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Sunday, April 9, 2017

American hams get two new bands!

Ham radio has been on the FCC radar lately, with the creation of two new bands at the lower end of the HF spectrum -  one just below standard AM radio, and the other way below that - on longwave frequencies.

The bands were announced in the FCC's latest Report & Order last month - particularly good news for the ARRL, which has pressed for a band in the 500 kHz range since the 1990s, when the maritime industry vacated HF in favor of global satellites.

Here's what will be gained for U.S. hams:
  • Frequencies between 472-479 kHz (630 meters) with a maximum power of five watts (except in parts of Alaska within 500 miles of Russia, where the maximum will be one watt.) All narrow modes will be allowed, but slow-speed CW (QRSS) and software digital modes will be the most common. 
Ham radio is considered a secondary usage and must not interfere with  power line carrier systems (PLCs), used to manage the electric grid.  The website is a great primer on the equipment, modes and antennas needed for this new band, which comes years after the FCC began issuing experimental licenses for operation just below 500 kHz in the WD2XSH program.

  • Frequencies between 135.7-137.8 kHz (2200 meters) with a maximum power of one watt. This band really isn't for the fainthearted or the non-technical, in light of the enormous wavelength (more than a mile for a full wave), the need for precise circuit-tuned and radial-grounded antennas, and mostly kit-assembly transmitters. 
At 136 kHz, static is a real killer, and signals are best seen with computer software rather than heard through a speaker. Still and all, hobbyists (called "lowfers") have been experimenting on longwave for many years - around 160 kHz - with very low power beacons and impressive transcontinental results.

The FCC still hasn't issued a start date for these new frequencies, but ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher couldn't be happier. “We are excited by the FCC’s action to authorize amateur radio access for the first time on the MF and LF spectrum," he said.
"As amateurs begin using these new allocations in the next few weeks, we encourage the entire Amateur Radio community, as secondary users, to be especially attentive to the rules.”

Personally, I won't be transmitting on either of these new bands due to their demanding antenna requirements, but I am waiting for the FCC's final ruling on 60 meters, which might expand the present arrangement of a four fixed 5 MHz frequencies, to a frequency range similar to what other countries have.

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