Buy A Baofeng While You Still Can? FCC Scowls at Unauthorized Frequency Transmitters

There was a time when a handheld radio transceiver was an object of wonder, and a significant item for any radio amateur to own. A few hundred dollars secured you an FM walkie-talkie through which you could chat on your local repeater, and mobile radio was a big draw for new hams. Thirty years later FM mobile operation may be a bit less popular, but thanks to Chinese manufacturing the barrier to entry is lower than it has ever been. With extremely basic handheld radios starting at around ten dollars and a capable dual-bander being yours for somewhere over twice that, most licencees will now own a Baofeng UV5 or similar radio.

The FCC though are not entirely happy with these radios, and QRZ Now are reporting that the FCC has issued an advisory prohibiting the import or sale of devices that do not comply with their rules. In particular they are talking about devices that can transmit on unauthorised frequencies, and ones that are capable of transmission bandwidths greater than 12.5 kHz.

We’ve reported before on the shortcomings of some of these radios, but strangely this news doesn’t concern itself with their spurious emissions. We’re guessing that radio amateurs are not the problem here, and the availability of cheap transceivers has meant that the general public are using them for personal communication without a full appreciation of what frequencies they may be using. It’s traditional and normal for radio amateurs to use devices capable of transmitting out-of-band, but with a licence to lose should they do that they are also a lot more careful about their RF emissions.

Read the FCC statement and you’ll learn they are not trying to restrict the sale of ham gear. However, they are insisting that imported radios that can transmit on other frequencies must be certified. Apparently, opponents of these radios claim about 1 million units a year show up in the US, so this is a big business. The Bureau warns that fines can be as high as $19,639 per day for continued marketing and up to $147,290 — we have no idea how they arrive at those odd numbers.

So if you’re an American who hasn’t already got a Baofeng or similar, you might be well advised to pick one up while you still can.

UV5-R image via PE1RQM

78 thoughts on “Buy A Baofeng While You Still Can? FCC Scowls at Unauthorized Frequency Transmitters

    1. For eBay, it may be too late!
      Crazy prices on 10/25, several BF’s listed for under 4$ ea., yep:
      2ea UV-5 for $7.99,
      4ea UV-82 for $15.98.
      Today, zero less than $15.95, and the cheap sellers have been removed from eBay.

      Techno

      1. I bought the BF-F9 v2+ and it works fine, but I did some research after the fact and it seems (correct me if I’m wrong) that the BF-F8 is the only official one in this product line, and all the others (including the UV-5R which stopped production years ago) are rebranded second quality, or “fakes”. One of the tests is to check the firmware for the correct version, a test which mine failed.

    1. I own an original Lincoln II, very nice radio. But if you mod it, the CB band plan is repeated for all bands. So I installed a switch to toggle between 11 and 10 meters. BTW 10 meters is dead right now, need more sun spots!

      1. More sunspo’s is always great, but10M does come alive often even with a lower sunspot count, and other factors. I have the FM frequencies programed in a scanner. When the MUF is that high the remainder of the lower phone bands should be open as well. Only if people wouldn’t assume the band is dead, and make an effort to make a call, the band may come alive.

        m

        m

  1. I absolutely think that radios in this price range SHOULD be a thing. It’s 2018, surely it’s possible. Maybe it’s just a matter of adding a few components (in the form of a filter) to the existing design. But radios in the Baofeng quality range??? Maybe it’s about time they be banned.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. You tune it to your local repeater frequency, you hear your friends, they hear you and nobody comes banging on your door. So see, it works and I should shut up right? I’ve seen many get defensive thinking that anyone who trash talks the Baofeng is just being stuck up. You can’t play in our playground if you aren’t willing to buy the multi-hundred dollar toys….

    It’s not that at all though. These things have been tested and found to be flawed. Just because nobody is beating down your door doesn’t mean you aren’t interfering with someone every time you use it. They just haven’t bothered to track you down.

    So… must we encourage people to buy even more faulty radios before they finally disappear from the shelves? Really?!?!

    1. Maybe now is the time for an after-market inline filter, or a mod kit that would bring the radios into compliance.

      Hopefully, BAOFENG or competitors will introduce a successor that can meet FCC specs.

      1. I would have thought an inline filter would have become a common accessory right after the reports about spurious emissions started coming out. It’s not like it would really be that hard of a thing for a ham to make. But.. it didn’t.

        Neither did the ‘feng lose any popularity. If anything it was free publicity.

        So… I’m not too optimistic that even someone started selling filters that a significant percentage of Baeofeng owners would buy and/or use them.

        Yes, hopefully many competitors will release many radios in that price range which do meet specs. The old big names really need to be put in their place!

        1. The “big names” have had to deal with a limited market. The only consolation is that they have bigger markets that can keep their businesses going, and they can either repurpose or use most of an existing design for the ham bands. Almost fifty years ago, there was some suggestion that the Motorola HT-200 and HT-220 handie talkies that made it to ham radio weren’t so much “surplus” as a secondary market.

          These cheap walkie talkies have the spurs, but also probably count on a wider market than ham radio. The price goes down because they can count on larger sales. They sell via amazon, not some specialty store thar might point out the need for a license. People can bootleg on the ham bands, but they can also use them on FRS and anywhere else they tune. The comments at amazon suggest a clueless set of buyers. Gee I’ve seen elsewhere people who should know better talk about using illegal equipment for convenience sake.

          Michael

          1. Are you saying that Baofeng can sell cheaper because sell in higher volume? do you really think there are more people buying them for bootleg use than for ham radio?

            Who does that and why? I remember people running modified, off-frequency CBs to talk to one another while driving or boating and escape the crowded channels of the citizen’s band. All those people (well, the ones that aren’t dead) just use their cellphones now and CB certainly is not crowded anyway.

            As for FRS, how many FRS users would even know how to tune a Baeofeng to an FRS channel? And why would they when there are thousands of inexpensive models of FRS radios out there which they would know how to use simply by selecting a channel number as designed. What is the advantage?

            If the ‘big names’ did want to re-use their designs in multiple markets is it impossible to do it legaly?

            The last I heard the FCC wasn’t type accepting equipment that could be ran off-band just by simply cutting a diode anymore. I’m not sure they wouldn’t accept it if the band were set on a one-time write ROM though, especially if that ROM is built into the CPU. Then if all one needs to remove the spurs is a low pass filter that could be a separate daughterboard. The filter would be the only part that would have to be unique then. Well.. for FRS i think the antenna has to be permanently attached so that is a difference too. The antenna (or antenna connector) could be part of the daughter board though.

            The non-ham uses would probably have a simpler interface. Perhaps the buttons could be on a separate daughterboard with some sort of swapable faceplate. The rest would be software!

          2. If you do a search for baofeng uv 0n you tube then aside from the mixed HAM reviews the next largest group of buyers seems to be preppers who will either get the license or just bury them in a faraday garbage can till cilvilization falls.

          3. I know folks who still run commercial equipment on the ham bands. It’s totally legal, but Motorola doesn’t make it easy for you.

            Everything’s software, licensed, with license keys now. You have to find someone who has the proprietary Motorola programming softeware, for the particular radio model you have, and then find the “secret code” to allow the software to program “out-of-band” frequencies into the radio. There are a lot of hams in the radio biz, so there’s always a way, but it’s a challenge, and every new radio requires new programming software, so you need a connection who is already buying this stuff for “real work” and is willing to help you out.

            Digital radio adds another wrinkle to the puzzle, because the codecs and protocols are licensed and/or not divulged, and not all commercial codecs are legal to use on the amateur bands, likewise, the digital amateur radio manufacturers (Yaesu, Kenwood and Icom), who also make commercial digital radios, use different codecs and protocols for the different lines. And, although it’s all software, some of it is firmware, and you may not be able to change it. And even if you can, you may run into DRM or licensing issues.

            So, there are pockets of people who have agreed to use certain radios and certain digital modes, but we’re a long way from having a common digital standard that’s available to everyone, regardless of who made your radio.

      2. How in the heck do you solve this with an aftermarket filter? Most people who buy these radios don’t even understand how to program them. Such a filter would have to be installed inside the circuitry, microcircuitry, very difficult to get at. Then you would need to somehow make adjustments (with what equipment)? If you think this could be done externally you dont understand radios.

        1. Wouldn’t a bandpass filter or even better a tunable bandpass filter work at the antenna connector also in between the radio and the antenna?

          I’d think a variable inductor and variable capacitor basically with maybe another set for finer tuning bandwidth.

          I’m thinking would have to be tunable so can be set at the RX/TX bandwidth as well as tunable to adjust for the RX/TX frequency.

          Would there be to much emission from inside the handheld since not shielded enough maybe?

  2. I can add also for those that haven’t experienced radio directional finding; when you are close to the transmitter, you place the radio wrapped (maybe could even use aluminum foil) in the can on your chest and rotate your body while listening for the signal strength to be the lowest. The transmitter is likely behind you at that lowest signal strength point. The same can be done with just the radio at a further distance with the radio set to the transmitting beacon frequency. Your body acts sort of like a parabolic antenna reflector/insulator.

  3. Are the products any better? I was fortunate to get mine earlier in the product cycle, before the big battery scam and the entry into the market of all the faulty product. Is it safe to buy now?

  4. Many radios in the 80s and 90s had out of band transmit options that could be enabled by removing a diode. It was a way to sell a ham band only radio without needing commercial certifications in the US and to sell essentially the same radio in other markets. Of course, word got around quickly and anyone who wanted to could open it up to transmit on a wide range of frequencies.
    The cheap handhelds will probably re-appear on the market restricted to ham frequencies and then word of the modification needed to open it up will get around.

  5. So nowhere in the article or linked DA-18-980a1 do I see where they specifically say Baofeng or list a model, is this going to be the same as that incident last year where it ended up being just about 1 retailer who was marketing the wrong model but there were a slew of articles saying that using Baofengs in the US was illegal?
    I have been interested in getting into HAM for awhile but time and money were a big deterrent in my younger days, now its a lack of local groups to join, learn from and test at. While there is a local group they seem to be very private in that they are present at local fairs but do not give out any info on how to join and are not listed on the ARRL website, the next closest club which offers testing and open meetings is just over 100 miles.
    Amateur radio testing and licences have been changed in recent years to try to get more people interested but it does still seem that the community is full of people who want to keep the spectrum to a select group and will complain about everything they see as a technical violation.

      1. If they would work to make certification affordable and simple and encourage competition then significantly more of these offshore products would be certified. Time to stop propping up inefficient nrtl monopolies.

        1. They would have to add filtering to the Baeofeng. It would not pass certification as it is.

          But… maybe if getting certified were inexpensive and easier they might actually try to make their radio certifiable.

          Yes, I like your plan!

        2. NRTLs do not do RF. The NRTL program is administered by the federal OSHA agency. There is no federal requirements for electrical appliances to have any sort of formal safety assessment or certification. An NRTL mark is only required for stuff used in an environment scoped per 29CFR1910, which is an industrial site or a workplace or a publicly accessible site.

          The FCC does RF, and much other stuff – mostly to make our lives miserable.

          FCC and OSHA regulations are disallowed where sanctioned Klingon Rites of Ascension are held.

    1. It’s not just a matter of frequency coverage. Aviation uses AM. These radios are FM. The transmitters would be significantly different. Combining both types of transmitters into one unit could certainly be done, but not as cheaply as an FM-only unit.

      Then there are also the legal/regulatory issues.

  6. I’ve got two. One on my desk, the other in the glovebox of my Mustang because I refuse to put a radio in it, or an antenna on it. It’s just an “emergency” radio. The one on my desk, about the only time it gets turned on is during a severe weather event to listen to the NOAA weathernet frequency. If I don’t have it with me, I just use Echolink.

  7. They could have been selling these for a long time. But the goof up by setting up the default frequencies all over the band. Nice for testing it out. Bad for a end user who does not know better. To reprogram the bf888s, requires software/computer/special cable. Something a dumb Sh*t is not going to bother with. “Whats the problem it works ?” tisk-tisk.

    If in the case of bf888s the default shipping setup was GRMS. It might not have been a big problem. Wattage wise it would still fail, but at least it would have been in a safer band.

    BTW, GRMS will not allow the BF888s or others to be used soon. Unless it becomes single band restricted use (FRS only).

  8. You asked about fine values. I’m not sure how it is over there, but in Australia fines are described as “x fine units” with a nominated unit value. Then over the years to increase fines they increase the unit price by y%. This scales all fines uniformly without having to identify each fine individually. It also leads to some really weird fine values.

  9. Just last week, I heard a couple of kids over the scanner. Thought they were on FRS walkie-talkies, but when I went to lock their frequency out so I didn’t have to listen to them playing around, I found they were actually on one of the UHF MED channels used for ambulance-to-hospital comms. Ugh!

  10. Baofeng had countless fakes like the 8W UV-5RTP (F8HP in chirp) that I can verify could do 7.5W on a dummy load.
    However, the noise from these units (although lower than the official version for some models) is still significant even with the terrible matched antenna they give you.

    In emergency situations… most of the broadcast rules in our area are superseded for a mayday call, but sticking the wrong antenna on this unit will still likely damage the power amp anyway. However, if you live in flood, fire or tornado country these are still the cheapest way to enter the amateur handy-radio hobby.

    We will stick with the Motorola for our mobile base station, and would still not recommend these Baofengs for urban area daily-use without a band-pass filter.
    ;-)

  11. I thought the FCC rules didn’t allow the sale or marketing of any intentional radiator product in the US without a prior FCC grant of approval… even if intended for ham operators. Am I wrong? I hope so. Would be nice to actually design some products for the ham market without having to pay $20k USD for testing each device.

    1. Where did you get this number? $20k is way to high… especially for FCC… CE would be a different beast with much more individial test-setups.

      However, there’s sdoc since a year… so it’s now more like in the EU where the manufacturer can do everything on his own.

      73

      1. I’ve been through this process many times. Places like Nemko and Met Labs have doubled their quotes for testing in past 2-3 years. You used to get a device through for 8k to 12k, now it is 19 to 24k. Pretty much changed over night. Those new prices definitely killed more than one project.

    2. You are correct:
      https://www.fcc.gov/engineering-technology/laboratory-division/general/equipment-authorization

      FCC gets annoyed when you try to import stuff that hasn’t been approved. Problem is, they can’t do anything to Baofeng, et al, because they have no presence in the US and the Chinese government doesn’t care. Why they don’t go fter WalMart and Amazon for selling unregistered equipment, I don’t know, but I suspect ithas something to do with money, lobbyists and the current administration’s priorities.

    1. “appears to be”

      I have found, when dealing with Chinese manufacturers, that it’s best to check. Look up the FCC registration number (XBPUV-R50) in their database:
      https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/eas/reports/GenericSearchResult.cfm?RequestTimeout=500

      For this device, it’s listed as a “scanning receiver” and certified under part 15 as an unintentional radiator.

      This is exactly the kind of game the Chinese love to play. They certified it as a receiver. Now, they can claim it’s “FCC Certified”, which, technically, it is. However, for it to legally imported as a transceiver, it should also be certified under Part 47…which it’s not.

      1. That’s perfectly normal for a VHF/UHF ham transciever. It’s because there is no certification required or possible for transmitters under CFR 47 Part 97, the rules for the Amateur Service. There is, however a required certification under CFR 47 Part 15 for any scanning reciever, which is a capability embedded in most VHF/UHF ham transcievers.

        Most VHF/UHF trancievers from Yaesu/Icom/Kenwood and others are certified as scanning recievers under Part 15.

        This is also described in the FCC advisory that started this whole article and thread. It confirms that there’s no certification requirement for ham transmitters, but if they have the capability to transmit outside the ham bands, they must be certified for the frequencies on which they transmit.

        BTW, there is no part 47 to the rules. Did you mean Part 97? Or did you mean 47 CFR, which includes ALL the parts?

    1. There are HT that could be easily modified to be used wideband, Yaesu are cheaper than Kenwood, but the price is still 5 times of a Baofeng.
      https://www.wimo.com/yaesu-vx-6e-handheld-radio_e.html
      By the way an HT like te VX-6 is FCC approved as a RTX.

      I think the Baofeng being really cheap, is has been bought a lot more than a V-U dualbander or a CB radio.
      I don’t know in USA, but buying a marine band HT like this Icom https://www.amazon.com/ICOM-IC-M25-01-Handheld-Radio/dp/B0124NM2AQ is quite easy, and using them in the city is easy, especially when you have a small motorboat used for fishing and you are mandated to have a radio.

  12. More for you folks I guess. Dun want dun need. I have a couple of decent units for 20 years now that can be modified (still) but generally I try to play well with others and respect the simple guidelines. My neighbor has UV5R and lemme just say that around here at least he was lucky to bust 50km with good conditions. He still swears by it but I have yet to see it perform capably (maybe it is a bad unit or he is a dunce though).
    Beyond that, I can easily repair and maintain my current rig vs a bake n pray solution offered here.
    From the headline alone, I am now certain jl is bb lol

  13. Not that this applies to me as I don’t live in the USA, but I find this section from the document interesting…. ;-)

    “Many of these radios violate one or more FCC technical requirements. For example, some can be modified to transmit on public safety and other land mobile channels for which they are not authorized, while others are capable of prohibited wideband operations”

    Virtually any radio can be modified to do something outside its spec.

    Hackaday has several posts where radios have been “hacked” to allow them to do things that the manufacturer firmware does not allow.
    e.g.
    https://hackaday.com/tag/tytera-md-380/

    Where Travis Goodspeed managed to find a flaw in the firmware update bootloader, which allowed him to read the bootloader, and use that information to crack the firmware encryption and hence build and re-encrypt custom versions of the firmware, that allow the MD-380 to do far in excess of what it normally can do.

    Most of the Chinese made radios, e.g. TYT MD-380, Radioddity GD-77, Baofeng UV-5R, Connect Systems – Anytone 868, all have have their configuration files reverse engineered already (usually within a few weeks of the radio appearing on the market), so that they can be modified to operate on a wide range of frequencies (very easily)

    So this advisory would not just apply to cheap Baofeng radios but also to radios costing hundreds of dollars, which are not cheap junk.

    1. There are many, many devices that can be “modified” to transmit out of band. The Raspberry Pi can transmit out of the US Wi-Fi frequencies with no hardware mods. Hell, the AN/PRC-6 can transmit out of the ham band by changing the crystal (which is a normal thing to do, as it is a single-frequency crystal transceiver).

  14. Bound to happen sooner or later. Not that I’m bothered much with the demise of crap.. The better products sold by those big boys who, for some reason need to be put in their place, are out of line price wise

    1. Having read other stuff on the web on this topic, I see that many are missing one important thing, this is an “advisory”, no regulation is not created by this. The FCC gave fair warning it may start enforcing regulations that have been on the record, for decades, in some cases. Hams can still use the units they now own, if the units have clean transmitters and receivers. Yes I said receiver, other regulations prohibit using non type accepted receivers, because poor receivers can generate harmful interference. BTW in my original comment I intended to say those “gig boys” are NOT out of line price wise. Ignoring Trump’s ignorant tariffs. A dual band amateur radio specific portable is ~ $175 more, in the event that’s too expensive, go experiment in the homebrew part of the hobby/service.

  15. What a waste of time. Just about every Ham mods their radios easily to open up the frequency ranges too. It’s simple to do on almost any radio. And they are not the problem. Other jerks that can’t pass the exam, or just plain jerks like to jam the police and such.
    I got one from Amazon a while back and play with it on aloud freqs as per license, but prefer my Yaesu stuff of coarse. Amazon, Ebay, Walmart, and tons more sellers have MULTIPLE models that can transmit on Public Safety right now. But only on analog like NYPD uses. Trunking they can not do. Again, a wasted effort in so many ways!
    FCC better tell them sellers! Doubt they will enforce it like everything else.

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