With the major event being the topic of the last two days' posts, I didn't really mention much from the Orlando Hamcation or other things we did this past weekend. See, a couple of days ago, commenter "Dance...dance to the radio" left a question in response to my post about my antenna project, saying,
Radio is going all digital.And that kind of sat on my mind over the weekend. At the time, I said, "Pretty much everything, top to bottom", but went on to point out it depends on the operator's preferences; I mean there are still guys who get their kicks out of operating radios made in '50s or '60s, or simple home made radios. At the other extreme, there are guys with Software Defined Radios that are really a computer with some radio hardware attached. So while I wandered the show, I kept an eye out for the effects of the digital revolution in ham radio.
How is that affecting the ham world?
You couldn't walk 10 feet without seeing another example of how computers and digital have moved into ham radio, from the vendors selling little digital arduino project kits to one of the major manufacturers showing off a standalone (that is, not attached to a computer) digital band sampling transceiver.
The simplest application is the spread of what are called "digital modes". While Morse code (what hams call CW - continuous wave) could be thought of as a digital mode (it's on-off keying), that term tends to be used for modes that use the ubiquitous sound card in a PC to generate tones to send to the transmitter's audio input, and then demodulate the audio out of the station receiver. All that's needed to add these digital modes to ham station are a low end PC, an interface (these are popular) and a radio with external audio input/output. There are many modes, with new ones being developed from time to time, and range from casual keyboard communications to sending television. TV? Only low resolution, slow scan TV - more like a slideshow - is allowed in the HF/Shortwave spectrum, but the UHF and higher spectrum allows full-motion video I've actually written a fairly long post on this subject, which is permanently linked on my right side bar, so see that for a lot of details.
New modes continue to be developed, and alongside a both advocating for the digital voice communications, FreeDV (subject of another post here) was a booth from Algoram, promoting an open source coding for Software Defined Radio applications.
Digital Mobile Radio, DMR, is moving into the ham world from the commercial VHF radio world, with at least two vendors I recall selling it. Digital isn't new here; the problem is that most of the manufacturers have pushed their own standards; Icom's D-STAR, or Yaesu's WIRES being the biggest.
Probably the first step computers made in ham radio was logging, and taking care of the paperwork. That has been around quite a while, and while loggers come and sometimes go, I've been happy with Ham Radio Deluxe. HRD started as shareware, put together by a couple of guys in their spare times. It expanded from simple logging and communicating with the radios (to get most of the data needed to log a contact), and added more features until now it's a complete suite of programs, including a sound card mode support program. Around five years ago, they sold it to a commercial firm who has an actual tech support crew and continues adding features/squashing bugs. Friends tell me they prefer the DXLab suite of programs, which is all freeware.
The spread of cheap, powerful digital electronics has led to low priced, effective test equipment and other accessories. Hams are using computers to control their stations either while sitting at them or remotely, to track the amateur satellites for easier communications.
So I think my original "top to bottom", if anything, was a bit short of how much "digital" has impacted radio. If a ham's station hasn't been impacted by it, it's only by personal choice.