The Amateur Radio community

@from Leonardo de Souza Menezes and Kai Ruhl, etamax space Gmbh
@topic An outsider's introduction to amateur radio.
@time May 2009


The Amateur Radio community is a world wide communication network consisting of HF (high frequency) radio stations placed all over the world. This network is used by Radio Amateur users as an instant messaging system.

In this instant messaging system, the users have a unique identification, named callsign (or "call signature"). They communicate to each other in small and long distances to exchange messages and information, usually making use of so-called Q codes (see below). Amateur radio operators enjoy personal (and often worldwide) wireless communications with each other and are able to support their communities with emergency and disaster communications if necessary, while increasing their personal knowledge of electronics and radio theory.

Amateur Radio and the Ionosphere

Long distance communications (DX transmissions) are done through the ionosphere (when line of sight is not given, the ionosphere bounces the signal, allowing longer distances). This also means that during the communication, it is possible to acquire information about ionospheric conditions at the moment of the transmission, by analysing the quality of the signal transmission. Normally, the users make many transmissions world wide to talk to their contacts (who may be on the other side of the planet), so that is possible to know the ionospheric conditions of almost the entire globe at any given moment.

Frequently used terms in Amateur Radio

The following terms can give you a quick start on amateur radio "lingo".

  • Call sign (or Call signature) is an universal identification for each amateur radio user. There is always one sender and one receiver. [wikipedia]
  • Q code is a standardised collection of three-letter message encodings, all starting with the letter "Q", initially developed for commercial radiotelegraph communication, and later adopted by other radio services, especially amateur radio. [wikipedia]
  • RST Codes are used in information about the signal quality: Signal Readability, Signal Strength, and Signal Tone. [wikipedia]
  • QSO is a Q code and means "Can you communicate with ... directly (or through...)?" as the question and "I can communicate with ... direct (or through...)." as the answer.
  • QSL is also a Q code and means "Can you acknowledge receipt?" as the question and "I am acknowledging receipt" as the answer.
  • QSL cards are a confirmation of two-way communication between two radio stations. This confirmation is sent by mail (yes: real snail mail), like a normal post card, so that the radio users have a written confirmation about the communication to themselves. [eham]
  • DX means "Distant Transmission" and is used in Amateur Radio to designate a long distance radio transmission. [wikipedia]

Amateur Radio in SWENET

Within SWENET, the amateur radio community is present through the Ionosfera service. As part of the Ionosfera service, we have communication data about 80.000 calls sorted by UTC time stamp, as well as some plotting capabilities, which allow you to analyse ionospheric conditions at a given time.

More Resources

If you want to learn more, the links below can be helpful to find more information about the Amateur Radio community:

  • Many resources for learning about Amateur Radio.
  • Many resources for learning about Amateur Radio and a database with call signs from many Amateur Radio users.
  • Glossary with all terms used in Amateur Radio.