Is this Ham Radio history?

Posted: April 4, 2016 in Uncategorized


Ham Radio is a hobby steeped in history and tradition. Many men have made significant contributions to the hobby over the years. Names such as Marconi, Faraday, Maxwell and De Soto come to mind. Marconi spanned the Atlantic Ocean with wireless in 1901. In 1906 Lee De Forest created the first triode.

In 1914, Hiram Percy Maxim founded the ARRL. Many other significant Ham Radio historical events have occurred since then

In recent times, Owen Garriot-W5LFL brought a two meter rig into space and made contacts. Soon, the SAREX program was born.

There is a long history of Amateur Radio operators creating and supporting cutting edge technology and solutions.

So it is for this reason that I wince when I keep seeing the VK0EK Dxpedition announce that they are “making history” with their weekly podcasts from Heard Island.

To conduct their podcasts with, they are using an expensive and commercial BGAN terminal to access the Inmarsat Satellite network. In fact, Inmarsat the company has sponsored their BGAN terminals, Isat phones and their satellite usage time which typically costs $7.00 per MB. This makes it cost prohibitive for all but the most well-heeled of commercial enterprises.

Inmarsat is a commercial satellite network with Billions of dollars invested in satellites. Once a link is established, the VK0EK team is using a software application called “Skype” to handle their voice and image transmissions. Skype is a Voice over IP application created in 2003 by a small group of Estonians. It has been bought and sold a number of times and is now owned and run by Microsoft.

So VK0EK is using a global commercial satellite network owned by Inmarsat, their sponsor and Skype which is owned by Microsoft, currently one of the most highly valued commercial companies in the world. There is no amateur radio gear involved in these podcasts.

Is this group really making Ham Radio history as Marconi, Faraday, Maxwell, De Soto, Maxim and Owen Garriot have done?  Or are they making a simple VOIP call using commercial software on a commercial satellite network?

I have to hold my nose when they write that they are making history.

Can you hear me now?

  1. Gary says:

    De Forest?? Maj Edwin Armstrong is my radio hero. Look at: No comment on the core blogpost.. 73/DX Gary K7ZD

  2. aj8b says:


    I am curious about your thoughts on this….I know that KK6EK has gone on several DXPeditions and that he basically sets up a server, uplinks etc to provide the community with real time feedback on whether or not you are in the log etc. I have read his book and the challenges that this presents.

    However, I have to wonder about committing at least one person, if not more, to just maintaining the server etc.instead of operating. (Not too mention the expense that a body and the associated space needed consumes) In your opinion, is the feeling that operators get with the feedback worth the cost of a body etc. I did appreciate the feedback minutes after working them, but….

    • n6pse says:

      Hi William-AJ8B, thank you for your interest in my Blog. I have wondered the same about DXA and about having such an ambitious science mission. I wonder did Amateur Radio subsidize a science mission? I think that DXA is a very impressive software application, brillient, but I am not a fan of real time log/contact display in this manner. It requires a robust and intensive network, something very difficult to maintain on any island.

  3. ky6r says:

    Just to be very clear and correct, the Science portion of the project accounts for 40% of the funding. I will explain how at Visalia – look forward to seeing you there. DXA needs very little attention on the island – and the person attending to it is in a full radio operating rotation schedule. But I will agree – it takes networked N1MM+ which not every DXpedition cares to manage. Some still do “sneaker net” – which has its own potential issues (log merge problems, etc). I’va also blogged about DXA, and also feel its great but does require support – actually more in the “back office” than on the island, actually.

    • n6pse says:

      Rich, thank you for your informative reply. I guess what people are wondering is what impact does the science mission have on the radio mission. Guys notice that DXA only has one or two bands lit and they wonder if people are out counting birds or collecting rocks instead of making contacts. It is quite easy to make comparisons with FT4JA who does not have a science mission, so people including myself are wondering. Best wishes! Paul N6PSE

  4. ky6r says:

    Glad you asked, and this is a criticism I have with DXA. DXA does NOT show operators who are CQ-ing but have not yet logged a contact on a band. Because of the polar conditions – they have been on more stations than anyone knows, and yes – DXA lets you draw the wrong conclusion. And then conjecture starts regarding what the ops are doing. You know – this is a very good thing to note on VK0EK.ORG, and I will as soon as I finish this section of C# code that I am now knee deep in at work – hi hi.

  5. aj8b says:

    Hey….don’t want to be misunderstood…I happen to have DXA up when I worked them and was thrilled to see the “Congratulations AJ8B” message. Very cool from my end. However, I have lengthy conversations with W8GEX, K4ZLE etc. regarding the number of folks going, the cost, the space etc. and I just wonder if the ROI is there.

  6. ky6r says:

    I recently wrote a blog about DXA – and discussed some of the same and quite candidly. Because our satellite is sponsored 100% – including unlimited airtime, there isn’t an ROI issue there. Actually – the bigger issue is making sure you have enough “back office” support. And since I work full time – you can imagine how having 2 jobs (or more) feels. I agree with this blog though – I seriously doubt that many (any?) other DXpeditions will use DXA, and for many reasons. One thing I can say is that the Back Office Team on VK0EK are in the list of the best of the best.

  7. Robert H. Pusch WD8NVN says:

    In my view, the VK0EK expedition use of DXA system, and numerous satellite Skype broadcasts raised-the-bar way much too high, for future major dxpedition teams to satisfy the new expectations of the global DXing community…. I want to see DXA on every expedition now…. I want to see periodic live interviews from team members… History in the say the least for ham radio.

  8. Mike KJ4Z says:

    Hi Paul, whatever you may think of the podcasts (or whatever they should be called), we did pull off a technical undertaking last night that I think you’ll admit merits at least a footnote in the history of ham radio DXpeditioning. Full details at Visalia — see you there!

    As far as the expectations of the global DXing community go, my involvement on VK0EK has been a real eye-opener. I actually got a very nasty email from one guy because it took 45 minutes after his QSO for the confirmation to appear on LoTW! I still believe we should aspire to constant improvement in our operating techniques and in our back office game. But it is clear that it will never be enough for some hams.

  9. n6pse says:

    Hi Mike, I don’t have any issue with the podcasts other than I don’t believe that using a bunch of fancy commercial satellite gear rises to what would be called a “Historical Event”

    There are many aspects of VK0EK that are significant. Just bringing a team to a place that remote is no small undertaking and everyone involved can be proud of that accomplishment alone.

    Yes, as you are seeing, there is always a certain percent of the ham population that will complain about anything/everything. Some complaints are valid and some are not. It comes with the territory. But when a team proclaims they are making history or their tents “raise the bar” for future DXpeditions, well it seems like hubris to me.

    Best wishes and see you in Visalia.

  10. We used GPS in 2002 to find Baker island! Amelia Erhart didn’t have it 😦 Even Vatican is on internet. Enjoy the technology for the freedom of speech!

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