2013, Narrowbanding and Ham Radio

Reviewing Chinese radios is one thing, answering tons of questions another. One question stood out: “Does this radio comply with the new narrowbanding requirements as laid out by the FCC?” My first reaction was “How the hell do I know? I’m just a foreigner.” Stupid foreigner or not, now I had to know. It proved to be easier said than done.

At first I tried to tap into the knowledge of fellow ham operators living in the USA. That didn’t work. Nobody seemed to be 100% knowledgeable on the subject, just like me. Opinions and technical requirements varied wildly. Only one technical requirement, the ability of the radio to make 2.5KHz steps, was always mentioned.

FcclogoEven when you master the English language, reading official documents isn’t always easy. I dug into the world of the FCC, reading as much as I could find, trying to make sense of it all. At a certain point I thought I got the general idea, but felt reluctant to post something. My conclusions would imply that nothing really changed for Ham Radio operators, nor for the radios they wish to use. It seemed a bit too risky to post.

Instead I wrote to the FCC, summarized what I thought was true, and asked if someone at the FCC could confirm it. The arrival of my e-mail (sent December 18, 2012) was confirmed promptly, and I waited. I’m still waiting.

Much better info came from the ARRL. Especially some ready-to-download PDF files cleared up things. If you read this document, go down to the end of page 6, you know everything there is to know:

“It is important to note that the FCC mandate to move to 12.5 kHz channels does not apply to Amateur Radio. However, the mandate has a substantial impact on the manufacturers that supply our transceivers.

There is a certain market incentive for Amateur Radio to adopt 12.5 kHz channels as this would ensure our continued compatibility with commercial equipment manufacturers. A willingness to keep in step with prevailing spectrum usage, whether it is for analog or digital communication, would also cast Amateur Radio in a more favorable light.”

There you go. When you buy a Chinese radio, narrowband is the least of your worries, unless you intend to use it for other purposes. This is clearly stated on the FCC website:

“Narrowbanding is an effort to ensure more efficient use of the VHF and UHF spectrum by requiring all VHF and UHF Public Safety and Industrial/Business land mobile radio (LMR) systems to migrate to at least 12.5 kHz efficiency technology by January 1, 2013.”

That’s all there’s to it. No 2.5KHz steps needed, not even a wide/narrow option. I still believe such options are very useful, but they’re not mandatory.