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Having a low price budget, my search for my first ham radio to buy has led me towards Baofeng. A quick Google search on baofeng showed a lot of results that said that certain model baofeng handhelds are illegal in the US. Is that true?

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  • $\begingroup$ Can we assume that you are referring to the UV-5RV2+ or a similar model? That's what we have. $\endgroup$ – Mike Waters May 5 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Since you mentioned a budget, I strongly suggest that you include the cost of the accessories such as the genuine Baofeng programming cable and the charger. $\endgroup$ – Mike Waters May 5 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ It isn't just that the model that could be illegal; it's reportedly a large percentage of devices sold, due to manufacturing (or other) variations. You might need to test your particular purchase, and either return the unit, if possible, and/or use a suitable bandpass filter on the output. $\endgroup$ – hotpaw2 May 6 at 1:35
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They are legal to use, but only on the amateur bands. (Of course, you'll need to get a license first).

There was a lot of debate on whether they were legal, but the FCC finally stated that they were. Thus the older search results you found, such as this one.

Since they are not type-accepted, they are not legal to use on other bands such as FRS, GMRS, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Most Baofengs are Part 90 type accepted, so they are legal for use on business bands (with the appropriate license, of course) as well as ham use. $\endgroup$ – MoTLD May 5 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @MoTLD Thank you, I think you're right. They were originally made for business use, and were mass produced in very large quantities. That's why they are so cheap. $\endgroup$ – Mike Waters May 5 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MoTLD Maybe not. Check this out. $\endgroup$ – Mike Waters May 5 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeWaters Thanks $\endgroup$ – hopefulhacker-Reinstate Monica May 5 at 15:47
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The ARRL runs a booth at Dayton Hamvention since 2012 where people can submit their HTs to be tested for spectral purity. Over the years 2016-2019, 100% of the Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu HTs they tested were compliant with the standards laid out in Section 97.307. Only 7.5% of the Baofeng HTs they tested were compliant, with 27% being "borderline" (violating the limits by less than 3dB) and the remaining two thirds being more than 3dB out of spec (Source: QST January 2020, pp. 60-61).

HT testing results

Amateur equipment isn't type-certified; the operator is responsible for the compliance of their equipment. With a fairly reliable source showing 92.5% of Baofeng HTs in the wild failing to meet the standards of Part 97, anyone without access to a calibrated spectral analyzer can reasonably assume that any given Baofeng is not legal to use on the amateur bands.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you cite a source for these numbers? I remember reading the article and it was more like 50% were compliant and 20% were marginal, making about 1/3 non-compliant rather than the other way around. Also, teh trend was that they were improving. $\endgroup$ – user10489 May 6 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @user10489 I did cite my source. But for convenience I've included the table from the cited article in my post. My working is a simple weighted average across the three years represented. And no, they're not getting better. $\endgroup$ – hobbs - KC2G May 6 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ To be more clear, the total number of tested Baofengs across the three years was 241 (108 + 88 + 45), and the total number compliant was 18 (9% of 108 + 5% of 88 + 9% of 45). 18 / 241 = 7.5%. $\endgroup$ – hobbs - KC2G May 6 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @user10489 I did, specifically, from the beginning, give a page number in an issue. $\endgroup$ – hobbs - KC2G May 7 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeWaters the article just says that they recorded the power of the worst spur or harmonic, nothing specific on what that was. I suppose the people who operated the analyzer know :) $\endgroup$ – hobbs - KC2G May 7 at 19:22
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Since one aspect of amateur radio is "home brew" ... anything that transmits a "suitable signal" in an amateur band operated by a licensed amateur radio operator, is legal. The key part of the "suitable signal" is power level and spurious signal levels, and includes permitted modulations in the portion of the band wherein the transmission occurs.

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