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Ok so I am in the USA, and I have just bought a BFTECH BF-F5XP. I have a couple of questions. First of all, could I make my own Privacy code (Interference prevention code), and channels? What I am basically asking, is can I alter my radio, into a talkie and communicate with another BFTECH radio without getting in trouble with the feds? I bought a 35 dollar radio and dont really feel like buying a 70 dollar license so im trying to make the best of it. I do not intend to go on a public channel and chat with random people, but I have seen how Public Saftey have created channels where one or more people can go on and communiate, and I kind of want to just do that, So can I alter/use my BFTECH as a communications radio?

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  • $\begingroup$ Hello Joseph, and welcome to ham.stackexchange.com! $\endgroup$ – rclocher3 Jan 28 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ You can find VECs that charge less than 35 dollars for the license exam. I’ve seen several that only charge 14 and are doing online exams. $\endgroup$ – QuantumMechanic May 2 at 5:02
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If you're looking for a secure but legal communications channel where you can do whatever you want but don't feel like spending more than 35 dollars, I'm afraid you will have a hard time finding a good solution.

Modifying the radio will render it incompatible with the regulations that it needs to conform to, so don't attempt doing that if you want to remain within the law.

If,however, you're interested in learning more about these "codes" and how the radio works, welcome to amateur radio ;).

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The good news is that the license you'll need for that particular radio is an amateur radio license which is only a $35 application fee. You will need to pass an exam before you can apply.

As far as I'm aware, to operate that radio without violating FCC regs, you will have to have a license. Also, as Zeiss notes in the comment below, there's no practical way to alter this radio to encrypt communications, though using a PL tone is probably what you mean.

If you'd like a no-license option, I'd suggest returning this one and finding a cheap FRS walkie talkie to do the same thing on appropriate frequencies.

Following up on "private code/private channels" they don't exist. The tones and codes are implemented to prevent you from hearing others who don't transmit the tone/code... they cannot prevent others from hearing you.

If the FCC takes an interest in your unlicensed activity with this radio, yes they could issue a warning, a fine, and/or confiscate your equipment. I won't speculate on the likelyhood of this, rather I'd suggest you shouldn't.

Best of luck to you!

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    $\begingroup$ In addition to needing a license, it is specifically forbidden to encrypt transmissions (though use of a non-standard PL tone is permissible). Also, altering this radio would invalidate its type acceptance. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Jan 28 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Great point Zeiss, and adding this to the answer re encryption. Though it is ok for amateurs to open it up, modify it, and operate it as long as the operation stays inside of part 97. $\endgroup$ – webmarc Jan 28 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ You can set up your radios to use PL tones, like what repeaters use -- but that keeps you from hearing other traffic on the frequency you're using (which might lead to interference with that other traffic); it doesn't keep anyone from hearing your communication. Obscuring your comms is specifically what the encryption prohibition is about -- anything on ham bands must be open for all to receive. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Jan 28 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody needs the code to hear what you're saying. You can chat with this radio anywhere it will let you, but with no license it will be in violation of the FCC regs. So: get a license or get a different radio. $\endgroup$ – webmarc Jan 28 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ Just because it is a two way radio doesn't mean that anyone should be allowed to use it in any way he wants. Buying a racecar doesn't allow you to ignore speed limits either. Maybe you are talking about PMR radio's. These can be used without a license, but then again, they provide no way of creating a "secure channel". Maybe you could elaborate on what exactly you want to achieve and why you need it so be "scrambled"? $\endgroup$ – Dieter Vansteenwegen ON4DD Jan 29 at 9:25
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I'll post this as a separate answer since it isn't meant as a thorough technical answer. I haven't thoroughly researched everything below and I figure one of the mods might decide to remove it. However... It seems to me that you don't have a clear understanding of the different radio "systems" (for lack of a better word that comes to mind now), so some of the above comments might be rather confusing. Hope this does help a bit in demystifying...

To be clear, I don't know the exact details of your radio, neither do I know the exact ins and outs of the American regulations. However, the general principles are mostly similar everywhere.

There is only a limited amount of spectrum (a range of frequencies) that can be used for practical radio communications. There are international agreements on which frequencies (or rather, ranges of frequencies) can be used for which applications, with what kind of equipment, what power, which modes (voice, data, ...) and so on. Local authorities might follow the general agreements or have their own version of it. In any case, there are rules for who can use which frequencies to do what with what kind of gear and with what kind of power (and plenty of other rules). Local bodies govern those rules. I believe the FCC is in charge of that in the US. They are also the people that should make sure no one broadcasts where (spectrum-wise) he shouldn't. This also includes broadcasting noise by using equipment that isn't properly shielded/manufactured/filtered or just broken.

As an example, if you're still using analog television (or radio) over the air, imagine your tv signal dropping out from time to time because someone in the neighourhood has equipment that doesn't function properly or isn't even allowed (but "it was cheap and who is going to find me, so I'll do whatever..."), that is what we're trying to prevent.

As with most limited things, prices go up. Frequency spectrum is no different. Mobile (cellular) carriers pay incredible amounts of money to license certain frequencies in certain areas. Still, there are some frequency ranges that are free to use, within strict constraints. One example is PMR (which we use in Europe). That is a range that "everyone" is free to use, if the equipment has the appropriate limitations (500mW power, fixed antenna, ...) and type approvals (!). These PMR radios are the kind of two-way radio's that are cheap to get and work for a few kilometers (in open terrain) without requiring a license. However, these same radio's can't be used in the US, since the frequencies used for PMR are in use for other purposes in the States. You have FRS radios which I believe are largely similar but work on other frequencies.

These types of radios (which I think is what you're after) only work on a couple of channels (frequencies) and if there are other people in your area using these radios as well, you might find them using the same channel as you're on. Your radio would let you hear their communications because your receiver just looks at what level and modulation of signal gets received on the frequency you're listening to. This is where the codes you talk about come in. Manufacturers have devised a system where you can select a certain tone that you can't hear but gets sent with every broadcast you make. If someone else programs their radio on the same frequency as yours and selects the tone you agreed on, their radio will only make sound if it "hears" a broadcast accompanied with the same tone. This way, you have somewhat less reception of other peoples communication and possibly a -false- sense of security. It might seem like your signal is encoded or somehow "protected" but it really isn't. Disable the tone selection on your receiving radio (which is most often the default setting) so that it receives all communication on that channel, and you hear all communication again. There's no encryption, only a basic sense of identification. There might be (or have been) some scrambling options that allow you to scramble your audio, but as far as I know this isn't allowed on these frequencies. I hope that demistifies the "codes" a bit.

Then there's the type of radio. As mentioned above, certain frequencies require certain types of approvals on the transmitters that are used. To use a device for these FRS/PMR frequencies, it needs to perform within certain specifications and needs to be tested and approved against them. I have an amateur radio license and a portable radio that I can program to use the PMR frequencies and use less than 500mW. Still, the radio isn't type approved for use as a PMR radio, so I can't (legally) use it as such. Your radio can likely be used for a lot of different types of communication, but that doesn't mean that you can legally do so. I think a lot of the initial succes of the Baofeng kind of radios is that they were dirt cheap and could be used for lots of different applications. People seemed to think that since this radio was sold and could do thing X, it must be legal to do thing X with it. Except for amateur radio and (most) receiving applications, that isn't the case.

So...

  • If you're looking for a reasonably cheap way of doing short distance communication without getting a license or be bothered with learning about radio, I'd get one of these (approved) FRS radios.
  • If you have a technical interest in radio and wish to know more, either contact a local radio club, the ARRL, find some in your area or just study up for one of the exams. It's really not that difficult or pricey to get started if you look around. There are plenty of bargains if you look around and are willing to settle on a slightly older model of handheld. You'll (likely) spent more than what you paid on your radio but you'll have much more you can do with it. I've given radio's that I repaired or simply had no use for to new radio amateurs, you might even find a radio for free.
  • If you're not sure where you want to go, stay around here and ask questions. There are plenty of people on here that are more than willing to help. There are a lot of great/cool things you can do with amateur radio. I really like the theory and the idea that I can use an old handheld and existing satellites to communicate (for free, except for my yearly license fee) with other hams. That's just one example of what people do...
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    $\begingroup$ a really thorough and kind explanation... great job! $\endgroup$ – webmarc Jan 31 at 14:04
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Ok so my idea, Just dont transmit... if you think its illegal, then dont do it. You can ask us, we will be glad to answer your questions, but just enough about it.

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