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

Sky (Jim Schuyler) sky at cyberspark.net
Wed Mar 6 14:41:14 PST 2013


Thanks, Bernard for the info on APRS. I am out of date as I don't use it.

You are especially right that here in the US it's easy to get a Technician license, which is the entry-level amateur license issued by the FCC. It takes maybe 3 hours of study and a 30-minute test. I'd guess you have something similar in Ireland and most of Europe.

Dr. Dey, could we know the country in which you're considering using this approach? That would help us understand the licensing structure there. And also the distances you are talking about. Are the tribal areas 20 miles from reliable cellular service or are they 200 miles out?

If you prefer to handle it off-list, it looks like there are a few people who would be interested.

I am checking this HamSphere that is mentioned, and I don't see that it's actually using radio anywhere. It appears to "simulate" an amateur radio station but use the Internet for communication. Not enough time to download and test this today.

So in terms of offering even a partial solution, perhaps figuring out whether amateur radio could be provided in some inexpensive way to these out-of-the-way areas would be of interest. Could locals become licensed? Could radio equipment be available at an affordable price? Could "itinerant" operators do the job on motorcycles? Etc. If so, then more complex messages could certainly be transmitted and there would be a wider window to the world from the remote locations. The original question asked about "voice" so the fact that I (or others) diverted this to digital modes may be, in fact, just a diversion.

The Byzantium Project folks (wi-fi mesh) have some amateur operators among their numbers and might also have opinions on how easy it is to get folks licensed, and also on "edge" connections of mesh and other networks to amateurs (which is severely limited by law). My take is that even though hams tend to think it's easy to get a license, there are significant (maybe psychological) barriers to entry. Maybe it's just that mobile phones provide so many of the same benefits without the licensure hassle?

Some of the people on this list know how wi-fi can be provisioned over fairly long distances using high-gain antennas and mesh software. It seems to me that this might be an interesting way to go about getting real Internet connectivity. I've been on the list a couple of years and heard only sporadic conversation about using long-distance wi-fi as a liberating technology. An example of a regional network that I've known since 2005 is airjaldi.com in northern India, but I know there are others in Africa, South/East Asia and South America. They aren't necessarily formed to liberate people from governmental oppression, but they are providing much-needed connections for their remote communities.

(Switching back to my proper email address for this reply)

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
CyberSpark.net
-Keeping the flame of free speech 
      and human rights alive online

On Mar 6, 2013, at 1:51 PM, Bernard Tyers - ei8fdb <ei8fdb at ei8fdb.org> wrote:

> -----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
> Hash: SHA1
> 
> Howdy AA6AX,
> 
> Nice to meet you.
> 
> On 6 Mar 2013, at 21:09, Sky (Jim Schuyler) wrote:
> 
>> Your APRS idea is interesting and I only know it from the "positioning" side, not from passing any text, so you may want to continue looking into it. I do not know that APRS is currently passing any traffic other than positions, at least as used in the US. I also do not know whether it's used outside the US. Please do remember that APRS and most other amateur digital service are not designed to be "reliable" which means they may not "try again" to pass a message and the message may become garbled in transmission. Some do attempt to error-correct, but not most.
> 
> Not strictly true. APRS clients can be configured to send messages and retry for X attempts. Then it will give up.
> 
> Seeing as SMS transmission isn't even guaranteed, I think its a pretty good attempt for a system that has been developed totally for free! :)
> 
> 
>> Even most amateur radio digital protocols do not have very robust error-correction, so they're a bit iffy.
> 
> That is true.
> 
>> Easiest to expand: maybe and maybe not. You have to have a stable of radio operators available both locally and remotely. (Presuming you want information to go from somewhere to somewhere.)
> 
> If as Dr. Dey requested both sides of the communications were between health workers and their HQ, you could train up all the health workers and possibly even employ a "net controller" (amateur radio lingo for person who sits in HQ and is in contact with all the field posts) to co-ordinate communications.
> 
> 
>> Without licensing: Although I encourage folks to become amateur radio operators, they do need to be licensed. The government that giveth it can taketh it away at the stroke of a pen. I will skip saying more right now.
> 
> I agree. I'd go a bit further even and say a restricted licence now-adays is trivial to receive.
> 
> 
>> Also I note in your original statement that you are talking about "tribal areas" with poor connectivity. Your challenge is going to be getting your signal from the tribal area to a reliable amateur radio operator. That's unless the radio operator is already in the tribal area. If the cell phone can's connect, then amateur VHF and UHF probably wouldn't work either, so you'd have to rely upon HF with longer range but much greater variability in terms of signal propagation.
> 
> How much can you build a self-sustaining 2M VHF repeater for now-a-days? :)
> 
> 
>> Keep in mind that amateur radio is a point-to-point service subject to the vagaries of radio propagation. In other words, there is no reliable path 24/7 from one point to another unless you're using prearranged VHF or UHF frequencies and line of sight propagation. Commonly for emergency ops we arrange all of this in advance and have emergency power and operators trained, and frequencies and modes chosen. For HF propagation there is no guarantee your message will get through because "the bands may be dead."
> 
> Which is kinda similar when it comes to mobile networks. If it was possible to get a telco to carry out some "corporate social responsability" work and install even just 2G voice that would be something.
> 
> I would argue, you can get a lot more communications bang for buck with some trained amateur radio engineers, and some amateur radio equipment, than spotty 3G coverage.
> 
> Mobile operators work on the premise: when we will make enough money from people, we will install equipment. I'd honestly hope they have a different business model outside of Europe, but I don't think so.
> 
> 73's
> 
> /Bernard
> 
> 
> 
>> 
>> On Mar 6, 2013, at 12:08 PM, Ali-Reza Anghaie <ali at packetknife.com> 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
>>> Blog: http://blog.red7.com/
>>> Phone: +1.415.759.7337
>>> PGP Keys: http://web.red7.com/pgp
>>> 
>>> 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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