Communication Controlled Technology becoming Uncontrolled Chaos

Have you ever done communications where some aspect of either your equipment, the control/remote connectivity or the actual mode of connectivity depends on anything outside your shack and the other person’s shack?

Did you ever try EchoLink, Fusion, D-Star or any similar modes?

Did you ever VPN, RemoteHam or SmartLink to a remote station?

Does any of your gear or methods require precision time references from outside your shack?

Jeff KE9V speaks of a theory he calls “Faux Radio Complication.”

Jeff KE9V theory distilled breaks down into a couple parts:

  • If your communication involves a net dependency it isn’t real radio.
  • If it needs to use someone else’s gear to communicate it isn’t real radio.

Jeff KE9V suggests “any form of radio communication that doesn’t rely on RF from point of origin directly to point of reception, without intermediary hardware, will disappoint…

I’d like to take Jeff KE9V’s assertion of fact a step further :

Any form of radio communication that doesn’t rely on RF from point of origin directly to point of reception, without intermediary hardware, without Internet dependency or use, and where the two QSO operators are not in absolute control of all hardware involved will not only disappoint but is subject to technical and/or political denial of service.

If you don’t own the entire process, each non-owned component is a “loan” that might go away.

If you need the net to remote, that ability depends on both the net being up and any intermediary services being up – as well as your connectivity at both ends of the remote.

If your operating mode depends on a remote server for authentication or administration, if that server goes down you are likely not communicating using that operating mode for the duration.

If your operating mode depends on time-sync (the “All together, now!” sorts of modes like FT8 & JS8Call) the gradual loss of time-sync may adversely affect your ability to make contacts.

If you are doing an Emcom communication depending on a a central authority server to participate, without that server (or if commands were given to it, perhaps directly targeted to “shut down” your station) your communicating is dead in the water.  Additionally your communications are logged and date/time stamped with identifiers in some schemes, which in difficult political situations maybe an added issue.

If your radio uses a GPS to “lock” its oscillator frequency, your radio may experience a enough frequency variation to make certain modes difficult.

In the non-amateur radio world affecting your shack and your life, the same sorts of issues could play havoc with your Smartphone, any Navigation systems, to the appliances & electronics servicing your world.  Some of these may be pretty big issues – like air navigation for your small plane, as most maps and charts are now electronic, downloaded on demand, and use GPS to orientate.  Ditto for water navigation and electronics.

These navigation dependencies are so critical that this July (2019) the FAA added a pilot’s requirement to check a specific website preflight to ensure that the needed Satellites are in operation and will cover your proposed flight plan including alternates.  It looks like this may be response to the prolonged European Galileo satellite system outage.

While at first blush this seems sensible, it has a consequence of creating a single-point choke-point, where if you can’t see this website certain types of flight are then legally prohibited.  So a network/server outage unrelated to the actual satellite coverage now become a “go/no-go” issue.

Additionally it presumes that you can “trust” the reference website, and as almost all of us have been tricked online at some point, experience tells us that we might not be seeing the actual website.  If a bad actor shows satellite coverage where it isn’t available what level of risk are those pilots in?

Presumably one could confirm coverage on a fake website, or even the real one, only to find the promised satellite coverage to actually unavailable during your flight.

In a future posting I’ll address some “Plan-B” ideas, as for now it worth all of us reflecting on what will be affected if system go down, or we are precluded from using them?



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