Hamsphere-Big on Hype, low on “Magic”

Posted: July 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

I am a big proponent of introducing young people to Amateur Radio. There is something about the “magic” of sending your signal through the atmosphere and hearing a reply that is dependent on atmospheric conditions, the quality of your station and your ability to decipher the contact.

That is why I read today’s press release about ERTC 2014 Final Results with great interest.

Over the weekend, a group of very senior and respected Amateur Radio leaders held the European Radiosport Team Championship which they billed as the Youth version of WRTC 2014. There were 15 three person youth teams seated in one room in front of their computers and connected to an Amateur Radio Simulator over the internet. Yes that is right, the Internet (you know that thing that Al Gore invented)

The name of this Amateur Radio simulator is Hamsphere 3.0 and it is normally a pay to use service very much like CQ 100 or Skype for that matter. So it seems that even though this is being billed at an Amateur Radio event, there were no amateur radios involved.

The Press Release also adds that “Hamsphere is an Amateur Radio (AR) simulation software package giving a hands on opportunity to youngsters who wish to experience AR in its natural setting while still busy with their studies and not able to take a ham exam or to invest in actual Amateur Radio equipment. Hamsphere coexists with real Amateur Radio with true propagation science, QSL collection and a variety of contest formats and related equipment. It offers an experience which will encourage young people to study for a ham license and thus enter our wonderful world of Amateur Radio. The latest breakthrough in the simulation software features real-time propagation and system integrated logging, instant QSLing and awards.

You can read more about the Hamsphere pay as you go service at www.hamsphere.com   Pricing starts at 30 Euro per year ($40 USD)

A number of questions come to mind, is this the future of Amateur Radio?   Is this the best way to introduce young people to Amateur Radio?  Why not use real radios like WRTC does?

What is the motivation to use the Hamsphere platform instead of using real radios and antennas to conduct the European Radiosport Team Championship?   Is this a novel approach or a bad idea?

 

What do you think?

 

 

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Comments
  1. Mike KJ4Z says:

    I think the advent of remote operation via the Internet is a real boon to ham radio. I recently got back into the hobby after many years off the air, and was frustrated to discover that my new QTH in California is both tiny and riddled with loud, pervasive QRM. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to set up a station at my father’s in Tennessee, and I jumped at the chance. Building the station was fun and operating it has been even better. I have a full-size antenna in a quiet location and I can hear again! And it’s just a mile from where I worked my previous 250 entities back in the day. It’s not a perfect solution — there were major thunderstorms last night and the power has been out for 18 hours, so I am off the air. But that’s part of the game.

    That being said, it’s hard for me to imagine the joy of operating a simulator over the internet. The whole point of ham radio is that it really is magical and somewhat unpredictable. And for me at least, some of the best parts of the hobby include the puttering around the shack or the electronics store, working on a project, or trying to get a new antenna to work. I think we do the newcomers a bit of a disservice if we abstract all that away from them. Maybe this idea makes sense if you just want to talk to people and make friends, but you can do that way easier using the usual internet channels. At this point, for me, ham radio is about the medium, not the message, and if there’s no radio then there’s no medium of interest.

  2. Robert WD8NVN says:

    Hamsphere allows non-licensed persons to participate in an artificial, simulated radio operating environment; I think Hamsphere as an appropriate medium to introduce and spur interest in the “real-world-Amateur Radio.” ….Hamsphere also contains some Lid Operators…..
    I think Hamsphere poses no threat to Amateur Radio. But, when is comes to artificial ham radio, I’ll find something else to do…

    • n6pse says:

      Robert, I’m glad to hear that Hamshere is no threat to real ham radio. I’m most baffled why it would be used instead of real radios to introduce youth to our hobby.

  3. Rob says:

    THis was a morketing ploy by Hamsphere to drum up business. It’s just a chat room with sound effects. There have been chat rooms for years, so this is nothing new. There is no RF involved. There is no science involved. There is no DIY aspect. There is nothing related to amateur radio and I’m insulted by their insinuation that they are in some way related to amateur radio.

    Whenever possible we should all avoid using the name Hamsphere and amateur radio in the same breath.

  4. Wayne, N0UN says:

    No RF, no Ham Radio. Period.

    Did they build an antenna? Study propagation? Hear “real” atmospheric noise?

    No.

    I don’t know what it is, but it’s surely not Ham Radio. Ham Radio is not a “simulation”. What a shame.

  5. VU2CDP says:

    Hi Paul,
    I would liken it to a flight simulator. It is nice to get a feel of what flying is like. Some love it and will go on to earn their licences. Some will get overwhelmed and find something else to do. I think we must view this positively. So long as the distinction is made that Hamsphere is only a simulator and is used for the purposes of showcasing the hobby, it should be ok. It can never replace a real radio environment.

    73,
    Deepak VU2CDP

    PS: Some time ago, few of the senior Finnish hams used Hamsphere from OJ0 to hand out QSOs to those who don’t have a station and only do internet-based “ham radio”. Now that is a different subject(debate) altogether.

    • Ward Silver says:

      I agree – I did not see your comment about flight simulators before making my comment. Hamsphere is a tool we can use to help people get to the real magic of radio. 73, Ward NØAX

  6. Ward Silver says:

    We should evaluate Hamsphere for what it is – a simulation that is more or less similar to ham radio. No one is claiming it to be or replace ham radio. Simulators are very useful as a way of demonstrating some of the concepts of ham radio to people unfamiliar with what radio is – i.e. most of the population. Sure, it would be great to have access to a full-size station to introduce people to ham radio but Hamsphere can be accessed anywhere, anytime and in a medium that is familiar to the target audience. That’s a recipe for success, in my opinion. Hamsphere opens a door – it does not claim to be the entire experience.

    Simulators are widely used by pilots, doctors, military personnel, technicians etc to get some experience with controls and operational details. They do not confuse simulation with reality and I don’t think any of the Hamsphere users do either. Simulators provide excellent training opportunities that we can use during licensing classes and when showing new licensees how the various terms and techniques affect on-the-air operating. And public service training can also be conducted in a controlled environment before live drills.

    The operators who participated in the Hamsphere contest got some experience with using phonetics, copying through noise and interference, confirming call signs, finding a frequency, logging, etc etc etc. They will be ready to go when they get the opportunity to participate in ham radio “for real” and that is our job – to help them take the next step, not look down our noses at them because they did not come to ham radio and experience it exactly as we did.

    • n6pse says:

      Ward, thank you for your well thought out perspective. I can’t help being concerned that our youth will see Hamsphere as an alternative to ham radio. It’s certainly cheaper and easier to use Hamsphere than to study and get a license. With almost 8000 paid subscribers it must be an alternative for some of them. I applaud any group exposing youth to Amateur Radio. I think it would have been just as easy to have the youth use remote access to real stations such as what is available through services such as Remotehams.com and Remotehamradio.com. At least with these tools, there is real radio in the mix. In other words, there can still be “magic”.

      • Ward Silver says:

        Right now “our youth” don’t even know ham radio exists for the most part so any door we can open should be opened. Sure, not all of them will come through the door but given that most of them wouldn’t even give ham radio a try in any form without some kind of introduction, this is a net positive. Furthermore, it does not require a licensed control operator to be on hand to participate, like using a remote-control station does. My take on it is that many of the Hamsphere users will at least take an interest in learning about “real” ham radio after interacting with the licensed users of the simulator who can act as ambassadors of amateur radio. I think of Hamsphere as similar to short-wave listening “back in the day” that was an introduction to ham radio for many hams. In modern terms, simulators “are the demo” 🙂 We need to open as many doors as possible, including simulations.

      • Wayne, N0UN says:

        I don’t believe it’s cheaper and easier to get on Hamsphere than obtain a license and get on the air.

        Really.

        A G5RV and a swapmeet rig are cheaper than a decent computer with monitor, and taking a test to get a real Ham Radio license nowadays is easier than learning how to operate a Skype connection. Even 5 year old kindergarten kids aren’t given the answers!

        And comparing a pilots license to operate aircraft to a Ham Radio license to operate a radio is ahhhhhh, I can’t seem to find a “proper” word for what that comparison should/would be called.

        “The facts is the facts”.

      • Ward Silver says:

        It is not about cost – it is about unfamiliarity. Nor am I equating a pilot’s and amateur licenses. The point is how do we get people under thirty to *want* a ham license at all? Simulation as a demo coupled with some followup personal support is a fine way to get involved with ham radio. Personal mentoring can then take over in whatever direction is of interest.

  7. Wayne, N0UN says:

    “Download, install and start calling CQ in minutes – Reach thousands of Ham Operators and radio enthusiasts from over 200 countries. HamSphere works in Windows, Mac or Linux as well as iPhone and Android.”

    7,949 subscribers times $40 = $317,960 RECURRING revenue a year (and growing). Somebody figured out how to make REAL money playing a VIRTUAL computer game. Congratulations to Hamsphere (and the REAL Hams they sponsor).

    • Ward Silver says:

      I really don’t care if it costs $40…big deal. Providing online services costs money and so does programming. Yes, it’s virtual…I think it’s understood to not be the actual radio experience. Lots of pilots enjoy Flight Simulator, too, when they can’t be flying and a whole lot of pilots in training use it to practice before they get their licenses, as well.

      • n6pse says:

        Ward, I hope you are right. You have certainly been an Ambassador for our hobby with our Youth. I don’t think of myself as old fashioned but perhaps I am. I like this kind of approach to introduce our hobby much better: http://forums.qrz.com/showthread.php?444415-4-000-Scouts-to-experience-Ham-Radio-at-Scout-AirFest-in-Illinois

        Best regards,

        Paul N6PSE

      • Ward Silver says:

        It’s not so much that we are “old-fashioned” as just that we have taken a different path to and through ham radio. Certainly, the best possible door to ham radio is a one-on-one mentoring relationship with an experienced, licensed ham – no one is trying to diminish that. Those, unfortunately, are far less common than they were when we got into ham radio and people under thirty have a much different view of communication technology. We have to recognize that and work with it, not try to impose our history on the potential recruits. There are many paths to ham radio – simulation is one such path. It’s what we do to help new licensees after they come through that door that is really important.

  8. WW2DX says:

    Personally I applaud hamsphere for their efforts and more importantly their entrepreneurial spirit. I think it’s very important that ANY avenue that exists which potentially could result in a licensed amateur is a positive one. Anyone who has run a business before understands it takes guts, thick skin, a little slice of insanity and most of all RISK to push the envelope and venture where no one else has. There was a clear market and someone took a chance, good for them. I wish them only success. With that said, there has been a recent new development brought to my attention with the hamsphere eco-system. There seems to have been a recent DXpedition or two that had funding from hamsphere users (both hams and non-hams) for DXpeditions to spend a little time giving out “contacts” from these rare DXCC on the HS network. I find this fascinating! Again, we are seeing a number of new “disturbances in the force” starting to emerge. These very expensive DXpeditions are seeing a “new” stream of finical support. Is this bad? We need to shake things up a bit and embrace the momentum and use it to our advantage. I recently heard the JARL lost approximately 250,000 members, I don’t know how accurate or over what time frame but this is a bit frightening. I don’t know how many readers here remember 15 meters 25 years ago but you could not find a clear frequency between 21.300-450 because of all the JA’s! Not anymore. At the Hartford Centennial couple weekends ago the big push was “every ham needs to elmer one new person to get a license”. There is a reason for this. Are we going to bicker back and forth about new technologies or are we going to rise above it and move forward?

    • n6pse says:

      Lee, thank you for your views on Hamsphere. Indeed this is novel and advanced technology and certainly something very clever. Obviously a set of advanced knowledge and skills was required to create Hamsphere. My concern with Hamsphere is that it may provide a alternative for the many unlicensed (non Ham) users subscribing to Hamsphere. I don’t begrudge anyone making an honest and legal living, particularly from Hams as we know how challenging of a customer they can be. If Hamsphere proves to funnel new Hams into our Hobby, that would be great-an ideal situation. But just like CB Radio, some potential hams will be content to stay and use Hamsphere instead of Ham Radio. I hope that not too much of that is happening. As for DXpeditions using Hamsphere, I had not heard of that. I guess fly in-hotel based DXpeditions could do that but the far flung remote island DXpeditions probably could not.

      I really like and admire what you guys are doing with Remotehamradio.com and I see it as completely different than Hamsphere. I would much rather see their nearly 8000 paid subscribers all get their ham licenses and use Remotehamradio.com to get on the bands.

      Thanks for sharing your views!

  9. Ray W2RE says:

    Hamsphere has a lot of traction. It was issued permission to use W100AW.

    BREAKING NEWS FROM THE ARRL CENTENNIAL, HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT

    Today Thursday, ARRL CEO Dave Sumner, K1ZZ permitted the ARRL special callsign W100AW to be used in HS until next Sunday in a further activity which includes the ERTC contest.

    HS = Hamsphere

    • n6pse says:

      I think they ought to find a way to interface HS to real radios. I’m having trouble embracing HS as there is no radio involved. To me it’s more like Skype or a VOIP chat room since there are no radios. I’m surprised that the ARRL is so open minded about HS. I’m trying to open my mind about it. Thanks for sharing this update Ray.

  10. Jon says:

    Hamsphere is not real radio never will be it is just a money making venture and is now costing more money than buying a real radio with the new version 4,why should people now bother to take exams and get a license when you speak to the world using voip,I understand with the new version you have to spend a fortune buying antennas for different bands and other add ons in some cases it is cheaper to buy a used radio i have heard rumours of persons paying up to 1000 euros on virtual add ons rediculous get on a course take your license and get on the real radio keep the hobby alive

    • Jon says:

      Now they are selling vanity calls cost 100 euros per year well well all the hype about teaching people to use ham radio rubbish it is all about making money,also real propogation on voip what a laugh selling now virtual antennas more money cheaper to buy a second hand rig

  11. David Green says:

    KD8WKI Says,
    I am a licensed Ham as is my wife, but we live in an antenna restricted area so have to use a handheld to work the real Ham Radio world. I also have a laptop (as do most these days), and though HamShere is a Simulation, it is also very satisfying to listen and also communicate with. It is a wee bit different than a chat room, as the onscreen environment uses a Transciever like interface with controls very similar to the real thing. Instead of typing in a comment and reading the reply in text, microphones are used, as well as CW with appropriate CW keys or paddles. As far as the newer version, HamSphere 4.0 does not REQUIRE you to spend extra money for different equipment, although one can do so if they so desire. The simulation uses well thought out algorithms to simulate propogation, making using 4.0 a challenge, quite different from chat rooms or Skype. Personally, I never gave real thought to studying for and getting my Ham ticket until I discovered HamSphere. And, I’m 67 years old, so if it can influence an old guy like me to study and get my Ticket, it can certainly be a good introduction for youngsters! The actual 4.0 software is ready to go with no additional purchase, costing only the yearly subscription of around 30 Euros.
    Besides, at 67 years of age, with 5 broken vertabrae, my tower climbing days are far behind me, even if the tower and antenna were permitted where I live. Well, I think I’ve beat the subject to death, but I hope everyone will at least keep an open mind, and not express negative opinions without at least trying it out for free! After all, a lot of people go for their Ham Ticket now that learning Morse Code ( and I know that ticks some older Hams off too!).
    Cheers and 73s.
    KD8WKI

    • n6pse says:

      David, this is a very interesting perspective. Thank you for sharing. I’ve not tried Hamsphere but I’m starting to understand the appeal of it.

      Thanks,

      Paul N6PSE

  12. Wayne, N0UN says:

    Maybe some of these Virtual Ham Radio folks would pay for “Virtual Sex’ too?

    Get the real thing – there’s no comparison.

    EOM

  13. Jon says:

    People pretending to be hams fake qsl cards even many of the so called admins who are not licensed telling licensed hams how to operate LOL there is no such thing as virtual ham radio it is glorified skype 100 euros for a vanity call they must have more money than sense.There is no need for large antennas on real radio there are plenty of stealth antennas about these people are killing ham radio and also making a fortune in the meantime get off your butt and study for the license.Blog from some Hamsphere users we have worked 140 countries and they have been confirmed by qsl cards what a laugh dont call them hams call them Skypers hi

  14. Perhaps it’s already a dead topic, pardon me if I came too late for the dance, but I would very much like to add my 5 cents to the talk. If you guys could provide me some feedback on my thoughts, it would be very much appreciated.

    I live in Brazil, it’s by all means needless to say, a third world country, where it’s mighty expensive to acquire anything either imported or considered ‘superfluous’ by the government.

    Well, for the Ham Radio hobby, I guess we fit in both cases – expensive and superfluous – , as there’s absolutely not a single brand that manufactures Ham Radios in Brazil, be it a foreign company or even a Brazilian one. You just can’t find. So we have to import whatever we want, you won’t even be able to find a store that sells it, like Radio Shack does even for imported gadgets.

    If you take a look at the shacks people in Brazil predominantly have, it’s majorly composed by very low cost transceivers or homebrewed ones.

    Imagine you make around 30,000 Dollars a year, and for a kit ( not a ready transceiver ) like the Ellekraft kx3, you would pay around 5,000 dollars, and I’m not even talking about the shipping expenses!

    It’s very easy to mock, to tell people who have come across the hobby, intelligent ones, perfectly CW capable, to pay for paid sex and get the real deal while living in a country where things are fair and easier to acquire, and at the same time with your high power expensive ready made toys, trying to reach fellow hams who live in countries that a cheap crap 60 dollars transceiver is all they can get.

    Hamsphere IS a way of giving people a fair shake, a bit of the taste, the thrill one would actually get when he/she gets to make his first contact, specially for CW, a category that I’ve seen many people over ARRL trying to shun, avoiding the exams, for all they can do is to buy expensive gismos so they can take instagram pictures and take pride of it.

    No, it’s not the real thing, it’s far from it, even when it comes down to facing rude, boastful people with an antenna power that could boil an egg yards distant from it! You don’t really get that thrill at hamsphere, huh?!

    I chose QRP Ops, over high power transmission, because I get the kicks with building my own stuff, which is a lot of work until it’s really finely adjusted and somebody far across the continent gives me a 599er report, not believing my signal is coming from a as simple as it gets under 5watts transceiver.

    Also, I chose hamsphere, because there I can find lots of interested and excited people, who have their minds fully open to learn about the hobby thereof, which sadly, latter on, when they get their real deal licenses, they will find many rude and proud people. Fortunately we still do find good ol’ Ham Elmers that do make the hobby still worth a while. That applies in both cases, for worldwide Hams.

    It’s been said many times that Ham Radios are becoming extinct. Perhaps we are becoming extinct, perhaps not. If we do get extinct, it’s solely to blame behaviors such as these ones I’m talking about. While everybody’s concerned that it might be the end of our hobbies, nobody is really paying attention that we might be the ones to be blamed after all!

    And if it ( our hobby ) does NOT get extinct, it’s only because of initiatives like Hamsphere that is bringing some fresh air to our group, that’s serving well its job of Elmering people through the basics of the Amateur Radio operation.

    Peace!

  15. Steve Pomp says:

    Let’s not forget the widespread use of VOIP modes in general ie: Echolink, Dstar, Wires-X, Allstar….
    Some of these modes are accessible from just an internet hotspot and some with a combination of RF & Internet working in tandem.
    There are also MANY hams who live in HOA restricted QTH’s and cannot erect antennas.
    Then you have many elderly and/or disable radio enthusiasts who physically cannot climb a tower or erect an antenna. The reasons vary. It could also be that ham radio can be expensive and Hamsphere is more economical. I am an amateur radio op and find Hamsphere to be an excellent simulation of the HF bands. All the elements are there: QRN, QSB, QRM and an awesome approximation of Ionospheric conditions. The ops, both ham and non hams alike have all conducted themselves in an exemplary manner and have followed good operating procedures.
    Radio enthusiasts should embrace Hamsphere for what it is. I forget it is a simulation when I’m having a QSO. Hopefully we can attract more people to the hobby by offering a taste of what it’s like to operate on HF. If you choose to stop with Hamsphere and go no further the ENJOY!
    Thank You

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