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[Discuss-gnuradio] Transmit legit, become a ham

From: Gregory Maxwell
Subject: [Discuss-gnuradio] Transmit legit, become a ham
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 2010 00:59:39 -0500

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

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

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

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