FCC Grants an ARRL Emergency Request Permitting Higher Data
Rate Transmissions for Hurricane Relief Communications

ARLB018 FCC Grants an ARRL Emergency Request to Permit Higher Data
Rate Transmissions for Hurricane Relief Communications
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted an ARRL emergency request for a 60-day temporary waiver intended to facilitate amateur radio emergency communications for hurricane
relief. The waiver was adopted on Tuesday, September 27, 2022, and immediately permitted amateur radio operators supporting amateur data transmission for Hurricane Ian traffic to employ a higher symbol rate for data transmissions than the current limit of 300baud.
In its Order (DA 22-1011), the FCC concluded “that granting the requested waiver is in the public interest. Puerto Rico was recently hit by Hurricane Fiona and Hurricane Ian is predicted to cause significant damage, including disruption to electricity and communications services. Thus, to accommodate amateur radio operators assisting in the recovery efforts, we grant the ARRL’s waiver request for the period of 60 days from the date of this Order to operate in any parts of the United States and its territories impacted by hurricanes. The waiver is limited to amateur radio operators in the United States and its territories using publicly documented data protocols that are compatible with FCC rules, with the exception of the data rate limit waived here, for those directly involved with HF hurricane relief communications.”
ARRL’s request stated that trained amateur radio operators are working with emergency management officials and relief organizations to assist with disaster relief communications in anticipation of the
arrival on the Gulf Coast of Hurricane Ian. ARRL sought the waiver for Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers, and other amateur radio support groups working with federal, state, and local
emergency management officials to assist with disaster relief.
Pursuant to ARRL’s request and similar to written waivers granted by the FCC in earlier years, to qualify, a protocol or mode exceeding the 300 baud symbol rate limit must (1) be publicly documented, (2)
use no more bandwidth than the currently permissible slower protocols (generally accepted to be the bandwidth of an SSB signal, or 2.8 kHz), and (3) be used solely for communications related to
hurricane relief.
Section 97.307(f) of the FCC’s rules prevents the use of certain protocols capable of higher data rate emissions in the HighFrequency (HF) bands that many amateur stations active in emergency communications preparedness are capable of using. ARRL described that equipment they plan to use exceeds the 300 baud symbol limit and that the higher data rates are critical in sending relief
communications. Many use radio modems and personal computers capable of using digital protocols and modes that would permit faster messaging rates than normally permitted under the FCC’s rules. ARRL
pointed out that higher data rates can be critical to timely transmission of relief communications, such as lists of needed and distributed supplies.
ARRL also explained that radio amateurs using higher-speed emissions for hurricane-related messages in the United States and its territories must be able to communicate with similar stations in the
US, possibly with Caribbean-based stations that are directly involved with hurricane relief efforts, and also with Federal stations on the five channels in the 5 MHz band involved with the
SHARES network and other interoperability partners on those frequencies.
ARRL also pointed out that the past FCC temporary waivers have allowed such protocols in similar events including Hurricanes Maria,Dorian, Laura, and Ida, typhoon relief communications in Hawaii, and wildfires in the western areas of the US.
In 2016, in response to an ARRL petition for rulemaking, the FCC proposed to remove the symbol rate limitations, which it tentatively concluded had become unnecessary due to advances in modulation techniques and no longer served a useful purpose. That proceeding, WT Docket 16-239, is still pending.

The FCC has done good here, but remains in the dark ages on the topic.

I suspect the ARRL is plans to use PACTOR 4 for Hurricane relief communications. If that’s what’s required to integrate with government agencies, it’s absolutely perfect! On a broader topic, can we ask what other high data rate options exist for the ambitious amateur radio operator? PACTOR, Vara, ..?

In an article written by Tom Whiteside, N5TW and published on Winlink.org, a comparison was made between Vara HF, PACTOR and others.

Executive Summary:
Hardware SCS modems running PACTOR 2,3 and 4 were evaluated as were sound card modes WINMOR, ARDOP and VARA across a variety of channel
models and across a range of signal to noise conditions for HF. VARA testing included a new VARA 500 500Hz mode. VARA FM and AX.25/FX.25 packet were
simulated for a VHF channel.
Spoiler alert: The SCS modems did very well as you would expect. The much less expensive VARA HF did especially well across the range of conditions tested.
The SCS modems and VARA could run long test cases without losing a connection while ARDOP and WINMOR were slow and unable to run many of the cases. VARA FM crushed AX.25/FX.25 VHF cases.

Read the full article here

Random thoughts

Why wasn’t there any mention of which higher data rate modes the ARRL asked a 60-day waiver for? Certainly, there are at least a few options available. What were those options? I suspect the PACTOR 4 will be the chosen mode, although that is pure speculation. Perhaps the mode isn’t important because the waiver is a “all encompassing” for the duration of the waiver. This would offer many opportunities to test various high data rate modes, without percecution. Hopefully we can get some real data after the clean up.

Regarding PACTOR. There’s only ever been two reasons I haven’t implemented PACTOR yet:

– The price of the equipment.
– More external periphrials attached to my rig.

The cost is less of a problem today, as prices have become more reasonable. So much so that I may finally pull the trigger on the P4Dragon, just to experiement on “more robust” HF comms for our group. Naturally pulling the trigger on a PACTOR modem would be no problem, if it were a requirement for my participation in disaster relief scenarios. While pondering this topic, it is difficult not to wonder if all that extra external equipment is better served on a desk in an air-conditioned office rather than in a makeshift IOC in a disaster zone. There are ocean going yachts using PACTOR modems for global off grid communications, doing so with great success. Still, the pondering continues as Vara HF & FM chew away at the amateur PACTOR slice of the pie. What do you think about PACTOR, Vara?

As a rule, it’s always best to simplify and minimize our comms gear. The fewer external peripherals we have connected to our equipment, the better our chances of a successful outcome. This is why software modems like Vara HF & FM were Godsends. More complex configurations, lend themselves to a greater number of problems, when tearing down or setting up in the field. Still, there is no denying the incredible performance of PACTOR 4 on an SCS P4DRAGON. Encryption and ALE integration within the modem is also impressive!

Bottom line. Always consider the available options, then use the best one for the task. In the the case of PACTOR-x versus ..?, I’ll always choose Ham developed software whenever possible, while understanding the strengths and benefits of PACTOR 4.
Vara HF/FM is Ham developed software by Jose Alberto Nieto Ros, EA5HVK.
SCS Spezielle Communications Systeme GmbH & Co. KG is from Hanau Germany.
Both have steller reputations!

Thinking out loud.

Julian oh8stn
YouTube http://www.youtube.com/c/oh8stn
Buy me a rootbeer: https://paypal.me/oh8stn/2usd

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  1. Hopefully additional Pactor4 modem manufacturers will enter the market creating competition. The cost of P4Dragon, while probably very high quality, is prohibitive for most operators. Its more than half the price of the best SDR transceivers. And lets face it….if there are few operators with this capability then there is very opportunity to communicate. They had better change their business plan.

  2. So its the FCC the regulates the data rate and not the technology we use (erroro correction)??

  3. For the price of the modem, you can buy a radio! Vara HF modem works great. I’ve recently been using it with VarAC. $69 for the software modem was worth it. Randy, K7AGE

  4. Hi Julian,
    Just a few things, The 60w Power film is such a game changer thank you. I would say the cost for the PACTOR is a barrier to entry. For what that cost I can get a starlink and pay for nearly a year of service an get the whole internet.
    The last idea I would like to run past you would you consider doing a group net say once or twice a month where we could get up running and talk aith you across the globe?

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