Bengaluru taps its HAM community to tackle Covid-19 spread

Known informally as HAM radio operators, these hobbyists use wireless radio sets and antennas - both static as well as mobile -- to interact with fellow HAM users across the world, a technique developed over a century ago.

Reuters
India’s technology hub Bengaluru is tapping into a strong community of amateur radio users to help tackle the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The city, which has seen on average 1,000 positive cases of Covid-19 infections over the past few days, goes into a one-week lockdown starting Tuesday.

Known informally as HAM radio operators, these hobbyists use wireless radio sets and antennas - both static as well as mobile -- to interact with fellow HAM users across the world, a technique developed over a century ago.


At a time when cellular and internet penetration has peaked in the city, over 350 HAM users spread across Bengaluru are acting as volunteers with the city’s home quarantine squad - a government formed team that looks at ensuring infected people are quarantined.

City authorities have been unable to trace the source of many of the recently infected.

“We are operating out of home. The network is operational round-the-clock. Our teams monitor violations and report them,” says Shankar Sathyapal, founder of Indian Institute of Hams, a grouping to promote amateur radio activity in India
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They also keep the local resident welfare committees informed of changing rules and protocols to ensure that community participation is effective in containing the pandemic.

India’s amateur radio network is growing, says 58-year-old Sathyapal, with more youngsters taking to it as a hobby in India at a time when there is concern over its dwindling interest in the West.

IEEE Spectrum last week reported that the growth in US amateur licences is at 1% and that most operators were men in their 60s and 70s.

As these baby boomers age, the fear is that there will be too few people to sustain the hobby.
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“There is interest in India to take up HAM. During the lockdown, we did three classes of around 70 people who came online to learn,” says Sathyapal. “70% of them are youth who want to learn for technical reasons, and they are keen so as to contribute during disaster management”.

India has over 38,000 registered HAM users, of which over a third have licences after training from the Indian Institute of HAMs
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A state government official who is involved in engaging with the HAM community to tackle the outbreak says the volunteer community is an additional communication that uses the existing infrastructure.

“We don't buy anything and invest on capital cost. So, HAM is best for emergencies when we need wireless for a few months and need not permanently invest,” says the official.

The amateur radio community had been very effective during the Chennai floods a few years ago, when the entire communication network was down, as also during the recent Odisha cyclone.
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