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E.g. in the UK the allowed 70cm band is just 430-440MHz. In the US it seems like it's 420-450MHz.

Why are most HTs restricted in frequency according to where they're sold?

  • It doesn't seem illegal to own one (hell, you can build one).
  • Sellers openly let you pay a bit more for them to mod it, so selling can't be illegal either.
  • Some radios (e.g. Baofengs) aren't even limited in the first place.
  • People visit other countries.
  • Frequencies unlock. Region 1 has somewhat unlocked 146-148MHz. But even if I can legally do so, my IC9700 refuses to transmit there.

I understand the rationale for base stations, as a convenience (with the exception above). Why provide a "push this button to break the law" if you don't have to?

But HTs? They fit in your pocket on your region 2 vacation or business trip. CEPT TR 61/01 and 61/02 has the legal framework recognizing that people do and are allowed to.

So either I pay extra to have the radio modded (where possible), or I buy the radio in the US, and get a US charger and US consumer protection.

Is it a legal requirement or isn't it?

Are manufacturers going beyond legal requirements to cover themselves legally?

Essentially: why would they do this to us?

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Because the rules for what devices can be imported or sold in a given country are an entirely separate thing from radio licensing, and many places have rules that basically say "you can't market a radio that makes it ludicrously easy to break the law" — i.e. no VFO or front-panel programming on business band radios, and no out-of-band transmission on amateur radios. All radios from major manufacturers conform to this, because they want to be able to keep selling their gear.

It's okay for there to be a way to defeat the limits (especially for amateur radios, bands have changed and likely will change again) but it has to take a modicum of technical skill — a menu option isn't enough. Generally, performing this modification for your own use (whether it's a hardware thing or a code that has to be uploaded) is legal as long as you operate legally; performing the modification for someone else may leave you legally responsible for any abuse that they engage in in the future.

In the US, and some other places, you can also build a device without band limits for your own use, and operate it on the amateur bands, but you can't go into business selling them (I think I remember there being an exception for private-party sale of 1 to 5 units of a homebrew device, but I'm not sure, so don't take that as legal advice).

By these rules, most Baofengs made before 2020 are illegal in many places. Customs just couldn't keep up with the imports, so zillions of them made it to the streets despite that. Some of the newer models are locked, and therefore legal to market.

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  • $\begingroup$ You say that all major manufacturers conform to this, but e.g. my Elecraft is not locked to only the Region 1 part of 40m. That's why I ask "is it the law or isn't it?'. And can't we call Baofeng a major manufacturer now? It's probably the most prolific amateur HT manufacturer in the world. And you also say "sold", but like I said unlocking Region 2 frequencies is a checkbox while ordering, even from the big sellers. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Jul 3 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, on the Baofengs I thought their illegality stemmed from their spurious emissions, not from not being limited in tuned TX ranges. Maybe that's a misunderstanding on my part? $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Jul 3 at 13:10
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It's not clear what sort of answer you are looking for, but aspects of this cannot be answered globally, because there is no global "law" overseeing how RF equipment is sold.

First, a bit of a challenge: in most places in the world it is legal to create your own transmitter for amateur use only if you achieve some level of advanced qualifications. For a majority of licensed hams, we are specifically not allowed to design and build a homebrew transmitter. Perhaps there is an HT kit, in which case that would be legal to build.

There are only a few major regional markets for this equipment, and a handful of transnational corporations that make the equipment. Over the years these regions have introduced tighter requirements which has created multiple market streams of equipment. For example, the FCC and Industry Canada have harmonized their requirements for RF equipment such that it is nearly impossible to buy a device that is "unlocked", because all the major brands have complied with those requirements in order to get the highest level of certification for those regional markets. I'm sure the Euro zone has a similar situation.

International trade is tricky to police, however, and there is still opportunity for grey markets for manufacturers that don't care about actual certification. This only lasts so long as the FCC, et al, slowly close those loopholes over time. Many of the Chinese manufacturers that used to offer equipment that worked everywhere, and depended on the user to make the right choices now sell through regional resellers specifically so they can lock transmission to specific bands. Eventually all Chinese manufacturers will end up doing this, or risk being lumped into grey or contraband markets. A Baofeng HT can only generate so much profit at such thin margins if containers arriving in ports keep getting flagged and sent back to China, or dumped on the grey market at a discount.

This has created situations in adjacent regional markets where you can't seem to buy equipment that matches your actual privileges. For example, both Canada and the UK can't do much about the US and Euro agreements, respectfully, that unnecessarily restrict some band access. Some manufacturers offer to address this for you, for a price. But there isn't much you can do about being a minor market overshadowed by a much, much larger one.

So, this is what is happening. The question here is "why" is it happening. That can't be easily answered here. Someone needs to ask the FCC, or the Euro zone bodies in charge why there has been a shift from the onus of compliance being on the manufacturer rather than the user. But we can guess that the people operating the equipment over the years may have not demonstrated the maturity or knowledge required to use them in a compliant manner.

In short, it looks like these spectrum management policies are about making the defaults as idiot-proof as they can, knowing nature will just build a better idiot. Paying extra to unlock the equipment may indemnify the manufacturers in some manner while offering a sort of gate. If you are clever enough to know you want the transmitter unlocked, then that is a very clear indication that you are willing to also accept full responsibility for doing so. Whereas, someone just picking up their first HT while they work on their qualifications may not even be in a position to know what they are agreeing to. Thus, you create a default device for the region for that large market, with an exception for those who say they understand the risks.

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