Voice over the Internet Protocol and Amateur Radio FAQ
ARRL receives many questions on Voice over the Internet. The FAQ below was written for an article titled VoIP and Amateur Radio which appeared in February 2003 QST, pp. 44-47. It is very helpful in understanding the regulatory aspects of VoIP.
Is It Legal?
By Brennan Price, N4QX and ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD
All of them or none of them, depending on whether you're asking about the "VoIP-assisted" or the "Amateur Radio" part of VoIP-assisted Amateur Radio. Follow this link for a PowerPoint presentation on VoIP by Mike Goldberg, K1LJN.
Many callers to the ARRL's Regulatory Information Branch over the last few years have focused on the novelty of the Internet when asking questions about the legal uses of certain systems. Such focus is misdirected. Part 97 does not regulate systems; it regulates stations. The Commission doesn't care what a ham has feeding his or her station; it cares that the station--not the Internet, but the station--is properly operated. And all the rules that apply to any Amateur Radio station apply to one that retransmits audio fed to it by VoIP.
The obvious answer is all of them, but we'll focus on a few that are easy to overlook, particularly for stand-alone, single channel operations. The main points to remember are:
- All stations must be controlled.
- Only certain types of stations may be automatically controlled.
- Simplex voice operations do not qualify for automatic control.
- Any station that is remotely controlled via radio must utilize an auxiliary station to execute said control, and auxiliary stations are restricted in frequency.
It's not as hard as it sounds. All you have to do is think about the type of station you're operating and how it's controlled. Let's look at a few examples.
Forget the VoIP linking, because that's the Internet. We're talking about two repeaters. Are repeaters legal? Yes. May repeaters be automatically controlled? Yes. There is no difference between this setup and two repeaters linked by another wired mechanism or by auxiliary stations. Assuming the two linked stations are repeaters, it is difficult to conceive of a situation where a VoIP link would not pass regulatory muster. The only caveat is that the VoIP software must exclude nonhams from accessing the repeaters from the Internet. The key here is to avoid any configuration that would (1) permit a nonham to key an amateur transmitter without the presence of a control operator, and (2) prevent the initiation by a nonham of a message via an Amateur Station without the presence of a control operator.
No. Only certain types of Amateur Radio stations may be operated unattended, under automatic control. This means that there is no human control either at the station location or at a distance. These types of stations are space stations, repeaters, beacons, auxiliary stations and certain types of stations transmitting RTTY or data emissions.
Simplex VoIP nodes are neither repeaters, beacons nor auxiliary stations. Presumably, most are within 50 kilometers of the Earth's surface, and are therefore not space stations. The VoIP technology implies a voice transmission, not RTTY or data. Therefore, none of the stations that qualify for automatic control describe a simplex VoIP node, and such a station must be locally or remotely controlled (as any Amateur Radio station is allowed to be).
A simplex VoIP node may be locally controlled by an operator who is present at the node. Such a node may also be remotely controlled at some other point, with the operator issuing commands via a wireline or radio control link. If a radio control link is used, it must utilize an auxiliary station, and such stations are restricted in frequency to 222.15 MHz and above (with the exception of the CW, SSB and amateur satellite portions of the 70-cm band). It's this remotely controlled aspect that allows VoIP simplex nodes--as long as they are on the right bands.
Let's consider seven options:
- A control operator is stationed and active at the VoIP node on any frequency. This is a locally controlled station, not at all unlike a typical operation on FM simplex. This is legal.
- A control operator communicates with and controls a simplex VoIP node with a handheld, transmitting and listening to the node on 223.52 MHz. This is wireless remote control. Such control must be executed by an auxiliary station and 223.52 MHz is an allowed frequency for such a station. This, too, is legal.
- A control operator communicates with and controls a simplex VoIP node with a handheld, transmitting and listening to the node on 147.41 MHz. This is wireless remote control. Such control must be executed by an auxiliary station, but 147.41 MHz is not an allowed frequency for such a station. This operation is not legal. It may be made legal by locally controlling the node, choosing a control frequency on which auxiliary station operation is permitted, or controlling the node via a wireline link. The next three examples show each option in action.
- A control operator operates a simplex VoIP node at 147.41 MHz and is stationed at the node's transmitter. User stations access the node on the same frequency. This is legal. The VoIP node is being locally controlled, and any station may be locally controlled.
- A control operator operates a simplex VoIP node at 147.41 MHz. The control operator continually monitors the node's transmissions and can call a dedicated telephone line or use a dedicated Internet connection to turn the node on and off. User stations access the node on the same frequency. This is legal. The VoIP node is being remotely controlled via a wireline connection, and any station may be controlled in this manner.
- A control operator communicates with and controls a simplex VoIP node with a multi-band handheld, transmitting to and continuously monitoring the node on 147.41 MHz. He or she sends power on/off commands with the same handheld on 223.52 MHz. This is wireless remote control. Such control must be executed by an auxiliary station, and 223.52 MHz is an allowed frequency for such a station. This is legal. The VoIP node is being remotely controlled via an auxiliary station of appropriate frequency, and any station may be controlled in this manner.
- Same configuration as either of the above two situations, except the control operator does not continuously monitor the VoIP node's transmissions. This operation is not legal. When a simplex VoIP node is enabled, it must be continually attended, either locally or remotely. A simplex VoIP node is no different than other FM simplex operations, and such operations may not be automatically controlled.