Microwave Ham Radio (3-33 cm): This Century’s New “Shortwave Radio”

contributed by Nancy Austin, KC1NEK, Newport County (RI) Radio Club

Examples of short 12 cm microwave antennas: a Yagi and an omni-directional vertical

How short is short???

Last century, the HF bands from 10 meters to 200 meters were considered “shortwave radio.”  Paul Fredette, K1YBE, is on a mission to pitch the Super High Frequency (SHF) microwave ham bands (3 cm to 33 cm) as this century’s new “shortwave radio”, ripe for experimentation.  So, how short is the new short? A football fan offered the comparison that 10 meters is roughly 10 yards, or the length of the first down line on a football field. And for comparison, 3 cm is roughly 1 inch, or the width of the white stripe on a football. To get a sense of relative antenna size, I just looked out the window at my HF antenna zigzagging for 100+ feet across my backyard, and compared that to the microwave antennas pictured above for scale, showing inches on a ruler. The new short is a different magnitude of short, with opportunities and new challenges for the ham to tackle.

To promote STEM learning and workforce development opportunities around this shift, Rhode Island’s Paul, K1YBE, is enthusiastically promoting the notion of an Amateur Radio Training Experiment Network (ARTEN) that uses mesh networking educational projects to make this accessible to a broad audience. The “new” shortwave bands from 3 cm/10 GHz to 30 cm/1 GHz can be a catalyst as we reach out to invite in a new generation of hams. ARRL-affiliated club microwave experiments underway include the Newport County Radio Club’s pilot mesh networking project placing carbon dioxide sensors in a local farm, with the collected data set available to schools. Examples of welcome community outreach include holding our radio hands-on building/experimenting workshops at a local maker-space, FabNewport, during their after-school programming. Kids stop by our table, curious and full of questions. In this way, STEM learning is not bolted on but part of the ongoing mentoring and experiential learning that defines the ham community and helps home-grown innovators flourish.

The ARRL mission includes encouraging “radio experimentation and, through its members, advances radio technology and education.” As Wikipedia reminds us: “Throughout its history, amateur radio enthusiasts have made significant contributions to science, engineering, industry, and social services. Research by amateur radio operators has founded new industries, built economies, empowered nations, and saved lives in times of emergency.” More than a century ago, the pivotal Radio Act of 1912 assigned licensed amateurs to the shortwaves under 200 meters. In 2023 it’s remarkable to look back and forge ahead in the frontier of microwave “shortwave” bands open to hams, from 3 centimeters to 33 centimeters. What’s possible?  

Paul Fredette, K1YBE, will be speaking on ARTEN – New England Mesh Networking at Microwave Update 2023 on Saturday April 16th. This is an international conference focused on amateur radio on the microwave bands. Meanwhile, Paul, K1YBE, will be presenting a talk on ARTEN at the Newport County Radio Club’s upcoming monthly meeting; this talk will be posted to YouTube shortly after. If you are curious to learn more or would like Paul to speak to your club, please reach out to him directly at Paul Fredette, K1YBE, k1ybe@yahoo.com.  

Curious to learn more about microwave experimenting at the Newport County (RI) Radio Club?
Newport County Radio Club Experimental Microwave Group (August 31, 2022)
https://nediv.arrl.org/2022/08/31/newport-county-radio-club-experimental-microwave-gro up-meets/
ARTEN – VNA Assembly (January 10, 2023) edited clip, You-Tube [5min] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ma2FKaBZ3k
Ham Radio is a Gateway to Technology (February 17, 2023)

Screenshot from upcoming ARTEN talk by K1YBE
Screenshot from an upcoming talk, ARTEN – New England Mesh Networking, by Paul Fredette K1YBE at the Amateur Radio on the Microwave Bands Conference near Hartford, April 15-16, 2023