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OfW 311 - Radio Controlled Models

1. Introduction

This information sheet serves two purposes. Firstly, it answers the basic questions about the frequencies and technical restrictions that apply to the operation of radio-controlled models. Secondly, it explains the application of the R&TTE Directive to model control equipment, in respect of marketing equipment or bringing new equipment into use.

2. What are radio-controlled models?

There are two types of radio controlled models: those that operate primarily on the ground or on water, known as "surface" models; and those that are airborne.

Typically, radio control is used for model cars, ships (including steam, motor vessels and yachts) and aircraft.

Many toy radio controlled models tend to operate at 49 MHz, where a small band exists for general-purpose low-power radio devices. Technical details of this band are detailed in the UK Interface Requirement IR2030/1/5 and can be obtained from the Ofcom website at Interface Requirements.

3. Do I need a licence to operate model control equipment?

No. Model control equipment was exempted from the licensing requirements of the Wireless Telegraphy Act on 11 January 1981. The current exemption regulations can be obtained from the www.legislation.gov.uk website or via a link on the Ofcom website at; The Wireless Telegraphy (Exemption and Amendment) Regulations 2010.

Although licences are not required, equipment must meet the technical conditions set out in the Regulations - see Section 6.

4. What frequencies are available?

The specific frequency bands available for the use of radio controlled models are shown below, with the maximum effective radiated power output of the transmitter measured in milliwatts. Within these bands, specific channel arrangements apply. Please refer to the UKRCC website http://www.ukrcc.org/ for full details.


Frequency (MHz)

Bandwidth (kHz)

Use

Effective radiated power (mW)

26.96 to 27.28

10

General

100

34.945 to 35.305

10

Air

100

40.66 to 41.00

10

Surface

100

458.5 to 459.5

25

General

100

However, radio control models may also share the frequency bands allocated to General Non-Specific Short Range Devices with all other such applications. Most of the Non-Specific Short Range Devices allocations remain impractical for model control, due to restrictions on channel capability or too little power to give sufficient range. Also, most General Non-Specific Short Range Devices allocations are located in the international Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency bands, so may well suffer interference from commonplace machinery. Details of ISM bands are shown in annex A of the UK Frequency Allocation Table [UK FAT]

One band that has been identified by model control manufacturers, in the General Non-Specific Short Range Devices allocations, is 49 MHz. The power output is low at 10 mW e.i.r.p.


Frequency (MHz)

Use

Effective radiated power

49.82 to 49.98

General

10 mW

Additionally, the Wideband Data Transmission Applications (WBDTS) at 2.4 GHz may also be used for model control. Apparatus is allowed to operate at higher powers than the General Non-Specific Short Range Devices. This is however a separate Reference Standard for apparatus described as WBDTS. This standard is ETSI EN 300 328. For details please refer to the Ofcom Interface Requirement IR2030/7/1. Model control enthusiasts should always think carefully about the possibility of interference and ensure the equipment they propose to use is suitable and operating in a frequency band appropriate for the intended use.

The 26/27 MHz band is also allocated for Citizens' Band (CB) radio and for low-power Non-Specific Short Range Devices, as well as for all types of general model control - see Section 9.

The 458/459 MHz band is also allocated to Industrial telemetry and telecommand devices between 458.5 and 458.95 MHz, and to specialised telemetry between 458.95 and 459.1 MHz. While the potential for mutual interference is minimal, model controllers should avoid the specialised telemetry part of this band.

The use of the different bands is important for health and safety reasons. The 40 MHz band is dedicated solely to surface modelling. It consists of 34 channels with a 10 kHz channel spacing. The centre frequency of each channel is 40.655 MHz + (channel bandwidth x channel number). The 35 MHz band is dedicated solely to aeronautical modelling. It consists of 36 channels with a 10 kHz channel spacing. The centre frequency of each channel is 34.940 MHz + (channel bandwidth x channel number).

5. Enforcement of regulations

To ensure Ofcom best serves consumers’ needs it broadly prioritises it efforts and resources when responding to reports of interference or market abuse. The first priority is safety of life services, the second other safety related business radio followed by the remainder.

Ofcom defines the priorities of model control equipment enforcement as:

  • ensuring that non-compliant radio equipment is kept off the market;
  • ensuring that the use of radio and radio frequencies throughout the spectrum conforms to licence requirements (licence exemption regulations); and
  • investigating and taking action to prevent undue interference.

Ofcom’s Field Operations teams are located throughout the country and are happy to provide local advice including assistance to ensure users stay within the law. Ofcom has the power to take enforcement action against people who: cause interference; use inappropriate equipment; and place non-compliant equipment on the UK market. Penalties for breaches of the Wireless Telegraphy regulations range from informal warnings, formal cautions, through to fines and imprisonment.

Full details of Ofcom’s Enforcement Policy can be found on the Ofcom website.

6. What technical conditions have to be met?

All model control equipment must operate within the frequency bands shown above and the effective radiated power of the equipment must not exceed that shown alongside the frequency band in the tables above.

These technical conditions are laid down in the Regulations, which have exempted model control from licensing. The Regulations also contain other conditions; most importantly, model control equipment must not cause undue interference to other wireless telegraphy equipment. Full details of the Interface Requirement (IR2030) governing Model control and all other Short Range Devices can be found on the Ofcom website at Interface Requirements.

The use of flying models is controlled by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Operators of model aircraft apparatus must equally take account of CAA regulations, including Air Navigation Order (SI) CAP393 Section 1 the Air Navigation Order 2010 Part 22, Small Unmanned Aircraft (166) and Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft (167).

Further, the CAA publishes the document CAP658; Model Aircraft: A Guide to Safe Flying.  Note, the introduction to CAP 658 is explicit that it “refers only to model aircraft used for sport and recreation.  Guidance on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for aerial work is contained in CAP722 - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations in UK Airspace - Guidance.”   In this context it is important to state that the Ofcom licence exemption is for Model Control only.

In addition, the organising bodies for the various sections of the model control hobby have established codes of practice and preferred band plans, designed to ensure the successful operation of models. Details are available from the UK Radio Control Council - see Section 11.

7. Placing equipment on the market or putting into service

Before it can be placed on the UK market, radio model control equipment must first comply with the provisions of the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive 1999/5/EC (The R&TTE Directive).

To comply, all equipment has to meet a set of Essential Requirements that are based on voluntary Harmonised European Standards. Manufacturers can meet the essential requirements by ensuring equipment meets the applicable harmonised standards or by seeking the opinion of an R&TTE competent Notified Body. Once this assessment has been carried out, the manufacturer can declare compliance, affix the CE mark to the equipment and then place it on the market anywhere in the European Community.

However, the frequency bands used by radio model control equipment are generally not harmonised. The frequencies are managed nationally and the policy on use can differ between EU countries. It is therefore possible under the R&TTE Directive to legally place equipment on the UK market that cannot be authorised for use in the UK. Consequently operation of such equipment in the UK would be unlawful.
To prevent the possibility of radio equipment causing interference the R&TTE Directive requires the manufacturer or the person responsible for placing the radio equipment on the market to inform the user by information on the packaging and in the instructions for use in which countries the equipment can legally be used and what, if any authorisations are required. Also, where restrictions exist, the alert symbol (an exclamation mark in a circle) should be placed next to the CE mark.

Full details of the R&TTE Directive, plus CE and Alert symbols can be found on the EUR&TTE website.

Ofcom will take enforcement action where non compliance becomes apparent.

8. Can I transmit data from the model?

Yes. Telemetry can be transmitted from general, surface or air models back to the controller. The band is 433.050 to 434.790 MHz; the channel spacing is 25 kHz and the maximum radiated power is 10 mW. The band is not exclusive to model controllers - it is shared with other users, who are permitted to radiate relatively higher powers, so you must take care when selecting a channel for use in a particular locality. All other Non-Speciifc Short Range Devices bands can only be used for equipment that is terrestrial only.

9. Interference in the 27 MHz band?

The 26.965 to 27.405 MHz band is allocated for CB radio, in accordance with a Recommendation put forward by the Conference of European Posts and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT). The 27 MHz band is still available for model control but interference may be suffered from the other users of the band.

Within the model control band, there are five 10 kHz-wide channels that are used by low-power Non-Specific Short Range Devices but are not operational channels for CB. These have centre frequencies of 26.995, 27.045, 27.095, 27.145 and 27.195 MHz. While these channels may also suffer from interference, they should provide the best operating frequencies for model control within the new 27 MHz band.

In view of the problems associated with the 27 MHz band, frequency bands were made available at 35 and 40 MHz for model control. Just as CEPT CB was introduced on new frequencies to allow European harmonisation, the release of the frequencies at 35 and 40 MHz has brought the UK into line with other European administrations.

The current regulations allow 10 kHz channels only. This means that only such 27 MHz transmitting equipment may be CE marketed in the UK as being compliant, for use in the UK. There is however existing equipment operating that have 20 or 30 kHz channel splits. If these equipment were introduced when higher channel bandwidths were permitted, then they may continue to be used. However, the wider bandwidth increases the likelihood for interference in this 27 MHz band. The UK RCC is keen to see 20 kHz and 30 kHz equipment not being used where and when it may have an adverse effect on the operation of other radio control models. In addition, the UKRCC strongly discourages the use of this band for the control of model aircraft because of this greater possibility of interference.

10. Is 35 MHz just for Model Flying?

Yes. The UK Exemption Regulations make it clear that the channels at 34.945 – 35.305 MHz (100 mW) are solely for model flying. Surface modellers must not use these channels. Similarly, model flyers must not use the allocation at 40.66 – 41.00 MHz (100 mW), as this is reserved for surface modelling.

11. Can Amateur Radio be used airborne?

Summary

  • The Amateur Radio licence prohibits any airborne use.  Consequently, it does not authorise the transmission of video from any aircraft.
  • The Amateur Radio licence is available only to those who have demonstrated the required level of competence by passing a special
  • Some video may be used airborne at low power without a licence.

Background

We have received a number enquiries from those (principally non-amateurs) who wish to fly radio-controlled aircraft, such as quad-copters, fitted with video cameras.  The cameras are used to view the ground from the aircraft or to provide First Person View to aid the control of the aircraft.

There is a belief that this use can be authorised by applying for an Amateur Radio licence.  This is wrong.  The Amateur Radio licence expressly prohibits use in any airborne craft, including radio-controlled models, aeroplanes and balloons.

Moreover, we issue Amateur Radio licences only to those who have successfully completed an examination.  Amateur Radio is a service intended to allow hobbyists and enthusiasts to experiment with radio.  Commercial activity is strictly prohibited under the terms and conditions of the licence.  Licensed Radio Amateurs may operate transmitters at relatively high power levels in various frequency bands.  As a result, the Amateur Radio licence is available only to those who have demonstrated the necessary competence by studying for and passing a special examination.

Where the risk of interference is sufficiently low, we can exempt apparatus from the need for a licence.  However, the operation of such apparatus must comply with applicable provisions of the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive (“R&TTED”).  We explain this on our website, here.

If apparatus operates in conformity with an Interface Requirement (“IR”) published by us, then we believe that it should comply with the applicable provisions of the R&TTED.  Equip­ment must also be ‘CE’ marked to show it has been assessed for conformity with EU or UK legislat­ion on products.  Generally speaking, if apparatus does not comply with the R&TTED, it may not be used lawfully in the UK.

IR 2030 (available here) sets out the criteria that must be met by certain short range devices, in order to qualify for exemption from the need for a licence.  It provides for devices that operate on 5.8 GHz (IR2030/1/23 on page 21) and permits airborne use though radiated power must not exceed 25 mW EIRP.  We believe that this could cover video cameras.

Using radio without being properly authorised by Ofcom significantly increases the risk of harmful interference to other uses.  This is partic­u­lar­ly true of airborne use, as the ‘footprint’ of a signal from an airborne transmitter can affect a larger number of ground users.  The maximum penalty for the unauthorised use of radio is a fine of £5,000 and/or a prison sentence.  The courts may also order forfeit any thing used in connection with the offence.

Anyone proposing to operate unmanned aircraft or systems (such as model aircraft or drones) should also consult the Civil Aviation Authority, who have published guidance in CAP 722 (here).

12. What is the UK Radio Control Council?

The UKRCC consists of representatives of all aspects of the model control hobby. It meets Ofcom from time-to-time to discuss model control interests. It was from consultations in this forum that new frequencies were made available. Further information about the UKRCC may be obtained from: http://www.ukrcc.org

13. Further information

Enquiries about information given in this information sheet should be addressed to the Ofcom Contact Centre at Contacting Ofcom

Email

SRD.info@ofcom.org.uk

Post

Ofcom Contact Centre
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
London
SE1 9HA

Important note about personal data

Ofcom complies with the Data Protection Act. If you are making a complaint Ofcom may pass on your details, as appropriate, for the purposes of dealing with your complaint.

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