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[liberationtech] Can HAM radio be used for communication between health workers in rural areas with no cell connectivity?

Bernard Tyers - ei8fdb ei8fdb at ei8fdb.org
Wed Mar 6 13:36:41 PST 2013


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Dear Dr. Dey:

Disclosure: I am a licensed amateur radio operator. I am slightly biased. :)

I have one answer: Amateur radio. Forget mobile phone networks.  Amateur radio is cheap, very durable and will provide you with the functions you need, and if you can get access to amateur radio operators in your country, you may have free support for the life of your project!

If you can tell us the country you wish to set this project up we can possibly help with finding out more about the amateur radio community in the country.

To answer your questions:

>>> I am proposing to set up a ICT based health project in tribal areas with poor infrastructural facilities with poor cell phone connectivity due to unstable signal strengths. i have learnt that HAM radio software from HamSphere is downloadable on android phones.

Yes it is downloadable, but as far as I understand (it was the case when I wanted to install and use the software), it requires the person wishing to operate it to send the administrators of the system a copy of their amateur radio licence. 

NB: This could have changed.

>>> I would like to know whether these android phones with HAM radio software installed can be used for communication used for voice communication between health workers themselves and with head quarter staff.

Yes, it would be possible but it would require a) the telecommunications infrastructure for an "IP connection" (either mobile phone network, or WiFi).

>>> Will it be legally permissible and what technical requirements will be needed to set up such system.

I understand it is still a "requirement" to produce a valid amateur radio license to get access to the Hamsphere (and similar systems). 

The technical requirements are an Internet connection capable of carrying your amateur radio software messages. Without either a) a mobile phone network, or b) a WiFi (or similar system), c) satellite Internet service this is not possible.

>>> The other alternative of setting up of mobile signal boosters or long distance WiFi hubs are currently not affordable to our limited resource organisation


And honestly, would not be a good use of your funds.

- -----------

The APRS discussion:

APRS is still clear text - the only "protection" is that it is a digital mode (it is transported over AX.25, a transmission protocol). Anyone with an APRS modem and amateur radio *could* decode and read the APRS messages.

End result again is no privacy. Maybe privacy through obscurity.

APRS is used (in UK and Ireland) regularly for passing short messages, and information objects (weather conditions/temperature in geographical areas, traffic information, movement of rescue teams). I can give you more information if you think it's of interest.

There is a system called Winlink (in the States I think its called Sailmail?) which can be used to send and receive e-mail, which I think is more what you are thinking about.

Winlink operates with a similar objective as e-mail - it sends electronic messages to and from stations equipped with Winlink systems. It can be used over HF (frequencies with long distance capabilities). But the requirement for equipment is greater than 2-way voice communications.


However, in this case, I would ask: is there really a need for privacy? Or at least is there a need to identify the patient by name, etc?

Idea:
=====

By European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications (CEPT) regulations and the mirroring bodies in other parts of the world, a non-licensed individual is allowed to operate a licensed amateur radio station in the presence of a license holder. The patient could speak direct to the medical staff to explain their conditions, etc.


Scenario:
========
(I don't know if this scenario is feasible or reflects real-life circumstances. If not, please give some more details for discussion)


* A patient goes to the health worker, based with the village/nearest health station, with a health complaint.

* The health worker needs assistance in helping diagnosis/treatment from his/her headquarters. The health worker has been trained and received an amateur radio licence.

* They then call the headquarters for more details on the particular patients condition.

* The health worker does not name the individual, but gives his/her medical background. As the health worker is present, the patient can talk directly to the headquarters and give their information first hand. 

* If necessary the patient can be given a pseudonym for use over the radio system. The patient's real name could be sent via normal means to the headquarters if necessary. 

* The headquarters responds with information for the persons case.

* The information exchanged is not personally identifiable (I guess you could argue their voice could be used to identify them...).


They are just some ideas as I thought. I would argue the licencing requirements could be adjusted with the assistance of the government departments (usually the "Post and Telegraphs")

I hope that helps Dr. Dey. I wish you all the best with your project, and I'd be more than happy in helping however I could.

best regards,

Bernard / ei8fdb


On 6 Mar 2013, at 20:08, Ali-Reza Anghaie wrote:

> I'm assuming privacy issues are of minimal concern given the other problems at play here - I could be wrong but bear with me.
> 
> Trying to think of lowest-cost, reliable, easiest to expand and re-deploy without a telco or other licensing.
> 
> I wonder is a low-bandwidth text HF APRS (http://www.aprs.org/aprs-messaging.html) option with a laminated deck of shorthand medical terms would be a reasonable remote field option? About as rudimentary as you get but considering a worst case scenario - it might just work. -Ali
> 
> 
> 
> On Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 9:15 PM, Sky (Jim Schuyler) <sky at red7.com> wrote:
> Since "HAM" (amateur radio) is real radio, not phone, an Android app wouldn't use it directly. The app might -control- an amateur radio remotely, and there is software available to do this. However, I'm not sure what benefit it would bring to this project.
> 
> In the US, amateur radio operators must send all information in "clear text," and encryption is illegal, thus you would not want to try to exchange medical info because you'd need to encrypt it. In other countries it -should- be illegal to transmit medical info in the clear, so I'd suggest avoiding this.
> 
> Also, "high frequency" amateur radio doesn't have sufficient bandwidth to transfer much digital information. VHF/UHF does in theory, but in general amateur radio operators restrict their bandwidth and the maximum usable transfer rate is under 9600 baud. i.e. very slow.
> 
> -Sky  AA6AX 
> 
> - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
> Sky (Jim Schuyler, PhD)
> -We work backstage so you can be the star
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> 
> On Mar 5, 2013, at 5:47 PM, ITechGeek <itg at itechgeek.com> wrote:
> 
>> Depends on what information you might be transmitting and the specific
>> laws of the local country/countries involved.
>> 
>> HAMs have to be licensed through the local countries licensing
>> authority (in the case of the US would be the FCC).
>> 
>> Under US you could probably get away with allowing them to coordinate
>> if it is non-profit in nature, but you would not be able to discuss
>> any medical information that would allow a third party to possibly
>> identify the patient.
>> 
>> And some countries are very restrictive on who can get HAM licenses
>> due to the potential to get around their propaganda controls.  Also
>> rules can change based on frequencies being used cause lower
>> frequencies can transmit further.
>> 
>> Can you provide the country or countries involved?
>> 
>> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> -ITG (ITechGeek)
>> ITG at ITechGeek.Com
>> https://itg.nu/
>> GPG Keys: https://itg.nu/contact/gpg-key
>> Preferred GPG Key: Fingerprint: AB46B7E363DA7E04ABFA57852AA9910A DCB1191A
>> Google Voice: +1-703-493-0128 / Twitter: ITechGeek / Facebook:
>> http://fb.me/Jbwa.Net
>> 
>> 
>> On Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 8:07 PM, Yosem Companys <companys at stanford.edu> wrote:
>>> From: Dr. Tusharkanti Dey <dr.tusharkantidey at gmail.com>
>>> 
>>> Dear All,
>>> 
>>> I am proposing to set up a ICT based health project in tribal areas with poor infrastructural facilities with poor cell phone connectivity due to unstable signal strengths. i have learnt that HAM radio software from HamSphere is downloadable on android phones.I would like to know whether these android phones with HAM radio software installed can be used for communication used for voice communication between health workers themselves and with head quarter staff. Will it be legally permissible and what technical requirements will be needed to set up such system. The other alternative of setting up of mobile signal boosters or long distance WiFi hubs are currently not affordable to our limited resource organisation
>>> 
>>> Thanks,
>>> Dr.Tusharkanti Dey
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- --------------------------------------
Bernard / bluboxthief / ei8fdb

IO91XM / www.ei8fdb.org

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