· radio internet

Amateur Radio and the Internet

This blog post is more than two years old. It is preserved here in the hope that it is useful to someone, but please be aware that links may be broken and that opinions expressed here may not reflect my current views. If this is a technical article, it may no longer reflect current best practice.

The Internet is starting to catch on. In a few years time, we may have Internet connections in nearly every major city across the UK. The real issue that needs to be looked at here is how does this new-fangled technology fit in with Amateur Radio?

I assist with the running of MB7VX, an APRS digipeater hosted at the University of Aberdeen. This station is run under a NoV issued by Ofcom that states that it can be configured only as an “APRS Digipeater”. The recieved packets from this station are copied to a software component that injects the packets into the APRS-IS service, which is Internet based.

I am not a lawyer. I’ve given links to any referenced legislation so you are able to check this out for yourself and the full response from Ofcom can be found at the end of this post. If you are still unclear as to the legality of anything you’d like to do, seek professional legal advice.

There was a lot of confusing information in a forum thread on the RAYNET-UK forums that made it appear that Rx-only IGating would require a special NoV. Following discussion with AROS, ETCC, RSGB and finally Ofcom, I can confirm that this is not the case.

As this seperate software component is inherently incapable of causing the radio to transmit, it does not matter what the terms of the NoV are as this is exempt under the Wireless Telegraphy (Receivers) (Exemption) Regulations 1989.

Section 48 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 makes it an offence to intercept and disclose messages if you are not the intended recipient. Messages on the Amateur Service however are intended for general reception and it can be reasonably stated that anyone setting out to recieve messages on the Amateur Service would be an intended recipient. This section therefore also does not cause the need for any seperate license or NoV to allow relaying of recieved APRS packets to APRS-IS.

Note (f) to the terms of the Amateur license simply states that it is for individuals to ensure that any communication service used is used within the terms and conditions of that service. In the case of APRS-IS, this means only injecting packets from RF or packets which would be suitable for being gated to RF. Again, no problems here.

I also made an enquiry with Ofcom regarding WebSDR instances, and assuming you’re within the Amateur bands, again these are perfectly fine to operate as long as they are inherently incapable of transmission.

RE: Enquiry

Dear Iain,

Thank you for your enquiry.  I must say immediately, that our advice is
limited to the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 ("WT Act").  We are not experts
in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and you must seek your
own expert legal advice on compliance with that legislation.

From your message, I understand that you wish to receive the transmissions
of licensed radio amateurs and convey them via the internet.  The only radio
element to that will be a receiver, which is connected to the internet.

The Wireless Telegraphy (Receivers) (Exemption) Regulations 1989 remove the
need for a licence under section 8 of the WT Act if apparatus is 'inherently
incapable of transmission'.  For this reason, a scanner would almost certainly
not require a licence under section 8.  If the receivers that you are proposing
to use are inherently incapable of transmission, therefore, I would expect them
to be exempt from the need for a licence under section 8 of the WT Act.

Under Section 48 of the WT Act, a person commits an offence if they use
radio equipment to obtain information about a message, unless that person is an
intended recipient of the message.  The transmissions of licensed radio
amateurs are intended for general reception.  It can therefore almost certainly
be held that anyone setting out to receive the transmission of a licensed radio
amateur could be viewed as an intended recipient of that message.

As for the onward transmission via the internet, if there is no radio
element, then it would not be covered by the WT Act, any more than plugging a
normal corded telephone into a wall socket would be.  Note (f) to the Amateur
Radio Licence covers the use of telecommunications links for the purpose of
remote control operation.  Applying the spirit of that Note, it must be for
individuals to ensure that the way in which they use a telecommunication
service complies with the requirements of the service provider. However, that
is not a consideration under the WT Act.

Finally, you ask about WebSDR.  If I have understood this correctly, WebSDR
involves no transmission of radio.  If the only radio equipment used is
inherently incapable of transmission, therefore, a licence would not be
required under section 8 of the WT Act, as it would be exempted under the
receivers exemption regulations noted above.  If a website were used to cause
an amateur radio transmitter somewhere else to operate, then the use of the
computer in itself would not need to be covered by a UK Amateur Radio licence,
as the computer is not, in itself, part of the amateur radio station that is
caused to operate.  The transmitter that operates would be part of somebody's
amateur radio station and its use would have to be authorised.  In the UK, this
would be under and in accordance with the terms of an Amateur Radio licence
issued by Ofcom.

I hope that this is helpful.

Kind regards,

:: Lauren Hillary
   Licensing Officer
   Spectrum Licensing
   Spectrum Operations
   0300 123 1000
   Spectrum.licensing@ofcom.org.uk

:: Ofcom
   Riverside House
   2a Southwark Bridge Road
   London SE1 9HA
   www.ofcom.org.uk

For more information on  licensing visit http://licensing.ofcom.org.uk/

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