations of the development codes, even within their own local government areas! Announced on December 19th, the “State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) Amendment (Commercial and Industrial Development and Other Matters) 2013,” now clarifies many development matters and imposes a single development code across the State for a whole range of specified minor development, including antennas, masts and dishes. The SEPP cannot be overridden by a local council.
Amateurs should carefully check pages 17-19 of the new Code before they think of putting up a mast or antenna, or perhaps even modifying an existing installation. Basically, and in the simplest terms, if your antenna/mast is located at the rear of a private lot not affected by a Heritage order, is no higher than 10 metres above ground level or no higher than 1.8 metres above peak roof height if attached to your dwelling, is 100 mm diameter or less for solid structures or 500 mm or less if an open-frame mast, is located at least five metres from the property boundary and is soundly constructed and anchored in accordance with relevant Australian Standards, your antenna/mast is deemed a Compliant Development by the Code and no development application is required. Even microwavers are catered for with allowance for dishes!
It seems that, at a later stage, more substantial antennas/masts will be subject to a fast-tracked development application and approval process limited to a period of 10 days.
All this is a significant advance on what prevailed in NSW previously, and comes after a keen – and effective – lobbying campaign from the State’s amateurs and amateur radio clubs that began in October 2011 and led by the WIA. It’s also good news for wireless hobbyists and budding radio amateurs – those people once universally known as “shortwave listeners”. Grass roots action can work!
Although some amateurs will think the requirements are still too restrictive, they balance the right of radio amateurs to pursue their hobby from their home and the rights and expectations of the community. NSW has now been brought into broad alignment with the antenna/mast height requirements that apply in other States such as Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
After several approaches to the ACMA by the WIA, just before Christmas we received notification that Advanced licensees could again use the 50-52MHz segment of the six metre band, without the geographic and power restrictions imposed many years ago in order to reduce the potential of interference to 45-52 MHz Channel 0 television services.
The good news is that all Advanced licensees can now use the first 2 MHz of 6 m, run powers up to 400 W Px (pep) or 120 Py (carrier power), and use any permitted mode as per the LCD.
The WIA also asked for reallocation of 50-52 MHz to the Amateur Service on a primary basis and access for Standard Licensees. The ACMA responded by saying that these requests will be kept in mind during a proposed review of the vacated segments of the spectrum between 45 MHz and 144 MHz following the closure of channels 0 - 5A VHF analogue television services; the so-called “Digital Dividend”.
The ACMA went on to say that they recognise “. . . that one possible outcome of the proposed review of the VHF spectrum may be that changes are proposed to the amateur arrangements . . .” In other words, don’t get too comfortable, because the WIA will still need to defend vigorously our full spectrum holding at six metres in that review.
More information on these two developments can be found in the News section of the WIA website.
The Foundation licence and the amateur licence examinations system are now nine years old. While a review of the Foundation licence examination syllabus and licence conditions has been progressing for some time, the current examinations system has been in place generally without change.
While it has served the Institute and the Australian radio amateur community well to date, I know that many amateurs and would-be amateurs and assessors consider it over-burdened with procedure and paperwork. The WIA must ensure a robust audit trail of actions and responses, all meeting expectations and requirements of the ACMA and the Commonwealth Government. However, the WIA Board and our RTO believes the process can be improved significantly by placing much of the administration component on-line. This would speed the processing of materials, reduce costs and also avoid instances where the paperwork is filled out incorrectly and needs to be returned by post to the assessor.
What if? What if . . . a candidate could sit the licence examination and receive, if successful, a Certificate of Proficiency, their licence and a callsign. We are currently working on reaching that goal.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
December 2013 - On Reflection (High SWR ahead)
The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of things: where we are and the most important priorities for the New Year.
For the WIA, 2013 has largely been a year of consolidation – the introduction of the MEMNET membership management system, the continuing development of the new WIA committee system, the ongoing advocacy with the ACMA, the IARU and the ITU, the examination and assessment of new radio amateurs along with those upgrading to Standard and Advanced licences, continuing the improvements to AR magazine, reducing the processing time for new repeater licences, and improving day-to-day support for individual members and affiliated clubs, etc., etc.
Also, together with the ACMA, we have completed an update of the regulation exam syllabus, and the EMR awareness campaign is now well under way in preparation for a revisit of the 1 kW Higher Power Licence issue.
So, what’s planned for 2014?
The WIA Board has identified three broad areas worthy of special attention in 2014 – improving the social/community relevance and accessibility of amateur radio, bedding down the new WIA Volunteers Committees and turning around the finances.
The first two items are a continuation of activities begun in 2013. As you may have noticed, the WIA is promoting amateur radio to the public through such actions as the “PR4 Amateur Radio initiative” and mounting displays at the recent ‘Maker’ exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney. Amateur radio has a lot to offer this new breed of DIY constructors, newly-termed ‘Makers’, especially in relation to technologies such as wireless telemetry, wireless-linked applications and digital signalling. Clearly, reviewing the privileges of the Foundation licence in relation to permitted digital modes is necessary to make amateur radio attractive to this group as well as other potential amateurs with an interest in ‘things digital’. The WIA Board plans to further pursue such avenues in future to promote the hobby.
However, by far the greatest challenge facing the WIA right now is financial, with another loss projected for this year. Although the introduction of the MEMNET system saved one part-time staff member, and the postponing of the Club Grants Scheme this year also saved a further $6000, increasing costs are certainly taking their toll on the finances of the WIA. Compounded with a reduction in magazine advertising revenue and a fall-off in merchandise and bookshop sales (a product of changing advertising spending policies and the economic times), the projected loss for this year is expected to be around $25,000. While the WIA has sufficient reserves to cover the loss, it would not be prudent to allow the situation to persist.
Fortunately, this year’s flow of new members and fewer non-renewals provides some saving grace, as membership remains strong. The simple answer to the financial issues would be to jack-up membership fees, including some buffer for future years to cover the shortfall. But, as many clubs in the community have found, increasing our membership fees could easily become counter-productive. The other obvious remedy is to cut costs by targeting ALL areas of expenditure, but the elephant in our financial room is always going to be the costs associated with printing and distributing Amateur Radio magazine, currently running at about $100,000 per year (printing and distribution alone – not composition and layout).
The WIA is not alone in this – most other member organisations supporting their own magazines are turning to digital publication and distribution, and this is clearly an option for the WIA, possibly with a printed AR magazine yearbook of construction projects and popular articles.
Basically, if the WIA is going to turn around its finances, the choice is clearly between an increase in membership fees, (either incrementally over several years, or in one hit), or a change in the way AR magazine is published and distributed to members. There are other areas of possible savings, but they are minor and incremental at best and most would adversely affect services to members and affiliated clubs. Mind you, it has been estimated that electricity costs for the national office will fall by $73 next year with the abolition of the carbon tax! Every little helps.
Before the WIA Board can make any decisions about which way to go (cost-cutting versus increased membership fees, or a mix of both), we need to know your opinions. We intend to produce a survey asking you to rate your preferences to various options proposed in the survey, and also asking you to rate the various services the WIA offers.
So, it looks like an interesting year coming up. I have said many times that, for such a small organisation, the WIA is exceptionally complex, with many highly specialist functions, from magazine publication to high-level governmental advocacy. The WIA can only continue to be effective because of the goodwill and generosity of its many volunteers, the dedication of its staff, and the loyalty of our members. For that, I thank you all very much.
Have a safe and happy Christmas and see you all in the New Year.
Please do make sure you have registered for MEMNET. Go to www.wia.org.au click on ‘For Members’, then click on ‘Log into MEMNET’, and register... it’s very simple.
If you have already registered for MEMNET but have not received a confirmation Email we may not have your correct Email address. Please Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your email address, name and membership number.
If you are changing your Email address, please remember to update your information in MEMNET.
November 2013 - Radcomms 2013
Phil Wait VK2ASD
Every year the ACMA hosts a two-day Radio Communications Conference featuring a series of speakers from various industry sectors, and the ACMA, covering a broad range of topics. Several “panel sessions” provide an opportunity for audience interaction. It is a valuable opportunity for the WIA to interface with industry and gain insights into the future directions of radio communications. WIA Director Roger Harrison VK2ZRH attended day one, and I attended the second day. These are our combined observations and comments.
Although the event was subtitled “4G and Beyond”, to emphasise the role of mobile broadband technologies, the subject matter covered quite a lot more than that, including: competing demands for access to spectrum; the value of spectrum to the government, the economy and society; the rapidly changing uses of spectrum; the role of broadcasting; innovation in spectrum use; and the future role and work of the ACMA.
In opening Radcomms 2013, the Chair of the ACMA, Chris Chapman, highlighted the issue that “. . . regulation must be responsive to innovation” and the fact of tension between interests in spectrum access where divergent views collided. To stay abreast of developments and the requirement of the ACMA “. . . being an evidence-informed regulator”, he outlined two studies commissioned to contribute to the agency’s future work: one being on forecasting likely future demand for spectrum, the other on the impacts of mobile broadband technologies on the Australian economy and society. Two speakers provided insights into preliminary results of these studies, which highlighted the rapidly changing impact that wireless devices have in everybody’s work, living and leisure activities.
Panel members were quizzed about attitudes to the licensing system and the concept of “parameter-based” licensing was raised, creating some lively debate. This idea does away with the current system of apparatus, class and spectrum licensing, and regulates access to and use of spectrum by specifying a list of parameters (in much the same way that LCDs do, for example).
Rob Fitzpatrick from NICTA, Australia’s Information Communications Technology (ICT) Research Centre of Excellence, gave a presentation on aspects of NICTA’s current R&D work, in which he pleaded the case for having “sandpits” of unlicensed spectrum for researchers to “play with” as needed from time to time.
The Secretary of the Department of Communications, Drew Clarke, gave a talk in which he canvassed the idea of “unchaining spectrum” to engender innovation; “what more can it do?”, he asked, raising the spectre of spectrum demand for uses as yet unimagined. Tellingly, he advocated the case for providing “adequate (spectrum) for public interest uses”.
Apart from anything else, the Radcomms conferences provide a valuable opportunity to network with ACMA staff and key people from industry and academia, and the WIA’s participation is always very well received.
Second day speakers discussed the future of traditional broadcasting, innovation in spectrum use, and where to from here. Speakers included representatives from Commercial Radio Australia who argued a case for more Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), especially in non-urban areas, and from Free-TV canvassing ultra-high definition free-to-air television broadcasting using high-definition and content-rich formats like MP-4, and linking the provision of free-to-air broadcasting (as opposed to paid subscription services) to healthy democracy.
Speaker Anthony Gherghetta, from the App Studio, cited the “internet-connected car”, a world of on-line motoring where you choose the streaming content prior to your commute to work, maybe starting with the local traffic report, BBC news world headlines, the latest country music hits and a bit of talk-back. Not to mention everyone will know where you are, and your credit card will automatically get debited if your right foot gets a bit heavy. Hopefully we will be able to remove that module!
All these applications are driven by strong public demand, and they have one very critical feature in common - they are all spectrum hungry. Conventional spectrum usage is inherently inefficient, with most frequencies being vastly underutilised. Just tune across any of the non-broadcasting bands and note how most frequencies are vacant most of the time. If any of the conference predictions come true, new ways must be found to increase spectrum efficiency and usage. New radio technologies and vastly different ways of thinking about spectrum will be required.
Cognitive radio is a technology where a transmitter and receiver negotiate with each other to find a clear frequency. Unlike the rigid fixed-frequency operation that we are all familiar with, cognitive radios continually negotiate with each other or as part of a network, seamlessly jumping around within defined frequency limits and communicating with each other, totally invisible to either primary users or to other spectrum users.
In the cognitive radio model, spectrum usage and spectrum efficiency is dramatically increased. Spectrum Brokers may purchase chunks of spectrum and re-sell it to cognitive users on a dynamic basis, but no user ‘owns’ any particular frequency.
So, in this brave new world of frequency sharing and dynamic spectrum allocation, where does all this leave amateur radio?
Several speakers explored the issue of the “value” of spectrum – the economic or monetary value, the political value and the social value. The concept of spectrum having an “imputed value” was raised in one panel session, along with the concept of certain spectrum bands and uses having an intrinsic or “intangible” value as a social good – not everything could be reduced to monetary value.
Amateur radio has a rich history of public benefit. Albeit through a fairly rigorous set of entry criteria, amateur radio already provides spectrum for public interest users and, since the very early years, amateur radio has exploited spectrum for experimentation, research and development. There are many examples from over the decades, where amateurs have explored radio communications concepts that have been subsequently developed into successful commercial technologies – cellular telephony being one telling example.
As Maureen Cahill from ACMA noted, “spectrum is the great enabler of the 21st century, ….with a projected 30 billion wireless connected devices by 2020, up from 10 billion today”. It may be in this ‘brave new world’ there is a renewed place for amateur radio as a protected public space, available through our system of individual amateur licensing, for public usage, education, research and other non-commercial purposes.
Radio Communications Conference attendance currently costs the WIA about $720 per year, not including any travel or accommodation expenses. WIA members fund this activity in the interests of all Australian radio amateurs.
October 2013 - One Year On
I can’t believe it’s now one year since I received that fateful phone call telling me that Michael Owen, VK3KI, had suddenly passed away. My initial reaction can only be described as shock, and a feeling of despair for Michael’s family with whom he was obviously very close.
Shortly after came the creeping realisation that I, as WIA Vice-President, was in the hot seat. In fact, I had shortly before told Michael that my work commitments were increasing and after 10 years as a Director it might be time for somebody else to have a go.
Michael, being his usual persuasive self, told me there was absolutely nothing to worry about:
“Vice Presidents don’t have to do anything much anyway, and I’m not planning on going anywhere”.
So, one year later, I thought it might be useful to recap where we are now, so members can decide what sort of job we have made of it since Michael’s passing.
Inevitably, a new leader brings some new directions and a different management style. Early-on it became obvious that nobody could devote the amount of time to the WIA that Michael did, so micromanagement definitely was out of the question. Very quickly the Board decided to introduce a system of functional committees comprising the many volunteers who perform the many functional activities of the WIA. That committee system is now mostly up and running, with some committees such as Radio Activities (QSLs, contests, awards etc.), Spectrum (ACMA liaison, technical, repeaters and beacons etc.), and Publications and Marketing (print media, the website and marketing etc.) being very active. More needs to be done, especially in the area of co-ordination.
One thing I find very encouraging is the number of people who have recently offered their services to the WIA, and also the number of people who stood for election as a WIA Director this year. That is indeed a sign of a vibrant organisation.
One facet of amateur radio that Michael was particularly passionate about is the international work, both through the IARU (of which he was Region 3 Chair) and also the WIA’s work with the Australian delegation to the ITU and the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (the APT). Dale Hughes VK1DSH is very ably continuing that work as Chair of the ITU Working Party which is considering the possibility of a new amateur service frequency allocation at 5 MHz.
Towards the end of Michael’s term it was obvious that the WIA needed to cut costs in order to avoid a membership fee increase during a time of economic uncertainty. Membership fee increases are inevitable, but the Board’s intent is to explore all avenues of cost savings in the first instance. To this end we introduced the MEMNET cloud-based membership management system (which has saved one part-time staff position) and the Go-to-Meeting teleconference system (which has greatly reduced Directors’ travel expenses while allowing monthly on-line Board meetings). Further savings are being made in other areas, such as the hold-over of the Club Grant Scheme for this year.
Naturally, not everything goes to plan, and this was the case with the Higher Power Trial. The WIA is quite disappointed about the ACMA decision not to proceed with a 1 kW peak power limit for Australian advanced radio amateurs, which would bring them in line with many other Western nations. But putting aside some obvious concerns about the conduct of the trial, we do accept the reality that we need to promote a greater degree of EMR awareness amongst amateur licensees.
The next year is going to be very much about further strengthening the WIA committee system, continuing the international work, and promoting EMR awareness and compliance in preparation for another go at the higher power limit.
So, would Michael be pleased? Maybe – lawyers are never 100% happy with anything, but I’m sure he would think we haven’t done too badly.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS. Dale Hughes VK1DSH has asked for as many written comments as possible about the potential benefits to amateur radio from a new 5 MHz frequency allocation. Please send your comments to the WIA as soon as possible, and let’s not have a repeat of the situation with the higher power trial when only a very small number of responses were received.
September 2013 - High Power Trial Disappoints
By the time this President’s Comment is read, the High Power Trial will have ceased and the output power limit available to Advanced licensees will be back to 400 watts PEP for SSB and 120 watts for all other modes. So, what went wrong? Why didn’t the ACMA see fit to at least extend the trial with a view to making the higher power limit a permanent feature? What are our options now?
Let’s not spin the issue; rather, I’ll call a ‘spade’ a ‘spade’.
The ACMA reached its decision following an assessment carried out on 90 of the 297 Advanced licensees holding high power permits. The ACMA collected data in a number of areas: a desk-based audit of knowledge of and compliance with electromagnetic energy (“EME”) requirements; site visits; complaints of interference; impact on other radio communications services; and an examination of other countries’ regulatory arrangements.
According to the ACMA, from the evidence obtained a decision was made about the “benefits and risks of permanently implementing regulatory arrangements for higher power” and, at the end of the day, their conclusion was that the ‘risks’ outweighed the ‘benefits’.
Their major concern was that the assessments demonstrated a significant lack of understanding of, and compliance with, the electromagnetic energy EME/EMR requirements within the Amateur Licence Conditions Determination (the LCD):
“during the desk-based audit… the responses received from some Advanced Licensees did not meet expectations. The responses raised doubts as to some Advanced Licensees’ awareness of ongoing licence obligations and electromagnetic energy requirements….. and in some instances, the ACMA received no response to its letter in the statutory timeframe”.
Clearly, a disappointment to everyone.
Additionally, the 297 amateurs who applied for the high power permit was a fairly small number compared to the total Advanced licensee population of 10,690. Also, the WIA submission to the ACMA earlier this year contained a limited number of contributions from trial participants (and I must say we were also disappointed at the response to our call for comments). That said it could not be reasonably expected that a large number of Advanced licensees would commit to the necessary investment to assemble a high power station, given there was no certainty as to the outcome of the trial.
The ACMA also said that the results of the trial demonstrated there is a need to raise awareness among all amateur licensees of their licence conditions, in other words, EME/EMR issues should be of greater concern to all radio amateurs, no matter what licence grade and power they are running.
Significant interference issues due to use of the higher power, either on the amateur bands or to other services, were not evident.
A summary of the ACMA assessment results can be found on their website at www.acma.gov.au/Industry/Spectrum/Acquire-alicence/Apparatus-licences/trial-ofhigher-transmitter-output-power-forlicensees-i-acma
It is important to realize that radio amateurs are not being singled out here. Compliance with electromagnetic energy requirements applies to all apparatus licensees, including broadcasting, maritime services and others. It’s also important to realize that electromagnetic radiation is not just a technical issue, it’s an emotive and political issue within the community, and we all need to be very mindful of that fact.
The trial also highlighted ambiguities and inaccuracies in ACMA material, and the lack of information provided about the assessment criteria, which we believe also had a detrimental effect on the outcome.
Some may wonder why other countries’ administrations (USA, NZ etc) don’t seem to have any concerns about having a higher power limit for radio amateurs. The answer goes to the various legislative and regulatory arrangements present in those countries, and when administrations do not have EME/EMR regulation within their policy charter, they are less constrained.
So, what now? Firstly, at the Institute’s request, the ACMA has indicated that this issue is not closed, and the WIA intends to re-open negotiations with the ACMA, hopefully in about one year, if the amateur community can demonstrate a general increase in EME/EMR awareness and compliance. Secondly, the WIA intends to do whatever it can to increase awareness within amateur radio circles of the EME/EMR compliance issues. The ACMA has indicated it looks forward to working with the WIA to achieve that objective, and is also working to improve their published material and other issues highlighted during the trial.
As I said, this is a disappointing outcome. The trial was initiated by Michael Owen VK3KI and has since taken a lot of work from a very few people. I would like to thank the following members of the Spectrum Strategy Committee for their diligent work over the course of the High Power Trial: Peter Young VK3MV, Doug McArthur VK3UM, Noel Higgins VK3NH and Roger Harrison VK2ZRH.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
August 2013 - Licence Fees
One of the recurring themes in member’s correspondence to the WIA is the level of fees charged by the ACMA for the renewal of Amateur licenses. Invariably the question also arises “why do we have to pay licence fees at all, when other countries (such as New Zealand) have abolished theirs”.
Let’s take the first question first – it’s is a perennial question, much the same as asking why we pay the government taxes that we do for all sorts of things. Recently, WIA Board member Roger Harrison and Secretary David Williams wrote to a member regarding licence fees and charges, and I’ve used much of their reply in this President’s Comment:
The WIA is acutely aware that the current Amateur licence fee of $73 (indexed by CPI) can be quite a bit to swallow as a lump sum payment, especially for pensioners and others on modest fixed incomes. Naturally, the WIA is not a spokesperson for the ACMA and the Institute is not able to explain on the ACMA’s behalf why it charges $73 for the Amateur licence, other than to state the obvious, that it is government policy to charge a fee for apparatus licences.
However, the ACMA has released a publication titled Apparatus licence fee schedule 5 April 2013,(i) which describes the rationale for apparatus licence fees.
Quoting from this publication:
The ACMA uses a system of apparatus licence types to apply common licence conditions to categories of radiocommunications services. Most licence types have associated licensing options suitable Licence Fees for specific purposes. Fees charged vary according to the licensing option.
Then, on the matter of taxes and charges, the publication states:
There are two types of fees applicable to apparatus licences:
administrative charges to recover the direct costs of spectrum management, and annual taxes to recover the indirect costs of spectrum management and provide incentives for efficient spectrum use. Indirect costs are those that cannot be directly attributed to individual licensees. These activities include international coordination and domestic planning and interference management.
On a current Licence Renewal Notice, the ACMA breaks down the Amateur licence fee into two components: (a) Total Charge, of $28; and (b) Total Tax, of $45.
So, from the above quotes (a) is the annual administrative charge to recover the direct costs of the ACMA’s role in spectrum management, while (b) is an annual tax “to recover the indirect costs of spectrum management . . . that cannot be directly attributed to individual licensees”, including planning within Australia, interference investigations and management, and international coordination (e.g. planning for and attending International Telecommunications Union meetings, World Radio Conferences, etc.).
Of course, we amateurs enjoy the privilege of considerable access to bands across the LF, MF, HF, VHF, UHF and microwave spectrum (determined by licence grade), to pursue our individual and collective interests as we see fit. In that context, the Amateur licence may be considered very good value for money.
In relation to the lack of pensioner discounts, many statutory costs (and regular increases) are a fact of life and, sadly, pensioner discounts relating to them are generally difficult to find. Our taxation system makes little or no provision for pensioners, especially where the costs are associated with a hobby (as distinctly different to medical treatment, as an example).
As a matter of interest, it was opposition to the licence fee of three guineas (63 shillings) for an experimenter’s licence charged by the Federal Government in 1910 that led to the creation of the “Institute of Wireless”, which subsequently became the Wireless Institute of Australia.
In 1910, the average weekly (skilled) male earnings were 60 shillings. The federal government in 1910 was charging more than the average male weekly wage!
Translated to this era, based on average weekly male earnings today of $1489.10, the 1910 licence fee equates to some $1560! No wonder amateurs of that era were outraged!
For those able to afford a licence, it was a rich man’s hobby. The age pension for males 65 years and older was then 10 shillings a week.
An amateur licence would have cost more than 10 weeks pension. No wonder there were many “pirate” operators experimenting with wireless telegraphy.
In 1945, the Amateur licence fee was one pound 10 shillings, which, compared to 1945 average weekly male earnings, equates to $406 today! Likewise, in 1964, the Amateur licence cost two pounds, which equates to $194 today! (ii)
To the second question, “why do we pay any fees at all”, all I can say is, be careful what you ask for. The category of radiocommunications licence that Amateur licences fall under is called ‘Apparatus Licences’. That is the same type of licence that covers other services such as land mobile, maritime, broadcasting, fixed point-to-point services etc. etc., and we amateurs are afforded the same legal status and protections under that licence category.
If the amateur service was changed to say a type of Class Licence Service (similar to the NZ General User Radio Licence), where no licence fees are payable, we could eventually find ourselves in the same status category as remote controls and garage door openers, which operate on a non-interference / no-protection basis. This to me sounds like a very slippery slope.
So, we at the WIA fully understand the difficulties many members face with increasing fees and charges from all quarters. Rest assured the Board monitors the licence fee issue very closely and the WIA will act in the interests of its members if licence fees escalate out of proportion to the CPI, but it is very much a double edged issue.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
<em >(i) www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/About/Making-payments/Apparatuslicence-fees/apparatus-licencefees-acma
(ii) Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS); and
University of Melbourne Archives, Buchanan and Brock Wages Books (1870-1921).
July 2013 - Our Man in Geneva
The Swiss Tourist Bureau describes Geneva as “super sleek, slick and cosmopolitan”.. “a gem of a city superbly strung around the sparkling shores of Europe’s largest Alpine lake”... “a place where people chatter in every language under the sun and 200-odd top-dog governmental and non-governmental international organisations meter out world affairs with astonishing precision and authority”.
Dale Hughes VK1DSH was our man in Geneva for about 10 days in May, sitting through many meetings at the complex organisation that is the International Telecommunications Union; the ITU, a specialist agency of the United Nations where delegates from various administrations and ITU sector members attended those meetings to present their views on agenda items that affect world radiocommunications and telecommunications, including the amateur service.
Dale’s colleagues included Tim Ellam VE6SH (IARU President), Bryan Rawlings VE3QN (Canada), Colin Thomas G3PSM (UK), Brennan Price N4QX (US), Ken Yamamoto JA1CJP (Japan), Ulrich Mueller DK4VW (Germany) and Hans Blondel-Timmerman PB2T (Netherlands).
After ten days of tireless meetings, it’s not surprising that Dale had a slightly different take on Geneva. His regular progress reports to the WIA were splattered with words like “drizzley, bleak and cold” interspersed with “slow, difficult, and endless”.
Others seemed to be impressed, however, so much so that Dale was appointed Chair of the ITU Working Group 5A.1 which deals with ‘Land mobile service above 30 MHz (excluding IMT); wireless access in the fixed service; and amateur and amateur-satellite services, and is considering a possible new secondary allocation to the amateur service between 5250 and 5450 kHz. Other work undertaken by WG5A.1 is the on-going revision and review of ITU recommendations and reports that are relevant to the amateur service.
Work on the 5 MHz issue is slow and complex, with diverse views and contributions from the member States. The IARU and the administrations of Canada, China, Russia and the United States of America made contributions. There was also a combined contribution from the administration of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands.
Dale’s working group has produced a number of working documents which attempt to characterise possible amateur service operation around 5300 kHz, and the effect it might have on other existing in-band and adjacent band radio services.
Other work undertaken by various ITU working groups during this block of meetings includes:
• Work to finalise modifications to the ITU Amateur Service Handbook, chaired by Colin Thomas G3PSM. The Amateur Service Handbook contains information about amateur bands, operating modes, propagation etc. and provides information to national administrations which is used in managing their amateur frequency allocations. The Russian Federation proposed an excellent and extensive list of useful modifications and clarifications to the existing Handbook.
• Compatibility issues between amateur radio and vehicle collision avoidance radars at 77.5-78 GHz. The amateur service has primary status in this frequency band at present; however these short range radar systems already operate successfully in Australia and global harmonisation is likely.
• The possible extension of the frequency band used by the Earth Exploration Satellite Service. It is possible that the 3 cm amateur band will be affected by this proposal. If the agenda item is successful then there may be intermittent and transient interference to amateur 3 cm communications when the EESS satellite is in range, otherwise no other significant problems are expected.
• BPL/PLT issues were addressed including the specification for the spectrum mask which notches HF amateur bands and critical frequencies.
Although their various national positions may not always be in complete agreement, the amateur representatives work well together in advancing the amateur service. As Dale states “It’s worth remembering that while the process seems slow and torturous, the end result is an International Treaty which affects the legislation underpinning the operation of all radio services in all member countries of the International Telecommunications Union.”
All radio amateurs worldwide benefit from the ITU work, and the IARU has agreed to pay half of Dale’s travel expenses while Dale is both representing Australia and acting in his capacity as Chair of the Working Group.
The next round of ITU meetings is again in Geneva in November followed by May 2014. In addition, Dale has been attending the meetings of the Asia Pacific Telecommunity, where much important discussion takes place about regional issues and voting blocks tend to form.
The international work is one of the most important and expensive areas of WIA activity, though it goes largely unseen by members. In the past, Dale assisted Keith Malcolm VK1KM, but Keith tragically passed away about two years ago and Dale immediately took up the reigns.
Preparation and attendance at these meetings is a big ask for just one person, and Dale has so far been very gracious with his time. Clearly, that cannot go on forever and we need to find some assistance for Dale, at least with the preparation and as an understudy.
If you have had experience in this type of work, especially if you have worked for the ACMA or an international agency or delegation, we would very much like to hear from you.
Finally, we need to gather information about the potential usage of a 5300 kHz amateur assignment. The WIA is also keen to hear any views you may have about the proposed allocation around 5300 kHz and how it may assist you in your radio communications activities.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
In this magazine you will find information about the recent WIA AGM held in Perth, which proved to be a great success. The results of the recent election for WIA Directors were announced at the AGM, and those results have also been published. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the three new Directors and to also very sincerely thank the retiring Directors for their efforts over the last few years, especially over the difficult period following the passing of Michael Owen VK3KI.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
June 2013 - The Foundation licence – a strategic view
Last year, just before he passed away, Michael Owen wrote a President’s Comment about the Foundation licence. He said, “The Directors would like to know the opinion of amateurs generally on the Foundation licence, and whether there should be any changes”.
The WIA received a number of comments, mostly arguing for increased privileges for Foundation licensees, especially in relation to power and digital modes. Some suggested that the 4-letter F-call was confusing, especially when contacting overseas stations, and should be changed to a 3-letter call with a different prefix.
Since Michael’s comment, the VK-Logger forum has logged 13 pages of posts to the question “Should changes be made to the Foundation licence”, and consistent with comments sent directly to the WIA, increased power and digital modes are the most common suggestions. Although, it must be said that is not a unanimous view.
Any discussion about the Foundation licence, and ultimately the entry-barriers to amateur radio, needs to take a strategic approach.
The Foundation licence was intended to be, and still is intended to be, an easier entry into amateur radio with the hope that Foundation licensees will eventually upgrade to Standard or Advance licences.
Indeed, quite a large proportion of Foundation licensees have upgraded, but naturally there is also a lot of churn as some drop out of the hobby altogether.
There is no doubt the Foundation licence has been a positive development for amateur radio in Australia, and it certainly has bolstered the total numbers and encouraged higher levels of on-air activity. However the ‘pent-up demand’ from the pre-Foundation licence years has probably now been satisfied and, together with the ageing amateur population, I expect we are entering a period where the total numbers of Australian radio amateurs will start to decline.
Australia is not alone; this is a likely feature of most western nations. (Having said that, the good news is we have seen an early pick-up in Foundation courses and assessments so far this year, so hopefully that will continue).
When I was a kid, amateur radio was about the only technically based hobby I could get into, and then only because of a local amateur in my neighbourhood, Muriel VK2AIA. It was simply luck that I found it/her.
Now technically inclined kids have a multitude of hobby options mostly related to computers and the internet, where entry-barriers are very low and networking with like-minded people anywhere is just part of the scenery. Talking around the world via amateur radio must look very passé to them, and it also comes with a significant entry barrier.
Convincing significant numbers of young people to take up amateur radio sounds like a very hard call to me. Things have certainly changed. However, I do think there are emerging opportunities. The “makerspace” or “do-it-yourself” movement is one area where the benefits of amateur radio could be promoted, especially using some of the new digital modes. A recent news item on the WIA website shows how to use a $35 Raspberry Pi computer to generate low power WSPR signals directly into an antenna – with nothing else needed except a good quality low-pass filter.
My personal view is that there is an opportunity for amateur radio amongst technically savvy people wanting to use the capabilities of amateur radio as a tool to do something else that interests them. I’m not saying that amateur radio should move away from its traditional areas we all know well – having a chat, DX and contesting etc. – but I do think the ‘scope’ of amateur radio needs to expand somewhat to take into account the new types of hobby technologists.
If you share that view, it does seem rather counter-productive to have an entry-level licence intended to attract technically savvy people into amateur radio, which at the same time limits them to old technologies.
That’s why I’m inclined to think the Foundation licence should include digital modes, but naturally that depends very much on the ACMA.
The obvious question is – how do we attract these new technically savvy people to amateur radio in the first place? Answer, probably not through conventional amateur radio channels like radio clubs, but possibly through social media. That’s why we have included a social media group in our new WIA committee system.
One argument against introducing digital modes to the Foundation licence is that the extra study required, to ensure digital transmissions are not over modulated and do not cause interference, would make it harder to obtain, indeed almost as hard as a Standard grade licence and therefore departing from the original concept of an easy-entry licence.
Perhaps that could be addressed by introducing a digital endorsement to the Foundation licence, or a series of endorsements for various licence extensions.
So, what do you think? The Committees and the WIA Board have been in active discussion for some time about the complex issues and implications of suggesting changes to the Foundation licence. Maybe you have your own suggestions, but discussion alone does need to come to a conclusion by October this year.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
Other areas where amateur radio can provide a real benefit are for remote-area travellers, 4WD clubs, yachties, grey nomads etc. Amateur radio could also be a very useful tool for students and researchers studying wireless technologies, partly due to its universal access to spectrum. More emphasis needs to be placed on recruitment from these areas.
May 2013 - Clear policy needed on equipment possession
As part of my real job, every couple of years I attend the Spring Hong Kong Electronics Fair, the world’s biggest, held at the at the Exhibition Centre overlooking Honk Kong Harbour. I also visit the Global Sources Electronics and Components Show held at the same time at Hong Kong Airport.
To say both these shows are huge is an understatement - three or four thousand exhibitors and each taking days to navigate around. I’ve been going to these shows now for about 30 years, but what particularly struck me last year was the number of manufacturers of locally made hand-held amateur radio equipment. Where only a few years ago there was maybe one or two, last year I counted over 30 different exhibitors, all with volume ex-factory pricing around US$20-40.
Most of these hand-helds were ‘open’, that is, not restricted to amateur radio bands, and clearly intended for both amateur and commercial use. One manufacturer proudly pulled out a D-STAR copy, and I believe HF models are well on the way.
It’s little wonder that back home in Australia the ACMA is taking more than a passing interest in “open” hand-held transceivers imported from China. Recently ACMA inspectors have been inspecting amateur stations, and in some cases confiscating equipment or issuing Warning Notices under Section 47 advising that possession of equipment (Commercial Non Standard Devices) was not authorised by the station licence.
In a letter to one of the affected radio amateurs, the ACMA states:
“Amateur Radios are designed and limited to cover internationally recognised amateur radio bands only. Equipment manufacturers such as Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood have been producing Amateur Radios for over 50 years on these bands. Amateur radio equipment operating within Amateur radio bands does not have to meet Australian equipment standards.
“However, if a radio communications device covers commercial frequencies, or has been modified to cover commercial frequencies outside of internationally recognised amateur bands, then it must meet the standards for equipment operating in those bands, as well as carry the appropriate regulatory compliance marking (RCM), such as a C-Tick. Associated power supplies and plug packs must also be tested to Australian standards and carry a C Tick or RCM”.
The possession and operation of old/ex-military equipment provided it use is within the Licence Conditions Determination (the LCD) is not at issue here as there is no Australian Standard in place for military equipment.
However, in practical terms there does not seem to be much difference between an amateur possessing a hand-held radio capable of transmitting from 400 – 480 MHz and say a Collins ART13 general coverage HF transmitter. Both are capable of wreaking havoc on other radio communications services, but only if the operator chooses to ignore the LCD and break the law, for which there are strict penalties.
To make matters even more complicated, as there is no Standard for amateur equipment in Australia, amateur licensees (except for Foundation licensees) are permitted to modify ex-commercial equipment for use on amateur spectrum, therefore rendering the device as non-standard. However, because the transceiver is then made non-standard, but still capable of transmitting outside amateur bands, it is illegal to possess it. Catch 22.
It is not clear whether or not modifying software/firmware for programming purposes is a modification or not, but I suspect it would be.
So, where do we go from here? It is clear that ACMA inspectors need to be vigilant about equipment Standards in the light of the new wave of low-cost products. In the past ACMA inspectors seemed to take a fairly pragmatic view in a situation where no clear policy exists, but now some amateurs are being deemed as acting illegally in possessing a device even though the device is being operated in accordance with the LCD.
The WIA believes the ITU definition of amateur radio, and the definition under the Radcom Act 1997, should be the foundation of a policy that a licensed amateur - of any grade - may possess any radiocommunications technology without fear of confiscation or any other penalty, simply in satisfying their non-pecuniary interests under the definition of Amateur Radio.
However if a radio amateur operates such equipment in contravention of the LCD, then the full force of the law should be applied.
In other words, we believe the focus should be on operation, not possession.
At the end of the day, most amateurs want to be compliant but find it exceedingly difficult to achieve this where the regulator cannot articulate a clear policy.
This is a very grey area and it’s not fair for anyone, inspectors or radio amateurs, to have to rely on an individual’s interpretation of an undocumented policy.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
PS. Our long suffering Treasurer, John Longayroux VK3PZ, would like me to tell you that the 2012 Directors Report including the Financial Report has been placed in the Members Only section of the WIA website.
April 2013 - QSL via the Bureau
The VK QSL bureau is functionally divided between incoming cards (into VK) and outgoing cards (leaving VK). Incoming cards arrive at the WIA office in Bayswater, Melbourne, and are sorted into various State destinations by Geoff VK3TL and his team of volunteers. The cards are then bulk posted to the various local QSL managers for distribution. Cards can be collected from the local QSL manager, or if a WIA member wishes their cards can be posted to their membership address annually at the WIA’s cost. WIA members may also have their cards sent to their Affiliated Club, and again the WIA will meet the cost of that postage.
Non-members cards are retained for at least one year and then discarded. Non-members can collect their cards within that year period at the convenience of the local QSL Manager.
Outgoing cards are sent to the Outwards QSL bureau which is run by volunteers at the Westlakes Club in NSW, under the direction of the Outwards QSL Manager, Alex VK2ZM. The cards are sorted into country bundles and bulk posted to the overseas destination bureau.
There is no doubt the QSL service is a very important function for the WIA. It’s a tangible and very valued member service, and helps promote amateur radio and the WIA both here and internationally.
QSL cards are a fundamental part of amateur radio, and go right back to the very early days of radio pioneering. My start in amateur radio was through SWLing at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s and I’m sure the postman must have been very confused about one day delivering cards from the Voice of America and the next day a package from Moscow or Communist China.
Prior to attending the Wyong Field Day I was under the impression that the QSL service was going along nicely, but after a couple of conversations it became obvious that there are some issues that need to be resolved.
The QSL service is a subsidised service to members, and rightly so, however some members who are very active in contests and DXpeditions do generate very large volumes of cards, far in excess of the normal member quantity. It isn’t uncommon for a single person to drop-in over 2000 cards at a time which can seriously overload the QSL service, not to mention the cost of processing and posting that number of cards well exceeds their membership fees.
Some might say that it is unfair for the majority of members to be subsidising a few heavy users of the QSL service. Others may say that it’s just a numbers game and good on them for being active radio amateurs. Certainly Contests, DXpeditions and Awards are something we should all encourage as much as possible, and anyway, who decides what is excessive?
Another issue is that within the pile of cards generated from a Contest or a DXpedition there are often a significant number of cards from non-WIA member operators, operating under their own callsign. Should the WIA subsidise those non-member operators within a contest or DXpedition, or is it all just part of the game?
The QSL bureau statistics are interesting. From 1st January 2012 to 31st December 2012, the total outwards cards were 58,200 and inwards cards 40,850, making a total of 99,050 cards distributed by the QSL bureau in one year. The time taken to distribute the outwards QSL cards alone is about 12 man-hours per week, all done by volunteers under the guidance of Alex. A similar amount of time would be spent by volunteers at the Inwards Bureau at the WIA office in Bayswater.
The average cost to the WIA of outwards cards postage is 5.7 cents per card, but when fixed overheads are factored in, the total cost of sorting and distribution would probably be around 10 cents per card, or about $5-6,000 per year.
Most countries have outwards QSL bureaus that operate in much the same manner. Their members send cards to their outgoing bureau where they are packaged and shipped to the destination countries. However, how they handle their outgoing QSL cards differs.
The ARRL charge their members US$2 for up to 10 cards, US$3 for 11-20 cards and then bulk charges apply based on weight. It can get quite expensive, so ARRL affiliated clubs are allowed to pool cards for ARRL members so they can take advantage of the cheaper bulk postage rates. Proof of ARRL membership is required.
The RSGB does things a little differently again.
The outwards QSL bureau is free to members but “heavy users” are asked to sort their own cards and send them directly to the overseas “top ten” receiving bureaus themselves, and at their expense, without going through the RSGB system. This not only saves the RSGB money, but also significantly reduces the workload on their volunteers. “Heavy Users” are determined on a total weight basis. According to the RSGB:
“The system is designed to reduce the costs of the bureau to the membership, by inviting big QSLers to take on some of the burden without penalising ordinary members and anyone who might occasionally send more than the typical number of cards”, (www. rsgb.org/qsl/).
This looks like a pretty fair system and is probably a lot quicker anyway.
So, can the WIA learn anything? Should we look at the QSL service simply as a numbers-game hoping that not too many people use it excessively, or is there a fairer way? Would the RSGB system be fairer?
Phil Wait VK2ASD
By the way, Alex asked me to mention a couple of very important points.
Please ensure your QSL cards are no larger than 140 mm x 90 mm. Some people are printing their own cards which do not fi t into the standard packaging, and some are double-size cards folded over. Both take extra time and cost more to post.
Also, cards must not be printed on glossy photo paper with inkjet printers as the ink will run and/or the cards will stick together. Matt photo paper with a minimum thickness of 0.25 mm is acceptable.
March 2013 - Our Volunteers: The Backbone of the WIA
As I write this President’s Comment, some bush fires are under control and the flood waters in southern Queensland and northern NSW have receded. These catastrophic events seem to be coming around all too often in Australia and, as our climate is ever-changing, this pattern may continue or even get worse.
A big thank-you to all those radio amateurs who helped out by devoting their time and effort to the Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades, the SES, WICEN, NGOs, or simply lent a hand. You have done the very best thing possible for the future of amateur radio.
Last month I announced that the WIA was adopting a new Cloud-based Membership Management System called MEMNET. As I said, we expect this arrangement will help improve member services and also help to contain the WIA’s costs in the medium to long term.
I now want to tell you about a second initiative: one which we hope will encourage more members to participate in the workings of WIA, and to make the WIA a more transparent and open organisation.
The WIA is a membership organisation with a very wide range of specialist functions and member services. For such a small organisation the range of complex activities is truly remarkable.
Core functions and services are administrative in nature, (membership administration, examination and call sign management, product sales, etc.), and are mainly performed by salaried staff.
Volunteers then perform the diverse range of highly specialised functions: publications (you’re reading one of them) and the website, the WIA Broadcast, licence training and assessment, contests and awards, QSL card distribution, repeaters and beacon co-ordination, the club grants scheme, ITU, IARU and ACMA liaison, general technical advice, interference and Standards, etc.
These represent the majority of the WIA’s more visible activities and without doubt our volunteers do a terrific job, often inadequately recognised, balancing their family life and work commitments and many other activities against the demands of the WIA.
In order to reduce the workload on volunteers, and to improve the member experience, we need to attract more people into the workings of the WIA, and we believe to do that we need to structure things a little differently.
We are proposing to group the WIA’s non-core activities into 10 broad functional areas, each comprising a team of volunteers with a Leader, Deputy Leader, and a WIA Board member. The WIA Board member will not act as the committee Leader, rather is there to ensure the committee acts in line with the Objectives stated in the WIA Constitution and that WIA Board policy is enacted. Existing volunteers are expected to take leading roles in the new committees, at least initially.
We will encourage the committees to interface closely with members and Affiliated Clubs, and to formulate recommendations for the WIA Board.
It is hoped that this structure will spread the workload on our volunteers, improve communications and interaction between members and the WIA, improve services and responsiveness, and encourage more people to become involved in the WIA.
Hopefully, with time, it will also encourage more people to join the WIA.
So, we have our work cut-out for us this year with the introduction of MEMNET and our proposal for restructuring volunteers. We have now entered into the formal agreement with OmniSoftware for access to the MEMNET Membership Management System, and we are now entering the implementation stage.
We have circulated our proposals for the new volunteer system amongst our current volunteers, and we plan to circulate the proposal more widely after we have reviewed and incorporated a number of their excellent comments and suggestions.
A recent change to Australian Corporations Act 2001 means public companies and associations with less than $1 million turnover can elect to have their financial accounts ‘reviewed’ rather than ‘audited’ (for details of this change, see www.asic.gov.au). Although the process of investigating the accounts is similar, the less formal review process is significantly less expensive. The changes also allow small corporations such as the WIA to make financial accounts available to members on request, rather than having to mail every member a printed set of accounts. These two changes will provide savings of almost $4,000 annually to WIA.
The financial report will also be placed in the member’s area of the WIA website and distributed at the WIA’s Annual General Meeting in Perth. Members who would like a printed copy of the financial report should request a copy from the WIA office.
I must say I have been encouraged by the number of registrations for WIA Directorships this year; so many that we need to hold elections. Election and candidate information can be found in this edition, so please do take the time to vote, and choose very carefully. WIA Directors have significant responsibilities to the members and to the law, and should be chosen carefully for their relevant skills and experience.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
January 2013 - Changes at the WIA
Firstly, I hope you all had a great Christmas holiday period. I certainly did, spending New Year’s Eve on Sydney Harbour, as I have for the last 20 or so years – the only problem is that as skipper I can’t drink too much, but I did manage to get a couple of 40 metre contacts in from the Barrett 550 marine radio.
In the first WIA broadcast for 2013, and in this President’s Comment, I want to tell you something about the plans we have for this year. There are some significant changes afoot which we hope will improve the WIA member experience.
Recently the WIA has suffered a fall in revenue due mainly to a dropoff in the number of new licensees, and the general economic conditions affecting sales to members and revenue from advertising. At the same time costs have been increasing – the WIA is the same as everyone in that respect.
The financial situation is certainly not serious, as the WIA has significant reserves, but it is something which needs to be addressed. It would be easy to simply jack up the membership fees to cover the shortfall, but in the present economic climate and with such a large proportion of the WIA membership retired and living on fixed incomes, that doesn’t seem like a good first option.
Another problem we have is that too few volunteers do too much work, and in recent times the demands on some key volunteers has been unrealistic. We need to find a way to get more skilled volunteers involved in the operation of the WIA, and in a way that it doesn’t become a burden for them.
The WIA’s advocacy role with the ITU, the IARU and the ACMA, is probably the most important work we do, but that work is often behind the scenes and goes largely unnoticed. We need to provide more tangible membership benefits, and we need to improve the information flow to members so they know what the WIA is doing, and also so the WIA better knows what its members want.
In summary we need to improve the finances, reduce the work load on WIA volunteers, and improve the general member experience.
The WIA Board has decided to introduce two new initiatives which it hopes will go a long way to addressing those issues.
Firstly, during 2013 we are introducing a new ‘cloud’ based membership management system called MEMNET.
A “cloud” based system is one where, for a monthly charge to the WIA, the entire office information system is provided by an outside company as a service over the internet. It frees the WIA and its volunteers from having to develop, maintain and upgrade the WIA computer information systems, but it has many other advantages as well.
With MEMNET, you will log into a member’s-only section on the WIA website to update your contact details including your particular interests in amateur radio, to purchase items at a members discount, and to pay membership fees.
You will know that your personal information is up to date because you will control it, and if you have registered your specific interests in amateur radio you can receive targeted emails alerting you to upcoming events, WIA news releases, technical information, or information about new products and services.
The MEMNET Membership Management System is also expected to offer significant administration efficiencies. Margaret, who currently works part-time at the WIA office, is retiring early in 2013 and, with the introduction of MEMNET, that position will not be renewed.
By saving one part-time office position, MEMNET is expected to be cost-neutral in the first year of operation and then offer significant cost savings to the WIA in following years.
Naturally a change like this is probably going to have some speed-bumps along the way; some members may not have the internet and some may still prefer more personal contact with the office. Those members will still be able to call the office and speak to Dianne or Mal, but things will certainly be a lot quicker and more convenient using the internet.
Look out for more information about the MEMNET system, and how to set up your user profile, in the coming months. You can find out more about the MEMNET system by going to www.MEMNET. com.au
The second initiative will need to wait until March because I’ve now run out of space, but in addition to overhauling the administration system, the WIA Board is looking at ways to reduce the workload on volunteers by encouraging more members to participate in the workings of the WIA.
I will have more to say about that in my next Comment, but you will see we are already looking for an Assistant Treasurer to assist John Longayroux VK3PZ in looking after the financial affairs of the Institute.
So, there is lot’s happening at the WIA in 2013. Much of it is about housekeeping at this stage, but out of it will come better member services, a better membership experience, and more reasons for people to join the WIA.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
December 2012 - Business as Usual
I can’t say that this time has been a particularly joyful one for us at the WIA following the recent passing of our past-President, Michael Owen VK3KI (SK), although with a lot of dedication from WIA Manager Mal Brooks, our office staff Margaret and Dianne, and our team of overworked volunteers, I can say that the WIA is in fine shape.
For instance, in the last month we have participated in two very major international activities.
Dale Hughes VK1DSH attended an ITU working group in Geneva. Dale is the Chair of that working group which is investigating the possibility of a new amateur service allocation between 5250 & 5450 kHz. The ITU is also addressing issues associated with short-range vehicle radar in the 78 GHz band, and a telegraphic alphabet for data communication by phase shift keying at 31 baud in the amateur and amateur-satellite services.
As Chair, Dale’s tasks include the drafting of several documents which will cover the characteristics of typical amateur operations and their compatibility with existing services within the proposed band. These ‘sharing studies’ are a very important aspect of the process as they will largely determine whether or not a 5 MHz amateur allocation is possible.
Dale’s work is long and arduous, as everyone has to have their say and there is strong opposition from some prominent administrations to any new amateur allocations, largely depending on the politics and ideologies of various countries. Dale also keeps his ears to the ground for any other emerging issues which may affect amateur radio.
Also last month, Geoff Atkinson VK3TL and Peter Young VK3MV represented the WIA at the IARU Region 3 meeting in Vietnam. The WIA seeks an improved funding model for Region 3 in order to ensure the Amateur Service continues to be adequately represented internationally on spectrum allocation issues, and is capable of protecting its primary spectrum allocations through an effective global intruder monitoring system.
Other IARU Region 3 issues of interest to the WIA are the development of better bi-lateral arrangements for amateur emergency communications and disaster recovery, and encouragement of amateur qualification training activities in developing countries.
Although this long-term international work is vitally important for amateur radio, and quite expensive, it often goes largely unnoticed. As a WIA member your money is going to these vital activities in support of amateur radio, and unfortunately you are in effect subsidising others who choose not to be WIA members. Such is the nature of the beast.
Closer to home, our activities are more tangible. I must say that this magazine is looking good, our training and assessment activities are continuing with excellent results, and our relationship with the regulator is strong.
Although membership continues to rise slowly, for the first time in many years the WIA may show a small financial loss. Nothing serious, but a trend that must be addressed. The reasons are probably many and varied, but an ageing membership, the general economic conditions encouraging people to save rather than spend, and a fall in the number of new Foundation licensee’s entering the hobby are all contributing factors.
It would be easy to simply raise membership and service fees, but given the profile of our membership and the tenuous state of the economy, that would probably be counter-productive at this time. We could reduce expenses by cutting activity and member services, but that’s never a good plan for the health of any organisation.
The WIA Board has made a decision to introduce a new ‘cloud’ based membership management system called MEMNET. A cloud system is one where the information system is developed, provided, upgraded and maintained by an independent software company, thus relieving the WIA and its volunteers of that responsibility.
The MEMNET system will allow on-line membership access to all WIA services and facilities, and will also provide a targeted information service to members depending on their interests and activities. For instance if you are a contester, MEMNET can automatically send you emails about the latest contest and propagation conditions, or you might like to get news items about new wireless technologies.
The MEMNET system will allow you to view and edit your personal details on-line, pay your membership account and enter your particular areas of interest. The MEMNET system is expected to achieve administrative efficiencies which effectively pay for the system in the first year of operation and then provide a significant saving in years to come.
Naturally a telephone service will also be available for people who prefer it that way, but the MEMNET system will be quicker and more efficient.
So, you can see there are a lot of things happening at the WIA. It’s promising to be an exciting and busy year and our next issue of AR will have more details on our international work and the MEMNET system. From all of us at the WIA, have a very merry Christmas and lots of DX. I would particularly like to thank all those people whose support and just plain hard work has ensured a very smooth transition over the past few difficult months.
Phil Wait VK2ASD
November 2012 - Vale Michael Owen
It seems rather surreal writing this President’s Comment because I never expected to be in this position, but in accordance with the WIA Constitution, and following the tragic and unexpected loss of Michael Owen VK3KI, here I am, with Chris Platt VK5CP as Vice-President.
I think we can all be certain that there will never be another Michael Owen. His dedication to amateur radio, like most things in Michael’s life, is legendary. Michael, along with the late Chris Jones VK2ZDD, devised a new structure for the WIA early last decade which fundamentally changed the organisation from a Federal Structure with indirect grass-roots membership through State Divisions to a more effective National Structure with direct membership and affiliated local clubs.
One of the prime roles of the WIA as the peak body representing Australian radio amateurs is to liaise and negotiate with the regulatory authority, the ACMA. This Michael did masterfully. Bringing all the skills of an experienced corporate lawyer, Michael negotiated the introduction of a new Licence Conditions Determination (LCD), reducing the number of licence grades from five to two, abolishing the Morse code requirement, and removing some restrictions relating to 3rd party traffic and emergency operation.
I have never seen anybody work a room quite like Michael, one way or another managing to get everyone to agree with him, akin to getting six cats into a bucket of water. That’s pretty much how I became a Director of the WIA and later Vice-President, and how many people became WIA members at field days - we all simply gave-in to overwhelming persuasion!
Michael also championed the development of the WIA’s Examination and Callsign Management Service and the introduction of the Foundation licence, a move which encouraged many new entrants into the hobby, many of them young, and bolstered the numbers of Australian radio amateurs while in other countries numbers were declining.
Amateur radio societies around the world also benefited from Michael’s enthusiasm and experience. Michael was passionately involved in the IARU since his early days which trace back to the 1960s.
Internationally, he is perhaps best remembered for his work on Article 25 at WRC-03 where a package of revisions to the International Radio Regulations were introduced that are specific to the Amateur and Amateur-Satellite Services.
In the words of IARU President Tim Ellam, VE6SH:
I was only speaking to him a few days ago and he was very enthused about leading the IARU Region 3 Conference in Ho Chi Minh City in a few weeks. Michael was a good friend and mentor to many of us in IARU. His drafting skills were second to none, and his ability to clearly articulate his position on a number of issues was of immeasurable help to us. The IARU is indebted to his work at WRCs and at many regional Asia Pacific Telecommunications (APT) meetings.
ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner K1ZZ recalled first meeting Michael Owen 36 years ago:
IARU President Noel Eaton VE3CJ had called the first-ever meeting of representatives from all three IARU regions to coordinate global preparations for the 1979 World Administrative Radio Conference. WARC-79 is memorable primarily because it’s where the Amateur Radio Service gained the bands at 10, 18 and 24 MHz, among other things.
Michael came to that meeting in Florida in April 1976 as a Director of what was then called the IARU Region 3 Association, which had been formed just a few years earlier to bring together the IARU Member-Societies of the Asia-Pacific region...
Among the assignments that Michael drew at WARC-79 was to draft a resolution to exempt the Amateur-Satellite Service from coordination procedures that otherwise would have bogged us down in endless paperwork and great expense. As an attorney it was just the sort of thing he was good at. His work has stood the test of time, and it remains in effect to this day.
Michael then went on to serve as Vice President of the IARU from 1989 – 1999 while he was living in London, President of the WIA from 2003, and as Chairman of IARU Region 3 since 2006.
Dave Sumner sums it up well:
Michael Owen was a strategic thinker; he saw past short-term pros and cons and could envision how decisions made today would affect the distant future. He also understood that working in the background – doing one’s homework – was essential to success. There is simply no way to replace someone with Michael’s experience and wisdom. His death is a searing loss for both the IARU and the WIA, but both organizations are stronger today because of the enormous contributions he made to their well-being.
So, although I’m experienced with complex organisations, you can see why I’m feeling a little apprehensive. Michael was a good friend and a tireless worker for amateur radio and impossible to emulate.
In many ways this is a watershed moment for amateur radio in Australia. Clearly there are significant challenges ahead, some related to Michael’s passing, some not, and we need to think about how the WIA should progress in the post-Owen era.
Some things, like our relationship with ACMA and our advocacy work, are strong and robust; others like our communication with clubs and individual members, our need to rein-in escalating costs, and our urgent need to lower the work-load on a few volunteers are all things we need to consider over the coming months.
As such, I would particularly like to use this President’s Comment space to address some of those issues in future editions of AR, and solicit your responses.
On behalf of the Board and all WIA members, at the reception following Michael’s funeral I expressed our deepest condolences to Michael’s family and friends. Over the next few months the Board of the WIA will be considering how we can best remember the legacy of Michael J. Owen.
October 2012 - The Foundation licence – Time for a Review?
The first Foundation certificates of proficiency were issued in October 2005, after the Determination of the ACA creating the Foundation licence came into effect.
In May 2004 the ACA had published the “Outcomes of the Review of Amateur Service Regulation.” The Outcomes paper referred the Discussion paper that the ACA had published in August 2003 that had led to an extensive consultation process. The Discussion paper had raised the possibility of introducing a new entry-level licensing option in Australia, similar to the Foundation licence in the United Kingdom. The authors of the Outcomes paper concluded that “on balance and after careful consideration of submissions, the ACA has decided to introduce a foundation-style amateur licence, to form part of a three-tier licensing structure.”
From time to time different people have suggested changes to the Foundation licensee’s privileges and recently the WIA Directors have been discussing the issue.
The Directors would like to know the opinion of amateurs generally on the Foundation licence, and whether there should be any changes. We are inviting submissions from amateurs, groups of amateurs and clubs to assist us.
Should the WIA seek any changes to the Foundation licence?
I would like to identify some of the issues that have been raised and also identify some of the arguments advanced for change and some of the arguments against change.
Probably the most regularly raised question is why cannot the Foundation licensee be permitted to use digital modes? The main argument against the digital mode is that it becomes another subject to be included in the syllabus, thus making the Foundation qualification more difficult and is a move away the simple entry level qualification that can be achieved over a weekend. It is said that the previous Novice qualification had ended up being perceived as being quite difficult, simply because over the years more and more privileges had been given to the Novice, requiring more and more matters to be added to the syllabus.
On the other hand, it is said that the absence of digital mode is quite out of keeping with today’s world, that its absence labels the Foundation licence as being old fashioned. In short, it is argued that digital modes would add to the attraction of the Foundation licence.
In September 2007, as the Amateur LCD was being amended to give effect to the “Outcomes”, the WIA submitted that Foundation licensees should be permitted to use digital modes, saying:
The WIA does not wish to change the essential character of the Foundation licence as an entry level licence. In particular, we recognise the risk of adding privileges from time to time, thereby increasing the knowledge required, and therefore gradually changing the qualification from an entry level as described above to a higher level licence. We also think it is important to ensure that there are sufficient privileges associated with the higher level licences to provide a meaningful incentive to upgrade.
We see no reason why a Foundation licensee should be restricted from using the particular mode when in reality there is no difference in operating the currently available equipment in a digital mode from equipment using analogue modes.
The ACMA rejected the proposal.
The ACMA said that the entry-level licence is meant to be easy to obtain, the amendment proposed to permit digital voice mode “would require expansion of the current syllabus and add a level of complexity to the qualification.”
The ACMA also contended that adding digital voice modes would erode the difference between the Foundation and the other higher levels of licence, and that the digital voice mode would require the transmission of digital data, incompatible with the Foundation licence.
Those in favour of this change argue that the extent of the expansion of the syllabus is greatly exaggerated. They point to the Foundation syllabus and how much of that is devoted to the two modes, AM and FM, and say that the additional training would be minimal.
On the other hand, it is not clear what different people mean by digital mode in this context.
Another issue raised by a number of people is the 10 watt PEP all modes power limit. It is argued that the power limit really restricts the Foundation licensee, particularly when competing against stations using much higher power.
The power level for the Foundation licence was an issue during the consultation process leading to the Outcomes. The Outcomes paper said this on the question of power:
In deciding to permit a maximum transmitter power of 10 watts PEP, the ACA has followed the UK model for its foundation licence. Although the majority of submissions suggested that a maximum transmitter power of 100 watts PEP should be permitted, it was considered that the need to limit the occurrence of interference and exposure to EMR, in circumstances where licensees are required to possess little technical knowledge, far outweighed the claimed operational advantages provided by allowing the use of 100 watts PEP. The claim that 100 watts PEP should be permitted on the basis that commercially manufactured 10 watts PEP equipment is not available was not accepted. At least three models are available that are known to meet this specification.
Against this view is put the view that the power of 10 watts PEP is a disincentive and more would seek the Foundation qualification if the power was higher, that even the grey nomads with their land mobiles use 100 watts PEP, and a power of 25, 50 or even 100 watts would be more appropriate for the Foundation licensee.
Another issue that has been raised is the structure of the Foundation callsign, that is, a four letter callsign. It has been said that overseas amateurs are confused. In the UK the Foundation callsign is identified by a different prefix. It is not known whether the international prefixes allocated to Australia, namely AXA-AXZ, VHA-VNZ and VZA-VZZ, have all been used, but is it thought desirable to explore the option of a different prefix? Or, is the VK so recognized as Australia that the present system is preferred?
Is there any other matter that should be reviewed?
Please do bear in mind what the Foundation licence is meant to be, an entry level licence achievable over a weekend, to give those who are interested a taste of amateur radio, and hopefully, to provide incentives to upgrade.
May we have your opinion, with your reasons for your conclusion? Even if you think that there should be no change, it is important that you communicate that view to us.
You can send your submission by mail to the WIA at PO Box 2042, Bayswater, Victoria, 3153, by fax to (03) 9729 7325 or by email to email@example.com
September 2012 - The WIA and Clubs
During the week I write this Comment the WIA office will be sending to the President of each affiliated club a letter from me.
So, by the time you read this, every club should have that letter.
Why write to the clubs?
We think we have a common problem.
Over the last six to 12 months there has been a marked fall-off in the number of people seeking to enter amateur radio or at least a marked fall-off in the number of exam packs that the WIA has been asked to process.
The first Foundation licence exams were conducted in October 2005, which is almost seven years ago. It was to be expected that there would be many seeking the new Foundation licence in the first few years of its availability. There was a pent-up demand, particularly as the Novice amateur qualification was seen as quite difficult. Also, as the clubs in different parts of Australia had Assessors qualified at different times, the resource to train and qualify potential amateurs was initially restricted, so that demand could not be initially met.
But the fall-off has a rather unfortunate consequence.
The WIA is bound to follow the Commonwealth’s cost recovery guidelines. Some costs associated with the examinations remain the same, whether we handle 10, 100 or 1,000 exams. The only difference is that cost is divided by either 10, 100 or 1,000 to determine the cost per exam.
So, the cost per exam of those fixed costs increases and so the cost for an exam must increase. No doubt, the more it increases the more people will argue that it all costs too much, and less people will want to be amateurs.
So, attracting new amateurs becomes important.
Promoting amateur radio and attracting new amateurs is something the clubs, particularly in regional areas, can certainly do.
But how to do it?
One of the most successful tools used during the WIA Centenary year was a Media Kit, prepared by Jim Linton. At our request Jim has updated the Kit, which now includes a basic Media Release built around any number of activities.
So, in my letter to the clubs is a hard copy of the Media Kit.
So, if a club is participating in a Field Day, or conducting an open day, or engaged in any other activity where it can seek media attention, this Kit should be very helpful.
In my letter I am telling the clubs that we will be sending a new Newsletter for clubs every two months or so. The Newsletter will have information that is of particular interest to clubs. An example, from the recent meeting of Queensland clubs in Hervey Bay is information on Scouting and amateur radio. At that meeting there was a discussion about Scouting and amateur radio. It was obvious that everyone knew a lot about amateur radio and very little about Scouting. That is the sort of information that I think will be of particular interest to clubs.
I don’t know how many times I have pointed to the importance of the clubs to the WIA and the importance of the WIA to clubs (and all amateurs).
The WIA can do things the clubs cannot do individually. It is the national organisation that can represent amateur radio, national and internationally. It is the national organisation that can manage the whole examination system.
But the clubs can do what the WIA cannot do. The club can be that social attraction that brings in potential amateurs. The club can market and promote amateur radio in its own geographic area. The club can teach and qualify the new amateur and keep and enlarge that new amateur’s interest.
These are the sort of reason that led the WIA Board to seek to enhance the link with the clubs.
In reviewing all of this we looked at another thing. How many members of a club were also members of the WIA? That is an issue that arises in a number of contexts. It arises when the premium for the public liability insurance of an affiliated club is calculated. (There is additional premium for every member of a club who is not also a member of the WIA.) It arises when we look at the number of members of the WIA who are members of a club seeking a grant under the WIA’s Club Grant Scheme.
What struck us was the extent of the differences. There are some clubs, even quite large clubs, where most of the club members are also WIA members. There are also clubs, even quite large clubs, where very few of the club members are also WIA members.
We believe that the WIA must work with the clubs, and support the clubs, even more than we are doing now.
In return, we ask that the clubs support the WIA.
We ask the clubs to encourage their members to also be members of the WIA.
The clubs and the WIA are not competitive. Rather they are synergistic.
And synergistic is exactly what I mean. “Synergistic used especially of drugs or muscles that work together so the total effect is greater than the sum of the two.”
August 2012 - The band 420 – 430 MHz
Rather than just republish the release on this topic that we placed on the WIA website, I thought it better to make this the subject of the Comment for this issue of Amateur Radio. That way I can add a little more information.
Internationally, the 420 – 430 MHz part of the Australian 70 cm amateur band exists by a footnote allocating the band on a secondary basis to amateur only in the USA, Jamaica, the Philippines and Australia. The 420 – 430 MHz band is allocated throughout the world to fixed and mobile (except aeronautical mobile) as primary, with radiolocation secondary.
I do not know the history of that segment, but that allocation and the footnote were the same 30 years ago.
In fact, use of that segment 420 to 430 MHZ in Australia has been restricted to Advanced licensees and further restricted by various exclusion zones in NSW, the ACT, and the Jervis Bay area, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. This band segment is mainly used for fixed point to point links for inter-linking of amateur repeaters and an ATV input/output channel.
In April 2008 the WIA reported on the public consultation by the ACMA as part of its review of the band 403 – 520 MHz, which included the amateur 420 – 450 MHz band segment and which could obviously be affected.
Fairly early on, the band segment 430 – 450 MHz was announced to be “out of scope” for the ACMA review, though the ACMA indicated that segment 440-450 MHz may be used on a temporary basis by displaced land mobile services during a transition phase until they are relocated.
In September 2008 the WIA reported on the release of the submissions received by the ACMA as part of its review of the 403 – 520 MHz band and in June 2010 the WIA further reported on the ACMA’s announcements.
An examination of the WIA 70 cm Band Plan shows that the segment 420 – 430 MHz is largely “Restricted”.
The primary users of the band 420 – 430 MHz are radiolocation and mobile.
Major mobile users are various government networks supporting the police, fire and ambulance services that provide a high social value to the community. In recent years the need for the interoperability and harmonisation of those services has been very obvious, and since 2009 a result supported by the Council of Australian Governments.
It was hardly a great surprise when a few weeks ago the ACMA advised the WIA that the 420 to 430 MHz segment of the 70 cm amateur band will be withdrawn as a secondary allocation, at least for general amateur use, from 1st January 2013.
Unfortunately the withdrawal of the segment 420 – 430 MHz of the 70 cm band does present one problem.
There are a number of repeater link assignments that will need to be moved by 1st January2013. There are some 34 licensees affected, mainly clubs, involving at least 73 separate assignments.
In addition to those 73 amateur repeater links there are a further 33 amateur repeater links in that segment that may be able to operate beyond the 1st January 2013 date and the WIA is currently negotiating with the appropriate parties. When the matter is clarified, the WIA will also be in contact with the relevant licensees.
Until that uncertainty is resolved, we can at least say that after 1 January 2013, the band 420 – 430 MHZ will no longer be available as a secondary allocation for general amateur use.
On a worst case scenario something over 100 assignments may be required to be moved by 1 January next. However, it is expected these can be relocated to the 430 – 450 MHz region.
While the ACMA will be formally writing to the affected licensees, the WIA has undertaken to contact each licensee as soon as it is able to do so, to ascertain whether there are any special difficulties in moving and to ensure that the WIA frequency coordination service is available to assist as required.
Clearly all of this will impose a heavy load on the WIA Repeater and Beacon Coordinator, as the ACMA will not issue amended licences for new allocations without the WIA’s prior amateur coordination.
Accordingly the WIA Board has decided to appoint Richard Cerveny VK2AAH as Joint National Repeater and Beacon Coordinator with Peter Mill VK3APO, on the basis that Richard will take primary responsibility for the work associated with the relocation of stations in the 420 – 430 MHz segment.
I hope that by the time this issue of Amateur Radio is published, all the licensees affected will have been contacted, and will be planning their action in response.
July 2012 - A Code of Conduct
At its meeting in February 2012 the WIA Board prepared a first draft of a Code of Conduct, a code of on-air conduct, which was released on the WIA website and in the April 2012 issue of Amateur Radio, inviting comments, with a view to further discussion at the Open Forum at the WIA Annual Conference 2012 at Mildura.
We received a number of thoughtful responses, but all, interestingly, supporting the concept of a Code.
One of the suggestions received was perhaps that we should be clearer about why we have a Code, perhaps a reminder of the unique privileges of the amateur service and even a reminder of the spirit of amateur radio.
I must say that I was initially a bit reluctant about that. Perhaps it was a feeling that in today’s world we are doers, and many people could think that in today’s world what we regard as a right was in yesterday’s world regarded as a privilege. Perhaps it was all a bit too old fashioned for an organisation desperate to attract a younger generation.
Then, in an entirely different context, I received an email from a Foundation licensee, who told me that he is an undergraduate student, but thinks that amateur radio is being killed by having the level of knowledge for both Standard and Advanced certificates of proficiency too high.
That brought me full circle, back to the issue of privileges that the comment about the code had raised.
I drew my correspondent’s attention to the fact that the Australian syllabus for Standard and Advanced certificates was not higher than the rest of the world. For example, the Australian Advanced level conforms to the CEPT (The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) HAREC (Harmonised Amateur Radio Examination Certificate) syllabus, which enables Australian Advanced amateurs to operate without doing more while visiting some 32 other countries.
Why is the level of knowledge required for an amateur certificate what it is?
The amateur service has access to a family of frequencies across the spectrum. The Standard and Advanced radio amateur can modify a transmitter built for other purposes to be used on an amateur frequency. Indeed, not only does the radio amateur not have to use type approved equipment, he or she can make his or her own transmitter. And it does not have to be checked by the regulator before it is used. In addition, there are not many other spectrum users who can be frequency agile.
In short, since radio all began, the extent of regulatory control of the radio amateur has been minimal.
Pretty obviously, the radio amateur has to know enough not to cause interference to other users of the spectrum, whether it be the reception of entertainment or a safety service.
So, the more I have thought of it, the more a Code of Conduct is really appropriate, and so, the decision of the Board to adopt a code at its meeting following the Annual Conference was right.
One of the really useful contributions to the discussion came from a very respected amateur who pointed to the much more detailed IARU Region 1 publication “Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur” written by John Devoldere ON4UN and Mark Demeuleneere ON4WW.
That is readily available on the IARU Region 1 website, as well as the IARU and IARU Region 3 websites.
While it contains much useful material, I think it may be a bit too detailed and a little too European to be really accepted as the ultimate guide in Australia.
But I do accept that the Code is necessarily brief and for certain uses parts could be enhanced by either further explanation or examples to clarify the meaning. I accept that the Code is only a starting point for the new or aspiring radio amateur.
But as it is, it is a reminder to all of us that how we operate our station is seen in a very public arena and that if one of us ignores proper operating techniques, uses inappropriate language, transmits matter that should not be transmitted on amateur bands, defames individuals or otherwise abuses our privileges, we all suffer.
Remember the value of the radio spectrum. It may be a reusable resource, but it is a very finite resource. Many compete to use it.
How we use the spectrum allocated to the amateur service may be watched by those who covet the spectrum we occupy.
I do not believe that I live in some long departed time rather I live in today’s seriously competitive world when I say “Let the Code guide us all.”
Code of Conduct
Recalling amateur radio’s proud history as a self-regulating user of a unique family of frequencies;
Recognising the value of maintaining the “Spirit of Amateur Radio” so valued by generations past, and
Acknowledging the importance of a continuing justification for access to spectrum and the special privileges enjoyed by radio amateurs:
The Wireless Institute of Australia adopts the following Operating Principles to guide all Australian radio amateurs.
Australian radio amateurs will:
• act with integrity;
• ensure that our station is safe for ourselves and for visitors;
• show respect and courtesy to our fellow amateurs and all who use the spectrum;
• comply with our licence conditions and all laws and regulations that govern the installation and operation of our station;
• strive to promptly resolve any problems arising from the operation of our station;
• be mindful that we should not transmit anything that may cause offence to others;
• strive to improve our technical and operating skills;
• use our skills to assist our community in emergencies;
• promote the benefits of amateur radio to our community, and
• encourage others to participate in amateur radio.
June 2012 - Thoughts from an Audit
I am sorry Mr Editor, I know I am sending you this “Comment” for the June issue of the magazine a bit late.
My excuse is that the ACMA has been conducting a formal audit of the WIA in relation to our management of the examinations, issuing Certificates of Proficiency and making callsign recommendations on its behalf.
Two very nice people have been in the WIA office for four full days, seeing what we do and talking to our staff and to various volunteers.
How well do we keep to our various obligations under the Deed between the WIA and ACMA? Do we do what we have to do within the time that we are meant to? What about what we charge? Is there full cost recovery? Do we calculate the fees that we charge (and must charge) correctly? Do we keep financial records properly?
Make no bones about it; we welcome the opportunity for someone from outside looking at what we do, because they may see better ways to do some things.
I asked for a meeting before the audit started, when we could talk with them and our colleagues from the ACMA responsible for managing the WIA Deed, about two things that I thought would probably be something different from the subject of the usual audit. One was amateur radio. The other was a voluntary organisation undertaking responsibility for work for a Commonwealth agency.
We had the meeting and we talked about those matters.
At the end of their visit to Melbourne, we had another talk about the voluntary work of many contributors.
The voluntary factor had emerged in a number of contexts.
Fred Swainston, our Registered Training Organisation (RTO), had taken the auditors through the way we train, qualify, accredit and register our Assessors. He showed how they are audited annually, and re-registered every three years. He showed how, using the Assessor Information Site, a site he established and maintains, the work of our Assessors is tracked.
Fred stressed that our Assessors were unpaid, and the only costs incurred were the very occasional reimbursement of exceptional charges for very long travel or the cost of long phone calls for a remote assessment.
But Fred stressed one thing; the commitment and enthusiasm of our volunteer Assessors.
Of course, what the audit is all about is the obligations accepted by the WIA under the Deed.
But, it was pointed out today, we do more things than we are obliged to under the Deed.
The Assessors will collect Callsign Recommendation forms from candidates, help them to fill in the application for an apparatus licence, collect the fees for the licence, and send it all with the Assessment results to the WIA, where the office checks it all, issues the certificate of proficiency, adds the certificate details to the application for an apparatus licence, sends the certificate of proficiency to the candidate and the application for an apparatus licence, the callsign recommendation and the licence fee to the ACMA in Canberra.
All of that we do because we are the WIA and not because of the Deed.
We believe that it is most important for people who have qualified for an amateur licence to get their callsign and be able to operate as soon as possible, and this certainly does speed up the process.
There is another consequential benefit from this. It means that the ACMA receives the majority of new applications for an amateur licence pre-checked, in bundles and with one cheque covering the licence fees of a number of applications. Surely this must help the ACMA?
All of that is outside the Deed, but because our role is to encourage amateur radio, this is a service we can offer.
How we handle the licence fee money is our responsibility, but in fact, what we do is follow the advice we were given by the WIA’s auditors.
Robert Broomhead took the auditors through the creation of an exam pack, and all the information that has been recorded in respect of every pack since the very first pack went out in October 2005.
John Longayroux led the auditors around the systems the WIA has in place to track expenses and income, and provide the information required to satisfy the annual cost recovery information we must provide to the ACMA.
Of course, some of the audit was pretty detailed. Under the Deed we are obliged to provide the ACMA with quite a lot of information within 30 days of the 30th June each year - “Please, can you show us an email providing that information to the ACMA with a date on it to show when it was sent?”
Our auditors confessed that they had not previously conducted an audit for the Commonwealth involving a voluntary organisation.
But it was their audit procedures that made me appreciate how, on so many levels, the WIA and its volunteers were contributing to the growth and health of amateur radio. I had not really thought about the controls and protections built into our software, created by volunteers, the controls and protections in the Assessor Information System software created for our RTO. I had not really thought about what the WIA and its people do that is more than we/they are obliged to do under the Deed, because we believe it is good for amateur radio, and that is why we exist.
I had not really thought about how much all this would cost if the WIA was an ordinary commercial entity, without volunteers.
The ACMA’s auditors have made me think about these things.
So, Mr. Editor, I hope you can forgive me for being late.
May 2012 - The WIA Annual Conference
This issue of Amateur Radio will appear at the beginning of May, the start of the month that ends with the WIA Annual Conference.
I have been thinking about our Open Forum.
Should we try and widen the issues that can be addressed?
Should it be the chance for members to raise any issues they want to raise?
Would this improve our weekend?
Or, do we spend enough time now on “business”?
We receive reports from all those who undertake or manage particular activities on behalf of the WIA, from ARISS to QSLs to awards to publications to contests. In the last couple of years we have asked those submitting reports to identify in their report any issues they would like discussed. And those issues are the issues we can focus on, since we send to each registrant a book of the reports some weeks before the Conference.
The only problem with that is that it only encourages discussion on matters raised by the writers of the various reports.
Already we have identified matters we would like discussed this year. Have a look at the “Comment” published in last December’s Amateur Radio, under the heading “Has the Club Grant Scheme run its course?”
After discussing the sort of club projects that could be supported and some of the options for the Club Grant Scheme, I said:
We invite all clubs to make written submissions on the matters I have raised, and to send them to us. In order to ensure balance, we encourage positive as well as negative reactions to the Scheme as it now is.
We will circulate all submissions we receive with the Open Forum reports that we will send to everyone who has registered for the Annual Conference so all views can be taken into account when it is discussed at the Open Forum.
Well, so far, we have received one submission from one club.
Does that answer the question that was the heading for that Comment?
But, during the year I receive many letters and emails, making many suggestions for the WIA. And, there are many issues of substance that could be discussed. The power limit for Foundation licensees is a hot topic in a number of places. On air behaviour probably attracts more frustrated letters and emails than any other topic.
Of course, we also receive criticism, sometimes justified, sometimes not necessarily fair when addressed to volunteers.
Would opening up discussion on these topics make our Open Forum better?
How important is the Open Forum, anyway? So far, we just allocate about two hours to the Open Forum, after our formal statutory meeting, morning tea and the presentation of merit awards. I know, with the number of Reports that we deal with, and with any serious discussion on a particular issue, how hard it is to chair a meeting with such great time constraints. I also know that most of us just do not want to listen to interminable discussion on one issue or another. But I also know that this is the opportunity for the Board to get a feeling about what members think. How much time should we allocate to the Open Forum during our Annual Conference weekend?
Clearly, there are only so many hours in a weekend, perhaps even less if some need to leave by the middle of the day on Sunday if there is a long drive home. So, what do those who attend want? Less time allocated to a technical symposium? Or, should time on Sunday be allocated to Open Forum/Technical Symposium activities rather than activities such as the visit to Litchfield National Park near Darwin or Dick Smith’s property near Canberra?
I believe that the WIA must be able to make quick and effective decisions, and must appoint Directors who together have the skills and experience to make those decisions.
But equally, I believe those Directors cannot work in a vacuum. They need to know what the members think.
That is why I have been so keen to attend meetings of clubs in the various states.
But should it also be more of a function of the Open Forum?
Perhaps we could invite any member who wishes to have a matter discussed at the Open Forum to submit a paper raising the issue to be included in the Open Forum reports distributed to people who have registered for the Conference.
Or is it just an idea like asking the clubs to tell us whether or not we should have a club grant scheme and if so, for what purposes should grants be made?
I will raise this question by including this Comment in the Open Forum papers that will be distributed before the Annual Conference.
April 2012 - That’s what we do
In this month’s issue we publish an article by Dale Hughes VK1DSH.
In this month’s issue we also publish a letter from David Sumner K1ZZ Chief Executive Officer of the ARRL.
In his article Dale writes about WRC-12, the work leading up to WRC-12, addresses the importance of the regional telecommunications organisation, identifies the matters that affect us as amateurs and puts a WRC in context, and explains why it is important for every amateur.
As we have said so often, it all starts there in Geneva.
Dale was a member of the Australian delegation to WRC–12 nominated and paid for by the Wireless Institute of Australia. Within the terms of the Australian brief, he was representing the amateur service.
Dale started on his journey of representing the Australian amateur in this area in late 2009 when the late Keith Malcolm VK1KM suggested he become involved. Prior to that Dale was best known for his technical articles published in this magazine on a pretty regular basis since November 2000.
Keith had represented the amateur service on the WIA delegations to the WRC since 2003, and had made a significant contribution to amateur radio in many other ways.
But, of course, life was a little simpler in 2003. The Region 3 regional telecommunications organisation, the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity, the APT, was not as effective as it is now. Today, the Regional Telecommunication organisations are an essential step to a WRC.
That is why Dale attended two of the APT’s preparatory meetings for WRC-12, one in Hong Kong and one in Busan, South Korea.
Dale also attended an ITU Study Group meeting in Geneva in November 2010, one of the meetings that provide a technical basis for the agenda items to be resolved at the WRC.
Through all of this Dale was able to learn how it all works and to meet the other people involved in this incredible process, including the amateur representatives from other countries, and those representing the IARU, the International Amateur Radio Union. The IARU is only an observer at a WRC, which is a meeting of the sovereign states that form the membership of the ITU, but is a Sector Member and so may participate directly in the Study Groups.
Not only that, he was able to present the studies undertaken here in Australia, and to provide technical evidence supporting the amateur case.
That the amateur service was adequately represented at all of the many steps that culminate in a WRC and at the WRC, does not depend on one person or indeed one national society.
It depends on a number of the world’s national amateur societies and their federation, the IARU, and the people of knowledge and experience and with special skills who they can call upon to undertake this vital work.
But the process does not stop with the conclusion of a WRC. Each WRC proposes the agenda for future WRCs and immediately one WRC ends the preparatory meetings for the next WRC commence.
As Dale points out, the Agenda for the next WRC in 2015 or 2016 includes items of particular interest to the amateur services, and in particular the proposal originating from Cuba for a small secondary allocation to the amateur service in the range 5250 to 5450 kHz.
I know it sounds very glamorous to participate in these conferences, and in truth it can be really fascinating. But it can be very far from fun. In 2003 the Plenary meetings during the last week started at 9 am and ran through to 3 am next morning, only to start again a 9 am.
May I share with you that is not fun.
But I headed this comment “That is what we do”.
By that, I meant that for me that role of representing the Australian amateurs in the national preparation for a WRC, the regional preparation for a WRC, the technical preparation for a WRC and the actual WRC is the most important of all the functions that we undertake.
When I attended the recent Wyong hamfest I met an amateur who wished to become a member of the WIA because that was necessary if he was to become a Learning Facilitator or Assessor, as he believed that attracting, training and qualifying new amateurs was critical for our future. He had not become a member in the past, because he did not find the magazine interesting or the other facilities particularly relevant for his interests.
We then discussed the very matters I write about in this Comment, the representational and advocacy roles of the WIA.
He agreed that this, in itself, was a reason for joining the WIA.
I am proud of the fact that the WIA is one of those national societies that can contribute in this way.
We need proper representation.
That is what we do.
It is because of what we do that we can and do ask that every amateur and potential amateur becomes a member of the WIA and contributes to the cost of what we do.
And the agenda for the next WRC means we too must start preparing now.
But we are particularly lucky that we have people like Dale Hughes to represent us so well.
In this issue we publish a letter from Dave Sumner of the ARRL, one of the most experienced WRC participants for the IARU who I know.
I cannot resist quoting one paragraph from his letter.
“I wish all of your members could have had the experience of watching Dale Hughes in action on their behalf at the World Radiocommunication Conference earlier this year. Dale is just the latest in the long string of capable representatives that WIA has sent to Geneva over a span of many decades.”
March 2012 - The International Monitoring System
In the middle of a WRC, the focus of all IARU attention, it must seem strange to talk of the IARU Monitoring System as being an important function of the IARU and one that should be supported by the national societies in each country.
In Australia we used to call the activity the much more descriptive “Intruder Watch”, but the WIA has now followed the IARU and calls it the Monitoring System.
Most of us vaguely know it is an activity directed to seeking the removal of non-amateur stations from the exclusive amateur bands.
Why is it important?
To answer that one has to go to the ITU’s Radio Regulations, in effect the treaty between nations that governs in detail the use of the radio spectrum.
Article 4 of the ITU Radio Regulations, the General Rules relating to the assignment and use of frequencies, provides:
4.4 Administrations of the Member States shall not assign to a station any frequency in derogation of either the Table of Frequency Allocations in this Chapter or the other provisions of these Regulations, except on the express condition that such a station, when using such a frequency assignment, shall not cause harmful interference to, and shall not claim protection from harmful interference caused by, a station operating in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the Convention and these Regulations.
An administration does not have to assign its stations frequencies in accordance with the Table of Frequency Allocations so long as its stations do not cause harmful interference to a station operating in accordance with the Radio Regulations. Accordingly, if amateur stations suffer harmful interference they must complain, because until the administration knows that its station is causing harmful interference to stations operating in accordance with the Radio Regulations it can take the position that it is not in breach of the Radio Regulations.
It is one of the few activities apart from its role in the WRC process that many argue is an essential IARU role.
For many years the IARU has maintained the International Monitoring System, relying on the three Regional organisations appointing Regional Monitoring System (MS) Coordinators, who in turn collated the reports of the Coordinators in each national member society, who in turn collated the reports of the observers in their country. All of this was intended to work under the guidance of an International MS Coordinator.
In fact, there has not been an International MS Coordinator for many years, each Region had different methods and procedures and the processes established by the Administrative Council to facilitate inter-regional communication were to say the least bureaucratic and ineffective and were effectively ignored.
There is no doubt that the IARU Region 1 MS, under the leadership of Coordinator Wolf Hadel DK2OM and Vice Coordinator Ulrich Bihlmayer DJ9KR has set the standard for the regional monitoring systems, with a technically up to date and really useful website and methods and procedures that really work.
If you look at the IARU Region 3 website, you will find that it is still using a 1988 Manual, though under the leadership of IARU Region 3 MS Coordinator Peter Young VK3MV the MS has been operating effectively and collaborating efficiently with the other Regional coordinators.
The IARU Region 3 Directors raised the issue at the last IARU Region 3 Conference in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2009.
The MS became the major work of the Conference, with the member societies seeing advantage in a more truly global system, identifying a number of areas where they considered a common approach was desirable and referred the matter to the Administrative Council of the IARU.
The Administrative Council is comprised of the IARU Officers and two representatives from each of the three IARU Regional organisations, IARU Regions 1, 2 and 3, and is the peak policy organ of the IARU.
The Administrative Council has now agreed on a very new approach.
It has given away the idea of an International Coordinator and the complex process for inter-regional communication and replaced it with the much simpler and totally logical structure of a single Monitoring System Committee comprised of each of the three Regional MS Coordinators and the President of the IARU, or his nominee.
By the general Resolution establishing the IARU Monitoring System and the Terms of Reference of the Monitoring System Committee the Committee will be responsible for the establishment of a single worldwide website, based on the Region 1 website, establishing common methods of communication and reporting and the preparation of appropriate training material.
Indeed, it has all started, with the IARU President communicating with the three Regional MS Coordinators, the Monitoring System Committee starting its work.
That all sounds very well, but is it all worth the effort? Is anyone going to take any notice, anyway?
Simply collating reports of harmful interference from stations not operating in accordance with the Radio Regulations does not achieve much.
The way it is all meant to work is that the national society in the country of the intruder goes to its administration and asks its administration to stop the interference.
And that is what happens in a number of cases.
But in other cases, the national society may not wish to do that. But other administrations may be prepared, once they have confirmed the reports provided by the national MS Coordinator, to approach the administration of the station causing the interference.
The new Monitoring System Committee with ultimately one method of reporting, with better coordination and focus and a single source of current information, should make this important task more attractive and more meaningful and attract new observers and in the end provide more credible observations and a better focussed approach to removing “intruders”.
No, it doesn’t always work.
But if we don’t complain, who will?
Doing nothing is not an option.
January 2012 - Cost recovery and the WIA’s charges
In the News section of this issue is an item “ACMA Proposes Cost Increases: WIA Costs Not Affected”. It was published in late November last year, in response to the strong concern expressed by a number of amateurs who were concerned that the higher examination costs proposed by the ACMA for examinations it conducted would also apply to WIA examination charges. The ACMA was proposing to charge $345 for the examination or reassessing an examination for the Advanced AOCP and $230 for the examination or reassessing an examination for the Foundation AOCP.
In fact, I had planned to write this Comment about the whole issue of cost recovery. I had attended a most constructive meeting of affiliated clubs in Adelaide, and during that meeting some doubt had been expressed about the fees the WIA was charging, some holding the view that the WIA fee included a very substantial margin.
Everyone seems to be prepared to accept that the WIA is bound by its agreement with the ACMA to charge fees “on a cost recovery basis only”, and that it has to justify its fees on an annual basis to the ACMA. . But there seemed to be a feeling “how on earth could just processing one paper cost the WIA $70?”
But what we are concerned with is the total cost to the WIA of providing a service. That cost must then be spread over the number of actual examinations for which we charge.
Let us look at what that really means.
By keeping time sheets for sample periods, we can work out how much time each employee spends on exam matters. That means the time taken to prepare and send packs, including any time for phone calls. Then, when the packs come back, the processing is fairly obvious. But what may not be obvious is the time taken every now and then in calling a candidate to get some information that should have been on the form, for example height, or if it is something that must be completed by an Assessor, sending the form back to the Assessor. There is also the time for preparing the certificate of proficiency, making a copy for the records, and sending it.
Time also includes time in answering queries from both Assessors and the general public.
But then there are the other costs. Some again, are obvious such as the cost of paper and envelopes, the cost of the Express Post envelopes we send to each Assessor with the packs for them to return the pack. But others may not be so obvious. For example, the cost of the printing of the certificates of proficiency is spread over a couple of years.
Then there is insurance. Various policies are referable, in part, to the examination service and must be taken into account.
But there is one policy that indemnifies the Assessors against their possible liability for an error and the whole of that premium is referable to the exams. That policy costs around $5,000 a year. If we conduct 1,000 exams in year for which a fee is paid, (because Foundation Theory and Practical is covered by a single fee) that insurance policy alone adds $5 to the cost of each exam.
That probably is the best example of how the cost of managing the system can be increased.
We recently said that we would, if an Assessor requested it, meet the costs of certain travel or a police check.
The first was because some of our Assessors were being asked to provide assessments for clubs other than their own clubs, but which did not have Assessors, and were finding the cost of travel a disincentive to helping with these special assessments. The second arose because it seemed quite unfair that in some states the working with children check was free, in some others $5 and in one territory $43.
Of course, immediately we do that, we also add to cost.
And then there are all the other costs. Telephone, power, a notional rent for the space used for providing the exam service, (including storage of all of the records), equipment depreciation and so on are costs that at least in part relate to this service.
And you must do exactly the same exercise for callsign recommendations!
I can assure you that the cost is not made up and does not include a large margin. Indeed, if the number of candidates drops, we will struggle to keep the costs down.
I hope that explains how the costs of the WA exams are calculated.
The ACMA charges may be all rather academic, because I do not think the ACMA has conducted any examination since at least 2005.
But there is one important lesson we can learn from the ACMA proposed charges, described in the News item:
Why are the WIA costs so much less than the ACMA costs? For the simple reason that so much is done on a voluntary basis. All the Assessors and Learning Facilitators, the WIA’s RTO and the many others involved one way or another give their time.
Knowing how much it costs the WIA in fact to provide the services is very important in two ways. One is that it is not in the interests of amateur radio for the costs of becoming an amateur to be more than the minimum. The other is that if the WIA is charging less than the actual cost it incurs it means that its members are paying for the shortfall, which will ultimately lead to even further membership fee increases.
December 2011 - Has the Club Grant Scheme run its course?
Meeting at the home of the late Chris Jones in Menai, near Sydney, on 8 and 9 April 2005 the WIA Board decided in principal to establish a Club Grant Scheme, initially allocating $1,500 for the 2006 year, but soon increasing the amount to $5,000.
In a carefully considered approach it was decided to support useful and or innovative projects to be undertaken by affiliated clubs. Later, the Rules initially adopted were amended to allow different categories of projects that were useful and or innovative to be specifically identified by the Board.
The Rules required the Board to appoint a Grant Committee of three to recommend grants to the Board. The Rules say that “The Board shall give preference to appointing members who come from different geographic areas and who by reason of their occupation or experience are likely to be generally respected by the amateur community and have experience relevant to their obligations under these Rules …”
The task of the Grant Committee is not easy, with their Report to the Board to include:
(i) A brief summary of each of the Applications it has considered;
(ii) A detailed description of each Proposal (if any) it recommends be supported, setting out its reasons;
(iii) The amount of Grant it recommends be made for each Proposal it recommends be supported (in total not to exceed the Grant Amount).
(iv) Any other fact or matter that the Grant Committee considers should be brought to the attention of the Board.
This approach provides guidance for the clubs considering making applications for a grant and ensures an open and transparent process.
All the Grant Committee Reports to the Board, other than the very first report, are on the WIA website, together with the current Rules.
In the first year, 2006, the Grant Committee, Ken Fuller, Deane Blackman and Wally Howse, reported that some 18 applications for grants had been received and made recommendations for grants and suggestions for the future of the Scheme to the Board.
Since then the Board has identified specific categories of projects that it will support and the maximum amount of grants for a year has increased to $6,000.
In the five years from 2006 to 2010 the Grants Committee has recommended some 36 separate projects be supported by grants totalling $27,180.
Obviously, while the WIA wishes to support useful and or innovative projects by clubs, it also has regard to the number of WIA members in a club.
It does not make a lot of sense to support clubs that do not support the WIA. The Rules provide that, except in the case of a project having particular merit, at least 50% of the members of the club who are amateurs must also be members of the WIA to receive a grant, and the Grant Committee is encouraged to have regard to the number of WIA members in a club when considering recommending a grant.
This year the Board decided that the WIA would support projects falling into two categories, namely projects and activities to be conducted before 1 June 2012 to attract new amateurs, but focussed on people under 25; and amateur radio projects that are useful and innovative and that utilise both information technologies and radio communications.
The 2011 Scheme was advertised in the June issue of Amateur Radio, with applications to close on 25 July.
To our surprise, only three applications were received.
One club, for reasons that seemed to me to be quite valid, sought an extension of time to lodge an application that it had planned to lodge.
Given the few applications received, it seemed reasonable to accede to that request, but if we were to accede to that request, it seemed unfair not to allow an extended period for all clubs, and so if we were to accede to that request it also seemed reasonable to allow further time for all clubs, and so the time limit was extended to 9 August.
With hindsight, that may have been a mistake and may have encouraged some projects to be put together in too much haste.
On the other hand, only three applications certainly does imply that there is now little interest in the Scheme.
I think that a number of comments can be made about some of the applications in the last year or so, and in particular some proposed projects really represent ordinary and routine expenditure and some projects are proposed that are very remote from the categories of project that have been identified.
In fact, and particularly disappointing, no project was proposed this year that addressed the category we had defined of amateur radio projects that are useful and innovative and that utilise both information technologies and radio communications.
Has the Club Grant Scheme run its course?
Is there now little interest by clubs in projects of the kind that could attract grants?
Or, was it just a combination of unrelated factors that resulted in a coincidence of so few applications this year? Or, is the way we are conducting the Scheme a problem? Can we change the process, the timing, or something else to make it more attractive to clubs?
The Board will not make a decision about continuing the Scheme until it meets at Mildura after the Open Forum at the 2012 WIA Annual Conference.
We invite all clubs to make written submissions on the matters I have raised, and to send them to us. In order to ensure balance, we encourage positive as well as negative reactions to the Scheme as it is now.
We will circulate all submissions we receive with the Open Forum reports that we will send to everyone who has registered for the Annual Conference so all views can be taken into account when it is discussed at the Open Forum.
Then, the Board will be in a position to decide the matter.
November 2011 - The 8th IARU Region 3 ARDF Championships
Let me start by quoting a rule:
C2.4 FIVE hidden transmitters shall operate on each band (i.e. 3.5 and 144 MHz) in the following sequence:
• In the first minute: transmitter no. 1 radiating the characters MOE.
• In the second minute: transmitter no. 2, radiating the characters MOI.
• In the third minute: transmitter no. 3, radiating the characters MOS.
• In the fourth minute: transmitter no. 4, radiating the characters MOH.
• In the fifth minute: transmitter no. 5, radiating the characters MO5.
This sequence shall repeat after the fifth minute with transmitter no. 1 operating in the sixth minute, etc.
A sixth transmitter, acting as a beacon, shall be placed at the entrance to the “finishing corridor” (see D2.10). This transmitter shall transmit the characters MO continuously.
That is one Rule taken from the twelve pages of the “Rules for IARU Region 3 Championships in Amateur Radio Direction Finding”.
One of the features of amateur radio is that it covers such a wide range of diverse interests. Radio sport is one of those interests.
I wrote about the IARU in the September 2011 issue of Amateur Radio. The IARU Region 3 ARDF Championships is one of the few activities of IARU Region 3 that is not confined to its policy/advocacy roles but engages in ordinary amateur activities.
Yet how many of us in this country really know very much about ARDF as it is conducted as an international sport?
As I say, there are 12 pages of detailed rules, and changes to those rules, even their interpretation, is a very hot topic for those involved, across the world and particularly in Region 1.
As you can see from this issue of Amateur Radio, the 8th IARU Region 3 ARDF Championships were conducted around Maldon, Victoria, from 23 September to 28 September 2011. The article by the WIA ARDF Coordinator, Jack Bramham VK3WWW tells a little about the event, as do the photographs.
Perhaps the scope of the event is best summed up by Jack, where he has written:
Participants for this event were made up of Australia (WIA) 19, China (CRSA) 34, Japan (JARL) 31, Kazakhstan (KFRR) 1, Korea (KARL) 6, Malaysia (MARTS) 2 and USA (ARRL) 3, totalling 96 competitors. Added to the competitors list there were team officials, trainers and International Referees. So, as you can see it is really a major event for us here in VK.
The WIA was the host Society and provided administrative support.
The planning and organising, the real work, was undertaken by a group from the Victorian ARDF Group, led by Jack.
Jack also refers to the many volunteers needed to conduct the actual event.
The preparations started 18 months ago, and I realise now the extent of those preparations necessary to conduct such an event properly. These preparations extended to contacting landowners, government agencies as well as local authorities, quite apart from the obvious things of finding a venue, determining a course, finding suitable and not too expensive accommodation, organising registrations processes and organising transport for quite a number of people and arranging a day for the overseas visitors to see something of that part of our country.
Finding a course is governed by the detailed rules which define the terrain for the competition as follows:
C2.1 The area and terrain over which the competition takes place shall be predominantly wooded. Differences in level over the terrain shall not exceed 200 meters. The Organising Society shall exercise prudence in the choice of terrain taking into account any hazards that might be harmful to the health of competitors. An area used in the past 12 months for any ARDF event should not be used.
The choice of location, Maldon, with the right terrain and very much a centre in the attractive and historically interesting Gold Fields part of Victoria, would be hard to better.
Amateur radio has many aspects. Each of us tends to see it in the prism of our own particular area of interest. ARDF, particularly international ARDF is an aspect that many of us in Australia really know very little about.
As someone who has discovered that ARDF can be a bit more than the 80 metre transmitter hunts that I once enjoyed, I learnt a number of things from the IARU Region 3 ARDF Championships.
One was to understand the mixture of technical and physical skills required, the real orienteering skills needed.
Another was the genuine international friendships that were fostered, and importantly, how this activity attracted younger people. The Chinese team included a group of students who carried their school flag at the closing dinner.
I was privileged to be at both the opening and closing of this great event.
For me it was great to see so many young people, great to catch up with old friends such as the Chair of the Region 3 ARDF Committee Yoshio Arisaka JA1HQG, and above all, to see the friendly camaraderie of so many people from different lands brought together by this aspect of amateur radio.
I commend Jack, his team and the many people from both amateur radio and orienteering who made the event the success it undoubtedly was.
To all involved, from organisers to helpers to competitors, I extend my sincere congratulations on a truly memorable and friendly occasion.
I am proud, too, that we, the Wireless Institute of Australia, were able to contribute to the success of this international event.
October 2011 - The Wireless Institute of Australia Foundation
Over the years I have had quite a number of conversations with people who were thinking about making a gift to the WIA, either directly or from their estate.
I recall one such discussion where the donor’s desire could not be achieved simply because the costs of administration associated with creating a special trust to achieve the objective would have cost most of what was to be given.
Other persons who were considering leaving a bequest to the WIA were concerned that a change of WIA Board direction could result in their bequest being expended in a manner contrary to the intentions of the donor. Donors wanted confidence that their wishes would be respected on an on-going basis.
Gifts for a defined purpose may create their own problems. Take a bequest to fund research into solving a particular medical problem. What do you do with the funds for that purpose when the problem is fully solved by someone else?
The Board of the WIA has given considerable thought to these issues and for some time have been working on the creation of a legal entity which is capable of receiving donations and/or bequests, is capable of applying them in the intended manner (or as a default in a manner which furthers amateur radio) and is administered in a professional and consistent manner, so that donors can be confident that their contributions are managed carefully.
The Board has sought the advice of a leading firm of independent lawyers.
We now announce the creation of the Wireless Institute of Australia Foundation.
The principal objects of the Foundation as expressed in its Constitution are:
(a) to promote, advance, preserve and represent in any way amateur radio (where amateur radio includes activities by duly authorised persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest) and all other branches of knowledge and activity having application to amateur radio;
(b) to apply the proceeds of any gift or bequest made to the Company for the purposes set out in clause 2.1(a), in compliance with any terms and conditions stipulated by a donor but, in the absence of any stipulated terms and conditions by a donor or, if the donor’s stipulated terms and conditions are inconsistent with the purposes set out in clause 2.1(a), in any manner which the Board considers appropriate to achieve the objects of the Company set out in clause 2.1(a);
(c) to administer one or more funds into which all gifts, contributions, donations and bequests to the Company for the purposes of the Company will be credited.
The reference to the “Board” is a reference to the Board of the Foundation, not the Board of the WIA.
In effect, the Board of the Foundation act in respect of gifts as trustees.
Our object was to make the Foundation a continuing entity, set up in such a way that it would have sufficient independence from the WIA to reassure those who were concerned about the effect of short term changes in those responsible for the management of the WIA.
We have done this in three ways:
First, while the WIA is the Founder Member of the Foundation, and will appoint the first directors, there will be a second group of members and the WIA will not be able to change the Constitution of the Foundation unless the members of the second group also agree.
Second, at least half of the Foundation’s Board will have to have specific qualifications. At least one member of the Board must be a lawyer, and at least one member must be an accountant or financial adviser. Not more than one member may be a radio amateur without any of those qualifications and the chair will be the President of the WIA from time to time.
Third, the term of office of the Directors of the Foundation is for five (5) years, (other than the President of the WIA as Chair of the Foundation) and so operation of the Foundation is insulated against short term changes in the WIA Board.
Initially the Board of the Foundation will consist of myself as President of the WIA, and WIA Director Chris Platt, a lawyer, WIA Treasurer John Longayroux, an accountant and former WIA Director, Peter Young as a radio amateur.
Initially gifts to the Foundation will not be tax deductible, which will not be relevant for any bequests, but the Foundation will seek to have a separate fund within the Foundation accepted as a charity and so gifts to that fund will be tax deductible.
Some of the WIA’s most important activities are, in law, not charitable and so funds for these purposes cannot be a gift to a charity and therefore tax deductible.
In particular, gifts to support lobbying are not charitable, and so gifts to support the WIA’s participation in Australian delegations to APT and ITU meetings may not be for what is in law a charitable purpose.
The second part of the principal objects I have quoted above deals with the problem of a gift for a purpose where the purpose ceases to be relevant or meaningful. If the person making the gift uses the right language, the Foundation will be able to change the purpose so it can still support amateur radio.
We are hopeful that any donors bear that in mind in formulating the terms of their gift or bequest. Our legal advisers will provide a ‘model bequest’ to assist intending donors.
The WIA has benefitted greatly in the past from the generosity of some wonderful people. Andersson House and the generosity of the late Henry Andersson is sufficient evidence of that.
The Board hopes that the creation of the Wireless Institute of Australia Foundation will make it a little easier for those who wish to support amateur radio and the WIA in its important functions.
September 2011 - Station Inspections and “Possession"
In the April 2011 issue of Amateur Radio magazine I described the WIA’s concerns arising from some station inspections in relation to the question of the possession by amateurs of some transmitters and the manner in which some station inspections had been undertaken.
It had emerged that the ACMA field staff were taking the relevant legislation into account but also that the ACMA did not have formal policies or operational procedures addressing either issue. The WIA strongly urged the ACMA to develop appropriate policies and procedures to assist both amateurs and its own staff in the interpretation and application of the legislation.
The ACMA responded by indicating its willingness to do so and to work with the WIA.
As has been reported in the News items in this issue, the ACMA has undertaken a careful examination of both issues, and I have indicated that we are satisfied with the progress that has been made so far.
In particular, our major concerns about the manner in which station inspections are undertaken have been accepted, and we expect the process will be expressed in the ACMA’s internal documents in a way that will meet our concerns.
It has been a little more difficult to find an appropriate form of words to deal with the question of possession of radio equipment.
That issue arises because of sections 47 and 48 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992. As I said previously, section 47 provides that “... a person must not have a radiocommunications device in his or her possession for the purpose of operating the device otherwise than as authorised by: (a) a spectrum licence; or (b) an apparatus licence; or (c) a class licence.”
Section 48 is a series of rebuttable presumptions, that apply in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that the transmitter is possessed “for the purpose of operation” (but not otherwise than as authorised by a licence).
We are very anxious to ensure that those provisions do not become a barrier to legitimate amateur activities.
However, one matter has emerged that has surprised me, and one which I would like to address here.
I should say that in making the observations I do, I rely on my discussions with a number of amateurs and ACMA staff.
Many commercial amateur transceivers (that is, equipment made specifically for the amateur market) are capable of being modified to transmit on frequencies outside the amateur bands, sometimes by no more than removing a single diode.
I should stress that my comments are confined to exactly that, equipment made specifically for the amateur service. Other equipment that complies with standards, for example for land mobile stations, may also be lawfully used on amateur frequencies.
I started to write this Comment on the basis that an amateur could never modify a commercial amateur transceiver so that it could “operate” (whatever that may mean) on a frequency outside the amateur bands. I do not think that simple solution provides the right answer.
What about using a low power transceiver as a VFO with output on a non amateur frequency for translation to an amateur frequency?
Provided adequate care is taken to ensure that such equipment cannot radiate sufficient energy during transmit periods that would interfere with other services – it would be simply providing a low level signal to be translated to a different amateur allocated/authorised frequency band.
That would seem to me to be legitimate.
On the other hand, I know that a number of amateurs believe that, as their commercial amateur transceiver is of a high technical standard, it can be operated on frequencies covered by Class Licences, such as the Maritime Ship Stations 27 MHz and VHF class licence and the Citizen Band Radio Station class licence.
I know a number of amateurs have in fact used their equipment on frequencies covered by those class licences.
The class licences have power restrictions and the like that may not have been taken into account.
But, much more significantly, the class licences have provision that provide, in effect, that a person must not operate a station under the class licence unless the station complies with each standard made under section 162 of the Act that applies to the station. Section 162 gives the ACMA the power to make “standards”.
The ACMA has made standards for most transmitters covered by a class licence, other than the class licence in relation to overseas amateurs visiting Australia.
Section 157 makes it an offence, in effect, to transmit from a “nonstandard transmitter” and section 158 makes it an offence to possess for the purpose of operation a device the person knows to be a non standard device, and section 159 is a series of rebuttable presumptions as to the possession being for the purpose of operation.
So, the amateur transceiver modified to operate on the CB or 27 MHz maritime bands cannot be operated on those bands, or indeed, on any other band. In fact, the modification has turned the amateur transmitter into an unlawful non-standard transmitter.
I know that some amateurs have modified their equipment as I have described.
I know that some amateurs have valued such “opened” equipment, and indeed, some equipment has been advertised as “opened”.
But I also know that some people have purchased equipment, perhaps even apparently in the ordinary course of trade, not even knowing that it has been modified and is capable of operating on non-amateur frequencies.
All of this is part of the problem that has to be addressed. It is really the reverse of modifying non-amateur equipment to operate lawfully on the amateur licensee’s permitted frequencies.
In the end the legislation is clear. We cannot modify commercial amateur transceivers to transmit on non-amateur frequencies.
What is surprising is that some amateurs have not appreciated that it is unlawful to use their amateur equipment to transmit on non amateur frequencies, particularly on the CBRS and maritime 27 MHz frequencies.
Perhaps all of this is saying something about what we cover in the “regulations” component of the amateur qualification?
August 2011 - The IARU
Recently we have stressed the importance of the ITU, the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations agency responsible, among other things, for the coordination of the radio spectrum. Most countries are Member States of the ITU, which exists by way of a treaty between the countries, and by which they generally agree to be bound by ITU decisions in respect of the use of the radio spectrum.
The ITU is divided into 3 sectors, Radiocommunication (ITU-R) which is the most important sector for us, Development (ITU-D) and Standardisation (ITU-T).
The amateur services exist by virtue of the treaty between nations that is the ITU’s Radio Regulations. It is the “amateur services” because the Radio Regulations defines both the “amateur service” and the “amateur-satellite service”. The Radio Regulations set out the basic regulations that govern the amateur services, as well as the frequency bands the amateur services can use, though it is up to each country to apply those treaty provisions through their national laws.
The Radio Regulations are reviewed and revised by the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) held every four or five years, in accordance with agendas set by previous WRCs.
Because the Radio Regulations is a treaty between countries, it is the 192 ITU Member States, the countries that are the members of the ITU, which participate in a WRC.
The process leading to a WRC is lengthy, and a little convoluted.
And, if a position is lost during that process, it is probably true to say it is not going to be recovered.
Each agenda item for a WRC is studied by one or more ITU-R Study Groups or Working Parties, ultimately leading to the formulation of the technical options that could meet the particular agenda item.
But at the same time, the Regional Telecommunication Organisations, the RTOs, such as the Asia Pacific Telecommunity, prepare through their own series of meetings of countries to adopt positions for the next WRC that are common for the countries in region.
How, in this long running and complex process, do the radio amateurs protect their interests?
The answer is, in fact, in two ways.
Critical to the representation of the amateur interest is the International Amateur Radio Union, the IARU. The IARU was formed in 1925 and its members are the national amateur radio societies in each country. It is a federation of national radio societies, with an International Secretariat provided by the US national amateur radio society, the ARRL.
The IARU is a recognised international telecommunication organisation, and as such is Sector Member of the ITU-R, and also the ITU-D.
As a Sector Member, the IARU participates in the various ITU-R and ITU-D meetings that affect directly, or could indirectly affect the amateur services. The IARU participates in ITU-D meetings because that is where emergency communications are addressed and ITU-R meetings because they directly lead to a WRC, including the ITU-R Study Groups and Working Parties that deal with agenda items for a WRC that directly or indirectly affect the amateur services.
The IARU includes the three IARU Regional organisations of IARU member societies in each of the three ITU defined Regions.
The three IARU Regional organisations represent the amateur services to the RTOs in their region, and also provide two members each of the IARU’s Administrative Council, which meets annually and which formulates broad IARU policy.
Because it is not a “country”, the IARU is an observer at a WRC, where its role is to inform and, to an extent, coordinate.
It is through the regional IARU organisations that the national radio societies participate directly in the IARU, in our case through the IARU Region 3. The WIA contributes to IARU by paying a subscription, currently 65 Yen (around 75 Australian cents) for each “transmitting member”. In addition, the WIA participates in the IARU Region 3 Conferences held every three years, which is the opportunity to contribute directly to IARU policy, involving the costs of its representatives.
The other way that amateurs protect their interests is directly through their own national amateur radio society.
Many countries, including Australia, accept the national amateur radio society as a participant in the national preparation process for a WRC or at least take into account the representations of their national amateur radio society in formulating their position for a WRC.
Some countries, including Australia, accept the nomination of their national amateur radio society of an appropriately qualified amateur as member of the national delegation to the RTO’s meetings, the ITU preparatory meetings and a WRC.
Only some countries take this position, and only some national radio societies can afford to meet the quite high costs involved, because it is the society and not the government that meets the costs involved.
It is obvious that the national amateur radio societies cannot each put a position that is different from each other society. To succeed, in this whole long and complex process, national societies must put common positions, and it is through the IARU that common positions can be developed, and through the IARU that these positions can be put to the Study Groups and Working Parties and to the different RTOs.
The WIA nominates its representatives for the Australian national preparatory processes and on Australian national delegations and meets its representative’s travel and accommodation expenses.
That expense would not be justified if our representatives were working in a vacuum, without having a basic position consistent with the position being put by the amateurs in other countries.
Its Constitution defines the primary role of the WIA as being “to promote, advance and represent in any way it thinks fit Amateur Radio and the interests of Radio Amateurs”. The WIA could not effectively do that in the forum that ultimately matters most, a WRC, without the IARU, as collectively we can best protect our existing spectrum access and develop common position on new spectrum allocations.
July 2011 - The WIA Annual Conference
I am writing this email just after the WIA Annual Conference, Darwin 2011 and a weekend at Upper Hutt, near Wellington, New Zealand attending the NZART Conference.
So, it makes sense now to write about our WIA Annual Conference. Actually, what we call it has not been all that consistent, sometimes the AGM, sometimes the AGM/Open Forum but we are now standardising on “WIA Annual Conference”.
I think we now have a very clear basic format, developed originally by Robert Broomhead for the Parkes Conference in 2007 and developed by him since then. I think we also know what many of our members want.
Let me run through what I understand to be the basic ideas that we now have for this event.
First, our members look for our annual event to be held somewhere interesting in its own right, not a capital city. Parkes, Churchill, Broken Hill and Darwin filled that requirement.
Then, they ask that we tell them as soon as possible where and when, so they can arrange holidays, or even just a few days break to attend.
When we hold our Conference is rather restricted by the fact that it is also our Annual General Meeting, and we need to hold that within five months from the end of our financial year. Our financial year ends on 31 December, and then we have to have an audit completed, reports written and printed and circulated with this magazine.
That all means that we cannot move very much from “some time” in May!
The program, while not cast in granite, is pretty clear, too.
Friday night is usually a dinner, built around either an interesting speaker (the Lord Mayor of Darwin talking about the ecology and FrogWatch in Darwin) or an interesting venue (the Telstra Tower and Alto Restaurant on Black Mountain in Canberra).
Saturday is the Annual General Meeting and Open Forum. We treat the AGM as what it is, the statutory meeting, and then use the Open Forum for the consideration of reports covering all aspect of the WIA, encouraging discussion on any topic anyone wants to raise, and because it is informal, we do not have to worry about relevance, words in motions or procedure.
One important feature of the day is the announcement and presentation of WIA merit awards. Some are very special, such as Honorary Life Membership or the GA Taylor medal and only given occasionally, others are annual. They are important because it is the way we recognise those who do much for amateur radio and the WIA.
Saturday afternoon has been a symposium, and quite a few people are telling us that they would like more technical subjects covered next year.
Saturday night is the Annual Dinner. Usually we would look for a relevant and interesting speaker or some other interesting attraction.
More and more, Sunday is becoming a non-radio day, the visit to Dick Smith’s place, the visit to Litchfield National Park.
NZART has Sunday as their day for meetings of groups, some presentations as well as a tour for those who want to participate (usually the partners!).
What was very special about Darwin was for the first time a club played a major role in setting the program, looking after participants and making it all happen.
It is amazing what a small group of workers can do, even running a barbecue without burning the meat!
For next year, we have already announced that the WIA Annual Conference will be in Mildura, Victoria, with the Sunraysia Radio Group as the radio club supporting the event.
Early next year we plan to ask our Advisory Committees and our clubs for their suggestions as to venues and their willingness to support an Annual Conference.
That way, we would hope to announce at the WIA Annual Conference, Mildura 2012, the venue for the 2013 Conference. We would be looking for somewhere interesting and with some new ideas about some of its features. We would be looking for strong support from a club or a group of clubs.
After the Darwin Conference, some of us sat down with some of the leaders of the Darwin Amateur Radio Club, and discussed how it had all worked, and what we had learnt. That is being put together in a document, so we can give the Sunraysia club a useful guide.
Did you know that a New Zealand amateur and his wife had come to our Conference in Darwin?
Next year, the NZART Conference 2012 will be held on the New Zealand Queen’s Birthday weekend of 1 to 4 June at Nelson.
Perhaps there are WIA members who would like to be welcome at the NZART conference at a very attractive place, with local wineries, boutique breweries and many craft shops? Look at www.nelsonnz.com
Perhaps there are NZART members who would like to join us in Mildura, on the mighty Murray River, great weather and also with local wineries? Look at www.visitmildura.com.au.
Perhaps, if you are a WIA member you will always be welcome at a NZART Conference (without a vote, of course).
Perhaps, if you are a NZART member you will always be welcome at a WIA Conference (without a vote, of course).
Perhaps, even if we cannot do it next year, we should make sure that there are more than just a few days between our two Conferences?
Perhaps there are some clubs or groups of clubs in Australia that will now start working on a suggestion for a great weekend in May 2013?
June 2011 - The RAVEN is not about to swoop
There has been much discussion recently in some quarters about the WIA in relation to emergency communications, with some suggesting that we have formulated policies where we are, in fact, still doing so.
Let me set out the current position of the WIA in relation to emergency communications.
First, why does the WIA think that what radio amateurs do in relation to emergency communications matters?
Amateur radio, in order to retain its increasingly valuable spectrum and privileges must be able to demonstrate a ‘public benefit’ in what it does. It can do that with an effective and relevant emergency communications capability, supporting the emergency services and the community.
Since 2003, when that part of the ITU’s international Radio Regulations governing the amateur services were reviewed and amended, the importance of amateur radio emergency communications has been recognised internationally.
In Australia for many years the WICEN groups, through their volunteers, have been the focus of amateur emergency communications. Generally these groups are separate clubs. They grew out of the old Divisions, when the WIA was a federal organisation of state and territory organisations.
But despite their name, while many are affiliated clubs, they are not part of the WIA and cannot be controlled by the WIA.
The fact is that these organisations vary greatly from place to place, some having effective working relationships with local organisations, some providing safety support for community organisations in non emergency roles, some have almost ceased to exist.
It may be unkind to say it, but in some places WICEN is a solution looking for a problem to solve.
There is no national organisation and no single approach to amateur emergency communications.
But we also believe that over the years what is needed has changed. Once, the value of the amateur was to provide emergency communications using his own equipment. It is now clear that the manpower resources of the emergency services organisations become severely stretched during a protracted emergency, and suitably trained and qualified radio amateurs who can operate emergency services communications systems can be a valuable resource.
For a number of years the WIA has been considering these issues. In July 2009 the WIA proposed the possibility of a nationally recognised competency based Training Package, and in the September 2009 issue of Amateur Radio, under the heading “What about WICEN” I said “What should be the role of the WIA so far as the existing WICEN groups are concerned is not so clear.”
The WIA has gone ahead with the training and accreditation program. It has distinguished between members and non members in the training program, subsidising part of the cost of the training for members and charging what it believes are the real costs for non members. It was concerned at the possible effects of different insurance coverage between members and non member participants in courses, overcoming this by creating a free, non-voting, temporary membership, but providing this magazine for 6 months in the hope that at least some would become full members.
The accreditation process has started, with the application forms now on the WIA website. This is only for voting members and is not automatic, requiring the meeting of certain health, mobility hearing and similar requirements.
We believe that in doing that, we are providing valuable support for the WICEN organisations. We believed training and accreditation program would be seen as complementing, supporting and strengthening the activities of the WICEN groups.
Once again, all of this was reviewed at our last face to face Board meeting at the beginning of April.
It was recognised that we needed to promote the WIA accreditation program to the appropriate services, government and non government.
In drawing together the various streams of ideas, we thought we would try to find a name for the project, and subject to what we called in our minutes, “some cautious field testing” we decided to try the term RAVEN – Radio Amateur Volunteer Emergency Network. We have identified it as a tentative name, but because of the word “Network”, seen in the same sense as in the term WICEN, we now feel that tentative use was rather putting the cart before the horse.
We also asked our group responsible for steering our work in this area to seek further advice and “on the basis of this advice and further investigations, to propose a structure and identify individuals to ensure that the representation of amateur emergency resources at appropriate regional levels was available.”
In short, we have not yet answered the question: what should be the role of the WIA and in what structure in relation to the provision of emergency communications in Australia beyond its training and accreditation program?
Certainly we have a role internationally, perhaps using specialist resources. We must ask could what is being done now be done better? Have we the resource to provide a substitute organisation? Should we enter into partnership arrangements with other organisations?
Can we better provide a national focus for amateur emergency organisations and volunteers? If so, how?
Have we been going slow? In a word, yes. Why? Because we see these as very complex issues across our nation, at times rather emotive issues, and with structures and requirements evolving all the time. If we move too fast, without the support of a majority, we will simply further fragment amateur radio’s approach to these vitally important issues.
We have had some very thoughtful suggestions offered to us.
We invite further input, both from groups and from individuals.
We may even consider a weekend roundtable for all of those who are interested.
We believe that the training and accreditation program should be a first step to a new national approach to the provision of communications in emergencies. The WIA will continue to seek the best solution, so that the skills and training of radio amateurs are best utilised in times of great need for the benefit of the community of which they are part.
May 2011 - Andersson House
The naming of the WIA’s premises in Bayswater, Victoria to honour Henry Andersson VK8HA had a very special meaning for me.
Not that I knew Henry personally, but as a result of his bequest to the WIA I had visited Darwin, visited his house and talked to his friends about him.
It was all very soon after the WIA restructured in May 2004. Henry died on 5 October 2004.
I wrote about Henry, his bequest and the people from Darwin who had helped me so much in this column in the July 2005 issue of Amateur Radio. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am looking forward to returning to Darwin at the end of May this year for our Annual Conference.
I concluded what I said in July 2005 by saying that we must make sure that we do not forget Henry Andersson, and of course, now I know we will not.
May I repeat what I said at this important event on 2 April this year? It is, after all, a focus of this issue. And it is my tribute to someone I did not know in life, but as a result of visiting his home and talking to his friends, someone I felt I did know in a different way.
And let us not forget that the generosity of Henry Andersson is so important, as without that bequest we would not have our own premises, and without our own premises we would forever be constrained in what can do.
Henry Gustaf Andersson VK8HA died in Darwin on 5 October 2004.
By his will Henry left his “house and lands” to the WIA.
In the July 2005 issue of Amateur Radio magazine, after saying that I had never met Henry Andersson, I said this of his bequest to the WIA:
“His generous bequest during this period of change, as we work to create a single national body, gives us great hope and great confidence, because it means that we now have some reserves that at least give us confidence.
As I say, I never met Henry.
But we must make sure that we do not forget Henry Gustaf Andersson VK8HA, SK.”
Today we make good that commitment.
Today we name our national headquarters in honour of Henry Andersson.
Henry Andersson was born in Sweden and had come to Australia many years ago.
Henry built his house at 30 Trippe Road, Humpty Doo in about 1988, on some five acres of land. Humpty Doo is on the Arnhem Highway, a few kilometres from the Stuart Highway, in all some 40 minutes or less drive from central Darwin.
Henry erected three antenna towers on his land.
There were two other amateurs in the Northern Territory who had come from Scandinavia and with a similar background to Henry and who were among his real friends. One was Karl VK8CAW from Darwin, and the other was Len VK8DK, from Tennant Creek. I have met them both, and we have talked of Henry.
Henry was a passionate CW operator, and became a member of the First Class Operators Club (FOC) in 1970.
Henry was an Honorary Life Member of the WIA, his QSL card proudly proclaiming that he was the first Honorary Life Member of the WIA “in VK8”.
Henry had set up and ran the VK8 QSL Bureau for some 38 years.
He was the first Federal Intruder Watch Coordinator, and was appointed National Intruder Watch Coordinator when the WIA Board met in May 2004.
Henry Andersson was a unique person, supporting amateur radio and the WIA over many years, contributing significantly in that most important but often frustrating role of coordinating Intruder Watch, now called the Monitoring System, a task that requires skill to identify the intruder and patience to persist when there is not much response to the reports.
It is fitting that in the year we are holding our Annual Conference in Darwin we honour this great radio amateur from Darwin, without whose generosity we would not have our own national headquarters.
It is my privilege to unveil our recognition of Henry Gustaf Andersson’s contribution to amateur radio as we now name our national Headquarters Andersson House.
April 2011 - The ACMA needs some appropriate policies?
The WIA believes that the Australian regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) should enforce the law affecting the amateur service. There have been far too many complaints of deliberate interference or improper behaviour for us to take any other position.
However, what is the law and how it is enforced has recently become the subject of some discussion, with some allegations that must concern us, in particular in relation to the question of the possession of equipment by amateurs and in relation to the inspection of amateur stations.
The primary offence is the unlicensed operation of “radiocommunication devices” which is section 46 or the Radiocommunications Act.
Let us ignore the extended definition of radiocommunications devices in this Comment and while a radiocommunications device may be a receiver, let us simply talk of “transmitters”, which is really all that is immediately relevant.
The problem appears to have arisen because section 47 provides as follows: “... a person must not have a radiocommunications device in his or her possession for the purpose of operating the device otherwise than as authorised by: (a) a spectrum licence; or (b) an apparatus licence; or (c) a class licence.”
Note the vitally important words “possession for the purpose of operating the device otherwise than as authorised by” a licence, that is, for the purpose of causing a transmitter to transmit.
Subsection (1) of section 48 then sets out a number of rebuttable presumptions. That is, the section sets out a number of situations where a person may be taken to have the transmitter in his or her possession for the unlawful purpose if the transmitter can be operated merely by doing one of a number of things, for example by connecting the transmitter to a power supply by a plug, connecting a microphone or switching the transmitter on or connecting it to an antenna and so on.
However, subsection (2) of section 48 says that subsection (1) “only applies in the absence of any evidence to the contrary.”
The WIA believes that if the person having possession of the transmitter holds an amateur licence, that is sufficient evidence to rebut the presumptions in subsection (1) of section 48.
Some other evidence must exist to show that the possession was for the purpose of operating the device other than as authorised by the amateur licence.
Any other position must be nonsense.
First of all, only a qualified operator, that is someone holding a certificate of proficiency, can hold an amateur licence.
Then a Standard or Advanced (but not Foundation) licensee may design, construct and operate a transmitter.
And how many of the older amateurs recall buying “disposals” equipment and converting it to amateur bands?
Any other view makes almost every HF transmitter owned by amateurs in this country illegally possessed. Let me give just one example. The Amateur LCD provides that the Advanced licensee may operate on the bands 3.500 MHz–3.700 MHz and 3.776 MHz–3.800 MHz Does your equipment allow you to operate between 3.700 MHz and 3.776.MHz?
Of course it does.
Any other position is simply ignoring the whole purpose and history of the amateur service.
What has the WIA done about it?
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, the WIA requested the ACMA to provide copies of any “document or documents disclosing the policy of ACMA in relation to the transmitting equipment authorised to be possessed by a licensee in the amateur service.”
The ACMA has responded by a Notice of Decision under section 26 of the Freedom of Information Act, and to our surprise, in a four page letter, advises that despite “extensive searches” no such document exits!
Because of the anecdotal evidence of amateurs feeling concerned at the way ACMA officers have sought to inspect stations, in our FOI application we also sought copies of any “document or documents disclosing the ACMA policy or operational procedures relating to the inspection of stations in the amateur service.”
The WIA accepts that many people will feel obliged to comply with the request of an ACMA officer to allow him immediate access to the station, no matter how courteous the officer is. The WIA suggests that an amateur is perfectly entitled to decline admission if it is inconvenient and make an appointment with the officer for a more convenient time.
An inspector may obtain a search warrant from a magistrate if he can produce evidence of an offence and an inspector has extensive powers of entry to control transmitters interfering with safety and other services without a warrant.
For an ordinary inspection without any underlying criminality we see no reason for an inspector under the Radiocommunications Act not behaving like other agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office, and making an appointment with licensee by a simple telephone call.
And that is particularly important in the case of amateur licensees under the age of 18, as we cannot imagine the ACMA approving an officer seeking to inspect a station otherwise than in the presence of a parent or guardian.
But, again to our surprise, the ACMA response to our FOI request was that despite “extensive searches” no such policy or operational procedures exits!
We also have been told that ACMA officers have purported to direct the licensee to dispose of equipment said to be possessed in contravention of section 47. We have not been able to find any statutory basis in law for such a direction.
The WIA is of the opinion that clear and appropriate policies must be formulated in respect of all of the matters I have raised, including policies that recognise an amateur’s right to possess any transmitting equipment and relying on a breach of licence conditions for any improper conduct and ordinarily requiring an inspector to make a mutually convenient appointment for station inspections with such inspections only taking place in the presence of a parent or guardian in case of licensees under 18 and those policies must be easily accessible for all amateurs.
The WIA has approached the ACMA accordingly.
March 2011 - Has the Foundation licence been a failure?
Once a year, we pull out all sorts of information for the annual Directors’ Report and the report to the Open Forum following the Annual General Meeting.
This year it occurred to me that, as the first Foundation licensees were qualified in October 2005, we had now had full five years of the restructure of the Australian amateur licences and, more particularly, five full years of the entry level licence.
So, it seemed a good idea to ask the question, has the Foundation licence been a failure?
One table that I have been building up is the total number of amateur apparatus licences in force on 30 June each year, extracted from the Annual Report of the ACMA, previously the ACA, showing total apparatus licences.
30 June 2001 15,017
30 June 2002 14,536
30 June 2003 14,363
30 June 2004 14,047
30 June 2005 14,041
30 June 2006 14,475
30 June 2007 15,009
30 June 2008 15,278
30 June 2009 15,432
30 June 2010 15,626
It should be pointed out that the steady decline in numbers to 2005 had started many years before 2001.
There is a turnaround in 2006 and a fairly steady increase each year since then.
Now those figures show that there are actually much more than just a couple of hundred new licences each year.
Those numbers are the total apparatus licences in effect on the relevant date, and include amateur repeater and beacon licences as well as licences held by people who hold more than one amateur licence.
But the number of amateur licences at the relevant date is the number after the removal of licences that have not been renewed or have been quarantined because of the death of the licensee.
So, before you have an increase in the total number of licences, the number of licences not renewed or quarantined has to be offset against the new licences.
If you look at the Directors’ Report you will see that 88 callsigns were quarantined on the death of the licensee in the 2010 year. And neither ACMA nor the WIA is necessarily advised of the passing of all amateurs.
We also know from the families that contact us in relation to the renewal of WIA membership that a number of people’s membership and licences are simply not renewed because of age and health.
So, really, while the total number of amateur licences may have increased by a couple of hundred a year, the number of new amateurs is more than just a couple of hundred in a year.
Since the WIA has qualified all amateurs since the restructure of the Australian amateur licences in 2005, we are able to throw some more light on the matter.
In each Directors’ Report we have said how many people qualified for the Foundation certificate of proficiency in each calendar year, starting in 2006.
So, I can make a new table:
Without producing more tables, the WIA data shows that since 2005 the preferred entry route into amateur radio for the majority of amateurs is the Foundation licence, with relatively few first entering at either the Standard or Advanced level.
Our data also shows that the number of Foundation licensees upgrading to Standard and Advanced is acceptable.
WIA Director Peter Young has analysed the WIA examination information, and other data that he could access, and concluded that since the introduction of the Foundation licence, the average age of radio amateurs had dropped, with many new amateurs being aged under 25.
Does the fact that for the last couple of years the WIA has been advocating the promotion of amateur radio to the general community with a view to attracting more amateurs mean that the Foundation licence is not working? Of course, we did not have to do much for the first few years, because the fact that an entry level licence would be introduced had been announced for quite a while, and so people were waiting for it.
However, we live in a world where many things clamour for people’s attention, and amateur radio is just one of them, but at least we have something to sell with the entry level licence.
Let me look at another table, also from the Open Forum Report but with the latest figures in the Directors’ Report, is the membership of the WIA.
That table looks like this:
31 December 2004 3,494
31 December 2005 3,851
31 December 2006 4,114
31 December 2007 4,302
31 December 2008 4,376
31 December 2009 4,541
31 December 2010 4,641
That table only goes back to December 2004, and tracks the membership numbers from the year of the restructure of the WIA from a federal organisation of state and territory based “Divisions” to a single national body.
Now what is interesting is that while there is an accelerated growth in the early period, the growth rather follows the growth of amateur licences.
Of course the rate of growth is not as fast as we would like.
But remember, exactly the same issues in relation to total licences apply to total members as against members dropping out. A steady increase in members is more new or rejoining members than it appears.
In short, despite the internet and mobile phones, I think that in Australia amateur radio is alive and well.
And anyone who suggests that the Foundation licence has been a failure is either foolish or malicious.
A final thought. We have celebrated our Centenary. We are conscious of how amateur radio has changed in that time. As the world changes and as technology changes, amateur radio will and must continue to change, I suggest at an ever faster rate.
January 2011 - Many Places, Many People, Common Themes
November and December 2010 were very special months.
I visited Darwin, Adelaide, the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Rockhampton and Perth.
In Adelaide, Rockhampton and Perth, I attended meetings of clubs. In Darwin (apart from working with Darwin Club President Spud Murphy to organise the next Annual Conference, as we are now calling the Annual General Meeting weekend), I really had the same sort of discussion as I had with the clubs.
Basically, the theme at each of these meetings was the same:
• what the WIA was doing,
• the Centenary year and VK100WIA,
• the next Annual Conference,
• the financial pressure on the WIA without even a CPI increase since the subscription rates were set in 2004,
• the WIA’s representation and advocacy role, including preparation for WRC-12 with Dale Hughes first in Geneva and then in Hong Kong,
• the WIA’s representations to ACMA in respect of amateur transmitter power limits and the 50 – 52 MHz band, the changes to the LCD,
• the National Field Day and what could we learn from the first Field Day,
• this magazine Amateur Radio, and
• my inevitable plea for new members.
In addition, I was able to meet with many members of the various advisory committees, and hear their views and discuss their roles, particularly important as we try to put a new emphasis on their role by Mal Brooks, the WIA Manager, becoming their point of communication.
No, I do not want to turn this into some sort of minute of all of those meetings. What I want to do is to synthesise my overall impression of what came from those meetings.
One thing that struck was the very real support of the WIA by some clubs – the Rockhampton and District Amateur Radio Club asked me to present on their behalf a special medal that they had struck for members of the club who had been WIA members for 25 years. I was presented a very handsome medal that had been produced by the Ipswich and District Amateur Radio Club, marking the WIA’s Centenary year.
In Perth I presented the Jim Rumble Award for outstanding contribution to amateur radio in Western Australia by Heath Walder and Monique Faulkner – an award that had since 1977 been presented by the old WIA Western Australia Division, became a responsibility of the restructured national WIA and was revived by Christine Bastin and WIA Director Bob Bristow.
Wherever I went there was a general acceptance of the WIA’s advocacy role, particularly at the ITU/APT/IARU level. The WIA’s role was seen as important, and (as long as I didn’t try to go into too much detail) an important reason for membership.
Another matter discussed at all these meetings was the National Field Day. Some common views emerged. Let’s have it earlier, let’s use things like IRLP so we can get reliable communications, and let’s be better at communicating our message to people who know nothing about amateur radio.
One thing that really encouraged me was this: the support for the next AGM in Darwin on 27, 28 and 29 May 2011. That support by the Darwin club was probably the real reason why the Board chose Darwin. But the support for going to Darwin by many people across the country was really encouraging. (I just hope that is translated into early registrations, as we will not be able to hold bookings as easily as we have in the past.
A gratifying issue was this magazine. It was seen as very valuable, and a number of clubs thought that they should contribute more about their own activities.
But of course, this is a case of success producing its own problems. Yes, everyone wanted the technical articles (though different people wanted the articles at different levels), everyone wanted up to date news and information, as well as their own club news. Why not just add more pages? Oh, cost. Obviously we need to cut down, but not any of the things we value.
What the WIA should spend its money on emerged in a number of different ways. More repeaters was one suggestion. Subsidising very small, otherwise non viable clubs was another.
Once people accepted (if they did) that the WIA did not have unlimited funds, deciding what to save money on was a bit hard.
Another message that was delivered in a number of contexts was that people will accept delays and understand that much of what we all do is done on a voluntary basis, and we just cannot be too demanding. But people will not accept just hearing nothing. They want to know what is happening.
If they have sent an email or letter to the office or to an individual, they want a response.
If they have sent an item for the magazine, perhaps about a club activity, they don’t want it just not published, they want it acknowledged, and better, why it wasn’t published.
If a club has lodged an application for a repeater or beacon licence, or the variation of such a licence, they don’t want it all to just disappear; they want to know what is happening.
That message was very clear.
And so we have been talking about systems in the office to ensure adequate follow up.
Against this, many people went out of their way to acknowledge the people they saw as making a special contribution to the WIA. That included the WIA office staff, always friendly, and things happened, the contribution of Peter Wolfenden, and his historical articles, Peter Freeman as Editor. Another matter regularly the subject of favourable comment was the Media Kit.
I hope that in writing this Comment I have been able to convey to the many people who contributed to these meetings how valuable it all was, and how much I really appreciated their valuable input.
For me, to participate in all those meetings in all those places was a great privilege.
November 2010 - Permitted Power Levels
The WIA Board has considered the many representations that have been made about the permitted power levels for amateur transmitters, and has decided to again raise the issue, in the context of applications to vary the conditions of a licence. I set out, slightly edited, the substance of my letter to the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the issue.
"The issue of the permitted power levels for amateur transmitters has been raised many times with the WIA by many members, and has been the subject of previous correspondence.
This letter again addresses this issue.
The (then) ACA's Outcomes of the Review of Amateur Service Regulation, May 2004, (the Outcomes), Appendix A, specified Permitted Power as 10 W PEP all permitted modes for Foundation licensees, 100 W PEP for all permitted modes for Standard licensees and 400 W PEP all modes for Advanced licensees. By a letter of May 2005 advising that the introduction of the Outcomes would be delayed, Mr. Alan Jordan also advised:
"I also advise that the proposal to specify transmitter output power only in terms of Peak Envelope Power (pX) will now not go ahead. This change is due to concerns about the potential for increased human exposure to electromagnetic radiation and increased interference resulting from what would be an effective increase in transmitter power output for some emission modes".
The WIA responded to that letter by a letter dated 12 January 2006, seeking a reconsideration of the ACMA position. The position of the Authority in refusing the WIA’s request was set out in a letter from Mr. Jordan to the WIA dated 2 May 2006. The Authority has adopted a policy to allow higher power for earth-moon-earth experiments above 50 MHz for Advanced licensees. That policy is set out on the ACMA website.
The WIA does not suggest any change to that policy in respect of earth-moon-earth experiments. However, many amateurs have continued to express concern in respect of the ACMA policy in relation to amateur power limits outside that policy. The WIA believes that these concerns are justified, and now proposes a solution that meets the concerns of the ACMA. We believe that the reasons for change are valid.
One matter that is raised by many is the power limits permitted by other administrations, particularly the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The Table below gives a summary of power limits permitted in a number of countries. While the Table covers only 13 countries it does provide a broad indication of the positions taken by countries with significant amateur radio activity. The Table covers the general position at HF and 2 meters with number of countries having special conditions, such as for VLF and 6 meters.
Belgium 1000 watts
Canada 2250 watts PEP or 750 watts carrier
France 750 watts PEP all modes on HF 120 watts PEP all modes on 2 meters
Germany 750 watts PEP all modes
Holland 400 watts PEP all modes
Japan 1000 watts HF, 50 watts 2 meters
Oman 150 watts
New Zealand 500 watts PEP all modes
South Africa 400 watts PEP all modes
Spain HF 800 watts PEP , 200 watts carrier 2 meters, 200 watts PEP, 50 watts carrier
UK 400 watts PEP all modes
USA 1500 watts PEP all modes
Former Yugoslavian Countries 2000 watts
There are variations as to whether the power is measured "at the transmitter" or "at the antenna". The UK has adopted the "at the antenna" measurement and NZ "at the transmitter". Higher power limits are sought for a number of reasons. One is to overcome the increasing global electro-magnetic noise pollution on all HF bands from consumer and commercial devices.
A factor influencing many is that the lower power limits imposed by Australia detrimentally affect their ability to provide emergency HF communications with countries in the region suffering natural disasters and to participate in radio sports. There are an increasing number of contests throughout the year, and Australian amateurs wishing to participate must do so at a disadvantage to those competing from other countries. Recognising the previously expressed concerns of the ACMA the WIA proposes that the ACMA adopt a policy that allows Advanced licensees to apply for a variation of their licence to permit higher power from a fixed location. This would enable assessment on a case by case basis, and allow better management of interference issues.
The WIA suggests that the following should form the basis of such a policy:
As in the case of applications for higher power for EME experiments, the applicant must satisfy the ACMA that the proposed signal levels from the station comply with the radiofrequency emission limits stipulated in the ARPANSA standard Radiation Protection Standard for Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields - 3 kHz to 300 GHz.
Higher power should be available on all HF bands where the amateur service is primary (and the band 7100 to 7200 kHz).
Power limits up to 1,000 watts PEP or 500 watts mean should be allowed.
This policy should be applicable only to Advanced licensees.
May we ask that the ACMA clarify one matter?
It is noted that within the "Key Documents" for the Amateur Service, there is a lack of clarity in respect to how transmitter power should be measured and what the test parameters should be? As a starting point the WIA suggests that the methods contained in Sections 5.43, 5.44, 5.45, and 5.46 of the former Amateur Operator’s Handbook (Revised December 1978) may be a starting point. We ask that the ACMA specify the preferred methodology for measuring transmitter RF power for the following emissions, namely SSB, AM, pulse and digital emission modes (FSK, PSK, MFSK and MPSK) which could be classified under either peak power or mean power methods.
With those changes the WIA submits that the ACMA would be adopting a policy that provides a realistic response to the many requests for a review of the earlier decision, but addresses the concerns of interference and electromagnetic radiation exposure."
I hope you agree with what is expressed in the letter.
Page Last Updated: Monday 21 December 2015 at 11:20 hours