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What are the legal requirements I need to know when operating a 5.8ghz video transmitter like the ones often used for flying FPV?

Are the rules different around the world? Is a technicians class amateur radio license sufficient? What about the requirement to transmit your call sign every 10 minutes? Is that necessary in this use case and if so, how do you comply?

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  • $\begingroup$ Rules about drones are different per country, sometimes per region. Depending on how big you go, there's all kind of rules. The HAM license will cover you FCC-wise, but there's also the FAA and who knows what. Different country? Different set of rules. $\endgroup$ – Mast May 19 at 0:59
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No, you do not require an Amateur licence to use this equipment.

Most RC equipment that operates at 5.8GHz (or 2.4GHz) makes use of what is known as an ISM band, a series of frequencies made available for anyone to use (historically for Industrial, Scientific and Medical purposes) subject to certain restrictions - such as transmitter power.

These restrictions have been set so that everyone gets fair use (rather than becoming an RF shouting match) and to minimise the harm caused if misused.

So long as the equipment complies with your local regulations for ISM equipment you are able to use it. The difficulty can be verifying this compliance without test equipment; reputable products will usually be correctly tested and constructed, whereas some inexpensive/unbranded clones might have cut corners to save money which means they are no longer legal. It's generally safe to assume it complies if it is supposed to, but different countries may be more strict on enforcing this.

However, having an Amateur licence may allow you to do more. If your jurisdiction allows using Ham gear on drones then - so long as you comply with all requirements (usually things like regular ID, no secret encryption and not commercial use) - you would be free to use the power limits and frequencies granted in your licence.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure the FCC believes that you need a Technicians Class Amateur Radio License to operate the majority of today's popular video transmitters in the US. docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-18-581A1.pdf $\endgroup$ – 5zero7rc May 19 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ Also, there seems to be overlap between ISM ( 5725 - 5875 MHz for part 15 devices which our vtx's are not ) and the Amateur range of 5650-5925 MHz called out by the FCC. $\endgroup$ – 5zero7rc May 19 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ I think that document is saying a device must be either 1) FCC Part 18 Certified (e.g. as ISM compliant) or 2) if not certified, only used in accordance with an Amateur licence. $\endgroup$ – Kralc May 19 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ While it's true that a non-licensed person can operate a part 15 compliant device, most hobbyist 5.8ghz VTXs are not part 15 compliant. I think the TBS greenhorn is one of those. $\endgroup$ – Luca Scheuer May 19 at 14:07
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Are the rules different around the world? Is a technicians class amateur radio license sufficient? What about the requirement to transmit your call sign every 10 minutes? Is that necessary in this use case and if so, how do you comply?

Addressing this specifically, just in case you decide to get your ticket for the purpose of flying (and many people do!). Yes, things are different around the world, although there are also many commonalities. I will only discuss the US, since that's what I'm familiar with.

First, a Technician license in the US grants all privileges on amateur frequencies above 50MHz. As long as what you want to do is VHF/UHF/microwave, Tech will let you do it.

Second, the rules allow several different ways to transmit a callsign, depending on the type of signal. For NTSC television signals, the callsign can be included as part of the image. In other words, if you can program your FPV transmitter to overlay your callsign permanently in the corner of the image, that satisfies the ID requirement.

There is also an exemption to the ID requirements for "telecommand of model craft" (that'd be your flight controller) . If you attach a sticker with your callsign, name, and address to the transmitter (and if it's otherwise technically compliant) you can use it on the ham bands up to 1 watt.

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As I live in the Middle Europe, I can speak for that part of world. Specifically for Slovakia, but more or less the same rules are applied across European Union.

Generally as long as I know (spent some time on research as I has been also flying FPV) there are only two bands usable for video transmission and those are 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz band. There are also power restrictions, which are pretty strict here:

  • 2.4 GHz: 10 mW for analog video transmission
  • 5.8 GHz: 25 mW for analogue video transmission

All other bands are disallowed for analogue video transmission. 900 MHz are reserved for GSM, 1.2 Ghz for aircraft navigation (DME) and 1.3 GHz requires license, but analogue video transmission is not allowed anyway. 868 MHz is not allowed for video transmission as well (but some application permits up to 500 mW). Some more info (in local language) can be found at https://www.teleoff.gov.sk/data/files/49150_vestnik14.pdf

As far as I know, no call sign is required in Europe.

And it may also worth mentioning, that since 2008 I think, it is not legal to control any device by any other means then direct line of sight maintained all the time, so in Slovakia the whole concept of FPV became illegal.

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