Do Android phones and ham radios kill each other or work together?

Now that people have Android phones, that old radio is dead, right? You couldn’t be more wrong! The number of ham radio operators in the United States of America is growing quite well and Android phones have a role in this growth. Instead of replacing the ham radio, these new little computers that also make expensive phone calls can work with the ham radio output to produce good results!

I recently had to wait for my wife who had an eye appointment in Traverse City, MI. Instead of wasting time, I decided to try out a new phone app that I downloaded and installed on my new Samsung Galaxy S III. The app was called Droid PSK. PSK is a digital mode in ham radio. Originally designed to work with a ham radio and computer, it works by converting keyboard input from the computer into digital sounds transmitted by the ham radio. Once another radio amateur receives the digital sounds, another computer is used to decode the sounds into text on a computer screen that can be saved to a computer file. With an Android phone setup, the Android phone takes the place of the computer! Unlike a normal ham radio and computer, no cable is needed to connect the Android phone to the ham radio.

My test was done on a 15 meter strip in our truck in the parking lot of my wife’s eye doctor’s office. To complicate matters, he rolled down all the windows and there was a high school marching band practicing within walking distance. There were also cars and people passing by in the parking lot. I assumed noise from outside the truck would affect the accuracy of the data translation, but it seems to have acceptable accuracy in this environment.

I felt a bit like 007 (James Bond), just holding the microphone of the Android phone close to the speaker of the ham radio. I adjusted the volume of the ham radio and adjusted the distance between the speaker of the ham radio and the microphone of the Android phone. I was able to quite easily decode the PSK signals into very readable text on the phone. I was also able to copy the translated text and email it to myself to demonstrate that this functionality actually worked.

Although this setup may seem like a very expensive toy, it has some potentially critical uses. One, for example, is during a remote deployment as a member of organizations such as Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) or Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES). It will be much easier to carry a small Android phone than to carry a full-sized laptop or other computer. I don’t think this technology is available on tablets or notebooks yet, but if not, I’m sure it will be in the near future.

I was quite impressed with how two communication technologies can work together to produce a good result for the owner. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could do the same?


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