Getting Started in Amateur Microwave Radio

You might be interested in Amateur Microwave Radio if you:

  • Are interested in experimenting with RF and microwave technologies
  • Are interested in learning about microwave signal propagation
  • Want more points in UHF/VHF microwave contests
  • Want to build cutting edge equipment using exotic technologies
  • Like the idea of taking your home built radios to mountain-tops for microwave contesting
  • Are interested in setting new records or trying new techniques in the field of microwaves
  • Want to bounce signals off the moon!

Microwave radios on top of Signal Hill in Long Beach, CA

Microwave Amateur Radio is a hobby within a hobby, namely Amateur of “Ham” radio.  Amateur Radio operators are licensed by the government to transmit signals in selected bands across a broad spectrum from as low as 1.8 MHz all the way up to 250 GHz!

 

In the United States, the majority of amateur microwave radio activity occurs during annual contests, including the ARRL 10 GHz and Up Cumulative Contest.  During this annual two-weekend contest, microwave enthusiasts take their radios outside to make contacts with one another, frequently from the tops of mountains due to the line-of-sight nature of microwaves.  These contacts are usually voice (single-sideband suppressed carrier) or CW (Morse Code).  Points are awarded for a combination of distance between contacts and number of unique call signs collected.  Most activity occurs in the 10 GHz band, but extra points are awarded for any higher bands used including lightwave communications!

Microwave Amateur Radio enthusiasts being enthusiastic about microwave radio

Microwave Amateur Radio enthusiasts being enthusiastic about microwave radio (Kerry N6IZW and Greg K6QPV)

Nearly all Microwave Amateur Radio enthusiasts build radios at some point, but many start off by borrowing someone’s spare radio to get started.  This enables the first-timer to get on the air and experience microwave radio first hand.  There are a number of clubs around the world whose members are more than willing to help out newcomers to the hobby.  In addition to technical mentoring, the clubs often have access to or ownership of sophisticated, costly test equipment that a newcomer will be hard pressed to find elsewhere.  Finally, many clubs hold regular meetings where items of technical interest are presented.

Clubs in the United States:

There are many clubs and individuals around the world focused on Microwave Amateur Radio including:

 

Modified 10 Ghz power amplifier

Modified 10 Ghz power amplifier

If you can’t find a club near you, there are other ways to get on the air.  A number of manufacturers sell kits and parts for building your own microwave radios with only minimal test equipment required.  These include:

79 GHz mixers

A pair of 79 GHz mixers

An important aspect of Microwave Amateur Radio is the re-use of surplus electronics.  Some of the technologies and equipment used in microwave radio are prohibitively expensive when purchased new.  Microwave Amateur Radio enthusiasts pride themselves on taking old surplus electronics and modifying (or hacking) it for their own use.  Some examples of this include Rubidium frequency standards, YIG synthesizers, Travelling Wave Tube Amplifiers, dish antennas, point-point microwave and millimeter-wave data link radios, satellite communications equipment, etc.  Lots of this can be found on eBay and at local surplus electronics stores.

Lots of documentation exists for hardware modifications:

 

So if you want to get started in Microwave Amateur Radio, take a look at the links above, read about what others are doing, and get in touch with a Microwave Ham and get building!

KC6QHP doing microwaves

Tony, KC6QHP on Frazier Mountain copying a signal on the 47 Ghz band

Good Luck and I hope to see you on the microwave and millimeter wave bands soon!

 

Tony KC6QHP

5 thoughts on “Getting Started in Amateur Microwave Radio

  1. Pingback: Millimeter Microwave Magician | The Amp Hour Electronics Podcast

  2. Here’s what I learned from listening to your podcast: your logo under “Reactance Labs” is not only a circuit board thingy but it has “mm” and that’s relevant cuz you do mm waves (I put that together after listening to the podcast and then looking at your website again). That’s my broieeeeee!!!!!! Otherwise, I learned that I still don’t really understand waves at the level that you do AND you have a nice radio voice and don’t say “um” or “uh” too much. And I think the interviewer guy was not sure why he was so excited about some things but he really was.

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