Ham Radio May Speed Up Soon

The FCC is circulating a proposal for new rules pertaining to amateur radio in the United States. In particular, they want to remove certain baud rate restrictions that have been in place since 1980. It appears the relaxed rules would apply only to some bands, notably some VHF and UHF bands along with the 630 meter and 2200 meter bands, which — we think — are lightly used so far. We’ll save you from grabbing the calculator. That’s around 475 kHz and 136 kHz.

Ham radio operators have long used digital modes like radio teletype and with restrictions on antennas and increasing interference from wireless networking to solar panels and more, digital has become even more popular than in the past. Besides that, cheap computer soundcards make it easier than ever and sophisticated digital modulation techniques have long left the old, clunky TeleType in the dust.

However, the FCC currently limits the baud rate to 300 baud or less, ostensibly to restrict signal bandwidth. No one wants to have an entire band consumed by a 10 Gb RF network. However, modern techniques often squeeze more into less and the FCC will finally recognize that by converting the limit to signal bandwidth, not baud rate.

What’s the bandwidth? For the common bands, it sounds like 2.8 kHz is the answer. For the VLF bands, they are asking for suggestions. The 2200 meter band isn’t even 2.8 kHz wide to start with!

All this talk makes us want to build something for the 2200 meter band. We better start winding the coil now. Then again, maybe we should go piezo. You know, just in case Thomas Dolby tells us that one of our submarines is missing.

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Hackaday Links: September 3, 2023

Right-to-repair has been a hot-button topic lately, with everyone from consumers to farmers pretty much united behind the idea that owning an item should come with a plausible path to getting it fixed if it breaks, or more specifically, that you shouldn’t be subject to prosecution for trying to repair your widget. Not everyone likes right-to-repair, of course — plenty of big corporations want to keep you from getting up close and personal with their intellectual property. Strangely enough, their ranks are now apparently joined by the Church of Scientology, who through a media outfit in charge of the accumulated works of Church founder L. Ron Hubbard are arguing against exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that make self-repair possible for certain classes of devices. They apparently want the exemption amended to not allow self-repair of any “software-powered devices that can only be purchased by someone with particular qualifications or training or that use software ‘governed by a license agreement negotiated and executed’ before purchase.

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Ham Pairs Nicely With GMRS

Ignoring all of the regulations, band allocations, and “best amateur practices,” there’s no real fundamental difference between the frequencies allocated to the Family Radio Service (FRS), the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), and the two-meter and 70-centimeter bands allocated to licensed ham radio operators. The radio waves propagate over relatively short distances, don’t typically experience any skip, and are used for similar activities. The only major difference between these (at least in the Americas or ITU region 2) is the licenses you must hold to operate on the specific bands. This means that even though radios are prohibited by rule from operating across these bands, it’s often not too difficult to find radios that will do it anyway.

[Greg], aka [K4HSM], was experimenting with a TIDRADIO H8 meant for GMRS, which in North America is a service used for short-range two-way communication. No exams are required, but a license is still needed. GMRS also allows for the use of repeaters, making it more effective than the unlicensed FRS. GMRS radios, this one included, often can receive or scan frequencies they can’t transmit on, but in this case, the limits on transmitting are fairly easy to circumvent. While it isn’t allowed when programming the radio over Bluetooth, [K4HSM] found that programming it from the keypad directly will allow transmitting on the ham bands and uses it to contact his local two-meter and 70-cm repeaters as a proof-of-concept.

The surprising thing about this isn’t so much that the radio is physically capable of operating this way. What’s surprising is that this takes basically no physical modifications at all, and as far as we can tell, that violates at least one FCC rule. Whether or not that rule makes any sense is up for debate, and it’s not likely the FCC will break down your door for doing this since they have bigger fish to fry, but we’d definitely caution that it’s not technically legal to operate this way.

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Hackaday Links: June 4, 2023

A report released this week suggests that 50 flights into its five-flight schedule, the Mars helicopter might be starting to show its age. The report details a protracted communications outage Ingenuity’s flight controllers struggled with for six sols after flight 49 back in April. At first attributed to a “communications shadow” caused by the helicopter’s robotic buddy, Perseverance, moving behind a rocky outcrop and denying line of sight, things got a little dicey once the rover repositioned and there was still no joy. Since the helicopter has now graduated from “technology demonstration” to a full-fledged member of the team tasked with scouting locations for the rover while respecting the no-fly zone around it, it was essential to get it flying again. Several attempts to upload a flight plan failed with nothing but an acknowledgment signal from the helicopter, but a final attempt got the program uploaded and flight 50 was a complete if belated success. So that’s good, but the worrying news is that since Sol 685, the helicopter has been switching in and out of nighttime survival mode. What that portends is unclear, but no matter how amazing the engineering is, there’s only so much that can be asked on Ingenuity before something finally gives.

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Fox Fined For Using EAS Tone In Football Ad

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a simple parable that teaches children the fatal risk of raising a false alarm. To do so is to risk one’s life when raising the alarm about a real emergency that may go duly ignored.

Today, we rarely fear wolves, and we don’t worry about them eating us, our sheep, or our children. Instead, we worry about bigger threats, like incoming nuclear weapons, tornadoes, and earthquakes. We’ve built systems to warn us of these calamities, and authorities take a very dim view of those who misuse these alarms. Fox did just that in a recent broadcast, using a designated alarm tone for an advert. This quickly drew the attention of the Federal Communication Commission.
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Greedy Receivers: FCC Considers Regulating Receivers After Altimeter Showdown

Recently, the media was filled with articles about how turning on 5G transmissions in the C-band could make US planes fall out of the sky. While the matter was ultimately resolved without too much fuss, this conflict may have some long-term consequences, with the FCC looking to potentially address and regulate the root of the problem, as reported by Ars Technica.

At the heart of the whole issue is that while transmitters are regulated in terms of their power and which part of the spectrum they broadcast on, receivers are much less regulated. This means that in the case of the altimeters in airplanes for example, which use the 4.2 GHz – 4.4 GHz spectrum, some of their receivers may be sensitive to a part of the 5G C-band (3.7 GHz -3.98 GHz), despite the standard 200 MHz guard band (upped to 400 MHz in the US) between said C-band and the spectrum used by altimeters.

What the FCC is currently doing is to solicit ways in which it could regulate the performance and standards for receivers. This would then presumably not just pertain to 5G and altimeters, but also to other receivers outside of avionics. Since the FCC already did something similar back in 2003 with an inquiry, but closed it back in 2007 without any action taken, it remains to be seen whether this time will be different. One solid reason would be the wasted spectrum: a 400 MHz guard band is a very large chunk.

Thanks to [Chris Muncy] for the tip.

Is The Game Up For Baofeng In Europe?

For radio enthusiasts worldwide, the inexpensive Chinese handheld radios produced by the likes of Baofeng and other brands have been a welcome addition to their arsenal. They make an ideal first transceiver for a new licensee, a handy portable for any radio amateur, and an inexpensive basis for UHF or VHF experimentation. Unfortunately with the low cost comes something of a reputation for not having the cleanest spectral output, and it seems that this has caught the attention of regulators in Germany and Poland. In Germany this has resulted in the announcement of a sales prohibition (PDF in German) which seems likely to be repeated across the rest of the EU.

It seems what has happened is that the quality of the Baofeng radios on sale doesn’t match that claimed in their conformity documents, which should honestly come as a surprise to nobody. It is interesting that the paperwork mentions the Baofeng UV-5R specifically, as it seems likely to us that an inevitable game of whack-a-mole will ensue with the same radios appearing under ever more brand names and part numbers. The basic UV-5R already appears under a number of variants, for example the one where this is being written is a near-identical but slightly more powerful BF-F8, so this should again come as no surprise.

If you live in Europe should you panic buy a Baofeng while you still can? Probably not, unless you really need one. Something tells us they will remain readily available from the usual overseas sources for years to come. Meanwhile this isn’t the first time a regulator has raised questions about this type of radio.

Thanks [2ftg] for the tip.

Header image: Варвара Каминская, CC BY-SA 4.0.