What is Amateur Radio?

Amateur, or “Ham” Radio, is defined as “a radiocommunications service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication, and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, by duly authorised persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.”

Amateur Radio can take many forms, not just talking or communicating by voice. Amateur Television can send pictures locally or half way around the world, and your computer can be utilised to take advantage of the digital forms of Amateur Radio, communication with others using radio frequencies to link the computers rather than telephone lines. Digital communications can take many forms, from Packet Radio and RTTY, to Slow Scan Television (SSTV) sending pictures to others, or even Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) using Amateur Radio and GPS technology to automatically track Amateur stations and provide remote information such as weather conditions, etc.

Or perhaps you’re a bit more of an expeimenter and would like to play with the Amateur Satellites that orbit the earth, talk to the International Space Station, or perhaps conduct Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) experiments bouncing signals off the moon to reach distant locations. Or maybe microwave frequencies will interest you, using radio frequencies higher than those used in your microwave oven to communicate.

Maybe you can’t afford all this gear, or don’t have much room. That’s fine because IRLP and Echolink allow you to talk from your local FM repeater, or even your own computer, to Amateur repeaters and stations all over the world, using the internet to link the stations.

Amateur Radio allows you to do all this and more, depending on your own interests and abilities. Whether you use only commercially available equipment, or build your own radio equipment from scratch, Amateur Radio can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby that can also lead to employment in the electronics and/or radiocommunications idustry.

Australian Amateur Categories

In October 2005 Australia adopted a new 3 tier licensing system for Amateur Radio. This followed the removal of CW for access to HF and consultation with the Australian Amateurs about future licensing options. The 3 licence categories now available in Australia (and the old equivalent licence) are:

  • Advanced (formerly Unrestricted (Full Call), Intermediate and Limited classes)
  • Standard (formerly Novice and Novice Limited)
  • Foundation (new licence level)

Amateur Bands -v- Licence Class

Below is the complete list of Amateur Radio bands in Australia along with an indication which licence class is able to utilise each band. With SSB operation, international agreements use the Lower Sideband (LSB) mode on bands below 10MHz, and Upper Sideband (USB) on bands above 10MHz.

Y = Operation is permitted on this band.
N = Operation is NOT permitted on this band.

WARC bands** indicated by yellow background.

Band Frequencies Primary/Secondary* Advanced Standard Foundation
2200m 135.7 - 137.8 kHz NOTE 1 Secondary Y N N
630m 472 - 479 kHz Secondary Y N N
160m 1.8 - 1.875 MHz Primary Y N N
80m 3.5 - 3.7 MHz Primary Y Y Y
  3.794 - 3.8 MHz Primary Y N N
40m 7.0 - 7.1 MHz Primary Y Y Y
  7.1 - 7.3 MHz Secondary Y Y Y
30m 10.1 - 10.15 MHz Secondary Y N N
20m 14.0 - 14.35 MHz Primary Y Y N
17m 18.068 - 18.168 MHz Primary Y N N
15m 21.0 - 21.45 MHz Primary Y Y Y
12m 24.89 - 24.99 MHz Primary Y N N
10m 28.0 - 29.7 MHz Primary Y Y Y
6m 50.0 - 52.0 MHz Secondary Y N N
  52.0 - 54.0 MHz Primary Y Y N
2m 144.0 - 148.0 MHz Primary Y Y Y
70cm 430.0 - 450.0 MHz NOTE 2 Secondary Y Y Y
23cm 1240.0 - 1300.0 MHz Secondary Y Y N
13cm 2300.0 - 2302.0 MHz Secondary Y N N
  2400.0 - 2450.0 MHz Secondary Y Y N
9cm 3300.0 - 3600.0 MHz NOTE 3 Secondary Y N N
6cm 5650.0 - 5850.0 MHz Secondary Y Y N
3cm 10.0 - 10.5 GHz Secondary Y N N
12mm 24.0 - 24.25 GHz Primary Y N N
  24.05 - 24.25 GHz Secondary Y N N
6mm 47.0 - 47.2 GHz Primary Y N N
4mm 76.0 - 77.5 GHz Secondary Y N N
  77.5 - 78.0 GHz Primary Y N N
  78.0 - 81.0 GHz Secondary Y N N
2.4mm 122.25 - 123.0 GHz Secondary Y N N
2.2mm 134.0 - 136.0 GHz Primary Y N N
  136.0 - 141.0 GHz Secondary Y N N
1.2mm 241.0 - 248.0 GHz Secondary Y N N
  248.0 - 250.0 GHz Primary Y N N

* Primary/Secondary: Primary indicates the Amateur service is the primary user for that band. Secondary indicates that another service is allocated as the primary user. Secondary users may not cause interference to a primary user, and must tolerate any interference from a primary user.
** WARC bands were designated for use by Amateur service by the World Administrative Radio Conference in 1979. Due to their narrow bandwidth they are generally excluded from most contests.

NOTE 1 This is an interim plan based on unofficial 2200 metre band plan adopted by LF operators in ITU Region I. Return

NOTE 2 433.050 to 433.790MHz Stations operating in this segment may experience interference from LIPDs. Return

NOTE 3 In the band segments 3425.0 - 3442.5 MHz and 3475.0 - 3492.5 MHz, operation is prohibited in and around most major population centres. In the segments 3442.5 - 3475.0 MHz and 3542.5 - 3575.0 MHz, operation is prohibited in most parts of Australia. For full details, please refer to the current ACMA Amateur Licence Conditions Determination. Return

Modes and Power

Advanced stations are limited to*:

  • C3F, J3E, R3E: 400W Px;
  • All other modes: 120W Py.

With the following emission restrictions:

  • 160m - 12m: Any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 8kHz;
  • 10m: Any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 16kHz;
  • 6m: Any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 100kHz;
  • 2m & above: Any emission mode.

Standard Stations are limited to:

  • J3E or R3E: 100W Px;
  • All other modes: 30W Py.

With the following emission restrictions:

  • 160m - 15m: Any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 8kHz;
  • 10m - 6cm: Any emission mode with a necessary bandwidth not exceeding 16kHz.

Foundation Stations are limited to:

  • J3E: 10W Px;
  • All other modes: 3W Py.

With the following emission restrictions:

  • 160m - 15m: 200HA1A, 8K00A3A, 4K00J3E;
  • 10m - 70cm: 200HA1A, 8K00A3A, 4K00J3E, 16K0F3E, 16K0G3E

Other Conditions

High Power - some Amateur stations are authorised to operate at higher power for the purpose of experimentation (i.e. EME, etc). Permission to operate at higher power levels may be granted by the ACMA upon application.

EMR Compliance - Australian Amateur stations must comply with the ACMA Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) standards for human exposure. Each licensed Amateur operator must assess their station against the ACMA EMR standards to confirm that all operations meet the EMR standard. Antenna and radio equipment must always be installed and operated in a way that ensures ongoing compliance with the standard, and each station may be inspected by the ACMA at any time to confirm compliance.

Australian Amateur Callsigns

From March 2009 the WIA have been charged with the task of recommending to the ACMA what callsign an Amateur should be issued with. Where the issue of a callsign was part of the amateur station licence fee, you now need to pay the WIA a fee to issue a callsign before you can apply for an anateur station licence (which still costs you the normal licence fee). This has had the effect of adding more expense to those new Amateur’s entering the hobby.

Australian Amateur callsigns begin with the prefix “VK$”, where $ is a number to indicate the state, followed by 2, 3 or 4 letters to indicate the class and station (e.g. VK$aa, VK$aaa or VK$Faaa). During special events the prefix “VI” or “AX” may be used instead of VK.

For a list of world Amateur callsign prefixes see:

Please note, some of these lists may still show the old format for VK9, which used the first letter of the suffix to indicate the territory (e.g. VK9M = Mellish Reef, VK9N = Norfolk Island, etc). This is no longer the case, VK9 callsigns are now allocated under the same format as all other VK callsigns (as shown below).

State designators

No. State No. State
0 Antarctica 5 South Australia
1 Australian Capital Territory 6 Western Australia
2 New South Wales 7 Tasmania
3 Victoria 8 Northern Territory
4 Queensland 9 External Territories

Callsign Suffix

Suffix Class Suffix Class
AA - ZZ Advanced NAA - NZZ Standard
AAA - AZZ Advanced OAA - OZZ Not Used
BAA - BZZ Advanced PAA - PZZ Standard
CAA - CZZ Advanced QAA - QZZ Not Used
DAA - DZZ Advanced RAA - RZZ Repeater/Beacon *
EAA - EZZ Advanced SAA - SZZ Advanced
FAA - FZZ Advanced SAA - SDZ Scout Association
GAA - GZZ Advanced TAA - TZZ Advanced
GGA - GGZ Girl Guides Assoc. UAA - UZZ Advanced
HAA - HZZ Standard VAA - VZZ Standard
IAA - IZZ Advanced WAA - WZZ Advanced
IYA - IYZ International Years WIA - WIZ WIA
JAA - JZZ Advanced XAA - XZZ Advanced
KAA - KZZ Advanced YAA - YZZ Advanced
LAA - LZZ Standard ZAA - ZZZ Advanced
MAA - MZZ Standard FAAA-FZZZ Foundation
* Repeaters and Beacons
  • VK$RSa or VK$RTa indicates a Beacon. All other VK$Raa callsigns indicate repeaters.

AX Prefix Days

The ACMA have granted permission for EVERY Australian Amateur to substitute VK for AX on the following days each year:

  • Australia Day (26 January)
  • ANZAC Day (25 April)
  • World International Telecommunications Day (17 May)

On these days Australian Amateur stations can use the AX prefix without needing to apply for its use. Amateurs simply change the VK prefix for AX (e.g. my call of VK2QH would become AX2QH). Other than these three special days, the use of AX (or VI) must be approved by the ACMA.

Why do I need to sit an exam?

Amateur radio is an ‘experimental’ service that allows you, depending upon your licence grade, to construct your own equipment or operate equipment not designed specifically for the Amateur service (other than Foundation level licencees). Amateur operators must also be able to confirm that their radio equipment, even if commercially made, operates at the relevant power levels and within EMR compliance standards.

As such Amateur operators must possess a certain level of technical knowledge, depending on the class of licence held. For example, the Foundation Licence only allows use of commercial equipment at low power levels, but the operator still needs to know how to ensure the radio works properly, the antenna is tuned, power levels are set properly, and EMR guidelines are observed, so only a basic level of technical knowledge is needed. On the other hand, Advanced operators may construct their own equipment, modify other equipment, operate at high power, and operate on extremely high frequencies, so the level of technical knowledge they have needs to be much greater not only to ensure the station operates correctly, but also for their own safety and the safety of others.

The level of technical knowledge needed is determined by what each grade of licence allows, not what the actual operator may or may not do. For example, an Advanced operator may choose only to use commercial equipment at moderate power levels, so why should he need to sit the same exam as someone that wants to design their own gear? Because the licence held still allows him that privilege even if he chooses not to exercise that right.

What to do next?

If you are interested in Amateur radio you should contact or visit your nearest Amateur radio club, where you will find people willing to help you take the steps necessary to become an Amateur operator yourself. Many clubs hold regular lessons to teach the theory needed to pass the relevant exams, and some even hold regular exams or at the very least can help you contact someone to arrange to sit the exams when you are ready.

How do you find your local club? If you can’t locate anything in your local telephone directory, then visit the WIA website where you will find links to many local clubs, plus lots more information on Amateur radio. You can also contact the WIA via their website for help in contacting local Amateur operators in your region. If you have a scanner try listening to the local 2 metre and 70cm repeaters as many clubs present regular news bulletins advertising events and contact details.