Transmit legit, become a ham

As discussed in the licensing thread… In FCC-land the only people
that can legally transmit at any kind of real power level using
non-certified devices without obtaining specific permission from the
FCC are amateur radio operators.

Testing with attenuators is an obvious first step, but it doesn’t
replace working in a real environment with multipath, fading, noise
sources, etc.

Becoming an amateur radio operator is trivial: You show up at a
testing location [1] which is likely filled with people who will be
more interested in your gnuradio use than anyone else you know, pay
zero to $15 dollars (depends on which group is administering the test,
the laurel VEC is free), take a simple 35 question multiple choice
test, and tada a few days later You’ve obtained the lowest level of
licensing, the “Technician class”. The license is good for ten years
and costs nothing to renew.

A technician license entitles you to transmit on:

28.000-28.500 MHz (200w max for tech class)
50.0-54.0 MHz, 144.1-148.0 MHz
222.00-225.00 MHz, 420.0-450.0 MHz
902.0-928.0 MHz, 1240-1300 MHz
2300-2310 MHz, 2390-2450 MHz
3300-3500 MHz, 5650-5925 MHz
10.0-10.5 GHz, 24.0-24.25 GHz
47.0-47.2 GHz, 77.0-81.9 GHz
119.98-120.02 GHz, 142-149 GHz
241-250 GHz
All above 300 GHz (up to wherever the FCC regulation ends)

with up-to 1500W of power, as needed. (some band specific and
geographic restrictions apply)
Generally no EIRP or antenna gain restrictions (some exceptions exist
in the lower bands)
…plus a couple of narrow slices lower frequency bands I’ve omitted.

Moreover, the amateur license gives you a ready and simple explanation
for anyone who might want to claim that you possession of radio
equipment signals some kind of intent to operate in a forbidden
manner. “Why do you have all this radio stuff? Are you a terrorist??”
“No. Ham radio operator.” “oh. Okay. I’ll just leave now before you
geek-out on me.”

The regulations related to use are very liberal and fairly compatible
with experimental use— after all, radio experimentation is part of the
stated purpose of the amateur radio service. The most onerous
restrictions for a GNUradio user are probably the prohibitions against
commercial use, encryption, and carrying traffic for third parties.
Otherwise it’s just mostly, behave in a socially responsible, safe
manner, and observe good engineering practices.

Nothing forces you to interact with other ham radio operators. You can
happily work in isolation communicating among your own stations if you
wish.

However, ham-land contains a ready pool of technically inclined
people, most of whom are interested in but not well informed about
subjects like software defined radio and Free Software. So by
interacting with the existing base of hams you can possibly help
expand the pool of GNURadio users (as well as GNU/Linux, if thats your
thing). More users means more developers, more demand for compatible
hardware at lower prices, … so generally a good thing.

If you know a bit about RF and apply some common sense you can
probably pass the test cold or only after a few minutes of drilling on
some ham specific terminology and regulations. You can take a
practice test online[2] and the entire question pool (391 questions)
is available.

(If anyone here is interested in becoming licensed, I’d be glad to
answer whatever questions you have about the process off-list. I’m
guessing the same is likely true of many of the other licensed
list-members)

[1] http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/examsearch.phtml
[2] Online practice test: http://www.eham.net/exams/

Gregory M. wrote:

Moreover, the amateur license gives you a ready and simple explanation
for anyone who might want to claim that you possession of radio
equipment signals some kind of intent to operate in a forbidden
manner. “Why do you have all this radio stuff? Are you a terrorist??”
“No. Ham radio operator.” “oh. Okay. I’ll just leave now before you
geek-out on me.”

Another point to consider is that the EB’s approach toward interference
is different when the interference comes from an unlicensed source as
opposed to a licensed one. If harmful interference to a licensed
station originates from an unlicensed source and the unlicensed source
is an intentional radiator that isn’t just a malfunctioning part 15
device or something, the FCC is very likely to slap the responsible
party with a Notice of Unauthorized Operation, or NOUO; NOUOs typically
carry an $11,000 fine and that fine is often assessed on the first
offense. However, interference which originates from a licensed
station, even if the licensee is not authorized to operate on the
frequencies in question, will typically result in a Notice of Violation,
or NOV. Licensees subject to a NOV are typically given an opportunity
to correct the violation without penalty, especially when the
interference was not intentional or was due to a misunderstanding or an
ordinary technical error on the part of the licensee. Amateur radio
operators, in particular, are often given considerable leeway here.
NOVs also tend to carry smaller fines (at least for amateur service
licensees) than an NOUO for the same behavior, and the FCC is less
likely to confiscate offending equipment.

As an aside, I’m a ARRL/VEC accredited volunteer examiner, and have
administered nearly 100 license examinations now, so I think by now I
have some concept of how the process works. If anyone has any questions
regarding this process, I’ll be glad to answer them.

Regards,

Kelly (AB9RF)

Nothing forces you to interact with other ham radio operators. You can
happily work in isolation communicating among your own stations if you
wish.

Unless you need to do frequency coordination, which you usually do.
Then you have to deal with the oldest, gnarliest hams around, the ones
who 50 years ago got access to mountaintop towers and have been
squatting
on them ever since, like trolls under bridges.

However, ham-land contains a ready pool of technically inclined
people, most of whom are interested in but not well informed about
subjects like software defined radio and Free Software.

I got a ham Tech license in the 1970-80’s and it was one of the more
disappointing experiences in my life. What a culture clash! The ham
fraternity was filled with people who spent all their time
chit-chatting on their handheld radios about their personal lives, but
who knew and cared very little about radio technology or computers.
(Nowadays everyone has cellphones, but in those days they were the
only ones who could communicate mobile.) They fought uselessly over
stupid little status things like how short or long your callsign was.
I soldered together a 1200 bps packet radio interface board, ran
BBS’s, evolved protocol software, and taught classes on digital radio
communication protocols to the interested part of the local Bay Area
ham community (led by Hank Magnuski, KA6M). The almost universal
attitude among the hams who I met was “We got here first, we own these
frequencies, don’t you put any funny computer stuff on 'em because
that will just attract more of the public to horn in on our monopoly.”
They actively threatened to turn me in to the FCC for any real or
imagined violation of the incredibly picky rules, like letting someone
else log in over my radio modem (“carrying third party traffic”).
Really friendly folks.

I decided to retire my ham license until a large number of the
existing hams died off (many were middle aged or older). Perhaps now
the worst jerks have cleared the ranks, and some more welcoming people
are hams; I don’t know. I moved my digital radio experiments to the
unlicensed bands, ignored the hams, and have been much happier ever
since. I think the hams are still doing 1200 bps FSK, while the
unlicensed folks have evolved to 108,000,000 bps WiFi. There must be
tens of thousands of hams nationwide. There are tens of thousands of
WiFi nodes in San Francisco alone – and no crazy restrictions about
not using encryption, not letting other people use your radio, etc.

John

John G. wrote:

Unless you need to do frequency coordination, which you usually do.
Then you have to deal with the oldest, gnarliest hams around, the ones
who 50 years ago got access to mountaintop towers and have been squatting
on them ever since, like trolls under bridges.

Frequency coordination is voluntary in the amateur radio service.
Unless you plan to operate in a band that is already packed with
repeaters, you can, in most places, ignore frequency coordination;
typically the local coordination body (if it functions at all, which is
by no means a guarantee) has designated some range of frequencies as
“open use” and you can just use those frequencies. And very few areas
have meaningful coordination for the bands above 900 MHz; even if there
is coordination in place for 33cm and up, odds are nobody will notice if
you ignore it.

Amateur radio frequency coordinators tend to be tinplated dictators with
delusion of godhood. They also do not have the blessing of the FCC that
they like to pretend they do, and furthermore their legal authority is
entirely limited to repeaters (which they’d know if they had actually
read the regulations that apply to them, which is unlikely).

Things have changed since the 70s; a lot of the twerps you dealt with
have died off by now.

Kelly

On Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 6:22 AM, John G. [email protected] wrote:

Nothing forces you to interact with other ham radio operators. You can
happily work in isolation communicating among your own stations if you
wish.

Unless you need to do frequency coordination, which you usually do.
Then you have to deal with the oldest, gnarliest hams around, the ones
who 50 years ago got access to mountaintop towers and have been squatting
on them ever since, like trolls under bridges.

Mostly echoing what Kelly said… Operating in the DC suburbs I’ve
never had need to coordinate, there is always plenty of inactive space
on the 23cm band. Though perhaps in California (where there is a lot
of 23cm activity, as I understand it) experiences may differ. Some of
the amateur allocations overlap ISM allocations, so even the worst
spectrum dictator would have little hope of micromanaging that.

I suppose its a little different if you’re looking to run something
like a persistent packet BBS.

I got a ham Tech license in the 1970-80’s and it was one of the more
disappointing experiences in my life. Â What a culture clash! Â The ham
fraternity was filled with people who spent all their time
chit-chatting on their handheld radios about their personal lives, but
who knew and cared very little about radio technology or computers.
(Nowadays everyone has cellphones, but in those days they were the
only ones who could communicate mobile.)

In my direct experience this has changed (Although I’ve only been
licensed a couple of years, I’ve owned a radio for a decade and seen
the decline and shift away). Between the internet, pervasive cell
phones, SMS, and such people that simply want to chat have moved on to
mediums which better support technophobes. Certainly they still
exist, but today in most areas the bigger problem is under utilization
of the allocations (especially the UHF/SHF ones) and the related fear
that the allocations will be taken away.

[snip]

since. Â I think the hams are still doing 1200 bps FSK, while the
unlicensed folks have evolved to 108,000,000 bps WiFi.

At lower frequencies the latest fads involve low speed very
narrow-band efficient modulations such as PSK-31, and other low speed
fancy forward error corrected protocols which operate at near the
information theoretic limit like JT65B. At higher frequencies D-STAR
is becoming popular in some areas, and D-STAR depends on a
proprietary, patent encumbered, and trade-secret speech codec.

Of course, there are people running multimegabit and even WiFi systems
operated under part 97 (e.g. switched into ham bands, or on the
overlapping ISM segments but with the ham emission restrictions rather
than the part 15)

There must be
tens of thousands of hams nationwide. Â There are tens of thousands of
WiFi nodes in San Francisco alone – and no crazy restrictions about
not using encryption, not letting other people use your radio, etc.

There are about 700k licensees. Who knows about how many are actually
active, or even living. I could only assume that it would be
significantly less than half.

Of course, 99.999% of your WiFi nodes are just some Apple controlled
appliances with users who even more are blissfully ignorant of how the
technology works. It’s great for facilitating communication, but the
bulk of it isn’t facilitating advancement of the art of radio
engineering. Because the technology encourages ignorant usage any
effort to build more intelligent infrastructure (meshes and such) has
to contend with the interference from those tens of thousands of nodes
with little to no hope for relief.

It’s a bit bogus to compare the lack of restrictions on ISM with the
restrictions on ham radio. If your ISM radiated power is high enough
to have any real range on your uncertified equipment, you’re in clear
violation of the FCC regulations.

I suppose you could argue that enforcement is much more likely in the
ham bands, and I suppose that may be true but I don’t think it’s fair
or accurate to say that the restrictions are worse.

The content, crypto, and usage restrictions are silly on ham radio,
especially when compared with how people are using part 15 devices. I
think the goals for spectrum management could be better achieved
through other means. But getting the rules changed would require
having new blood around to petition the FCC to change the rules.

Cheers,

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