Why Ham Radio Is Still Important
Many people see amateur (ham) radio as an outdated method of communication in this era of cell phones and the Internet. However, it is far from obsolete. Ham radio still brings many benefits both to its users and to the general public.
First, amateur radio is useful for emergency communications. Although the global Internet is extraordinarily reliable, the local infrastructure used to access it is less dependable. Natural or human-caused disasters can damage cables and networking equipment, disconnecting affected areas from the Internet. Cell phone networks can suffer similar issues, and are also affected by overloading; often, when the network survives a disaster, the extremely high volume of calls resulting from the emergency makes it nearly unusable.
When local network infrastructure fails, ham radio operators can bridge the gap and provide temporary communication services. Many “hams” have completely self-contained portable stations including antennas, radios, and power sources such as batteries, solar panels, and generators; these stations do not require any local infrastructure to be functioning. The operator can use the station to relay information from the disaster area to another location with Internet access and vice versa, allowing those in the affected area to communicate with the outside world.
Ham radio can be affected by the same overloading issues as cell phones; the operators cannot, of course, handle an infinite amount of information. However, ham radio operators can overcome this problem in ways that cell networks cannot. Cell towers cannot tell the difference between an urgent request for medical supplies and a casual chat with a friend; the two calls will be handled with the same priority, possibly resulting in the less important call being connected but not the more important one. Calls to 911 or other emergency service numbers are generally prioritized, but automatic algorithms cannot detect all high-priority calls.
Ham radio can handle these situations much better because human operators are involved, not just computers that blindly relay information. Unlike cell towers, ham radio operators will prioritize traffic based on its importance. Urgent messages needed to save lives are handled first. Other messages that are important but less time-sensitive, such as “safe and well” reports from local residents informing loved ones outside the area that they have not been harmed, are given lower priority, while irrelevant messages may not be sent at all. Because ham radio operators prioritize traffic based on its importance, they can ensure that the most critical messages are delivered.
Emergency communication is not the only area in which ham radio is useful, however. It also has many educational benefits. Passing the exam to earn a license requires a basic understanding of electronics theory, and license upgrades that allow greater privileges require more in-depth knowledge; this can encourage operators to learn things that they would not have learned without ham radio. After obtaining a license, ham radio remains an excellent way to learn more about electronics and communications; there is always more for a ham radio operator to learn.
Ham radio can also help in learning about topics that seem unrelated to radio technology. Talking to other operators around the world is an excellent opportunity to learn about geography; it is interesting to learn about another country on a more personal level than would be possible from reading about the country in a book or online. Also, many organizations run “special event stations” commemorating historic events, providing an opportunity for other ham radio operators to learn about historical topics they would not have known about otherwise.
One final use for amateur radio is its benefit to international relations. By connecting people around the world with a common interest, it encourages friendly communication across geopolitical boundaries. This can be a helpful reminder that despite international disputes, the people of other countries have much in common with us. Although individual operators are unlikely to have a strong influence on international relations, ham radio can still help over time by promoting friendly interaction between operators living in different countries.
Ham radio has many important uses and benefits, including providing emergency communications, promoting education, and improving international relations. Even with today's technology, ham radio remains a useful hobby and means of communication.
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