Virtual HAM Radio – No License, No Gear, All Fun

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virtual ham radioHAM radio. If you even know what it is, it conjures up images of grown men hiding in dark places with glowing vacuum tubes and devices with knobs and twiddle-bits. They’re talking across the world about who knows what. They’re part electronics guru, part mad scientist, part excited kid. These are the guys that preceded the computer gurus of today. These are the guys that could reach across the world when no one else could.

You might suspect that the interest in HAM radio has died down, with the boon of the Internet. Perhaps you’d be right, it’s hard to tell. But what you might be surprised most by is how accessible HAM radio has become because of the Internet. Unfortunately, there is no way to communicate over HAM frequencies without a HAM radio and an operator’s license. That’s a fair amount of time and money invested in something you might not like. But if you want to try out the HAM Experience for free, this could be for you.

HamSphere

MakeUseOf and I don’t like to refer much to paid applications. MakeUseOf have their reasons, my reason is that I’m a cheap old man. But this virtual HAM radio application may be worth the 30 euros a year for a subscription. Especially if you consider what it would take to buy your own equipment and get licensed as a HAM operator.

That’s correct – you don’t have to be a licensed HAM operator to use HamSphere. That being said, read the FAQ’s on how to conduct yourself on a HAM radio. The intent of not having to have a license is to help you prepare for getting a license.

Take a look at some of the features of this virtual HAM radio:

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virtual ham radio

See what I mean? That’s an awful lot for 30 euros a year, and there is a free trial period as well. What a great way to get your feet wet with out jumping in fully.

Upon signing up for the free trial, you’ll see the following screen. This gives you a greater idea how flexible this software and service can be. Take the advice of using a headset, if you’re using your desktop or laptop.

I installed the software on my desktop as well as my Android Phone. Both installations work really well, but I’ll focus on the desktop application from here on. What you are actually connecting to is a purely Internet-based network that operates and sounds like HAM communications, via their ‘virtual ionosphere’. That’s elaborate speak for saying that the people behind Hamsphere came up with a way to add HAM-realistic noise to what amounts to a VoIP party line.

Here’s the initial screen that you’ll see:

virtual ham radio software

Once you’re logged into the virtual HAM radio, the screen mimics the basic layout of a HAM radio’s hardware. I’ll be honest, a lot of this is foreign to me, even though I’ve thought about going after my HAM license since I was a kid.

virtual ham radio

Maybe it’s my military training, but I was absolutely paranoid of saying anything on the Hamsphere. See, in the military they really enforce not just chattering on the radio. I don’t think I’d have anything intelligible to say to these guys.

I tuned into one signal and it was a guy from the U.S. (it was obvious by his accent, possibly Iowa) and he was walking a fellow through the process of creating a QSL card. A QSL card is a written confirmation of a communication between two amateur stations. They do these up digitally now and print them out like a postcard. Then they mail them back and forth.

To find a station to listen to, you can watch the Band Scope in the middle of the interface. That’s the thing that looks like little white spikes. By simply clicking on a higher spike, you instantly tune into a signal that usually has good chatter. This, in it self is pretty cool if you’ve ever had to use a crystal radio to dial in a station. You’d get it for a second and then the tuner would wander. Not with Hamsphere though. Rock solid lock on of the signal. Oftentimes you might get someone speaking another language, but that’s kind of neat too.

I like the idea of having this application on my smartphone as well. I can keep it running through my wi-fi connection and listen to it like one might listen to a police scanner. Some of these conversations are very entertaining!

What’s even cooler is that you can get TV (of a sort) over Hamsphere. There is free software for this as well, but it works best if you have full bandwidth mode available in Hamsphere. The technical term for this is SSTV or Slow Scan Television. This too, is a virtualization of a real-world HAM technology. This whetted my appetite for real HAM even more!

It was a bit beyond me to get it working right, but I’m going to get it figured out. If you can get a digital picture of a disaster situation across the world, it’s definitely worth more than a thousand words. Here’s a screenshot of what that might look like though.

With the assistance of the well-documented help files, you will be well on your way to learning how to operate a real HAM radio in no time.

If you’re a HAM operator, let us know what you think of this as a training tool. If you’re interested in HAM radio, do you think this virtual HAM radio is a good way to find out if you’d like it? If you’re a Hamsphere subscriber, what do you like or dislike about the experience? Let us know down below!

Image Credits: Real Ham Radio Setup rtopalovich via Shutterstock, Zombie Girl grmisiti via Flickr

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Comments (16)
  • Torben

    Hi Guy.

    Is their other alternatives to HamSphere?

    All the best

    Torben

  • Doug L.

    A HAM License is just $15. You can buy a Baofeng HT for about $50.00 Not too expensive of an outlay of cash and you have everything you need!

    • Guy McDowell

      That is really cool! I had no idea there were handhelds that were HAM radios. So, yeah, there goes all my excuses to not get into real HAM.

  • David Wheeler

    sounds interesting might give it a try

    • GuyMcDowell

      Even just to play with it for a night or seven on the free trial is a lot of fun.

  • Kirby

    “MakeUseOf and I don’t like to refer much to paid applications. MakeUseOf have their reasons, my reason is that I’m a cheap old man.”

    -That makes two of us hahaha. Hope we could find free alternatives for this.

    • Guy McDowell

      Once I figure out how to do the real thing for as cheap as possible, I’ll be doing it and documenting it. Then I’ll be submitting it here as an article.

      HAM radio is one of the most under-rated and underutilized technologies that is available to most people. I’ve read that you don’t even have to pass a Morse Code test anymore for the license, at least in Canada.

      Living in the countryside on the ocean, I’d like to have HAM radio access for practical reasons too. The storms year round often knock out our electricity, Internet and phone lines. Satellite Internet access is still too costly and unreliable for me as well. Although I did get my installers license a couple years ago.

      What some people call satellite Internet is really just radio Internet with a line-of-sight connection between their home and a radio tower somewhere. Around here, when the power goes down, it goes down to those radio towers too. Then the ISP has to wait until the power company gets the power back up, and then they send a technician to start up the tower again. That process has been known to take weeks around here. Yet they keep billing you.

      So, HAM could prove to be really useful to an ordinary guy like me, if not just a great hobby.

    • Hans

      No morse test in Sweden either since long ago.

    • dragonmouth

      As of 2007, in the US, the requirement of Morse Code proficiency has been eliminated across the board.

      “So, HAM could prove to be really useful to an ordinary guy like me, if not just a great hobby.”
      Only if you have an independent supply of power (generator, batteries, car). Otherwise you may have to resort to smoke signals.

    • GuyMcDowell

      That’s the plan. I am also a solar installer and instrumentation technician.

    • Kirby

      I’ll be looking forward to that article.

      By the way, aren’t those radio towers supposed to have backup generators of some sort to keep operations going? The telecommunications agency of the government could charge the owners of the radio tower for poor service…unless of course, the government ARE the owners…

    • GuyMcDowell

      I could be wrong, and I’m sure if I am the Internet will let me know, but I don’t think you have to have the generators for non-licensed bands.

    • Kirby

      Oh, my bad then. I was under the impression that the radio towers were those broadcasting under licensed bands.

  • Garris Rago

    Would love to own my own radio ha

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.