US licence details - re: modification/repair

As I’m in the UK, I’m finding it hard to quite get the absolute rules in use in the US on things like modifications and repairs.

In the UK, business and ham radio regs have been loosened quite a lot but I get the impression this is not the case in the US.

Our lowest licence class - novice - the holder may only use equipment that meets a published standard. Oddly it also allows assembly from kits? We don’t have testing any longer, so any radio that meets these rules is ok. So commercial radios, perhaps designed for 165MHz could be used on 2m if they cover it, and a ham band radio, that has extended coverage enabled could be used on business bands as long as it conformed to the published standards - which really specify frequency stability, spurious emissions and other critical elements like bandwidth, commonality of CTCSS tones etc.

Our regulator also has to make compromises in their published standards to make sure euro harmonisation is maintained (for now) - so changes to the unlicensed low power band due to be introduced across Europe also apply in the UK (we think).

Our free and unlicensed radio system - .5W max, integral aerial, no repeaters is often used by people with higher power radios, like the Baofengs, illegally - but OFCOM seem uninterested. Once we move to licensed radio, then licenses are reasonably simple to get and it works pretty well. We have a sort of GMRS system where there is a ‘light’ license that allows common use of a number of channels in UHF and VHF, but users are made aware they do not have exclusive use, and that any OFCOM involvement will only be if there is a serious reason.

I hold a number of licenses so ham, marine and business radio - and the ability to rent equipment too and park it on special frequencies is available. I can use my van radio on business, marine and ham bands - because the radio meets the appropriate standards, and any issues are my problem to sort.

Can anyone explain how the US system works - I understand the technician license is like our novice and mods and fiddling are not allowed, but I assume your GMRS and family have some kind of rules about standards? I was told that radios for some of these must be tested - is this true?

Not in the US and I can’t speak to the Ham licence but it might be fun to also compare Canada and the UK. We have lots of similarities. (Plus we have a few active members of this forum from Canada.)

Here in Canada, radios are licenced through Industry Canada (IC) and IC also licences the radio spectrum. Licenced users are assigned their own frequency in their licenced geographical area, in their choice of VHF or UHF. (VHF is traditionally highly used and frequencies are hard to come by, but that is changing as many businesses are going to UHF instead.)

Industry Canada does a good job with the radio spectrum, and licenced users sharing the same frequency are usually kept a minimum of 75 kilometers apart. They also assign CTCSS and DCS codes. New business users can be assigned a temporary shared frequency until their permanent frequency is assigned, and this is where we have similar shared business frequencies as you do in the UK or the US. The actual frequencies will differ, and this is why radios programmed for the US may cause interference here in Canada. Shared business frequencies still require a licence.

As for the unlicenced spectrum, we have both FRS (max .5 watt) and GMRS (max 2 watt ERP) here in Canada, and the frequencies are the same as the US. (Different than your PMR446 radios in the UK.) Radios must meet IC testing and approval, although in practical terms almost all FRS and GMRS radios meeting US FCC standards will also meet IC standards. GMRS in Canada is restricted to 2 watts power and we don’t allow repeaters but in practical terms, almost all bubble-pack radios don’t go beyond 2 watts of effective radiated power anyway, even if advertised as 5 watts.

This system is similar to your PMR446 spectrum in that no licences are required in Canada, but we use the same frequencies as FRS and GMRS in the US.

We do not allow unlicenced MURS radios in Canada. Industry Canada was studying MURS but decided to drop it entirely as there were a few large national users who were already licenced on what would become MURS frequencies, and the cost to change them would be considerable. Plus there seemed to be little demand for MURS in Canada.

We also allow unlicenced digital radios (Motorola DTR/DLR) on the 900 Mhz spectrum in Canada because they hop so rapidly that they cannot interfere with other users. They use the same spectrum as US DTR/DLR radios. You can get the same DTR radios in the UK, but they operate on the 2.4 Ghz spectrum.

So you can see that we have a mix of regulations from both UK and US. We require no licences on GMRS, much like your PMR446 radios, but we use the same radios and frequencies as the US FRS and GMRS radios. We have no MURS (and will likely never get it) but we do have licence-free Motorola DTR and DLR radios.

Marine radios are ONLY to be used by licenced operators and only while on boats or licenced shore stations. We rarely get hunters illegally using marine frequencies because most of them use FRS. Two-way radio communication during hunting is also restricted in some hunting activities in many provinces. IC takes violations of marine radios VERY seriously, as we border on three separate oceans and have many huge inland lakes.

As for people using cheap Ham radios on GMRS frequencies - nobody cares. Here in Canada the airways are not as crowded as the US, and if one finds another user on an FRS or GMRS channel, they just switch channels. There are lots of high-power radios on FRS and GMRS and many of them are used in life-saving situations such as remote area communication, avalanche control etc. where the bubble pack radios are just not good enough quality for day-to-day use. Again, nobody cares. There are far more important things to worry about in the world than who is using a 5-watt GMRS radio instead of a 2-watt bubble pack. IC will not investigate unlicenced radios on the unlicenced spectrum unless they interfere with licenced users. One rarely gets the cranky old Ham who wants to be the frequency police because kids are all texting these days and because GMRS is unlicenced anyway, there is no practical way to tell the difference between a 2-watt bubble pack radio or a 5-watt business radio programmed to GMRS frequencies. (Plus, if you live in an area where bears roam frequently and you need avalanche beacons to get to work, it appears many of us acknowledge that lives are more important than a piece of paper.) I would never counsel people to break the law and would never do it myself, but it appears lots of people do in Canada and nobody really cares. Besides, there is not much wrong with more people learning the correct usage and the advantages of two-way radio communication.

That’s really interesting - great background thanks. Marine is a bit odd here in that everyone is licensed through the Royal Yachting Association, and they franchise out the training/testing to all sorts of bodies - typically costs around ?75 for a days training with the test at the end - it’s the kind of training where they print the certificates before you arrive, and nobody fails unless they are a real numpty. We don’t really have anything here that requires using comms riskily, like your hunting example. We did have a 900MHz CB style allocation but it vanished, and few people here are using thew wi-fi frequencies for comms, apart from entertainment - where there are professional comms systems running - but they’re terribly expensive so not everyday items.

The thing that intrigues me is that we never hear about people using one countries equipment in another. I used to ski once a year in either europe or the US or Canada, and I always took a few hand held radios in my suitcase. No doubt my UK UHF frequencies would be frowned on over there, but they worked fine, and I’m sure people must bring in the US/Canada bubble pack type radios to Europe.

In the USA:

ALL levels of amateur radio operators, from Technician to extra ARE permitted to build and modify their own equipment, antennas, etc, with no restriction.

For FRS/GMRS/MURS/CB,Part 90 commercial, marine,etc, No user may modify any internal components of a radio.

Essentially, only licensed amateurs are permitted to open their own equipment, or for that matter, build their own equipment.

If you bring your bubble pack radios into the USA and Canada, you will be illegally operating on the USA Amateur radio frequencies, as they are part of the USA 70 cm amateur band. Also, USA bubblepacks would be interfering with your UK public safety frequencies.

462-467MHz here has very little in it. The lower end used to be used by the Police and Prison service, but not much left there now. I’d expect using these frequencies would’t even be noticed.

This concept is codified in the very first section of the US Amateur Radio Regulations:

?97.1 Basis and purpose.

The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the
following principles:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service,
particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.

© Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and
technical phases of the art.

(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Can I stretch the topic even a little more? -

or FRS/GMRS/MURS/CB,Part 90 commercial, marine,etc, No user may modify any internal components of a radio.

Does this mean that repair and installation businesses need to be regulated somehow? Our system here has license categories for business suppliers - with special licenses and ‘parking’ and demo frequencies, short term rentals etc - and I can repair and modify equipment as long as it does then not go outside the performance specs of our current standard. It does get a little odd in marine band, where I can install and repair the equipment, but need a ‘user’ license to pick up the microphone and talk to a marina, or river service to confirm it works?

We also have weirdness in air band. I have a few portables I hire out as spares to parachute clubs, small airfields who suddenly need extra or replacement kit, and OFCOM, our government regulator as given the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) the power of licensing and they have no license available for me to be able to hand over a radio to say, the parachute club and speak into it, unless I personally take the pilots wireless exam - or supply it on a licensed airfield where the airfield themselves can authorise ground use. This very odd system made me decide not to replace any of my airband kit with new 8.33KHz equipment - the licensing situation is just very unclear, and the CAA speak in a very strange language - you ask them a specific question. “I want to …, what license is available?” and they respond with “I’m sorry, I do not understand?”

There really is no (anymore) regulation of repair personnel, in regards to the personal communications services. (I imagine the marine service equipment still requires a person with a General Radio Operator’s License “GROL” to perform repairs) I was getting at where no person may modify their equipment to where it has components outside of the original design specifications. A simple repair is likely still legal, to the point it isn’t a “modification” to make the equipment function outside of design parameters.

If that helps clarify…