Contents

Australian Amateur Radio FAQ

Last updated: 24-Jun-06

2. Becoming Licensed

Introduction

In return for being granted spectrum access radio amateurs must pass exams in radio (the theory exam) and the regulations affecting amateur operation. The purpose of the exams is to ensure that licensees can build and operate radio equipment without causing interference to others. Unlike all other spectrum users, radio amateurs are allowed to build or modify transmitting equipment, and do not need to obtain type-approval for it. Licensed amateurs can also use any frequency in their bands (rather than being allocated fixed frequencies or channels) and can operate medium to high-powered equipment on a wide range of frequencies.

To get an amateur licence, you need to:

  1. Study regulations and radio theory - either through coursework or as an independent student
  2. Arrange for and sit the desired tests
  3. Await results from the Wireless Institute of Australia
  4. Submit evidence of your pass to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which will issue a Certificate of Proficiency, issue a licence and allocate a callsign.

The following paragraphs explain the categories of licences available, privileges granted and the exams required. The remainder of this article will explain often overlooked, but important matters such as studying, arranging an exam and obtaining a license.

Categories of Licence

Australia now has three licence classes. (updated 19 October 05, the date of commencement of the new arrangements)

  1. The amateur Foundation licence. Holders of the Foundation licence can only use a transmitter that has been manufactured commercially, can only use voice, on either SSB, AM or FM or morse using a manually operated morse key, and not more than 10 watts output power ssb or 3 watts output power AM, FM or CW. Bands permitted are the 80, 40, 15 and 10 metre bands as well as the 2 metre band and the band 430 to 450 MHz, subject to necessary bandwidth restrictions.
  2. The Amateur Standard licence includes the existing Novice, and Novice Limited licensees, who can use any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 8 kHz on the 80, 40, 20 and 15 metre bands, and any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 16 kHz on the 10 metre band, the band 52 to 54 MHz, the 2 metre band, and the bands 430 to 450 MHz, 1240 to 1300 MHz, 2,400 to 2,450 MHz and 5.650 to 5.850 GHz, with no change to the current output power limits of 100 watts (PEP for SSB) and 30 watts (constant carrier modes).
  3. The Advanced licence includes the existing Unrestricted licence, the Limited licence and the Intermediate licence, who can use any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 8 kHz on all bands below 24.990 MHz, any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 16 kHz on the 28.00 MHz to 29.70 MHz band, any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 100 kHz on the 6 and 2 metre bands and any emission mode with no bandwidth restriction in the amateur bands above 420 MHz, and with no change to the current output power limits of 400 watts (PEP for SSB) and 120 watts (for constant carrier modes).

Studying for the tests

Those wishing to obtain their amateur licence can study via the following means:

Formal Courses

Novice courses are normally run by radio clubs or WIA Divisions. Classes are normally weekly for 1-2 hours. A course length of around six months is typical. Courses may include regulations, Morse and a practical component. Not all clubs run licence classes.

Internet

Another way to study is via the Internet course run by Ron Bertrand VK2DQ's Radio and Elecronics School. This is particularly attractive for those unable to attend club courses due to distance or time constraints. Students can also subscribe to a mailing list and have any questions answered.

Individual

Books, videos and internet resources are available for those who wish to study by themselves.

Radio Theory Exam Preparation

With the introduction of the Foundation Licence in October 05, courses are offered by various radio clubs and State associations aimed at providing students with the introductory level of radio knowledge required by the Foundation licence. Further details to be provided.

For the Amateur Standard licence, theory texts and courses for the former Novice licence should be considered.

  • Graeme Scott's Novice Operators Theory Handbook is very popular. It comes with a Morse tape and is available as from supplier such as Dick Smith Electronics (Cat D 7112). Other books include Questions and Answers for the Novice Licence (now out of print) and Fred Swainston's Radio Amateurs Theory Handbook, which is suitable for both Novice and Full theory.
  • The WIA VK2 Division publishes a Novice Study kit, which is highly recommended.
  • The Gladesville Amateur Radio Club produces amateur radio licence study videotapes. Students can test their progress by doing a self-test exam as contained in books such as
  • 1000 Questions for NAOCP Candidates or on the WIA Victoria website. Excellent background reading appears on websites by VK2DQ and VK2TIP.
  • You can also learn from text books published by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) or the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB). Books are available for purchase direct from those sources, or you can buy from Amazon or other online book sources. In the Magazines and Periodicals section of the Clubs and Info section of this FAQ, there are links to suggested books on radio theory suitable for Amateur Radio students.

REGULATIONS EXAM

Study material for the Regulations can be downloaded from the ACMA website. Alternatively, try contacting your local ACMA Office for an amateur information pamphlet.Access to this material is absolutely critical if you are to pass the Regulations paper.

Another extremely useful resource is the WIA Callbook - this contains much material pertinent to the student, including amateur regulations, frequency allocations, list of examiners (though possibly out of date), ACMA offices, club mailing addresses, WIA news broadcast, Morse practice broadcasts and more.

MORSE CODE

It is no longer necessary to pass an exam in morse code for an Amateur Radio licence in Australia. However morse is still used by amateurs and there are nightly Morse Practice Broadcasts (normally transmitted on 80 and/or 2 metres) transmitted especially for those learning the code. In addition, some cities have 24 hour continuous Morse practice beacons that you can tune into at any time. Listen on 3.699 MHz to hear VK2WI transmitting practice morse at a range of speeds. Also see the KA7NOC website under the CW link.


Arranging the exam

Amateur exams are conducted by accredited individuals, clubs and former WIA Divisions operating under the auspices of the Federal body of the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA). If attending a course you will be offered the opportunity to sit an exam when the course ends. Those studying independently need to find an examiner themselves. One starting point is your local radio club (or former WIA Division) - most clubs have accredited examiners but may not always run licence courses. Alternatively, contact details for examiners are given in the WIA Callbook, which is sold directly by the WIA and via some electronics stores such as Dick Smith. Note that this list is not necessarily up to date and some of those listed may no longer be active examiners. With the introduction of the Foundation licence in October 05, arrangements for examinations have been revised but are still broadly as above.


Waiting for the results

The examiner will send your paper away to be marked, and you will await the results. The highlight of your days will be checking the mail box to check for the magic envelope from the WIA. Don't fret if it takes a while - waits of four to six weeks are fairly normal. At this time, you will no doubt be drooling over equipment catalogues, scanning the magazines and asking people their opinion on particular pieces of equipment.

You might also use this time to think about your preferred callsign. Callsigns are a personal issue for many. Some like being able to choose a callsign including their initials or some other combination meaningful to them. There are several requirements for this to be possible. Firstly it must be within the callsign block for the particular licence grade. Secondly, it must not be already allocated. Thirdly, the callsign must not have belonged to a recently deceased amateur. Amateurs serious about getting a 'good callsign' firstly develop a short-list (based on initials, likely confusion with other callsigns, pronuncibility, brevity on CW etc).

Having considered what callsign letters you might want, you can search the ACMA's online database to see which of your preferred options may be available. When the time comes for ACMA to allocate a callsign, you will have the opportunity to state your preferred options. Don't expect to get your number one preference though - keep an open mind.


Certificate of proficiency, callsign and licence

Once you have details of your pass, you can now obtain a certificate of proficiency. Most people do this over-the-counter at their nearest ACMA office. It should be emphasised that a Certificate of Proficiency is not a license to operate. However, the Certificate qualifies the holder to obtain the category of amateur licence commensurate with the certificate.

On payment of a licence fee, the Authority will issue your station licence. Your callsign will be printed on the licence. If you don't already have one, request a Radiocommunicatons Licence Conditions (Amateur Licence) Determination document for your licence grade as well.

Obtaining and renewing an amateur licence requires payment of an issue or renewal fee. This is currently $50.80, which includes payment of the Spectrum Access Tax, an administrative component and the Goods and Services Tax. A small discount applies for multi-year licenses, which are available for up to 5 years. Details on the ACMA website.


After getting a licence, then what?

Once you've passed the exams for your chosen class of licence, then the real fun begins (unless you're an exam addict, and only wanted to become an amateur for the thrill of the exam :-)) . Amateur radio has so many different facets to enjoy. Many are outlined later in this FAQ.


Morse code and amateur licensing

There was a growing recognition during the 1990s that few prospective radio amateurs accepted the validity of the morse proficiency requirement for HF licences. Some or all WIA Divisions conducted a survey of members in late 1995 to see whether their members agreed with the morse requirement. The morse code test was widely seen as out of step with today's technology and the interests of today's newcomers to the hobby. There were movements afoot in New Zealand, Europe and the USA during the next few years, culminating in an announcement by the American radio administration (FCC), that from April 2000, the morse speed requirement would be reduced to 5 wpm. Many other countries followed suit, including Australia and New Zealand and many European countries. More details can be found at a WIA website.

The morse test requirement was finally removed as a treaty requirement by a World Administrative Radio Conference in 2003. The morse test was left to individual countries to apply if they wished. In Australia, the ACMA agreed to remove the requirement for morse tests as of 1 January 2004.

This is nevertheless not the death of morse code as an active mode on the amateur bands. Morse is too useful a mode for it to be dropped by amateur radio. Using morse code an amateur can bypass language differences and overcome interference and crowded band conditions that would make communications impossible on any other mode.

Morse will continue to be the most fundamental of the digital modes, for use under the worst possible radio conditions such as Earth-Moon-Earth amateur communications. It will also continue to be used for low power communications (QRP), where the simplest transmitters simply turn a single radio signal on and off and there is no need for the complexities of voice modulators.


I'm visiting Australia - how do I get a reciprocal licence?

When visiting some countries you don't need to do anything other than bring your equipment and the licence issued by your home country. This is due to an international agreement between radio communications administrations. Australia is working towards that situation, but is not there yet. You still need to take out an Australian amateur radio licence with a VK callsign, if you want to operate in Australia. However this may change in 2006 so check ACMA's website if it is important to you.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has published a comprehensive document about this subject. What it says is

  • Don't just bring a radio and expect to use your foreign licence and callsign. To operate as an amateur in Australia you need an Australian licence and an Australian callsign VK*xxx.
  • Apply in person at any ACMA office or in writing at least 3 months before your intended visit.
  • There is a long list of countries with which Australia has reciprocal licencing agreements - ie. Australia recognises the foreign country's licence qualifications and vice versa. Amateurs from those countries will basically have no problem in being allocated a licence that corresponds to their qualifications.
  • There is another list of countries which have licence conditions that Australia recognises as sufficiently similar to ours, that we will grant an Australian licence.
  • Amateurs from other countries with licence qualifications that are not as yet recognised by Australia, may be issued with a licence allowing operation on 146-148 MHz FM with max 10 watts output.
  • Another special condition exists for Japanese operators with "telephone or telegraph" [voice-only or morse-only] licences, who may be issued with licences to operate on bands above 30 MHz, phone only, max 10 watts output.
  • Visitor's licences are not automatically renewable and if they are not issued under the terms of a reciprocal agreement, are endorsed so they cannot be used as the basis of a licence issue by another country. However, visitor licences are normally renewed on request, providing the conditions are still satisfied.

You need to supply ACMA with

  • your current Amateur licence or certificate of qualifications
  • your passport and proof, eg. a visa, of the duration of your visit;
  • a completed licence application form (RF57); and
  • the current licence fee which is $AUD53.90 (in Australian dollars).

You can do this in person, or by mail. If doing it by mail you can send certified copies of those precious documents instead of the originals.

For more details please consult the ACMA web site.