Posted 5th Jan 2018
This is an attempt to detail where and when you would need a license to use two way radios in the UK.

This guide does not cover all situations, but should cover many of the variants of these handheld Chinese Radios, they are usually based on the Baofeng/Pofeng UV-R5 or BF888 although they may have different names or model numbers depending on the vendor.These guidelines do NOT cover use by anyone who may use radio as an integral part of their trade, (eg Radio Hire or Taxi cabs)where other guidelines may apply, but these circumstances are left out of this document for simplicity.

First you only need a licence to transmit NOT to listen in, if you only wish to listen its recommended you set the radio to not transmit even if you push the transmit key.

These handheld radio transceivers pop up quite often on UKHD, often from the Chinese dropshippers or Ebay and at low prices, it’s very rare that the seller will make reference to the fact you cannot legally just charge them up and use them here in the UK, and in some cases it could be dangerous to do so.

Radios may be Analog or Digital but the same guidelines apply, Digital radios are more expensive, this guide is aimed at people looking to buy the analog devices that usually cost about £10 each.

Note: you CANNOT use a radio that’s classed a FRS or GMRS in the UK or the EU.These are an American/Canadian standard and uses frequencies that are not permitted to be used in the UK.

The first thing to say is there are two types of two way radio commonly available.These are often classed as PMR446 and Two way Business radios.

PMR446 Type Radios – See also…446

These are a type of radios and they are license exempt.Anyone can use them freely without a license. PMR446 radios generally have a range that will vary from about 100m in a built up area to maybe 1km in an open rural environment.

These will have a specification of 500mW ERP (this is a measure of how powerful a transmitter it is) and use 16 specific channels that all start with 446 Mhz.They can often be recognised by the fact they have 16 channels with just up and down buttons and no way to enter a frequency in Mhz, they typically have a one piece construction so they cannot be modified for example by changing the aerial.

However, Some business radios also have this simple interface and will only have a 16 channel selected knob.If in doubt read the specification.If the specification says the transmission range (this may be listed as TX range) starts with anything other than MHZ then the radio IS NOT a PMR446 radio.

Contrary to popular misconceptions you cannot legally just set any radio onto the PMR446 frequency channels to become legal, unless you can also set the radio transmission power to be limited to 500mW.Most Business Radios cannot be set that low, so cannot legally be used as PMR446 devices.

PMR446 is harmonised around most of Europe so these types of radio can be used in the EU, however they CANNOT be used in the US or Canada.Please DO NOT rely on this generalisation if you wish to take them on your holidays, check before you travel.

Two way Business radio.

This is more often the class of radio that is offered for sale.These come in two types, one is simplified walkie talkie interface (very similar to the PMR446 radios) or the others are a more advanced model with keypad and LCD display (Some examples are here-…tml).These typically have a range of 2-3Km in a built up area, or up to 5Km in an open field environment.

These models have an output power of up to 5W, and may have removable aerials.They will commonly list a frequency range they can transmit on, some radios will only have one frequency range they can use, others may be Dual Banded if they can transmit on different frequency ranges (eg the UV-R5 is often listed as VHF 136-174 / UHF 400-520MHz).

All these models WILL need a license to be used legally in the UK.There are two licencing schemes that are in effect for these portable handsets and they have different target users, and different requirements.

The First is a SIMPLE UK license.

This is aimed at businesses or organisations who need to use radios over a wide range, or in buildings where PMR446 radios are not powerful enough, they are used as an accessory to help a business or event run.As an example a large shop or warehouse may use radios to contact employees around the site.Paintball enthusiasts may use them to allow a team to communicate with each other, or an outdoor event may use them to communicate about visitor numbers, lost children or car parking.

This licence is obtained by filling in and sending off the relevant OfCOM form and making payment, the licence costs £75 for 5 years and covers all users under that event / organisation.In the examples above a shop would need one licence for all employees, the paintball team would need one licence for all its team members, or the even needs one licence for all radio users.There are very few requirements of how the radio is used, the most obvious ones are you cannot play music over the radio, or use bad language.

There are only 16 permitted frequencies that can be used across the UK, and these will should ideally be programmed into the radio before use, so the end user only has to select a channel and use it.While 16 channels are not many, the relatively small range means it’s usually easy to select a free channel for use.

NOTE: When you receive a Chinese radio it will almost certainly have some channels preset.Often these may be ones that already in use in the UK, it is known that the Baofeng BF-888 by default has a preset that is on the same channel that the Fire Brigade use to allow firefighers at the scene of a fire to talk and co-ordinate their work.You WILL NOT be able to hear them talk, they use encrypted radios, however you could cause interference that prevents them hearing each other or command.

PLEASE Think and check before using a new radio.

The Second option is a UK Amateur Radio license (aka a HAM licence)

This is really a little over the top for many peoples use, however you can use a Ham license to legally transmit with these type of radios. The UK Ham licence has three levels, Foundation, Intermediate or Full.A Foundation level license is sufficient to transmit however there are more restrictions and some costs.This is more aimed at the amateur enthusiast, a foundation licence allows you to transmit up to 10W of power, and on many different frequencies than the Simple UK license.

Every person who transmits will need their own licence so in the prior example every employee or every member of the paintball team would need a licence. You can see why may organisations would use a Simple UK liceince. A foundation level licence has a practical portion to pass and a multiple choice exam.While not difficult both sections need to be taken under the supervision of a RSGB registered Radio Club to be valid.Many clubs run these courses around the UK and you would expect to pay around £50 for the course, practical and multiple choice exam.

Once you have passed the exam you can apply for an Amateur licence, this is free and lasts a lifetime, however it has to be revalidated (this is also free) at least every 5 years.

You can only use frequencies that are permitted under Amateur radio rules and you have to transmit to the Amateur radio protocols. Without getting too technical this related to how you announce you are transmitting, how often you transmit your call sign
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