A very common question among asked by people interested in amateur radio operation is why there is whether they need a license to set up operations or not. The simple answer is; Yes, you do, but to understand why this is so and how licensing is beneficial to the whole system we should start by looking at the two radio services offered up in the United States that do NOT require licensing.
These are services available to the general public that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows without licensing. However, the FCC requires that for these to be made available to the public, very specific regulations regarding design, power restrictions, and the frequencies they may operate on have to be adhered to. The most widespread of these services include:
· The Family Radio Service (FRS) radio, more commonly known as a walkie-talkie, that you can buy at any local convenience store. It is commonly limited to just about half a watt of power and is designated for use over fourteen very specific channels or frequencies.
· The Citizen’s Band (CB) radio, which most of us might recognize as that which is used by long distance truckers to communicate with each other while on the road, adheres to somewhat similar regulations. The difference lies in its capacity and range, as it allows for power usage of up to 12 watts on a range of 40 channels.
In the cases of both examples above, operators are restricted from opening up the radios and amplifying the signals as this would violate the laid down FCC regulations.
Now, the thing about amateur radio that makes it a bit more restricted than the examples above is the fact that it’s much less bound by the FCC regulations regarding power and frequency ranges. There are classes of licenses offered to the public which grant the license holders the right to use certain frequencies non-license holders will not have access to and power levels reaching up to 1500 watts. You’re also allowed to build and modify your own equipment as long as you stay within FCC guidelines for your class. The different licenses are:
Technician Class: Attaining this license gives you access to 17 bands of frequencies of about 30 megahertz (MHZ)
General Class: This will give you the right to access a great deal of the ten shortwave (high frequency) bands which give you the ability to communicate with operators all over the world.
Amateur Extra: This is the highest license attainable, granting the holder access to the entire amateur radio spectrum worldwide.
From the above information it isn’t hard to figure out why having a license might be important. These radios are powerful and so call for more responsibility in their use to make sure operators have enough technical and procedural knowledge to avoid interference, maintain safety standards, and interact with foreign operators in a manner that will reflect well on your country.
Getting your License
Acquiring a license is not as difficult as most would imagine. It used to be slightly challenging in the past because HAM operators were required to have a working knowledge of Morse code and basic electrical skills but nowadays, because Morse is rarely if ever used and radio sets come pre-assembled and are a lot safer to use, the exams are a lot more forgiving.
To take the exam look up your local Volunteer Examiner, who’s licensed and recognized by the FCC as qualified to administer these exams. The government does not charge for licensing, but a small fee may be charged by your volunteer examiner. Licenses are valid for 10 years, upon which time they have to be renewed, although nowadays this can be easily done online.
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