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FPV legal issue

#1
I was reading on a vendors web page (readymaderc.com) that if you want to use FPV in the USA you must have an amateur or Ham operators license. I can see the FCC and the FAA making this a requirement in 2015 to use multicopters for commercial use but do you really need one now to fly FPV.
 
#2
Touchy subject but short answer is yes, any transmitter over 10mw (everything used for FPV is far stronger than 10mw) requires a basic amateur tech license. I don't have one but gave up FPV some time ago, vast majority that do FPV don't have one either and I would dare say most don't even know a ham license is required. Now I am going to stand back and watch the fireworks, you sir quite naively have opened a very polarizing topic of conversation in this hobby that tends to bring out the worst in people.
 

jhitesma

Some guy in the desert
Mentor
#3
For a lot of the frequencies/power levels used for video yes. You need an amateur radio license.

It's really not hard to get. I got mine when I was in 3rd grade and the test was a lot harder then and you needed to know morse code. My completely non-technical mom also got hers at the same time so it wasn't just easy for a young eager to learn technically inclined kid.

The test now is a lot easier. I have a few friends who passed it first try without even studying. They just went to QRZ took the practice test one or two times and then went for it. The test is multiple choice and pretty easy - usually 2 of the 4 possible answers can be easily eliminated with common sense and with a little bit of practice you can learn enough to figure out which of the last two answers is right. The base level technician license gives all the privileges you'd need for FPV.

It also opens up possibilities for other neat things. Like better long range RF control systems. And you may even find radio itself interesting - it's a fun hobby with lots of really helpful people involved who are a great technical resource. I'm kind of surprised I don't hear more model aviation people involved with things like APRS which is quite popular with amateur near space balloon people for tracking their projects. Also opens the door for quite a few telemetry options - with modern sound cards it's really easy to experiment with various digital modes that used to require specialized hardware. I've done slow scan TV, PSK31, APRS/Packet and a bunch of other neat digital modes just by hooking my radios to my sound card.

One of the coolest things I've done with radio is getting to talk live to an actual astronaut while he was on the ISS. They have 2m radio gear on there and it's ridiculously easy to talk to them if they're awake and listening when it passes over. A simple handheld 5watt 2m radio with a simple vertical antenna is plenty (it's what I used.) You don't get much time to talk since they fly over so quick and there are so many people who want to say hi - but it's still a pretty incredible experience!

Taking the test is usually only about $20-$25 and the license is good for 10 years and free to renew with no retesting. You can find a local test here: http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session

Oh - and an amateur license wouldn't help one bit with commercial FPV. Amateur radio is strictly non-commercial and commercial use is one of the biggies that can trigger FCC enforcement. You're more likely to get fined/penalized by the FCC doing something commercial with amateur radio than you are for doing something without a license.
 
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#4
Touchy subject but short answer is yes, any transmitter over 10mw (everything used for FPV is far stronger than 10mw) requires a basic amateur tech license. I don't have one but gave up FPV some time ago, vast majority that do FPV don't have one either and I would dare say most don't even know a ham license is required. Now I am going to stand back and watch the fireworks, you sir quite naively have opened a very polarizing topic of conversation in this hobby that tends to bring out the worst in people.
Under that definition everyone who owns a wifi router, laptop with wifi, or smart phone with blutooth or wifi would need a license.

As long as you dont fly into a large crown of people cutting them into little bits, a crop duster, passenger jet, or over the whitehouse you will be fine just like the millions of other people.
 
#5
Under that definition everyone who owns a wifi router, laptop with wifi, or smart phone with blutooth or wifi would need a license.

As long as you dont fly into a large crown of people cutting them into little bits, a crop duster, passenger jet, or over the whitehouse you will be fine just like the millions of other people.
I totally get what you are saying man but this is where the contentious debate starts, as for me personally....I don't pick sides anymore....FPV gear lays harmless in my corner until a more definitive direction is outlined for this hobby.
 

jhitesma

Some guy in the desert
Mentor
#6
Under that definition everyone who owns a wifi router, laptop with wifi, or smart phone with blutooth or wifi would need a license.
It's not as simple as "over 10mw". It's a matter of EIRP and frequency. Which is to say that power isn't just a matter of transmitter power but rather the entire transmitter system including the antenna which can greatly affect how much power is actually radiated. Frequency also plays a large role as things like wifi and bluetooth operate on frequencies which are much less regulated and set aside to allow for less restricted uses - but at the cost of greater interference. Remember radio spectrum is a limited resource and there aren't new frequencies being created it's a physical limitation just like there are only so many colors (in fact it's exactly like that as color is just another aspect of the same electromagnetic spectrum that happens to fall within the range of our "receivers" or as they're commonly known - eyes.)

Most things like wifi and bluetooth and baby monitors and cordless phones and garage door openers (and on and on) operate under "Part 15" rules which strictly limit the amount of power they can radiate and require that they accept any and all interference.

On your cell phone the wifi and bluetooth radios operate as "part 15" devices - but the actual phone radios operate on licensed frequencies at higher powers which is why you get reliable signal even in areas with a lot of other people using their phones - to use those frquencies the rules are a lot tighter so everyone can play nice together.

There are also frequencies (like parts of the 440mhz band and 220mhz bands) that are available to amateur radio operators as "secondary users" which means they can use them but only if they don't interfere with primary users and that they have to accept any and all interference from primary users (generally government or military systems.)


The big problem with the "I'm not flying over crowds of people or anything important" is that you may not realize the interference you may by causing with legitimate licensed users you may not be aware of.

In my area we've had a fairly large problem due to the proliferation of unlicensed "Race Radios" in off road vehicles operating in the 2m band. They've caused interference for amateur radio operators and for commercial users who rely on their radios for everything from operating canals and other critical infrastructure to security companies and workers who rely on radios to get their jobs done. A lot of times the interference is because people are running poorly designed radio systems and to overcome that they end up cranking up the power which doesn't effectively solve the problem resulting in them having systems which are "deaf" so they can't hear the users they're interfering with but at the same time "loud" so they drown out the legitimate users. Sometimes their systems are so bad they cause interference on a lot of unrelated frequencies because they're over driving their radios and causing harmonics on other frequencies they don't even realize they're interfering with.

Bottom line is it's a matter of being a responsible user of a limited resource. And doing it right really can benefit you as well since you'll learn enough to not make a lot of simple easily avoided mistakes that will improve the reliability of your own communications systems as well as make sure you don't risk interfering with other peoples.
 

RoyBro

Senior Member
Mentor
#7
Bottom line is it's a matter of being a responsible user of a limited resource. And doing it right really can benefit you as well since you'll learn enough to not make a lot of simple easily avoided mistakes that will improve the reliability of your own communications systems as well as make sure you don't risk interfering with other peoples.
Very true.

It is a gray area, and become grayer depending on where you fly. In the more western states where population per acre drops significantly, if you fly away from populated areas where you won't be bothering people, the Frequency Police probably won't bother you. That's not to say that you shouldn't follow the rules, but I've looked at them a few times, and my head just starts hurting. So with tongue in cheek, I mumble "it's not illegal if you don't get caught", and "No harm, no foul", and all that. But if you fly in an area where you are bothering just one person, Murphy's law make it clear that one person will call the Feds.

Population Map
130118093427-census-dotmap-story-top copy.jpg

So here's a practical test. If you can run around outside naked for an hour without anyone yelling "Ethel! You git yer clothes on!", you're probably OK to fly FPV without a license. :p
 

Cyberdactyl

Misfit Multirotor Monkey
#8
Yes, as was said, you do need a license.

But the chances of you getting heat from the FCC, FAA or local law enforcement is extremely unlikely IF you don't abuse your situation. I've had the sheriff to my house because of a paranoid neighbor and the sheriff had no clue what my multi-rotor was let alone the legalities of it. I explained the basics of what it was and he was ok with it. Even wrote a letter to the Sheriff and have yet to hear back after several weeks.

I would say as long as you observe common courtesy, use common sense, don't intimidate neighbors or bystanders, be safe, you'll be fine.
 
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#9
I can tell you for sure that no one will get any heat from local law enfrocement where I am at.

I dont see how a 5.8ghz fpv transmitter is any different than a 5.8ghz wifi router. That is just me.

I also live in an area where even cell phones dont work and I cant even pickup a neighbors wifi. So interfearance will not be an issue.

However, if told to I wouldnt have any problem getting the amature radio license either. I think it would be a good thing to have but with all the license and stuff everyone want you do get for different hobbies it is probably unneccassary.
 

jhitesma

Some guy in the desert
Mentor
#11
I can tell you for sure that no one will get any heat from local law enfrocement where I am at.
No one would ever get heat from local law enforcement. Unless you have some crazy local laws. It's a FCC matter and enforcement is by the FCC at the federal level. And yes the chances of getting caught are slim...unless you're interfering with someone. Keep in mind a lot of amateur radio operators take part in "fox hunts" for fun and a fox hunt is just a matter of one guy hiding a transmitter and the rest trying to find it. In other words tracking down someone causing interference is a form of fun for some radio guys. They can't enforce anything either but if you're interfering with them they would inform the FCC and the FCC may or may not take any actions. If they do take actions you're looking at fighting a federal agency with a variety of enforcement actions available to them ranging from a polite "please stop" letter up to fines and potential jail time if you keep causing interference. You're also likely looking at loosing the option of getting licensed and becoming legal as one of their favorite enforcement actions is to deny future licenses to those caught causing interference.

I dont see how a 5.8ghz fpv transmitter is any different than a 5.8ghz wifi router. That is just me.
Maybe a little visual example will help:

A 5.8ghz wifi router is like this:
megaphone1.jpg

A 5.8ghz fpv transmitter is like this:
1110_WVobamavoice.jpg


It's a matter of power level. You may not annoy your neighbor by shining a little keychain sized LED flashlight at their bedroom window at 3AM. But if you were shining a 5,000 lumen LED spot light at their window they'd probably get upset.

And yes, the power level difference between a 5.8ghz wifi router and some of the 5.8ghz FPV transmitters being used is that dramatic. (though again the power level of the transmitter is only part of the equation, the efficiency of the antenna is a very big role.)

However, if told to I wouldnt have any problem getting the amature radio license either. I think it would be a good thing to have but with all the license and stuff everyone want you do get for different hobbies it is probably unneccassary.
The big problem with this kind of "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission" mindset is that in this case it's really not. As I already mentioned one of the go to enforcement actions the FCC uses on people is to take away their ability to hold a legal license. So if you do get caught (as unlikely as it may be) there's a considerable chance that getting legal won't be an option - and you'll have more scrutiny in the future as a past offender and a considerably higher chance of getting caught again if you keep doing it with correspondingly higher risks of facing stiffer penalties.

While on the other hand getting licensed legally is cheaper than what a FTV RX/TX costs, is a one time fee, and requires generally just a few hours of time taking practice tests to learn what you need to learn.

In other words "Seeking permission" is considerably easier and cheaper than "seeking forgiveness" if you get caught no matter how slight the chance of getting caught may be.
 
#13
No one would ever get heat from local law enforcement. Unless you have some crazy local laws. It's a FCC matter and enforcement is by the FCC at the federal level. And yes the chances of getting caught are slim...unless you're interfering with someone. Keep in mind a lot of amateur radio operators take part in "fox hunts" for fun and a fox hunt is just a matter of one guy hiding a transmitter and the rest trying to find it. In other words tracking down someone causing interference is a form of fun for some radio guys. They can't enforce anything either but if you're interfering with them they would inform the FCC and the FCC may or may not take any actions. If they do take actions you're looking at fighting a federal agency with a variety of enforcement actions available to them ranging from a polite "please stop" letter up to fines and potential jail time if you keep causing interference. You're also likely looking at loosing the option of getting licensed and becoming legal as one of their favorite enforcement actions is to deny future licenses to those caught causing interference.



Maybe a little visual example will help:

A 5.8ghz wifi router is like this:
View attachment 15071

A 5.8ghz fpv transmitter is like this:
View attachment 15072


It's a matter of power level. You may not annoy your neighbor by shining a little keychain sized LED flashlight at their bedroom window at 3AM. But if you were shining a 5,000 lumen LED spot light at their window they'd probably get upset.

And yes, the power level difference between a 5.8ghz wifi router and some of the 5.8ghz FPV transmitters being used is that dramatic. (though again the power level of the transmitter is only part of the equation, the efficiency of the antenna is a very big role.)



The big problem with this kind of "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission" mindset is that in this case it's really not. As I already mentioned one of the go to enforcement actions the FCC uses on people is to take away their ability to hold a legal license. So if you do get caught (as unlikely as it may be) there's a considerable chance that getting legal won't be an option - and you'll have more scrutiny in the future as a past offender and a considerably higher chance of getting caught again if you keep doing it with correspondingly higher risks of facing stiffer penalties.

While on the other hand getting licensed legally is cheaper than what a FTV RX/TX costs, is a one time fee, and requires generally just a few hours of time taking practice tests to learn what you need to learn.

In other words "Seeking permission" is considerably easier and cheaper than "seeking forgiveness" if you get caught no matter how slight the chance of getting caught may be.
Have you seen some of the new wireless APs??? There is a 1000mw aka 1 watt model that is widely used by wardrivers and wifimappers. It is actually also quite common to find boosters in the 500mw to 5000mw arena. In most cases they have a ton of extra wattage than the FPV stuff unless you are running one of those dragon links or something. If memory serves right they are still only around 1000mw. For whatever reason most home users arnt smart enough to install multiple APs in a 3000+ sft house. Instead they have turned to these single big @$$ wifi repeaters that you could use to reheat your dinner.

Not trying to make this a big thing but if they are going to go after people a my quad running fpv they better be ready to pull all of this stuff from the shelves of stores, out of these mcmansions, and off the roof of the local college giving wifi to the grassy knoll.
 

jhitesma

Some guy in the desert
Mentor
#14
Again, raw power isn't what matters. It's EIRP. You can run a 200watt transmitter but as long as it's going into a dummy load and not actually emitting more than allowed it's completely legal. I'm not saying that that's what manufacturers are doing (selling over powered routers with crippled antennas) but I have seen similar things happen with other radio products.

It's also a matter of what licensed uses are on any given frequency, what mandate a device is operating under and they type of transmission (broadcast vs. point to point, modulation type and even content of the transmission).

Basically it's not a black and white easy to explain situation. Here's some background on the bands in question: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISM_band And an explanation of the limits on power when operating under Part 15 rules:
http://www.afar.net/tutorials/fcc-rules/

Honestly I can't get too into the details about the 5.8mhz band because quite frankly I haven't delved into all of the details of it as quite frankly it hasn't interested me all that much. Most of what I can share at this point is generalities based on the sections of FCC code that various things are operating under. Personally I'm more interested in 2.4ghz and 1.2ghz than 5.8g and most of what I know about them is from my interest in satellite communications where signals are very weak as they're coming from a very long way away and are easily interfered with by illegal users. I've yet to have any luck with my 2.4ghz sat ground station but that's mainly due to issues with my downconverter and general interference from things like microwaves, florescent lights and wifi.

FWIW - I'm actually one of those guys who has horrible wifi in his house (Despite my house being barely 1,000sqft) and has to run two routers. I run one as a normal wifi access point and the other as a repeater to boost the signal to my backroom which due to being behind a brick wall that used to be the back wall of the house (when it was barely 700sqft) gets horrible wifi reception. I actually used to have my main wifi AP in a separate building (I have a stand alone office in my backyard) but since I don't use my home office much anymore I moved my main AP to the living room. I originally made due with some homemade upgraded antennas, but it only got me to the point of usable but not reliable signal so I finally had to resort to a repeater.

The "more power" fallacy is a big one in radio that a lot of people fall for. It's been explained many times but simply adding more power to a transmitter is seldom very effective. With the race radio guys I know some people who were running 50watt rigs to try and talk just a few miles and having limited success while in the same area I simply used a good antenna (made from a few bucks worth of copper tubing) and was able to communicate more reliably over longer distances at just 5watts. (Note this is in the 2m range - 5watts at microwave (2.4/5.8g) would be crazy!) On HF where amateurs are known to run 1000watt legal limit amps I've actually communicated from the Mexican/CA border to northern Alaska with just 3w using PSK and a simple dipole antenna. A little bit of RF knowledge goes a LOT further than a lot more power.
 
#15
Again, raw power isn't what matters. It's EIRP. You can run a 200watt transmitter but as long as it's going into a dummy load and not actually emitting more than allowed it's completely legal. I'm not saying that that's what manufacturers are doing (selling over powered routers with crippled antennas) but I have seen similar things happen with other radio products.

It's also a matter of what licensed uses are on any given frequency, what mandate a device is operating under and they type of transmission (broadcast vs. point to point, modulation type and even content of the transmission).

Basically it's not a black and white easy to explain situation. Here's some background on the bands in question: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISM_band And an explanation of the limits on power when operating under Part 15 rules:
http://www.afar.net/tutorials/fcc-rules/

Honestly I can't get too into the details about the 5.8mhz band because quite frankly I haven't delved into all of the details of it as quite frankly it hasn't interested me all that much. Most of what I can share at this point is generalities based on the sections of FCC code that various things are operating under. Personally I'm more interested in 2.4ghz and 1.2ghz than 5.8g and most of what I know about them is from my interest in satellite communications where signals are very weak as they're coming from a very long way away and are easily interfered with by illegal users. I've yet to have any luck with my 2.4ghz sat ground station but that's mainly due to issues with my downconverter and general interference from things like microwaves, florescent lights and wifi.

FWIW - I'm actually one of those guys who has horrible wifi in his house (Despite my house being barely 1,000sqft) and has to run two routers. I run one as a normal wifi access point and the other as a repeater to boost the signal to my backroom which due to being behind a brick wall that used to be the back wall of the house (when it was barely 700sqft) gets horrible wifi reception. I actually used to have my main wifi AP in a separate building (I have a stand alone office in my backyard) but since I don't use my home office much anymore I moved my main AP to the living room. I originally made due with some homemade upgraded antennas, but it only got me to the point of usable but not reliable signal so I finally had to resort to a repeater.

The "more power" fallacy is a big one in radio that a lot of people fall for. It's been explained many times but simply adding more power to a transmitter is seldom very effective. With the race radio guys I know some people who were running 50watt rigs to try and talk just a few miles and having limited success while in the same area I simply used a good antenna (made from a few bucks worth of copper tubing) and was able to communicate more reliably over longer distances at just 5watts. (Note this is in the 2m range - 5watts at microwave (2.4/5.8g) would be crazy!) On HF where amateurs are known to run 1000watt legal limit amps I've actually communicated from the Mexican/CA border to northern Alaska with just 3w using PSK and a simple dipole antenna. A little bit of RF knowledge goes a LOT further than a lot more power.
I started going with seperate APs a while ago. Simply because I got tired of replacing router and AP combos when they would go out. I picked up a decent hard wired cisco and deployed two Ubiquiti APs. They have seamless handoff and the best part is that it spreads the load between two APs.

I have seen some pretty cool directional antennas made by wardrivers that take full advantage of the wattage. It is quite impressive that they can get so much with so little.

As for interfearance in a group of people... I hate people so it doesnt matter... JK.
 
#16
Right or wrong, black or white, up or down.....IMO we as hobbyists are taking a pretty big gamble to assume we can continue to get caught with our hand in the cookie jar without eventually getting slapped. I personally believe FCC policy in its current form is not adequate and or fair when it comes to recreational fpv but please know with recent unrest regarding "drones" there are a growing number of policy makers looking to tighten up their belts so to speak.....and I dare say not a single one of them gives a flying crap about what is fair or adequate. We can focus on the details, get lost in heated debate with one another till we're blue in the face but as far as "they" are concerned we are broadcast pirates operating from arial, mobile platforms.
 

Cyberdactyl

Misfit Multirotor Monkey
#17
The FCC and FAA both will have to address this very soon.

Several fundamental aspects are changing extremely fast.

As little as six ago, electric powered craft were somewhat rare. There were essentially no multi-rotors. FPV was limited to extreme RC geeks. For the most part flight range was limited to line of sight.

Not only has that all changed, but it has put FPV, long range flights, quiet backyard launch points into the hands of any joe-blow with only a few hours of tinkering and rudimentary knowledge of electronics with a few hundred bucks extra to blow.

We are very quickly approaching the point where knowledge doesn't even play a part, only a credit card is needed. All the proof you need is to peruse the DJI Phantom and A.R. Drone threads at RCGroups.
 
#18
Speaking of the FAA, who here at least flys with a scanner tuned to their regional departure/arrival and general communication aviation channels? Raise your hand.....mine is.
 
#19
Speaking of the FAA, who here at least flys with a scanner tuned to their regional departure/arrival and general communication aviation channels? Raise your hand.....mine is.
Good idea.

I was very worried a few weeks ago when my house got buzzed by a cropduster. Talking to a buddy of mine, a friend of his from college, became a fligher pilot and his instructor hit a crop duster with him in the plane. Luckally, him and his instructor were fine but the cropduster guy was killed. These guys aparently fly by knowledge of the area only and maybe a handheld GPS. Anyway, this guy that flew over my house flew like a maniac. I think he might have even hit my quad if it was at 150 feet. 150 feet is my max. Talking to some people I have learned that in the off chance this guy was actually hurt in hitting my drone, he is kind of playing with fire anyway.

My point is that I keep things really low...