The ubiquitous Baofeng radio, I’m sure that just about every ham that is active on VHF and UHF has one of these radios. And why not, they are quite inexpensive and relatively durable. With a purchase price of around $30 you get quite a lot for your money.
But if you follow the amateur radio news, the ARRL has recently reported that the FCC issued a Citation and Order for the Illegal Marketing info Unauthorized Radio Frequency Devices against Amcrest Industries LLC, the company the that imports Baofeng Radios into the US. So what does that mean? Are these radios now illegal to use? Are they contraband?
Will the feds show up on my door if I transmit with one? The short answer is no, but lets dig into the story.
Back in 2012, Amcrest Industries began importing the Baofeng UV5R handheld radio. At that time they had the radio type accepted for FCC part 90 regulations. That means the radio was to comply with the rules for the Part 90 Private Land Mobile Radio Service. Devices that are Part 90 compliant include radios that could be used for business and industry and public safety. and having part 90 certification means Amcrest could market the radio for business use. But in order to receive the part 90 certification, the radio was to have specific power limits, frequency ranges, and could not be user programmable from the front panel.
The Baofeng radios, notably the UV-5R, UV-5RA, and UV-5RE, did not comply to these rules and on March 13, 2013 the FCC Enforcement Bureau received a complaint alleging that these models were capable of transmitting on land mobile frequencies using external controls and operating at power levels above those specified by the equipment authorization. The wheels of government move slow, so in October of 2017 the Enforcement Bureau’s Spectrum Enforcement Division sent a Letter of Inquiry, to Amcrest relating to those allegations with follow ups in January and February of 2018. It should be noted that Amcrest did follow up with the Inquiries in a timely manner.
In their response, Amcrest stated that the company did begin market four models of the UV5R series in June of 2013 but ceased doing so of three of the models a few years ago. Although its noted that they failed to remove them from their website until February of 2018. Currently Amcrest markets only one UV5R series radio, the UV-5R V2+.
The UV-5R V2+ is incapable of operating at a power level above it specified equipment authorization, but that model could still operate on restricted frequencies. So the company was instructed all inventory currently on order and in the future will operate on 145-155 MHz and 400-520 Mhz.
So what does this all mean?
It all boils down to the radios being granted FCC part 90 certification. FCC part 90 is the Private Land Mobile Radio Service. Part 90 is a licensed radio service and along with power and operating restrictions, it also has pools of specific frequencies that the equipment can operate on. A part 90 radio can’t operate on the Aviation band, Maritime bands, satellite communication services, and federal and military allocations. The UV5R was essentially an ‘open’ radio and could transmit anywhere between 136-174 and 400 – 480 Mhz.
Secondly, the UV5r was capable of operating at 1 or 4 watts, and it’s equipment authorization permitted it to operate at no more than 1.78 watt on the permitted frequencies. The radio had no such limitation and could do 4 watts anywhere. This was rectified in the UV5R V2+
So this citation requests that Amcrest ceases marketing the UV-5R V2 until the device is brought into compliance and state in writing that the model does comply with the applicable FCC part 90 rules.
Can these radios be used on the amateur radio bands?
Yes they can.The amateur radio service is regulated by FCC Part 97 rules and do not require a part 90 certified radio to operate on those bands. So you can use your older Baofeng UV5R and UV5RA radios on the 144-148 Mhz 2 meter band and 430-450 MHz 70cm bands without fear of being in violation. But if you have a newer UV-5R V2+ you will notice a slight problem: notably the radio will not transmit below 145 Mhz. That means you won’t be able to use the radio on any frequencies between 144-145 Mhz. That would include the 144.39 Mhz APRS channel and any 2 meter repeater that has an input frequency lower than 145 Mhz.
The radio also won’t be able to receive any frequency between 155 and 174 mhz. That means you can’t use the UV-5R V2+ as a public safety scanner, railroad scanner, or NOAA weather receiver. With these limitations in hand, I probably wouldn’t purchase a Baofeng UV-5R v2+ for amateur handheld radio.
What about MURS, FRS, or GMRS?
This is where is gets a little murky. The Multi Use Radio Service, Family Radio Service and the General Mobile Radio Service are all regulated by FCC part 95 rules. A part 90 certified radio can be used on GMRS but only a part 95 certified radio can be used on FRS or MURS. Will you get in trouble for using a non type accepted radio? Probably not, the FCC doesn’t seem to be interested in use on a personal level unless the use is causing harmful or malicious interference to a licensed radio service.
I believe that Amcrest’s desire of having part 90 certification, but failure to comply with that certification resulted in this citation. There are a flood of non-compliant radios on the market, and by non-compliant I mean that they are capable of operating on frequencies outside of their intended purpose. For example: radios marketed to the amateur radio service can operate outside of those bounds. Did Amcrest have a desire to sell radios to public safety, business, and industry the reason why they sought to have part 90 certification? I don’t think any commercial user would seriously consider a $30 Baofeng for their communication needs. No, I think it was more convenient to seek the certification than to reengineer the radio for the US market. Other countries have different radio services, rules, and regulations and what operation that may be illegal in the US could be legal elsewhere. This citation could have a chilling effect on radios marketed in the US and we may see the manufacturers tightening up their frequency operating range.
So, still feel free to use your Baofeng on the amateur radio bands, as a licensed ham, it is legal for you to do so. But these radios are marketed worldwide, so ultimately it is up to you to follow the rules and regulations set forth by your country’s wireless spectrum regulatory agency.