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Friday, January 13, 2017

HamSphere - a simulation worth checking out

Some things really aren't worth getting upset over, but it never fails to surprise me what ham radio operators will get their knickers in a twist about. Before I make my main point, let me set up an analogy:

Pilots fly real airplanes and also use computer simulators, either to hone their skills or just for fun. Non-pilots obviously also use simulators, and no one from the aviation community tells them to quit and go to flight school if they're that interested in airplanes. But in the sometimes judgmental world of amateur radio, there are operators upset over a simulation called HamSphere, an online program that looks and behaves just like shortwave radio.

HamSphere 3.0 transceiver.
"Let 'em get a ham license if they're interested in radio," goes the argument. "It's nothing but a chat room with sound effects," the naysayers claim. (This is where I picture ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's cranky sidekick, Walter, venting an opinion.) As a licensed ham and a HamSphere user, I disagree. HamSphere 4.0, the most recent version, takes into account everything about HF - static, fading, interference, day-night propagation, even antenna gain - courtesy of complex algorithms developed by Kelly Lindman (5B4AIT), a radio operator from Cyprus, who has made this project his life's work.

HamSphere does not claim to be real ham radio, and Lindman wants to make that clear.

Currently there are two desktop HamSphere versions available. Version 3.0 is a basic nine-band transceiver with a host of features - a spectral display, an analog S/RF meter, and a big VFO knob for fast tuning. This is now considered a starter radio in preparation for the "flagship" 4.0 version - a modular, endlessly scalable radio that accepts plug-ins for antennas, rotors, filters, sound equalizers and even a real-time gray line world map.

HamSphere 4.0 transceiver.
HamSphere isn't free. A one year membership costs 30 Euro, or about $34, but items in the HamSphere store (yagi antennas, filters, audio playback recorders and rotors) are purchased a la cart, and if you're an impulsive person (like me) this can really add up.

The simulation is open to licensed hams who can use their actual call signs, and to unlicensed users, who are assigned unique HamSphere call letters. Lindman has set up HamSphere DX contests, a spotting network, an awards program, online QSL cards for members and a quarterly newsletter. Yes, there is such a thing as rare dx on HamSphere, and operators spend as much time chasing it as their real world counterparts do.

I operate all three versions of HamSphere, including the iOS mobile version. They are all simple to download and operate, but it takes some tweaking of the audio input to get decent sounding "transmit" audio from the computer sound card to avoid distortion. Versions 3.0 and 4.0 don't interact with each other, and there still seems to be a lot less activity on 4.0, but it might have to do with the time that I log in, generally during the evenings, EST in the United States.
A sampling of HamSphere awards.

In closing, let me say HamSphere is a lot of fun. Maybe it's a training ground for potential hams, or maybe it isn't. Other users have told me that it's the closest they can get to amateur radio for any number of reasons; antenna restrictions, health problems and apartment dwelling among them.

There are over 16.000 registered users in 200 countries, and HamSphere has a very active Facebook group.


  1. Excellent Pat! Yes HamSphere got me interested again in professional two way communications after putting the microphone down for many years. I started out with a 2HS call sign assigned to me by HamSphere, three years later I took my Tech test and passed with 1 question wrong. After I received my license I had no problems handling the real 10 meters band, was like I was prepared years ahead of time. KC3AZT, 73.

  2. Nice article Pete look forward to catch up on HS 4 sometime. HS4 Mobile is now in betta test mode and it is very very nice to use btw. 73's 41hs389

    1. Sounds good Chris. Looking forward to HS 4 on iOS, which will probably come after the Android version.

  3. Very true. I am a great fan of HS4. I have been a radio ham since 1979 and I got my licence in 1983, so, I have been around for quite a while. HS4 gives me a "customer experience" so similar to the HFs that I do not miss them any more. And money wise, whatever I spend is just a fraction of what I would have to spend in "real world". 73 de SP2MKV