Once busy 2m and 70cm repeaters in our capital cities now sit idle all day, whilst commercial services are running short of spectrum….

Amateur radio spectrum management in 2020 is a complex undertaking.

It isn’t as cut and dried as you may think.

Regulatory background

International radio spectrum allocations are given effect at World Radio Conferences, held by the ITU every four years.  There is a complex system of study groups and meetings held in the years between the Conferences, to decide on the new frequency allocations and the new technologies to be approved by each Conference.

Article 5 of the ITU Radio Regulations contains the Table of Frequency Allocations, per ITU region.  The ITU divides the world into three regions, broadly:

Region 1 – Europe, Greater Russia and Africa

Region 2 – The Americas

Region 3 – Asia and the Pacific

Australia is in Region 3.

The Table is normally updated after each World Radio Conference, and forms the basis for our domestic frequency table – the Australian Spectrum Plan.  The plan is available on line from the ACMA here.

Australian allocations are broadly aligned with the ITU Table, however, the Radio Regulations allow individual nations the flexibility to vary allocations to suit their own domestic requirements, provided harmful interference is not caused to users in other countries.

The radio spectrum is a finite resource.  It needs careful management, otherwise chaos would result.  Accordingly, the Table of Frequency Allocations and the Australian Spectrum plan divide allocations between primary and secondary users.

Primary users, as the name suggests, are the principal users of the spectrum segment.  They are identified in UPPERCASE.

Secondary users are identified in lower case.  They must not cause harmful interference to Primary users, and can not claim protection from harmful interference caused by Primary users.

Harmful interference* means interference that:

(a) endangers the functioning of a radionavigation service or other safety services that are operating in accordance with:

(i) the Radio Regulations; or

(ii) this Spectrum Plan; or

(b) obstructs, repeatedly interrupts or seriously degrades a radiocommunication 

service that is operating in accordance with:

(i) the Radio Regulations; or

(ii) the Spectrum Plan.

*From the Australian Spectrum Plan

Australian HF primary amateur allocations

As per the Australian Spectrum Plan, the Australian amateur radio service has primary status in the following MF/HF bands:

160m, 80m (including the DX window), the bottom 100 kHz of 40m, The bottom 250 kHz of 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m and 10m. 

However, as is the way with the Table of Frequency Allocations, there are a few caveats:

80m in Region 3 is also allocated to the Fixed and Mobile service as Primary.

Additional allocation: in Angola, Iraq, Somalia and Togo, the frequency band 7 000-7 050 kHz is also allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis. (WRC-15)

Alternative allocation: in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Libya, Madagascar and Niger, the band 7 000-7 050 kHz is allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis. (WRC-12)

Additional allocation: in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the bands 7 000-7 100 kHz and 7 100-7 200 kHz are also allocated to the fixed and land mobile services on a secondary basis. (WRC-03)

Additional allocation: in Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Côte d’Ivoire, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine, the band 14 250-14 350 kHz is also allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis. Stations of the fixed service shall not use a radiated power exceeding 24 dBW.

 Additional allocation: in Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine, the band 18 068-18 168 kHz is also allocated to the fixed service on a primary basis for use within their boundaries, with a peak envelope power not exceeding 1 kW.


Australian VHF/UHF/SHF/EHF primary amateur allocations

As per the Australian Spectrum Plan, the Australian amateur radio service has primary status in the following bands above HF:

6m (52-54 only), 2m, 24, 47, 134 and 248 GHz

The amateur service is secondary to broadcasting 50-52 MHz.

So, we are only primary in the top half of 6m, all of 2m and some SHF/EHF microwave bands.

This is, of course, a consequence of the value of UHF/SHF spectrum.

What does this all mean?  Can we “lose our bands”?

It would be fair to say that the bands in which we have primary status are the least threatened, particularly on HF.  It is very difficult to remove primary status from an active service.

The only possible threat could come from another service seeking what is known as co-primary status, but this takes considerable time, and would be very difficult to justify if an existing service like ours has had successful primary status for decades.

6m and 2m have also been primary status amateur bands for many years, and are well established, so there is minimal real-world threat there.

We saw this recently with the French proposal for co-primary access to the bottom end of 2m.  This was easily defeated.  In reality, it was only political “kite flying” by Thales, the French company.

In summary, HF is (relatively) safe, as are 6m and 2m.

70cm and above is another matter entirely.

Spectrum is fantastically valuable.

Consumers want mobile bandwidth, the carriers want to give it to them and the Government, with a serious budget deficit to repair, are metaphorically salivating at the potential revenue…

The telco TPG  paid $1200M for 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum….

Against this background, the possibility of new amateur bands above 70cm is negligible.

The amateur service is secondary to defence (radiolocation) in 70cm.  We have already seen the bottom 10 MHz of the band (420-30) removed for harmonised Government radio networks.

We are co-secondary to mobile from 440-450 MHz.  Our access to this will almost certainly be removed in the future – it has already been used on a temporary basis by the land mobile service to facilitate transition to a new band plan.  There is just too much pressure from commercial land mobile services, and this part of 70cm is rarely used by amateurs.

The ACMA 400 MHz commercial band plan (RALI MS22, 28 Jan 15) prohibits land mobile systems from using 25 kHz channels for a single voice service in the major population areas of Australia.

It says:

High power land mobile[1] assignments using 25 kHz channels for a single communications circuit (e.g. for a single voice channel) are prohibited within high density areas (HDAs) and medium density areas (MDAs) and the area extending 100 km out from the HDA or MDA boundary.[2] The use of a 25 kHz channel for a single communications circuit will be supported 100 km or more outside of HDAs and MDAs. The use of channels greater than 12.5 kHz bandwidth within 100 km of HDAs and MDAs is permitted only for systems carrying two or more circuits through a 25 kHz channel, i.e. systems that achieve spectrum efficiencies equal to or better than one communications channel per 12.5 kHz will be permitted in any area.

[1] For the land mobile service the term high power is defined as assignments using more than 8.3 Watts EIRP and is typically 83 Watts.

[2] These areas are defined in the Apparatus Licence Fee Schedule http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/About/Making-payments/Apparatus-licence-fees/apparatus-licence-fees-acma

What this means is that commercial land mobile services are forced to use spectrally efficient technologies – narrowband FM or digital modes.  This is a sensible move, as 400 MHz spectrum is limited….and yet, dozens of wideband 25 kHz FM analogue amateur repeaters sit unused in the same spectrum…

This situation simply can not last.

We will eventually be forced to consolidate 70cm to 10 MHz from 430-440MHz, and frankly given the potential value of UHF mobile spectrum and the very low use we make of it, we should be very thankful for that.

It is difficult to forecast, but the primary user of 430-440, Defence, may be eventually forced to reduce their allocation.  If that happens, we will be impacted as well.

Mind you, from experience, Defence fight very hard to retain their spectrum…so, next time you see a member of the Australian Defence Force, thank them for 70cm and buy them a coffee/beer…

The way ahead – pragmatic consolidation

We need to apply a pragmatic, real world approach to managing our spectrum and the relationship with ACMA.

We can’t put a submission to ACMA asking for more bands with no reasoned justification.  A band at 900 MHz?  Forget it.

For example, asking for a band at 70 MHz because “other amateurs overseas have it” is specious.

ACMA would (quite logically) ask “why do you need a band at 70 MHz, when you make minimal use of 50 MHz?”.

The most sensible strategy is to consolidate our existing bands, particularly the bands where the most activity takes place – MF/HF.

We should also work with ACMA on any proposals they have for 50-52 MHz in order to protect our weak signal segments.

The top of 160m can be expanded to 2000 kHz.

Expansion of 80m is a very difficult task, as the segment above 3.7 MHz is full of commercial users.

And the other key message….

Get back on air.  Chat about your projects, DX, contests… anything.

Why have a licence if you never transmit….

Use our bands!