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

Now that people have Android phones, that old ham radio is dead, right? You couldn’t be more wrong! The number of amateur radio operators in the United States of America is growing quite well and Android phones have a role to play in that 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 date in Traverse City, MI. Instead of wasting time, I decided to experiment with a new phone app that I had downloaded and installed on my new Samsung Galaxy S III. The application was called Droid PSK. PSK is a digital mode in ham radio. Originally designed to work with a ham radio and a computer, it works by changing keyboard input from the computer to digital sounds that are transmitted by ham radio. Once the digital sounds are received by another radio amateur, 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 and computer setup, no cable is needed to connect the Android phone to the ham radio.

My test was done on the 15-meter band in our truck in the parking lot of my wife’s ophthalmologist’s office. To complicate matters, he had all the windows rolled down and there was a high school marching band practicing within walking distance. There were also cars and people moving through the parking lot. I assumed that noises from outside the truck would affect the accuracy of the data translation, but it seemed to have acceptable accuracy in that environment.

Feeling a bit like 007 (James Bond), I just held 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 me to demonstrate that this functionality actually worked.

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

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

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