Land (er, FREQUENCY) Grab (Part 1)

This article is part one in a multi-part series.  Part 2 is located here: One Aspect of Amateur Radio: Good Will Ambassadors to the World.  Part 3 is located here: In Response — Can’t We All Just Get Along?

 

We’ve all heard it at least once:  no one owns a frequency.

By law, amateurs must keep the transmissions from their station within the bounds of the allocations granted to license-holding operators–within these bands that are allocated for amateur radio use.  Amateurs are expected to follow band-plans, which guide us to which mode can be used in a band.

Subbands — Band Plans

There are many decades of constant refining of the standard operating procedures–perhaps we can call them, traditions–that, for the most part, work out pretty well for most amateur radio operations on our precious allocations in the radio spectrum.  Each band–a slice of radio spectrum between a lower frequency and a higher frequency–is made up of subbands.  These subbands are slices within a specific band (allocation), in which amateurs participate in two-way communications by using a particular mode of transmission, like single side band or CW.

For instance, Morse code enthusiasts use CW (continuous-wave modulation, i.e., A1A) between 14.000 MHz and 14.150, which is the subband that exists in the larger allocations known as the 20-Meter Band.  The 20-Meter Band is 14.000 MHz to 14.350 MHz, and the regulating bodies (such as the FCC in the USA) have directed through law that voice modes cannot be used between those subband frequencies from 14.00 MHz to 14.15 MHz. Voice modes can be used from 14.15 MHz up to 14.35 MHz, with certain license class variations. Read the PDF from the FCC: FCC ONLINE TABLE OF FREQUENCY ALLOCATIONS

CW is not the only mode allowed in the 14.00-MHz-to-14.15-MHz subband.  The regulations stipulate that a number of data modes can be used in this subband. There are specific requirements that a mode must meet, in order to comply with regulations–these are known as the authorized emission types.

Gentlemen’s Agreements

Amateur radio operators, decades ago, began discussing, then agreeing to, agreements between all operators as to where specific modes can be used, so those operating the different modes do not trample on each other’s transmissions.  These agreements are known as our band-plan gentlemen’s agreements.  They exist to help minimize interference–QRM–and to help foster good operating procedures between the different groups.

The band plans that have evolved through the decades are not regulations, and do not mean that any particular group of amateur radio operators own any frequency or subband.  A mode does not own a particular subband.  Amateur radio operators are not encouraged to start transmitting a mode that is typically found in that subband, if someone else is on that frequency using a mode not expected.

Just because some other operator is using the subband for a mode not in compliance with the gentlemen’s agreement, don’t purposefully try to eject that operator.  At the same time, the gentlemen’s agreements exist to help amateurs avoid interference with others that are using different modes.  Thus, the operator who has chosen to use a non-standard mode for a subband known to be used for some other mode should move that operation to the subband identified to be for that operator’s current mode of transmitter emissions.  In other words, do not QRM another amateur radio operator, and do not cause confusion and frustration by barging into a subband for a mode that you are not intending to use.  Use the mode expected in the subband of your current operations.

This concept is especially helpful when we consider weak-signal operations.  If a very strong, loud teletype transmission begins in a subband that is set aside for weak-signal propagation modes like WSPR, then it defeats the efforts of the operators making the attempt to have successful weak-signal two-way communications.  Thus, the teletype transmission should be made in a subband where teletype operation is expected and acceptable.  And, WSPR should stay in the subband where people expect to find WSPR signals.

This concept is also applied to VHF or higher bands.  Why?  If repeaters are parked on known repeater subbands, then weak-signal single-sideband communications can take place in a subband where repeaters are not allowed.  By allowed, though, I mean, by agreement with gentlemen’s agreements.  Regulators have stayed out of the amateur radio operations except by creating regulations at a high-level–for instance, the FCC stipulating that voice communications are not allowed between 14.000 MHz and 14.150 MHz, in the 20-Meter band.

The Frequency Grabs by the WSJT Developers, Planners, and Leadership

With several current release candidates of the WSJT-X software by Joe Taylor, the group of developers and leadership have programmed into the WSJT-X software a set of NEW default frequencies.  These new frequencies are in addition to their current pre-programmed frequencies that the amateur community now identifies as, The FT8 Subbands.

The new proposed frequencies are right on top of other subbands where other modes have been operating for decades (such as PSK and Olivia, and many others).  There was no community discussion, except within the WSJT community.  And, when someone protested the take-over of other well-established subbands, those protests were shot down.  The stated reasons included, “Well, those other modes are not very active or popular, because spots are not showing up on various spotting networks.”  Such reasons break down on deeper consideration–for instance, most spotting networks are not programmed to automatically identify Olivia transmissions.  CW, PSK, and FT8 are programmed into scanners, but other modes are ignored.

This behavior, considered rude, arrogant, presumptuous, and anti-gentlemanly (referring to well-established gentlemen’s agreements) has happened before, with the initial release of FT8.  They (the WSJT-X developers and leadership) simply picked a frequency slice of each subband, without true collaboration with the wider amateur radio community.

When this columnist and fellow amateur radio community member, attempted a discussion, the retort from an official representative was an absolute dismissal of any protest against the choice and method of frequency options within the WSJT software. While the software marks these frequency as suggestions, only, these defaults are used without question by the operators of said software.  And, the mode is so fast that there’s no human way of truly monitoring the frequency before use, to see if some other mode is in operation.  Besides, weak-signals that are present but cannot be heard by one’s ear, might well be in operation.  Subbands exist to keep QRM from covering up the weak signals of the mode expected at that frequency.

Enter the IARU…

The IARU has decided to step in and join the discussion.  “The International Amateur Radio Union has been the worldwide voice of radio amateurs, securing and safeguarding the amateur radio spectrum since 1925.”  The IARU guides regulating bodies like the FCC, regarding the administration and rule-making pertaining to amateur radio.

The IARU states, on their website,

The radio spectrum is a priceless natural resource. Because radio waves do not respect borders, the use of the spectrum must be regulated internationally. This is accomplished through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations. Through World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs) held approximately every four years the ITU revises the international Radio Regulations which have the force and effect of a treaty. The Radio Regulations allocate the spectrum to different radiocommunication services such as broadcasting, mobile, radar, and radionavigation (GPS). The most recent WRC was held in October-November 2019. The next one is not yet scheduled but is expected to be held in 2023, so it is usually referred to as WRC-23.

New uses of the spectrum are being developed every day. This puts enormous pressure on incumbent users who are called upon to share their spectrum access with new arrivals. The allocation process is extremely complex, especially when satellite services are involved.

Reportedly, from first-hand communication from one IARU representative,

WSJT-X RC3 has 14074 kHz again for FT8. IARU is intervening. Stay tuned. I am asking for further suggestions.

73 Tom DF5JL
IARU R1 HF Manager

This is very welcomed news!

What ought to take place, as quickly as possible, is to rally the different interested parties, like the Olivia group, the PSK groups, the various CW groups like CWOps, FISTS, and the SKCC, and many others, for ideas and suggestions.  A discussion must take place in the hope that new gentlemen’s agreements can be made, that include the FT8 and FT4 operations, without stepping on the subbands of other digital modes.

As Tom says, STAY TUNED.

If you have suggestions, please comment. This columnist will summarize the main ideas of the comments and forward them to Tom.  You may also contact the IARU managers and let them know your suggestions.

Discussions in the Olivia community are ongoing, too.  Join in at OliviaDigitalMode.net even if you are not yet an Olivia operator.

On Facebook, you may also discuss your thoughts, in either the Olivia Digital Modes on HF group or in the Digital Modes on HF group.

If you use FT8 and FT4, voice your concerns and ideas, too.  Open dialog, without declaring war, is welcomed and hopefully will prove productive.

This article is the first in a series focusing on band plans, and gentlemen’s agreements. Please stay tuned for more installments.

 

Tomas, NW7US

Tomas Hood, NW7US, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Nebraska, USA. Tomas is the Space Weather and Radio Propagation Contributing Editor to ‘CQ Amateur Radio Magazine’, and ‘The Spectrum Monitor’ magazine.

Visit, subscribe: NW7US Radio Communications and Propagation YouTube Channel

16 Responses to “Land (er, FREQUENCY) Grab (Part 1)”

  • Alan, K4FYI:

    Gentlemen’s agreements are relics of an earlier time, when people could always be counted on to do the right thing. One need look no farther than 60m to find SSB operators camped on a frequency for hours while CW operators wait,… or give up.

  • Douglas Matthew KB8DNQ:

    We need to keep order on the bands and not let Ham radio turn in to CB.
    I don’t agree with what wsjt is doing but it is what it is.
    If there are groups (wsjt) that arn’t going to live by gentleman’s agreements
    then maybe the ARRL needs to step in and out line the band plan.
    We haven’t need to do this up till now but that’s the times we live in.

  • Al, K3ZE:

    I don’t believe that the use of the Amateur Radio Bands under a “Gentleman’s Agreement” is outmoded. However, it could stand an overhaul by the IARU in order to accommodate the usage of evolving and new, as well as the older, modes. Without an agreement that is in place and adhered to as to what frequencies should be used by what modes will result in chaos.

    Amateur Radio is changing constantly and operators must change with it. There are enough Hams who are not very gentlemanly on the bands as it is without starting a frequency war.

    As a Ham for almost 40 years, I don’t allow myself to think of how it was back in good old days, but how it is going to be to be in the good future days and what can I do to make it happen.

    -73-

  • Colin GM4JPZ:

    Thanks for the interesting article, Tomas, and for laying out the arguments without polemic. Without getting involved in the data modes argument, I’d just like to point out that in many countries (all of Europe and most of the world) SSB is allowed between 14.101 and up, although the RSGB recommends data/SSB from 14.101 to 14.125, then SSB from then on up in the band. I only say this in case there are US amateurs who do not know this and believe we are using SSB in a subband reserved for CW.
    73,
    Colin GM4JPZ/N6OET

  • Charles Preston K7TAA:

    Encouraging or enforcing compliance with community standards that really are for the good of the 99% is always a problem for people. Explaining why a set of rules can help everyone will work for many, if not most people, whether for education on public health and hygiene or amateur radio.

    Some people and groups cannot be deterred that way, so banning (exporting convicts from England to Australia), shunning, and shaming have been used. Physical banishment isn’t appropriate or possible for bandplan violations, so shunning and shaming, as well as further offers of negotiation, might work.

    Many amateurs, once aware they are subtracting from the enjoyment of the hobby by other amateurs, would either bypass certain modes, or certain modes on certain frequencies in a spirit of cooperation.

    Shunning could mean choosing not to communicate with amateurs who are on a list showing a lot of use of modes and frequencies interfering with others.

    Shaming could mean publicizing the refusal of some parties to cooperate or negotiate, by making the relevant facts and attempts public, not by ranting against individuals or groups and name calling or arguing on the air. Staying strictly with facts should blunt any attempt to use libel or slander laws to retaliate (this is not legal advice and I’m not an attorney).

    Shunning and shaming require that other people in the affected community become aware of who is willing to practice enlightened self interest with the rest of us, and who is not. Internet social media and print media are better than turning amateur QSOs into channels for anger or denunciation.

    Compliance with community norms will not be 100%, as currently heard on the air with examples of intentional interference and insults, but more encouragement to cooperate may work.

  • Glenn W9IQ:

    Look at it from the other end of the telescope. The FT8 frequencies are well known. If you are not on FT8, be a gentleman and do not use those frequencies. Let the users of the most popular mode on HF use those frequencies. Pretty simple.

    I do not know of any “accepted” band plan the shows frequencies for Olivia or PSK. When were we consulted for those band plans?

    As for CW, US operators can use it on nearly any frequency allocation. There is no gentleman’s agreement there either.

    This subject is nothing but a tempest in a tea pot.

    – Glenn W9IQ

  • Greetings, everyone. I’ll attempt some responses, here, in the comment form. I will post one set of responses in individual comment submissions.

    I’ll respond to some of the points made by some of you, but not necessarily all of them. I’ll start a particular point with the name/callsign of the maker of the point.

    This comment is in response to Glenn W9IQ:

    You wrote, “Look at it from the other end of the telescope. The FT8 frequencies are well known. If you are not on FT8, be a gentleman and do not use those frequencies. Let the users of the most popular mode on HF use those frequencies. Pretty simple.”

    Glenn, that is not where lies the dispute. The dispute is this: JT&C first grabbed frequencies that were the original calling frequencies of certain other data protocols–frequencies that were well known and well established, more or less by gentlemen’s agreement.

    By force, this was tolerated by those who were displaced. And, since the FT8 emissions stayed somewhat within the boundaries of those new home frequencies for Joe’s new, latest protocol, those frequencies became well known (just as you state).

    Now, JT&C added a new frequency slice just lower in frequency than the well-known one on each respective band, effectively becoming the hostile take-over operators (even if those operators are unwitting partakers in the offense). The migrating FT8 operators, by design, are the ones who are NOT letting others of other modes on HF use those frequencies.

    Thus, those who were already pushed down the band by the original arrival of FT8, are once again being pushed even further down. At some point, that makes those displaced operators into the ones invading well-known sub-bands, or it makes them just leave the activity or even the hobby.

    You know, of course, that just because someone is not aware of accepted band plans, it does not mean that a band plan of one kind or other was not “generally accepted” in the data community at some point in history. In earlier decades, the word about a revised band plan was spread through membership mailing lists and other old-world methods of dissemination. With the advent of the ‘net, propagation of information has significantly changed.

    From forums on Compuserve, AOL, the many newsgroups (i.e., http://www.faqs.org/faqs/radio/personal-intro/ and so on), to modern era groups and forums on Groups.io, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and so on, there has occurred much discussion about operations of the different data modes.

    For reference, just as an example, browse to http://hflink.com/olivia/ (out of date, but illustrates a snapshot of a time in history when there were well-established frequencies known for a particular mode–as in this example, for Olivia). This page shows, for instance, Olivia 16/500 typical between 14.0744 to 14.0784–right where JT&C parked Joe’s new modes.

    Also, for reference, is http://bandplans.com/index.php?band=All –- a webpage that has attempted to document the well-established spots where different types of emissions, modes, and activities occur. There has been, historically, much discussion in such organizations as TAPR, ARRL, and so on.

    There are PDF documents on http://hflink.com/bandplans/ that contain band plans accepted around the world, or ones that are in contention, still (such as where are the active automated digital stations and the contention about their operations outside of where the FCC or other regulatory bodies have allocated for those ADS, or where they cause undue interference).

    The IARU, representing the many displaced groups, is starting to protest, calling for a discussion bigger than just leaving JT&C alone to make frequency decisions in a vacuum. Further, we (those displaced) don’t just want discussion, but resolution that works clearly and fairly for all involved.

    Glenn, you said, also, “As for CW, US operators can use it on nearly any frequency allocation. There is no gentleman’s agreement there either.” Again, just because you are not aware of it, that does not mean it does not exist. For instance, it has been standard practice for QRP CW operators to use 7040 KHz, until ADS stations and other intruders set up on that one, moving the QRP CW operators in North America to move to 7030 KHz.

    Finally, you wrote, “This subject is nothing but a tempest in a tea pot.” While it might be, certainly, a tempest in a tea pot, it is not only that. It is much more.

    There is value in an open community discussion, education, negotiation, and so on. There have been great moments in amateur radio history achieved through passionate debate. For example, the repeater plans for a band like Two Meters, took a while to hash out, but then became standardized and widespread. The benefit of wading through the teapot tempest is the improvement of the amateur radio service and hobby.

    73 de NW7US

  • Charles Preston K7TAA:

    You’ve painted a picture of how the dynamics of amateur radio looks, from the vantage point of an observer who takes the time to consider basic human nature and group dynamics, at work in our interactions.

    Historically, all shades of what you describe have been witnessed. One extreme, of course, is the adoption of the FCC or other regulatory group of regulations that govern the chaos of the larger community.

    Hopefully, amateur radio can remain self-governing, using less-than absolute measures as codifying a band plan that restricts amateur radio participants from the freedoms now enjoyed. But, in leu of cooperation, if the JT&C software violates good community standards, perhaps such measures will become warranted.

    As the situation stood just days ago, JT&C simply dismissed any push-back by affected, displaced amateur radio operators. There has been no dialog, negotiation, and no compromise by JT&C. Well, that is, until the IARU stepped up and because involved. How this will develop is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope that the public awareness campaign I’ve started helps bring about dialog – dialog that is effective.

    Here’s to fair play.

    73 de NW7US

  • Colin GM4JPZ:

    Duly noted. And, this reminds us how important are band plans, and why bodies like the IARU work hard to bring together into unity, the different regions of the world.

    73 de NW7US

  • Al, K3ZE:

    Well said: “…I don’t allow myself to think of how it was back in good old days, but how it is going to be to be in the good future days and what can I do to make it happen.”

    That is a good approach. One I hope many more amateur radio enthusiasts will adopt and pursue.

    73 de NW7US

  • Cliff KU4GW:

    During my 10 years tenure as a ARRL Official Observer for the Amateur Auxiliary to the FCC, and although it’s not a Part 97 rule, I do recall one incident in which a FCC Warning Letter was sent to a amateur operator for failure to abide by a band plan. I don’t remember now exactly what they did or the callsign involved, but I clearly remember reading that Warning Letter on the FCC’s website so I guess the governing body has the final say in such matters. I think band plans should be honored, but I also agree they need to be updated to include all of the different and newer modes as well as the ones that have been around for years. That’s what the ARRL is wanting the FCC to do on the bottom part of the Extra Class phone portion of the 75/80 meter band. They’re wanting 3600-3650 kHz set aside for wide bandwidth digital modes with 3600-3615 for automatically controlled digital stations (ACDS). Reference: http://www.arrl.org/files/file/About%20ARRL/Committee%20Reports/2015/January/SUMNER%20QS4.pdf

  • Greg sonne /wa7lou:

    I am wanting to get my license and my dads call letters and yes I know I can he was a good man in the ham area I’ve been around it all my life nd some of the requirements have changed in the 50 years of my life but I have this to ask I have a bad learning disability that makes it to not easy for me to do testing I wasnt able to do testing in school and still to this day my reading and attention span sucks and I want this in a bad way I’ve been putting it off for years my dad has been gone for 4 years now an I feel like crap for not getting it when he was around but now it’s a must it’s just to hard for me to test up I’ve done some reading but it doesn’t feel like I did I gotta do this but I just not able to an I want it

  • Raymond Martin W2CH:

    As an amateur radio operator for almost 60
    years, I have experienced many facets and changes in amateur radio from CW and AM to SSB, then FM, Packet almost 40 years ago, and PSK 31, about 20 years ago. There are many digital modes developed over the years.I saw a presentation for visitors at Arecibo which mentioned Joe Taylor for the Pulsar, and met him at the 2014 ARRL 100th Anniv. after his lecture. Get along with each other, together to solve this problem.

    Cnvention

    Anniversary

  • Rick K6TOR:

    As a newly licensed ham operating cw & SSB on HF since May, I am glad this discussion is taking place and hope for a good resolution. I would like to try these digital modes but don’t want to step in the wrong place.

    The only band plan that is presented to new hams is the ARRL graphic chart that shows where various license levels can operate cw/data and SSB.

    A more detailed band plan, that has been agreed, should be published. I assume ARRL, after agreement is reached, should publish this in the USA.

    Unless you are an experienced ham who is on the right internet websites you would have no idea about these detailed sub-band “agreements.”

    This website that was presented in these comments is very interesting: http://bandplans.com/index.php?band=All

    It is actually completely intimidating to a new ham. It looks like almost no use-able frequencies are available. Its ok for me. I learn from it and it doesn’t intimidate me as I was a ham 50 years ago. The IARU plan does not have much detail.

    All the best to those negotiating this for a good resolution. Then please promote the band plan far and wide so everybody knows and new hams don’t have to stubble on it to find it.

  • STAN ZAWROTNY, K4SBZ:

    I am following this discussion with interest. I have not yet determined whether it is a rant against WSJT modes or truly an attempt to define a procedure for allocating sub-bands for newly discovered modes. Clearly there needs to be such a procedure.

    Perhaps a detailed description of the process used tp “properly” allocate the Olivia and PSK sub-bands would serve as a starting point.

    There also, as others have noted, is no firm mechanism for determining what “allocations” have already been made. It would seem that development of an authoritative source would be in order.

  • Karl WA8NVW:

    An observation: In this weekend’s bugfix update 2.2.1 of the WSJTX package, frequencies in dispute were removed from the internal listing of suggested operating frequencies. Apparently an open international discussion has had its intended effect.

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