HAMNET Report 25th April 2020

Late last month the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to future iPhones being equipped with device-to-device (D2D) communication and efficient power management.

If an iPhone user happens to get hurt while hiking or is in a disaster like a hurricane, he may either be out of cellular range or in an area where cellular towers cease to function in order to successfully call for emergency services. With a D2D system integrated into future iPhones, a user will still be able to send out an emergency text or audio message that could be received by groups of devices/people that are out of cellular communications range so that they could call for emergency services for you. This could very well be a lifesaving feature in the future.

Device-to-device (D2D) communication may be referred to as direct communication between two mobile devices without traversing a base station or core network (e.g., a cellular network). There are some situations in which a mobile device user may be outside of coverage areas of cellular communications. For example, in an emergency situation (e.g., an injury during hiking), a user may want to be able to send out emergency signals to people who are near. As another example, in a natural disaster (e.g., a flood), it may be advantageous to be able to send out messages to a large group of mobile device users in order to coordinate evacuation or rescue efforts.

In such situations, it may be desirable for a mobile device, such as a smart phone, to communicate with other mobile devices in a D2D communication network.

In some situations, D2D communication may be preferred even if there is cellular coverage. For example, in a sports stadium or in a mall, the cellular signals may be congested. A user may want to turn off cellular communication, and instead communicate with friends using D2D communication. Therefore, there is a need for improved methods of D2D communications.

Apple’s invention covers enhanced procedures of sending emergency messages using D2D communications that may alleviate collisions and reduce overhead.

However, nowhere in the notice quoted above does it mention whether an Apple phone will be able to poll an Android phone and vice versa, or not.

Now, Professor Ian Goldin, writing in The Guardian, notes that the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed health systems in Europe and North America. The US, France, Italy, Spain and the UK have all experienced shortages of doctors, ventilators, personal protective equipment and testing capacity. But it’s going to be even worse in poor countries where medical resources are scarce.

Ten African countries have no ventilators at all. In Uganda, there are only 55 intensive care beds for 43 million citizens. And no poor country could afford the economic safety net that is currently sustaining citizens and companies here in the UK. In fact, Covid-19 is the biggest disaster for developing nations in our lifetime. If ever there was a time for concerned citizens and political leaders in both developing and richer countries to come together, it’s now.

Many cash-strapped governments can’t adequately provide for their citizens in normal times, let alone during a global emergency

We’ve already seen that Covid-19 is no “great leveller”. Poorer people are at greater risk of catching the virus and are more likely to suffer the worst effects of an economic shock. And the poorer the country, the less capable it is of addressing people’s pressing needs, from identifying and treating cases of the virus to supporting communities and businesses deprived of income. The vast majority of people living in countries in sub-Saharan Africa are employed in the informal sector and receive no unemployment, sickness or other benefits. And more than a third of all jobs and incomes in Africa could be lost as a result of Covid-19.

The World Health Organization has recommended physical distancing to control the spread of the virus, but in places where families share single-room homes and lack running water to wash their hands, these measures are difficult, if not impossible, to adopt. Many of the world’s poor have no access to life-saving medical facilities; in the entire African continent, there are just 20,000 critical care beds, equivalent to 1.7 for every 100,000 people. Malawi has just 25 ICU beds for its 17 million citizens, while in Bangladesh there are just 1,100 ICU beds for a population of more than 160 million. And while the UK health budget is about R76000 per citizen per year, in African countries it averages R228, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In China and much of Europe, the coronavirus crisis preceded an economic crisis. But in many developing nations the economic shock has come first, as governments have locked down their economies to reduce the speed of contagion. As a result, countries in Africa and Latin America, together with Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, are expected to suffer their greatest ever economic decline. One immediate effect of the lockdown is hunger, as transport and distribution systems are severely disrupted and the food supply in many countries – already depleted after years of drought, extreme weather events and recent locust infestations – becomes scarce.

Then there is the question of how countries will cope with the coming medical emergency. In South Africa, for example, it is expected that the pandemic peak will only be reached in September, but incomes have already shrunk due to a lockdown that was announced before the UK’s and is every bit as stringent as that in Italy. South Africa has mobilised domestically, working with civic organisations and businesses to create a solidarity fund to address the food and other needs of citizens, and reached out globally. However, even for one of Africa’s richest countries, this may be inadequate to address the scale of the challenge.

Many leaders are doing all they can under the circumstances, but both domestic and international action is required to limit the damage caused by Covid-19. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s evidence- and equity-based approach stands in stark contrast with Jair Bolsonaro’s denialism in Brazil, or Donald Trump’s divisive actions in the US. But, while Covid-19 is a test of leadership everywhere, in countries with widespread and deep poverty where medical supplies are severely limited, even the best leaders cannot save their populations from health and economic vulnerabilities. Foreign assistance is essential!

Sobering thoughts indeed from Professor Goldin.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 19th April 2020


Univadis Medical News has published some statistics regarding patients with COVID-19 that have needed hospitalisation and admission to an Intensive care Unit.

In a study of 1591 consecutive patients in the Lombardy region of Italy, 82% were male, with an average age of 63. 68% had at least one other illness that might have made their situation worse. 99% needed respiratory support, 88% by mechanical ventilation, and the other 11 less invasive procedures. After roughly a month of observation, 58% were still in the ICU, 16% had been discharged, and 26% had died in the ICU. Mortality was higher in older patients, of course.

In that radio amateurs are usually older males, and many with co-morbidities, (which means additional illnesses to worsen our outlook,) we are more likely to make heavy weather of COVID-19 should we catch it. So please, do not place yourselves at unnecessary extra risk. Stay at home and play radio!

And Tech Financials notes that South Africa’s communications watchdog has allocated a special phone number for COVID-19 emergencies.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has allocated the phone number “111” for use for COVID-19 emergency services.

“The service code ‘111’ is hereby harmonised and mandated for COVID-19 national emergency services,” Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA’s acting chairperson, said in new regulations published today.

Calls to the COVID-19 emergency number will be free.

“The ‘111’ service code is mandated for COVID-19 national emergency services during the National State of Disaster. The service code “111” will cease to be harmonised and mandated within three (3) months after the termination of the National State of Disaster,” said Dr Modimoeng.

In case you missed the announcement, the biggest Hamfest in Europe, HamRadio2020 at Friedrichshafen, has been cancelled. According to the announcement, HAM RADIO acted in accordance with an April 15 decision by federal and state authorities that no major events are to take place until August 31. HAM RADIO 2020 was set for June 26 – 28. The event is Europe’s major ham radio show, attracting some 15,000 visitors from around the world each summer. This year’s show would have been the 45th HAM RADIO.

Greg Mossop G0DUB is nevertheless planning an on-line option for the emergency communications meeting on 27th June from 11h00 to 15h00 UTC. Stay tuned for more information. We may even be able to link in and participate!

The other cancellation announced this week, concerns the Comrades Marathon, which has formally been postponed, no new date being given. HAMNET-KZN, which normally plays a huge role in the communications during the race, will have to wait awhile to hear if it will take place at all this year.

Rick Palm, K1CE, writing in his editorial in the ARES E-Letter of 15th April says that the current COVID-19 crisis is unlike any emergency any of us have been through, with extended periods of time at home – and in the shack for him and many other hams. He has spent the time on small projects that he’s always meant to do; for example, he secured his 12-volt batteries (in their battery case boxes) to the bottom metal shelf of his operating platform, using clips and the box straps. He’s checked into the local FM repeater and simplex nets, and a local/regional 6-meter SSB net for wellness checks, information, social connection, and morale. He’s logged many new HF contacts and garnered QSLs in the ARRL Logbook of the World. All of these activities have served him well in maintaining some semblance of sanity these days.

Looking for something to do? University of Mississippi Professor of Emergency Management Mike Corey, KI1U, offered this great suggestion: “Try to work as many of the STAYHOME suffixed call signs as possible.” [Some countries are allowing radio amateurs to use special “STAYHOME” call sign suffixes. In Canada, for example, Michael Shamash, VE2MXU, is using VC2STAYHOM “to raise awareness for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”]  Corey said “Many of these stations are active on FT4/FT8, so it’s a good time to try out digital modes and test station set-ups.”

I mentioned Cyclone Harold in last week’s bulletin as it pummelled Vanuata, Fiji, and other islands. Well, the WMO has reported on it this week.

Latest World Meteorological Organisation news is that low-lying islands in the South-west Pacific Ocean are counting the human and economic toll of Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold, which destroyed key infrastructure and highlighted the challenges of disaster and public health management in the COVID-19 era. At its peak, Harold was the equivalent of a Category 5 level hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “deeply saddened” by reports of loss of life and property in Vanuatu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Tonga.

“The Secretary-General commends the governments and first responders in the affected countries for their pre-emptive work to make people safe ahead of the storm and to meet their immediate needs afterwards. The United Nations stands ready to support these efforts,” he said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deep solidarity with the people of the Pacific as they face the impact of this cyclone, along with other climate-related challenges, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, which adds a worrying new dimension to existing vulnerabilities,” he said.

The tropical cyclone underlined the imperative of activities of all WMO projects that help to strengthen early warning systems and increase resilience of vulnerable members impacted by severe weather and climate change associated hazards, such as coastal and inland flooding, including those from storm surges, river floods, and rising sea levels.

The coordination of the forecasts and early warnings for tropical cyclones in the region is provided by the WMO Tropical Cyclone Committee for the South Pacific and South-East Indian Ocean, the Regional Meteorological Specialized Centre in Nadi, Fiji, and the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.

The WMO-supported Climate Risk and Early Warning System (CREWS) is helping to strengthen early warning systems and increase resilience in Pacific Islands.

Thanks to the WMO for this report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, hoping that you are all staying at home, and being careful, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 12th April 2020

As expected, our lockdown has been extended by another 2 weeks. That might still not be long enough, but does help. This is bad and good news. Bad because our various forms of cabin fever get worse, but good, because we restrict the spread of the disease, AND because we radio amateurs can play radio for even longer! Please grasp the opportunity with both hands.

What can I report on this week that isn’t directly COVID-19 related?

The ARRL Letter reports that, despite the coronavirus pandemic, the March 20 – 21 HamSCI Workshop went on as scheduled, moving to a free, all-digital webinar workshop. The theme of the 2020 workshop was “The Auroral Connection — How does the aurora affect amateur radio, and what can we learn about the aurora from radio techniques?”

Organizer and University of Scranton Professor Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, told ARRL that he was quite happy with the outcome, after the in-person workshop had to be called off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In some ways, it was good for us,” Frissell said. “We actually got many more participants than had we just held it in person.” Expectations for the live event were for about 100 participants. Online, Zoom — the webinar platform used for the workshop — reported 290 unique logins from 24 countries. After cancellation of the in-person workshop, Frissell had to scramble to make the virtual event a reality.

“I had the webinar running in practice mode for about 2 or 3 days before the workshop, and I let presenters log in whenever they wanted to test things out,” Frissell said.

“Both aurora and ham radio citizen scientists work closely with the Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere, but while aurora folks tend to think about how what we see reveals aspects of the ionosphere, ham radio operators tend to think about what radio waves can tell us about the ionosphere.”

The workshop served as a team meeting for the HamSCI Personal Space Weather Station project that’s funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to Frissell as its principal investigator. The project seeks to harness the power of a network of radio amateurs better to understand and measure the effects of weather in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.

KSNB TV News reports that, with a national shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, people are doing what they can to fulfil the orders. When they heard of the need, some members of the Amateur Radio Association of Nebraska looked at each other and found a way they could help. Now with people outside of the group helping, too, they are using 3D printers to create face shields.

Their 3D printers have been running all day for over a week now. Volunteers across the Tri-Cities are quickly making face shields for hospitals and clinics who need to serve the public. The shield is a simple frame design with a plastic cover. The cover can be quickly changed out or reused.

“Material-wise we have pennies on the dollar for these things so we want to make sure our healthcare workers and everybody involved in the field are safe and so we’re doing what we can to help,” Amateur Radio Assoc. President Allen Harpham WD0DXD said.

The frames are printed, but the shield part is actually recycled overhead projector sheets from schools. They have gotten thousands of sheets donated to them from schools in central Nebraska who have no other use for them anymore.

Business Insider South Africa says South African cell-phone operators can now get access to radio frequency spectrum on an emergency basis, to help with Covid-19 disaster communications, under new rules published by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on Monday.

That includes frequency allocations that operators have been begging and pleading for, in order to roll out 5G services, as well as bands that will allow them to provide better data service.

But there’s a catch: the operators only get the spectrum until the end of November. On 30 November, say the Icasa regulations, the temporary licences to be granted will automatically become invalid.

That is if the licences are not revoked earlier than that. The spectrum allocation is also due to be revoked within three months after the end of South Africa’s national state of disaster around the coronavirus, so that if the state of disaster were to be cancelled at the end of May, cellphone operators would have to hand back the spectrum at the end of August.

The temporary allocation of the high-demand spectrum is to help operators “deal with the anticipated rise in demand for network capacity or data services” during the disaster, Icasa said.

There will be no fees for access, and operators could have the use of the spectrum before the end of April. Applications were due by Thursday, after which the regulator has given itself four days to process those applications.

The ARRL letter further reports that Radio amateurs continue to play key roles in developing the electronic control system for an open-source/architecture, modular, low-cost human patient ventilator. The device itself was designed by researcher Sem Lampotang and his team at University of Florida Health — the school’s academic health centre — using such commonly available components as PVC pipe and lawn-sprinkler valves. The idea is to create a bare-bones ventilator that could serve in the event of a ventilator shortage.

“The way I look at it is, if you’re going to run out of ventilators, then we’re not even trying to reproduce the sophisticated ventilators out there,” Lampotang said. “If we run out, you have to decide who gets one and who doesn’t. How do you decide that? The power of our approach is that every well-intentioned volunteer who has access to Home Depot, Ace, Lowe’s, or their equivalent world-wide, can build one.”

Dr. Gordon Gibby, KX4Z — a retired associate professor of anaesthesiology at the University of Florida and an electrical engineer — is among those involved in the project, developing control-system prototypes. He reports that a trial printed circuit board is being created, populated, and tested prior to large-scale fabrication. “This should lead to a documented open-source design that can be replicated or improved

upon by any interested manufacturer,” Gibby said, noting that the board could be built anywhere in the world, based on the Arduino Nano microcontroller.

“A huge amount of work has gone on in the design of the circuit boards,” Gibby told ARRL. “We have at least two, maybe three designs, ready for fabrication.” Current design specifications and a video of prototypes have been posted online. The Arduino-based control software will set the respiratory rate and other key parameters in treating critically ill coronavirus victims. Other radio amateurs involved in the control system aspect of the project include Jack Purdum, W8TEE, and uBITX transceiver maker Ashhar Farhan, VU2ESE.

Using a Groups.io forum, up to 140 volunteers have been studying or working to push the project to completion. Software is being created by multiple volunteers, with amateur radio operators involved in that phase as well.

The ventilator’s valves will precisely time the flow of compressed oxygen into a patient with lungs weakened by viral pneumonia in order to extend life and allow time for the body to clear the infection.

If you weren’t depressed enough already, spare a thought for Vanuata and Fiji, who have just suffered Tropical Cyclone Harold, on top of our worldwide agony, and then the entire Pacific rim of fire, which is just quietly going about its business of experiencing earthquakes on a more or less daily basis! Enough is enough, I tell you!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 5th April 2020

I guess there is really no other disaster or event news to talk about this week except the confounded SARS CoV-2 virus. Our lives, our society, our sport, our economy and our work have all been superseded by the effects of a piece of protein one millionth of a millimeter in diameter! EXCEPT, of course, for Amateur Radio!

Amateur Radio works when all other lines of communication fail, and even works when people are too scared to talk to each other, for fear of contracting the virus! Viruses are not carried by electromagnetic waves, and the only person who is going to breathe in any germs of any sort in your breath when you speak into a microphone, is yourself. And, in the face of the majority of us being forced to remain at home for about 95% of each day, we, the radio amateurs of the world have fallen with our collective bums in the butter.

Now is the time not only to be caring for our loved ones, providing the essential foods and medicines we all might need, but also to be testing those airwaves we have been so lazy to use. So far, not many authorities have needed our services to aid in the testing of the nations, or to identify and trace contacts, but that is no reason not to switch on the radio. Do you hear anything? Of course not – everybody else thinks the bands are dead! They’re only dead because you are not calling CQ. Put out a call at the appropriate time of day for the band your antenna is most resonant on, and see who answers you. There’s plenty of time to cruise around the airwaves looking for promising frequencies, and old friends calling.

And there is no law which says you may not be on your roof, trimming that antenna or trying another one, to get the best out of the poor propagation. Of course, there is also no reason why you can’t engage in local comms on your 2 metre or 70cm frequencies with your closest ham friend. Asking your Elmer for an opinion as to the quality of your audio, getting used to a new distance from your mike to prevent over-modulation, over-deviation, or popping as you speak, trying SSB or even AM contacts on VHF or UHF if you have a multimode rig, or checking whether you can put your mobile rig in your car into cross-band repeat in an instant, if required by the emergency situation – these are all upgrading possibilities you can experiment with while at home.

Of course, quite a lot of you are working from home, and I certainly go on record now as saying that one good thing, that might come out of this pandemic, might be the realization by bosses that staff can be trusted to work from home. Imagine if there was half the traffic on the roads at so-called “rush-hour”, mornings and evenings. Those at home wouldn’t have wasted petrol and time driving at all, and those at work wouldn’t have wasted as much petrol and time driving to work and back. And if you had an extra hour to yourself each day, because you drove less, or not at all, wouldn’t you be more enthusiastic to turn on the radio, and see who’s there? There might be a mixed blessing in this pandemic business after all!

I’m not saying that a lot of medical work doesn’t need still to be done. The poor hospital staff around the world and in our country is going to be worked off its feet as the epidemic takes hold here. I can assure you, that is still going to happen. How badly it affects us depends on the degree to which we take our President and the Department of Health’s instructions to heart. There is NO OTHER WAY to prevent our statistics from getting as bad as Italy, Spain or America, than to isolate ourselves. Is three weeks going to be enough? I very much doubt it. Three weeks might be half the amount of time we need to stretch the number of people sick at the same time out, for our health facilities to be able to keep up.

In India, about 280 radio amateurs are assisting authorities by reporting on illegal gatherings of groups which would increase the danger of spread of the disease. In other parts of the world, safety messages and requests for medical assistance are being transmitted, but these cases are in the minority.

The principle of lockdown has as a result, a delay in the onset of the disease in many people, but doesn’t entirely stop the serious cases from developing – it merely delays them. The appearance of serious cases and deaths lag behind the start of the lockdown by a couple of weeks, and the successful effects of the lockdown lag behind that, so we are only going to see a slowing in the number of new cases some weeks after the lockdown starts. That is why I do not expect enough improvement in the situation within 3 weeks to be apparent, and, therefore, why I think the lockdown will have to be extended. Whether our poor economy, and our even poorer communities, will survive this disaster remains to be seen. It is cold comfort that the rest of the world is in a similar position. Many, many businesses have gone and will continue to go under, and many countries will feel the effect of this pandemic for decades to come. Who would have thought that 2020 would start out like this, and that a lowly virus, so tiny that you can’t see it under an ordinary microscope, would bring the world to its knees!

However, none of this needs to impact on our ability to communicate, and communicating with other people is what prevents a feeling of isolation and despair. So, if you have no-one at home to speak to, you do have that guy or gal talking to you out of that loudspeaker in front of you, and allowing you to voice your opinion over matters electronic or of an Emcomms nature, and perhaps inspiring you to try that one more thing that will turn your good station into a brilliant station.

So please don’t sit mindlessly flipping through channels on the goggle-box all day. Get radio-active and take advantage of the good opportunity if you can!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.