Roland Turner

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SARTS participation in the IARU R3 2021 conference

From September 20 through 22 I attended (virtually) IARU Region 3's triennial conference. Only a few of the topics discussed were immediate concerns of Singapore amateurs, but as IMDA generally aligns its approach with that of administrations in neighbouring countries I'd suggest that it's very much in our interest that concerns of our neighbouring hams are successfully addressed.

Key takeaways for Singapore amateurs

My involvement

I was present not merely as an interested participant, but also as the formally appointed delegate of SARTS, meaning that I cast a vote on behalf of SARTS on the various documents adopted by the conference and on the appointment of officers, both of the board and of about a dozen operational roles.

I had initially suggested that we abstain on most/all votes as we are a new exec with little/no prior experience with IARU. Fortunately James 9V1YC convinced me otherwise, pointing out that we have the same sized vote as member societies from countries hundreds of times our size, and that we should make it our business to cast our vote in a way which advances our interests and those of our fellow hams, particularly in neighbouring countries. Doing so led to a strong engagement with people from multiple member societies.

The conference

The conference was broadly comparable to other technical conferences that I've attended, with the rather obvious difference that videoconferencing systems (Zoom in this case) are designed for meetings with a single thread of communication. At most conferences, while the items of most importance to the entire group will appear on the agenda, the informal discussions that happen — often at random — in hallways, lounges, cafes, bars, restaurants, and transport between those places tend to be far more important to individual participants and the organisations that they represent. I felt the absence of that sort of contact very keenly, particularly because this is a community of people that I don't already know well. Other conferences that I've participated in virtually since covid began have tended to be with communities that I already know well, so this absence was not so acute.

One thing that did strike me was that the level of preparation and experience appeared lower than for other technical conferences that I've attended. In particular:

I don't mean to suggest that this is objectionable — it's a hobby after all! — and it's beyond our reach to improve this much, but I'd suggest that future Singapore delegations engage with our neighbours at least a year in advance to ensure that any proposals have been the subject of reasonably wide consultation and are sufficiently complete that they can in principle be adopted as-is.

James has subsequently expressed to me the hope that at the 2024 conference in Thailand SARTS will be able to send a substantial delegation to broaden our engagement with our fellow hams even more than I was able to do this time around. I would strongly encourage this.

Member society updates

The first day of the conference was largely member societies giving updates on what they've been up to and what their current concerns are. The range of items was large, but several themes came up repeatedly:

Band planning

I volunteered to chair this working group as it seemed like a useful thing to do. It turned out to be one of the more interesting parts of the conference! Despite a very involved discussion about a new approach to HF digital modes (see separate section below), we were able to review the documents that the conference asked us to review with only a little overrun. This working group included a staggering 82 people. I suspect that this was because of the online-only nature of the conference and the fact that the scheduling was sequential (i.e. there were no parallel sessions). For better or worse, most people present were only observing.

New approach to HF digital modes

The most substantial documents reviewed by the working group, and perhaps the most interesting part of the entire conference, was a proposed shift in approach to band planning for HF digital modes. The key innovation is to shift away from allocating yet another spot frequency or centre of activity for each new mode as it appears but, instead, to allocate sub-bands for each of three distinct methods of co-existence:

The shift in approach is so substantial that the two documents (one for a new band planning toolset, the other for specific band plan changes (presentation)) were not accepted, nor even fully reviewed by the conference. Instead the conference directed the Secretary to start a consultation with the entire R3 amateur community. The authors acknowledged that it was a little premature to adopt the change at present anyway, but that as the R3 Conference was the first opportunity to air the approach with a broader amateur community they submitted their documents in that spirit. Expect that R3 will initiate a formal consultation in the near future, but in the mean time I'd encourage any Singapore amateur interested in HF band planning — particularly for digital modes — to review both documents and discuss them.

Constitutional changes

Two proposals were put forward, neither in a form that could be adopted as is, so both were referred to the incoming board for action towards adoption in 2024:


This was just as tedious as finance should be, with the exception of a proposal that the directors be able to unilaterally raise subscriptions as required to deal with urgent, unforeseen costs. This struck me as somewhat alarming, as:

One other representative also expressed concern about this, at which point the proposal was promptly amended to limit the discretion to a 10% increase. At this point it was explained that that was the same figure agreed at the previous R3 conference and that this was really just continuing an arrangement that had already been established at that conference. That these facts hadn't been mentioned when the proposal was put forward struck me as disingenuous, but more broadly, I'm concerned that there's a shift towards making the member societies little more than chapters of the IARU, and to do so by poorly-described and poorly-understood proposals at conferences without prior consultation. I am left to wonder whether, if this had not been slowed, a corresponding proposal at the next conference might have dropped the "urgent, unforeseen" qualifier.

Another rationale put forward was that as R3 is not incorporated (yes, really!), so the directors are operating with unlimited liability and were therefore looking for ways to protect themselves. While that's perfectly understandable, I'd suggest that turning the member societies into guarantors subject to unlimited liability is a terrible way to do it. A rather more obvious approach would be to incorporate it, either:

(I acknowledge that I'm not volunteering to drive a transition to incorporation.)


Three of the six director positions were secured by ASEAN member societies:

Volunteers were appointed to about a dozen operational roles, although I can't locate the list. Two were of course the band planning committee chairs mentioned above.


Like most conferences, there was a lot of tedious detail, but these discussions also shape the future of our hobby. I've only described the more interesting items above, there was quite a bit more to the conference. I'd encourage Singapore amateurs — SARTS members or not — to have a look at the conference schedule, read up on items that are of interest, and think about how to progress them. If you'd like help on how to engage then please feel free to ask!