Amateur radio or Ham Radio is an older form of communication. It can be seen as a hobby for older generations to learn how to build and operate ham radios. But what are a ham radio’s capabilities when it comes to talking with others?
Ham radio can reach just about anyone. With the correct parts and power, it can send messages, documents, and images across the world and to the moon. It has about 1.8 MHz to 275 MHz of bandwidth. It can communicate with CB, GMRS, FRS, MURS, and LRPS radios, but it’s only legal in emergencies.
These radios have been popular for years and they hold an important part in the history of communication and radio technology. To learn more about how they operate and under what circumstances they can be used, read below.
What is Ham Radio?
Amateur or Ham radio is a hobby for many people in older generations as well as younger enthusiasts. Ham radios can even be used for a fun summer project for children who are interested in communication technology.
It is a system of communication that does not require internet and just needs a simple power supply to keep it running. In some cases, you can also hook it up to your vehicle and use it on the road.
You can easily learn to build your own and begin communicating with others. However, if you really want to get the most out of your ham radio, (beyond just a summer hobby or project) you can’t just learn how to do it and suddenly you’re a professional.
Just like every hobby or piece of technology, there is a learning curve and a process wherein you learn how to use it properly. Usually, you need proper training, as well as a license, to use ham radio to its full capacity.
The Purpose of Ham Radio
Ham radios were the beginnings of long-distance communication and eventually, this form of communication led to the development of cellphones and computers. Some people assume that this means that ham radios don’t exist anymore because they are pointless compared to the mobile phone, right? Wrong!
They still have a major use and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has made it their mission to keep ham radios as something used for good.
Besides being someone’s hobby, ham radio is also used by volunteers in an emergency. Since it doesn’t require the internet, just a source of power, first responders and groups of people in emergency situations may use ham radio to contact help.
In many popular adventure or disaster movies, you might see someone building, repairing, or using ham radio to contact outside help.
This isn’t just a Hollywood trick; it happens in real life all the time! It is the people who can operate a ham radio that get the first responders where they need to be and relay useful information.
Getting a License
To operate a ham radio you must have a license. This is to make sure all operators can communicate effectively, understand the basics of ham radio, and know regulations and practices for using a ham radio.
This is also required by the FCC and is a way to prevent people from misusing the ham radio. You can only communicate through ham radio with other licensed ham radio individuals. Too much unofficial chatter could get in the way of official messages, so it needs to be regulated.
You can get a license from The National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) for about $40. It lasts about 10 years before you have to renew it. Government representatives can’t hold a license for ham radio. There are three levels of a ham radio license and each requires you to pass a test that is multiple choice or written.
Then you will be given access to different frequencies you can use for communicating via ham radio. Morse code is commonly used through ham radio as a form of communication, but knowledge of morse code is not necessarily required to obtain a license.
What Bandwidths does Ham Radio Operate On?
Bandwidth can be a little confusing, but in short, it is the different frequencies you can communicate on. Each of the levels of frequencies from Kilohertz to Gigahertz can travel various lengths and may have different characteristics that lower sound quality. The chart below gives the different frequency levels, their uses, and bandwidth.
|Medium Frequency (MF)||300 kHz- 3 Mhz||535 kHz- 1.7 MHz is the allotted area for commercial AM radio. This frequency is affected by big buildings and tunnels, open areas are better to transmit the radio signal.|
|High Frequency (HF)||3-30 Mhz||Shortwave radio is allocated a spot here at 1.7-30 MHz; which is used for long-distance communication.|
|Very High Frequency (VHF)||30-300 MHz||FM Radio is allocated between 88 MHz and 108 MHZ.|
|Ultra High Frequency (UHF)||300 MHz-3 GHz||Wifi, Bluetooth, Wireless USB, etc. is used here. As well as radar because it will bounce off various things and help map out the area.|
|Super High Frequency (SHF)||3-30 GHz||See Above.|
|Extremely High Frequency (EHF)||30-300 GHz||Radio Telescopes use this frequency to gather information about the solar system as it paints of picture of the universe for us.|
The ham radio bandwidth is about 1.8 megahertz to 275 gigahertz. You will have access to different levels of this bandwidth depending on your license class. The first class for a ham radio license is called Technician.
With this license, you have access to all ham radio frequencies above 30 megahertz and limited privileges on the short wave. The second class, General, will give you access to everything below 30 megahertz. Then in the third class, Extra, you will receive access to everything on the short wave.
Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Regulations
The FCC gives specific allocations for different radio uses. This is to make sure people who are using radios to tell fellow truckers where cops and crashes are don’t cover up emergency personnel communications.
If you look at this chart (which was created and updated in February of 2021) you can see the different allocations of different frequencies for different uses. It has two sides, one for international use and one for the United States specifically.
It will usually give the frequency range at the top until you move to the next range. It then gives the different allocations for every hertz.
AMATEUR is used to define ham radio allocations. Since ham radio has specific allocations it is not to be used in other allocations. When learning ham radio it is good to have your instructor go over the specifics of ham radio allocations so you don’t accidentally go into some other radio type’s allocation.
It is illegal to use bandwidths and channels not allocated for ham radio use. The only time you can make your case for communicating to other channels not allocated for ham radio is when it is an emergency and you need to reach specific individuals or emergency personnel.
Below, we’ll go into some personal radio services and whether or not you can communicate with ham radio users.
Citizens Band (CB)
With CB radio service there is very limited space to communicate, only 26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz and 40 channels are allocated for users. Since it is so small, the FCC has put in regulations about how long you should stay on communicating.
You should only take about 5 minutes to communicate with another person and if you want to continue communication or talk to someone new, you should wait to see if the channel is taken by someone else before continuing.
Only two people can communicate at a time on one channel and are used for personal reasons.
Any and all equipment used for CB radio must be FCC approved, otherwise, it is illegal to communicate with it.
You may think since the allocated area for communication fits within the ham radio allocation you should be able to communicate between the two. Technically, yes, you can communicate between CB and ham radio users on the same channel. However, the FCC has allocated different channels for users using ham radio and CB.
This means that it is illegal to communicate with one another because of the separate allocations unless it is an emergency. If you are going to communicate with someone on CB radio service, they need to have a Ham License as well, which is unlikely.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
GMRS is allocated space around 462 MHz and 467 MHz, also pretty small. It is used for short two personal communications. Small radios, GPS, texts, etc. are commonly used at this level.
The technology used for GMRS communication must also be approved by the FCC. A license is also required for this use of radio service. Since more personal and commonly used communications are done in GMRS, the FCC does not allow ham radios to communicate with FMRS users.
It is also illegal to prevent too much interference.
Ham radio can technically communicate to GMRS users because ham radio’s bandwidth includes GMRS’s bandwidth. Both parties would also have to be licensed in GMRS and ham radio as well.
However, once again communication between GMRS users and ham radio users is illegal unless it is an emergency.
Family Radio Service (FRS)
FRS is another short distance, two-person communicator. It also uses 462 MHz to 467 MHz for its channels. To use FRS you will need a GMRS license.
Since FRS and GMRS are so similar, you can communicate between the two without restriction.
This form of communication is more for personal reasons or to communicate with family members.
Walkie Talkies can use either FRS or GMRS. You can use an FRS walkie-talkie to talk to a GMRS walkie-talkie because they are so similar. There was a point you could buy a radio that worked for both FRS and GMRS, but those no longer exist.
It is illegal to talk to someone on ham radio using any type of walkie-talkie because of the allocation differences for both FRS and GMRS.
Low Power Radio Service (LPRS)
LPRS has very specific purposes and should not be used for personal communication or to play around with. LPRS is meant for communications to help people with disabilities. This is most commonly used in schools to help children who may be deaf or new to a country and don’t know the language.
It is helpful for translating languages and giving children who are hard of hearing the ability to hear and understand what a teacher says better. This radio service can be employed in hospitals as well to help health care workers communicate with their patients.
This is a one-way communication device, meaning that it is not meant to communicate like a conversation, just as a way to provide important information to the receiver. Some schools employ this by attaching a microphone to a teacher while they teach.
Then the signal is sent to a hard-of-hearing student so they can effectively participate and understand the lesson.
This device is allocated a bandwidth of 216-217 MHz. Although it is small, it is only used for helping with health-related issues and communication. It is illegal to use any other form of radio service (including ham).
It can be used to send out emergency information, but not directly communicate and talk about an emergency. For example, the fire department could order an evacuation through this device, but couldn’t then ask the hospital how many people are inside the building.
Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)
MURS has a range of 151-154 MHz. This is used for two-person communication or more. Often these devices will look like Walkie-talkies, but these aren’t used for walkie-talkies. It is meant for industrial communications and business communications.
Like those listed above MURS, it cannot be used to communicate with ham radio users without a license for ham radio and only if it is an emergency.
As you can see, there are a lot of uses for ham radio, and they can be extremely useful communication tools when they are used properly.