W3BE'S BE Informed!
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Remote Control, Telecommand


Part 97

John B. Johnston, W3BE

Q. What is remote control?

A. Section 97.3(a)(39) defines that term as: The use of a control operator who indirectly manipulates the operating adjustments in the station through a control link to achieve compliance with the FCC Rules. Section 97.109(c) authorizes any amateur station to be remotely controlled.

Q. Then what is telecommand?

A. Section 97.3(a)(43) defines the term telecommand as a one-way transmission to initiate, modify, or terminate functions of a device at a distance. Section 97.211 provides special operation telecommand eligibility to any amateur station designated by the licensee of a Section 97.3(a)(41) space station. Section 97.215 provides special operation telecommand eligibility to an amateur station transmitting signals to control a model craft. Section 97.213 provides special operation telecommand eligibility for all other Section 97.5 amateur stations.

Q. Then telecommand and remote control are the same?

A. For all practical purposes those two terms are interchangeable. Telecommand, however, seems to be the term of choice for our amateur-satellite service activities. In our amateur radio service, Section 97.213 authorizes an amateur station on or within 50 km of the Earth's surface to be under telecommand where:

   (a) There is a radio or wireline control link between the control point and the station sufficient for the control operator to perform his/her duties. If radio, the control link must use an auxiliary station. A control link using a fiber optic cable or another telecommunication service is considered wireline.

   (b) Provisions are incorporated to limit transmission by the station to a period of no more than 3 minutes in the event of malfunction in the control link.

   (c) The station is protected against making, willfully or negligently, unauthorized transmissions.

   (d) A photocopy of the station license and a label with the name, address, and telephone number of the station licensee and at least one designated control operator is posted in a conspicuous place at the station location.

Q. I hear the term remote base. What is that?

A. That is an unofficial term generally referring to a Section 97.5 amateur station being remotely controlled. Hamslanguage BE Informed No, 1.12 says it is a Section 97.213(a) remotely controlled station having a Section 97.213(a) radio or wireline interconnection with its Section 97.3(a)(14) control point  that enables the designated Section 97.105 control operator to perform his/her duties.

Q. Where is the difference between a VHF/UHF remote base and a repeater? They are both amateur stations that simultaneously retransmit the transmissions of other amateur stations on a different channel or channels.

A. The key difference is that the Section 97.105 control operator of a remote base station intercommunicates with one or more other amateur stations. Any repeating that takes place is confined to (P-T-P) point-to-point communications within a system of cooperating amateur stations. It does not provide for the simultaneously retransmitting the transmissions of another amateur station, as do Section 97.205 repeater stations.

Q. Repeaters and VHF/UHF remote bases sure look alike.

A. Their station apparatus might be nearly identical. It is their configuration and usage that makes the difference. Our amateur service community has made successful arguments for the Section 97.205 accommodations for repeater stations. Not so for remote base stations. They seem to function satisfactorily without special accommodations.

   Refer to block diagram 8.5.1. It depicts the Section 97.213 telecommand of a remote base station via remote P-T-P uplink/downlink.


Diagram 8.5.1

   It shows a very elementary remote base station sited at an elevated station location. The remote base system consists of three amateur stations: the remote base station, the uplink auxiliary station, and the downlink auxiliary station. The Section 97.3(a)(14) control points for all three stations are collocated so as to facilitate the Section 97.105 control operator’s initiation, modification of, or termination of transmissions from any or all of the system’s stations. The only special operations accommodations rule provisions are those for the Section 97.201 auxiliary stations.

Q. What does all that mean?

A. It means that a remote base system is not subject to the privileges and constraints afforded to a Section 97.205 repeater. Its receiving and transmitting channels are not confined to our repeater bands and segments. Although the two Section 97.201 auxiliary stations depicted in Diagram 8.5.1 are eligible for Section 97.3(a)(22) frequency coordination sanctioning, the remote base station is not.

Q. Just how many amateur stations make up a remote base system?

A. In its most rudimentary form, there is just the remote base station - such as where there is a wire line uplink and down link interconnecting the remote base with its Section 97.3(a)(14) control point. A more complex remote base system will consist of several cooperating stations.

Q. Should a remote base be coordinated like repeaters and auxiliary stations?

A. Coordination is often desirable because it helps us to maintain a more orderly use of our allocated spectrum.

Q. Are the stations in the diagram eligible for automatic control?

A. In Diagram 8.5.1, the downlink Section 97.201 auxiliary station is the only practical candidate for Section 97.3(a)(6) automatic control and then only where the use of devices and procedures for control of a station when it is transmitting so that compliance with the FCC rules is achieved without the control operator being present at the control point.. 

Q. If the downlink station is under automatic control, why is there a control point for it?

A. Because Section 97.109(a) says: Each amateur station must have at least one control point. Even an automatically controlled station must have a Section 97.109 control point and a Section 97.105 control operator. For the basic system depicted in Diagram 8.5.1, the three control points are co-located for the convenience of the Section 97.105 control operator.

Q. What is a control link?

A. Hamslanguage BE Informed No. 1.12 describes a control link as a radio or wireline connection between the control point and a remotely controlled station for the purpose of enabling the control operator to perform his/her duties. 

   Section 97.3(a)(38) employs that term in the definition of remote control as the use of a the Section 97.105 control operator who indirectly manipulates the operating adjustments in the station through a control link to harmonize with the FCC Rules. Section 97.213(a) says that if by radio, the control link must use a Section 97.201 auxiliary station. Section 97.3(a)(7) defines the term auxiliary station as an amateur station, other than in a Section 97.219 message forwarding system, that is transmitting communications point-to-point within a system of cooperating amateur stations. 

Q. What frequencies can be used for my radio control link?

A. Section 97.213(b) authorizes auxiliary stations to transmit on at least one segment in all of our VHF and shorter wavelength bands except 6 meters.

Q. Could the uplinks and downlinks be implemented via the Internet?

A. Yes. Amateur stations are apparently having considerable success with such linking. An amateur station may be under Section 97.213 telecommand where there is a wire-line control link between the control point and the remote base sufficient for the control operator to perform his/her duties. Section 97.213(b) says: A control link using a fiber optic cable or another telecommunication service is considered wireline.

Q. Could another ham use my remotely controlled 40-meter base station with his auxiliary station being interconnected via the VHF uplink and UHF downlink?

A. Yes provided, you - the Section 97.103 station licensee – designate him the Section 97.105 control operator of your remotely controlled 40-meter station. Consult Section 97.301 for the 40-meter segments available to the station for your friend’s operator class of license.  

   You also have the option of transferring Section 97.5(a) physical control of your 40-meter station apparatus to him. In which case the call sign transmitted in the Section 97.119 station identification announcement would be that assigned to his station.

Q. Would the repeater rules apply for a 2-meter remote base with UHF an uplink and a downlink?

A. Not unless your 2-meter station simultaneously retransmits the transmissions of another amateur station on a different channel or channels (other than a system point-to-point downlink.) Then it would be a Section 97.205 repeater station.

Q. Can the downlink auxiliary station be under automatic control? 

A. Yes, provided it does the job properly. Section 97.201(d) specifically authorizes an auxiliary station to be automatically controlled.

Q. In a remotely controlled station using a computer and the Internet, does Part 97 require the control operator of the station through which the computer is operating to be present at the station?

A. Yes. The Section 97.105 control operator must be at the station’s Section 97.3(a)(14) control point whenever a station is under Section 97.3(a)(39) remote control.

Q. Can I use the Internet from my home to remotely control my remote base in a distant city?

A. That would depend upon the regulations in force in the country of the distant city where your transmitter is located. In places where the FCC regulates our amateur service, such is permissible provided that the station transmits in harmony with the FCC rules.

Q. Could I designate my friend in Japan as being the control operator for my remote base in the United States?

A. Yes, if he is a person for whom a Section 97.5(b)(1) amateur operator/primary station license grant appears on the ULS, or who is authorized for Section 97.107 alien reciprocal operation.   

   Take note: Section 97.109(a) says that each amateur station must have at least one Section 97.3(a)(14) control point. So there exists the basis for eventually declaring that because the control point is an essential portion of the station, it must also be at a place where the FCC regulates.

   Our security authorities may not always appreciate our tolerance for there being amateur stations transmitting in our United States that are licensed and controlled by persons who are beyond their reach in other countries. Most hams probably prefer that the current permissive arrangement be codified before some over-imaginative ham becomes way too clever for our own good. For these reasons, OTA29 in Geps & Gaps BE Informed No. 1.11 advises: Each remotely controlled station should have at least one control point at a place where the FCC regulates our amateur service.

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June 3, 2016

Supersedes all prior editions