Thursday, February 02, 2006

The codes that connects

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The code that connects
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IT was in the mid-1830s that Samuel Morse came up with what is known as
the Morse Code. Today it is used almost exclusively by amateur radio
operators. But, writes YONG TIAM KUI, even among their ranks, many feel
that this mode of communication is outdated and no longer of any
relevance. Yet...
HARDLY anybody uses the Morse code anymore. But the Malaysian
Communications and Multimedia Commission is still holding Morse Code
tests several times a year.
This is because the country's amateur radio operators, known
affectionately as hams, are required to have a Morse code speed of 40
words per minute to be eligible to apply for a Class A ham radio licence.
This is unusually stringent as the Conference of Postal and
Telecommunications Administrations lowered the amateur radio Morse code
test speed requirement for all European countries to just five words per
minute in 2001.
Two years ago, the World Radio Communication Conference of 2003
recommended that the International Morse Code requirement for amateur
radio licensing be made optional.
A number of countries, including Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium,
Britain, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, New Zealand,
Australia, Luxembourg, Singapore and Papua New Guinea, have already
dropped their Morse testing requirements altogether.
A Class A licence is greatly coveted by Malaysian hams because it gives
them the right to operate on an unlimited range of frequency bands
allotted to amateur radio. This allows them to communicate with fellow
hams practically anywhere in the world.
A Class B ham radio licence limits them to a much narrower band of
frequencies that are only good for "line of sight" communications.
This means that their radio signals cannot be transmitted beyond a
distance of 30km or if there is a physical barrier, such as a mountain,
in the way.
However, hams in Peninsular Malaysia with Class B licences are luckier
than their counterparts in Sabah and Sarawak. There is a system of relay
stations around the peninsula which enables them to talk to each other.
MCMC has indicated that the Morse Code requirement will no longer be a
mandatory requirement from April 1, 2007.
For many Malaysian hams, this particular April Fool's Day couldn't come
sooner as they feel that Morse Code is utterly irrelevant as they can
also make use of SMS and email to communicate with hams worldwide if
However, hams belonging to the old school hold that doing away with the
Morse Code test would be detrimental and contrary to the heritage of ham
They believe that the Morse Code will always remain relevant because it
can be used under difficult conditions when other modes are unavailable
or are not in working order.
The split between the opposing camps is mostly along generational lines
and this is reflected among the Chows who are a family of avid hams.
Like most older hams, Dr Chow Chee Onn, 58, hails from the old school
of thought. He feels that Morse Code is an important part of the ham
radio hobby and should be kept in use if possible.
However, being of a flexible frame of mind, he concedes that hams who
feel otherwise should not be forced to take the Morse Code test.
"I feel that it is good to learn the Morse Code but it shouldn't be
made mandatory," he adds.
After all, says Chow, many hams who take the trouble to master the code
do not have much opportunity to make use of it.
His son, Sion Chow Qi Chao, who is vehemently opposed to the Morse Code
requirement, has steadfastly refused to take the test even though he
would love to get hold of a Class A licence.
He's making do with his Class B licence. And, despite all its
constraints, the 21-year-old computer science graduate has managed to
befriend hams in Japan, Thailand, Philippines and India by riding onto
non-commercial amateur radio satellites whose footprints are in the
He has also managed to make contact with astronauts Mike Fincke (Oct 8,
2004) and Sergei Krikalev (Aug 27, 2005) at the International Space
Sion's hearty dislike of the Morse Code test is shared by Mrs Chow. She
would gladly see it abolished.
Mrs Chow says she decided to get into the hobby because the ham radio
is a more reliable way for her to stay in contact with her husband.
"He often forgets to take his handphone but his ham radio is always
with him. It's also a lot cheaper than using a handphone," she adds.
Chow's involvement with ham radio began during his schooldays in Ipoh.
"I became interested when I was in Form III in Sam Tet Chinese
Secondary School.
"We built our own amplifiers to listen in to radio communications. When
I was at the Technical College (now University of Technology), I made use
of the facilities of the ham radio club."
A civil engineer, Chow enjoys designing antennae for improved reception
of radio signals.
In fact, he has built a large iron framework as a base for the antennae
right next to the wall of his corner house in USJ15, Selangor.
"I wanted to share my knowledge with my son. He's now more advanced
than I am," he adds.
Chow has invested some RM40,000 in equipment for the hobby but he says
beginners can start with equipment costing as little as RM800.
"When you have got nothing to do, you can talk to somebody. If my son
and wife don't want to talk to me, I can talk to other people!
"In time of distress, you can help in rescue work. You can still
operate on battery when the electricity supply goes."
THE International Morse Code uses a pattern of long and short pulses to
represent the letters of the alphabet and the 10 numerals.
These long and short pulses are translated into electrical signals
using a telegraph key.
The electrical signals are translated back into the alphabetic
characters by an operator at receiving end.
The Morse Code was used extensively from the 1890s. With the
development of more advanced communications technologies, it is now
largely obsolete.
The Morse Code was replaced as an international standard for maritime
communication by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System in 1999.


Blogger Shah 9M2SZ said...


1. Should the morse code be eliminated or should the morse code remain status quo with a reduced word per minute (wpm) speed requirement?


I do NOT think morse code should be eliminated.

The morse requirement should be maintained by at 8 wpm instead of the present 12 wpm, BUT maybe Class B holders can have some HF operating privileges. I think Class B holders can operate on HF bands subject to the following restrictions:

Within the 2 years of obtaining Class B license:

HF band privileges – mode: SSB telephony only

40 Meter band – to operate below 7.050Mhz /100 Watts max

2. When is the appropriate time to eliminate Morse Code?


There should not be any elimination as above. This will continue for those wishing to get a 9M callsign.

3. If morse code requirement is eliminated, do you think that the proliferation of new services and technology could assist or compliment the use of amateur service during times of emergency, accident and national catastrophe?


High tech digital modes could assist or compliment but could not replace CW as a cheap, easy and a simple way to communicate over the air over extremely long distance ie. thousand of miles away. It is madness to think that high tech gear can and will replace CW. CW traffic dominates the HF band today (and not voice chat) and CMC kept getting their facts wrong. Except for a negligible few, Malaysian hams do NOT use digital modes and no one can receive such digital data on air simply because no one can really afford the equipment or took time to even understand them. All HF radios come with morse code phone jacks as standard and some HF sets even come standard with CW keyers.

4. One of the distinguishing elements between Class A and Class B amateur of these licensees are Morse Code proficiency. Would the elimination of those classes promote grass root interest in the use of amateur radio?


Cancellation of the entire RAE would also create new hams in the thousands. Why not abolish RAE altogether, one might ask. The argument that abolishing the Morse test will make more people interested in the amateur radio service in Malaysia is taken out of context, because Rae is MORE difficult that the morse. If recent statistic is anything to go by, almost one out of two failed the RAE!!

We state that the Morse proficiency or ‘Morse code literate’ is the distinguishing element between ham radios and commercial taxi drivers The old adage - “Any fool can talk into the microphone” couldn’t be more right. Is that CMC wants out of Malaysian hams? Russian retains CW. Why? In UK, the novice level includes a morse appreciation class. Why? In South Africa, it is retained. Why?

5. Kindly submit suggestions or comments on any Morse code related issues that faced by Malaysian Amateur Radio Operators today.


• Create VE (Voluntary Examiner) scheme to conduct the Morse test
• Reduce the speed from 12 to 8 wpm
• Change the alphabet and the number test, which is outdated. The Morse test should no longer be divided in to alphabet and number test, but to send a the test text for only 2 minutes (instead of the present 3 minutes) and that numbers (such as dates, weather temperature, time (and punctuations) should be inserted in the text.
• If the speed is reduced to 8 wpm, CMC can encourage budding hams to even sit for the 8 wpm test BEFORE the RAE (since it’s supposed to be more efficient under the VE scheme)
• Have the Morse test every single month. The test is so straightforward and I don’t know why it took CMC too long to work this out. There is no maximum number of re-sits.
• Reduce the test fee.
• Create awareness programme by publishing pamphlets on Morse and RAE. Support the study of amateur radio and Morse (as co-curriculum) at Secondary Schools (Sekolah WAWASAN) nationwide.
• Morse test for the disabled should be seriously looked into, such as for the blind and those with physical disabilities.


1. Should Malaysian amateur radio operators maintain current class of operators or to adopt new classes of operators proposed above? Any comments on proposed classes, or alternatives as to know how to encourage the public about amateur radio without minimizing the standards of amateur radio service in Malaysia?


• Maintain the current class A and class B license.
• Class B has some HF privileges, as proposed above.
• Create a new Novice class (Class C) – The Novice exam syllabus will not be as challenging or as tough as the RAE,.
• CMC cannot maintain the erratic and slow pace of RAE exam (worse for Morse test) as we have seen for the last 6 years.

• To immediately cease to lump and dump amateur service in Malaysia into the category of ‘commercial’ or ‘industry oriented’, from amateur radio application forms to the ‘apparatus assignment’ concept which is alien to amateur service and a disregard of our international obligations to give proper and correct recognition to amateur radio service. Amateur repeaters are NOT commercial repeaters.

• CMC to create a budget to improve public awareness of amateur radio service and simplify the admission process.

• AP from SIRIM should be reviewed. No necessity for AP, if there is class and type approval method to be introduced by CMC
• Maintain the current tax exemption for amateur radio sets. This must extend to antennas, meters, calibration equipment, CW accessories, RF amplifiers. This is a key policy to be adopted to get more to join the hobby.
• For the avoidance of doubt, amateur licensees can purchase, own and operate a satellite parabolic dish, at home or mobile.

Should Malaysian amateur radio operators adopt a practical proficiency test additional to the current RAE in order to compensate from the elimination of the Morse Code?


I would say NO.

There is NO elimination of Morse code in the first place. Only a reduction from 12 to 8 wpm for those wishing to obtain Class A license. This will forever destroy the argument that Morse test is difficult. Further class B may in any case operate on HF with limited privileges and 100 Watts max.

Practical test will only make the RAE more difficult. I do not support a practical proficiency test.

1. In order to promote the development of amateur radio services in Malaysia, kindly forward your suggestions and opinions to be incorporated into the review of amateur radio services.

Eligible age should be 9 years old. This helps in their mathematics and appreciation of basic electricity and physics when they reach secondary schools. Especially so for the Novice Class.

NO AGE limit for Morse test. If a 6 year old can do Morse (which is widespread in the West), so much the better!

Completely eliminate the “processing fee” when it comes to renewal of ham license.
Create real support for School’s amateur radio clubs. Also in Universities, Technical and Vocational colleges and Army amateur Clubs.

Completely revamp the description “apparatus assignment” for amateur radio
Amateur radio competency (designated skill) is licensed personally to an individual who have showed sufficient technical knowledge in radio electronics after passing the RAE. It is therefore legally wrong to say that it is merely ‘apparatus assignment’, for to say that means amateur radio is part of the commercial communications industry. This is against international law on amateur radio. The reason is not unknown. CMC is too preoccupied with the ‘industry’.

To completely do away with the concept of Certifying Agency that has to be a BERHAD. Amateur Radio Societies in Malaysia and all over the world are non profit societies. In Malaysia, hams have difficulty to even find a place call “Office” or HQ because we have no funds. Let alone running a BERHAD. This is silly because the whole law is designed with commercial interest in mind, and lumping (amateur radio service) ARS in the same group is totally unacceptable.

5:04 pm  

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