Why do people still use Morse code?
What are its advantages over newer voice or data communication modes?
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CW can be sent exceptionally well by computer (with software like fldigi) or by any number of USB/serial keyers (such as the WinKeyer or K3NG Arduino keyer). It can be copied reasonably well in software (fldigi again, or CW Skimmer). The Reverse Beacon Network relies on multiple stations worldwide running CW Skimmer to report on propagation, and will show you where your CQ has been copied.
It can be thought of as a digital mode, but one that can be copied by ear with sufficient training. It's typically a little slower that PSK-31 or RTTY, and CW only supports a very limited single-case character set. Although it is no longer used commercially or by the military, it's likely to stick around in ham radio for a long time.
The advantage? Efficiency! You get to put all of that power of your rig into a very small bandwidth, whereas voice modes need to spread the power out much more (for example, SSB uses roughly 2.8kHz of bandwidth).
Quote from: http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/cw_ss.html :
Going a little bit further, assuming a SSB signal takes up 2000 Hz., and comparing a 100 watt 25 WPM CW signal with a 100 watt SSB signal, we have the following. The average power density for CW is 100W / 100 Hz. or 1 w/Hz. For SSB it's 100W / 2000 Hz. or .05 w/Hz. Follow closely now, it gets interesting although a little more technical. We could say that the gain in using CW over SSB is Gain(db) = 10*log(1/.05) which is about 13db. That means that a 5 watt CW signal packs an equivalent punch to a SSB signal at 100 watts.
One of the biggest advantages of CW is that users worldwide can contact each other without knowing English, or any specific language. Conversation is limited to the common Q codes, but these provide significant flexibility and ability to communicate making Morse Code a common language of sorts.
Because it's fun to send and receive messages by Morse code!
It's something that can be done without any specialized equipment for sending and receiving. It's a shared historic experience. It's a challenge, and a skill that is fun to learn. It puts you into a special "club," setting you apart from those non-CW capable hams.
But mostly, it's just fun.
I love Morse code for these reasons:
Reason 1 is the main one though :)
I am a new ham, and I decided to learn it, and use it, strictly for the purpose of efficiency. CW operation is low bandwidth, and therefore requires very little power to get a signal out over long distances. You will not get the same results from voice transmissions or other larger bandwidth data modes (although JT-65A and PSK31 are relatively efficient data modes). It's very gratifying to work around the world with ease in CW mode, whereas doing so in voice is doable, but a lot more difficult. The best advantage I can think of over other data modes is that you don't need to depend on a computer or external device to create Morse code messages. It's a human rendered data mode.
I got my technician license in 1992 to play with packet and TCP/IP on VHF/UHF. I got bitten by the HF bug listening to the CW subbands. I decided to learn CW on my laptop on business trips. I struggled to pass 5 WPM for my Tech-plus but I did and I got on 80m CW. A few months later I had WAS and It wasn't long after that I passed 20 WPM for my Extra.
Why do I operate CW? It is a blast!
I would echo the point mentioned by N8WRL: "Why do I operate CW? It is a blast!"
I'm actually re-learning morse and realising I've been missing out on a lot of fun over the years.
In terms of learning and training, it feels some way between learning a musical instrument and learning a new language. It is an excellent way to stimulate the brain - an investigation into morse-related neuroplasticity can be found here:
"You never know when it will be needed":
Why is morse code still in use? We know it is technically efficient, is good for the brain, but many people use morse because it's really fun!
Morse code requires an extremely small bandwidth (and is usable in a channel that has a relatively low S/N) for a mode that requires no digital processing hardware or computer/digital logic chips (instead requiring just the skill of a couple of human brains) to communicate. Some people value accomplishing things using personally learned skills rather than software and DSPs/CPUs designed by others.
A legal Morse code transmitter is about as simple as possible as that which can be constructed from basic analog components, although a CW receiver might require more parts than for AM (not sure about a pure regenerative receiver design).
Morse code is also a useful cross-over skill that could potentially be very useful to have in certain survival or medical situations, such as signaling by mirror when lost in the woods, eye blinking when partially paralyzed (or captured behind enemy lines), using one-button or blow/puff controllers by the severely disabled, etc.
In noisy conditions, CW is the most effective mode for "real time" communications. This is the primary reason that CW remains popular with DXers.
Some digital modes can succeed under even worse conditions, but they do so by employing redundancy, which makes for very slow QSOs.
In the UK, the terms of the licence start with:
1(1) The Licensee shall ensure that the Radio Equipment is only used: (a) for the purpose of self-training in radio communications, including conducting technical investigations; and (b) as a leisure activity and not for commercial purposes of any kind.
CW/morse lends itself to the self-training aspect due to the simplicity of the equipment required.
For example, in the Summits on the Air program, there is an ongoing PP3 challenge - which making the most QSOs using one PP3 type 9V battery. This is only possible by operating on very low power, and using CW. OK, this is only for fun, but that is what most of us are in amateur radio for, are we not?
Personally, I haven't mastered CW (yet?) but I am quite impressed to watch/listen to operators working the key...
Morse code is a raw and ancient way to deliver a signal to its destination. Even in case of non-digitised communication, Morse code is a way to express signal. The science of this is known to all telecommunication personnel, and thus is still used in many cases. It is also easier to create than a digital code.
I'd like to add two more reasons people still use Morse code that haven't been mentioned much: DXing and contesting on HF.
When people earn their licenses and HF privileges, the next challenge, besides learning about antennas and how to operate the radio and such, is figuring out what to do on the air. Ragchewing is a natural way to start of course, but soon many people start keeping track of states, provinces, and entities (countries) in the log, and then find themselves actively seeking new ones. In short, they start DXing.
Many of the same people who enjoy DXing find themselves operating in contests to get some easy new states, provinces, and entities in the log, and soon find themselves enjoying contesting also. Contesting and DXing are similar and complimentary.
I doubt that many people learn Morse code just for contesting and DXing, but those who do learn the code and try using it for HF DXing and contesting quickly discover that the narrow bandwidth of the mode yields a better signal-to-noise ratio and therefore better power efficiency, i.e. more miles or kilometers per watt, than wide-band modes like SSB. In short, Morse code is well-suited for DXing and contesting, and enhances those activities. Many people who try Morse code contesting also discover how much fun it can be. Many contesters apparently agree with me, as shown by the fact that many of the most popular contests exclusively or partially use Morse code.
Operating efficiently in a Morse code contest is a unique cerebral challenge to copy fast code well, get the information into the computer, and quickly make an efficient reply. It can be intimidating at first, but for those who enjoy such things, each fast and efficient contact is rewarded by a feeling of pleasure, a "dopamine hit", that encourages the operator to keep at it. Personally I enjoy contesting, and I can tell you that efficiently "running" a constant stream of callers answering my CQs at 25 or 30 WPM offers a thrill that I haven't experienced any other way. It demands 100% of one's attention, the time flies by, and it can be tremendous fun! (I like SSB contesting also, but because it's usually less of a challenge it doesn't seem as much fun to me.)
Morse code is good for DXing and contesting, and in return DXing and contesting support Morse code and help keep it alive. In my opinion, if Morse code were only used for ragchewing like (amateur) AM, then Morse code would be nearly dead like AM. (To be fair, there are also other reasons why amateur AM usage has declined.)
Why use CW? Because it's fun!!! It is a secret language of sorts.
Morse code needs to be known as it is the lowest common denominator for emergency situations.
I am aware that there are radio installations for use in emergencies in nuclear fallout situations and the most likely signal to get through will be Morse [although whether it's detectable over any background radiation is another question].