Unlocked Ham Radios

Unlocked Ham Radios

The FCC started getting serious about the importation of unlocked ham radios sometime around 2019 or so.  An unlocked radio is one that transmits on frequencies not intended for the  type of radio that it is.  For example, a GMRS radio should not be able to transmit on amateur radio frequencies and vice versa.  Some folks also refer to this as jailbreaking although that term is more synonymous with cellular phones or game consoles.

The rules regarding the importation and sale of such radios in the US is pretty clear, especially regarding any Family Radio Services such as FRS, GMRS, and MURS.

So Many Radios That Can Be Unlocked

Maybe it is just me but it seems like sales of hand held amateur radios is trending towards the ability to be unlocked.   While the imported radios themselves are usually software locked to be compliant it is increasingly easy to remove those locks and have a “one radio fits all” device.

The very second after a manufacturer releases a new radio, Reddit, Discord, and Facebook receive the question, “What is the unlock code or procedure for this radio?”.

The purchasing public seems to endorse and embrace the ability to unlock these radios.  A lot of radio operators are similar to me and have an Amateur Radio license and a GMRS license.  Some of us just don’t understand why we can’t have that magic bullet radio.   My perspective generally is that these radios are so inexpensive these days it isn’t a big deal to buy a couple of radios and stay compliant with the regulations.  I can assure you that I am in the minority though.  I do have a couple of unlocked radios myself though as I bought some Baofeng UV-5R’s prior to things like Part 95 certification and prior to the crackdowns that kind of started around 2017 and kicked in place around 2019.  The FCC started writing serious letters in about 2021, I think.  I bought those Baofeng’s prior to all that, and I’m keeping them.

List of Popular Unlocked Ham Radios

Unlocked Ham Radios

Baofeng UV-5R Pre-2021

First and foremost this list isn’t even CLOSE to being inclusive.   There are so many radios out there that can be unlocked.   My list is but a handful of popular radios on the market that can not only be unlocked and with the exception of one, the others are ridiculously inexpensive.

Radios like the Quansheng UV-K5 (and UV-K6) are so ridiculously hackable with 3rd party firmware it isn’t funny.  And by “isn’t funny”, I mean, AWESOME.  It’s one thing to unlock a radio to make it un-compliant, it is another thing to add or improve features.  But make no mistake.  It can also transmit in places that it isn’t certified to do so.

What’s A Ham To Do?

The radio inside the shipping container, destined for Freedom Land is compliant for whatever type radio it is.  It has to be.  Someone either reverse engineers the firmware or maybe the manufacturers themselves leak how to unlock them.  Like I said, it sure seems like the consumers want these unlocked radios.   If you were selling radios maybe not that many people would want your radios if every one of your competitors offered unlocked ham radios and you didn’t.

Couple that with the fact they are dirt cheap and pretty soon (right now) the market is saturated with radios that can be easily made to be non-compliant.

FCC Actions

There are many who point out that the FCC largely ignores all this and has in fact not fined or swooped in on anyone for this.  And while that may be true I remember being a kid with a CB radio and EVERYONE was in violation of everything and stated that same thing.  That the FCC didn’t care.  That is until they showed up one day and dropped potential fines and court dates on a bunch of people I knew.  I generally would say my call sign once a day and that’s probably the only thing that saved me.

And let’s be honest.  How many of us trust the government?  What if they find out I voted for Trump, oppose abortion, believe in God, and own guns.  Why give them such an easy way to get inside your door and your life?

A Fact Of Ham Life

Consumers want radios that can do it all.  In this day and age we hack everything we own, if possible.  It is a consumer trend for sure.   We are going to be stuck with complaint radios that can be made un-compliant with a keypress or alter one line in the software package.  It is just a fact of Ham life.  Whether you like it, or you don’t, it is the new normal.

But, the rules haven’t changed. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, or that no one cares, you could end up on the wrong end of the antenna.

And I always point this out as well.  If you unlock a ham radio to transmit on GMRS, the only way anyone will know it, is if you tell them.  These are analog radios. There are no little digital packets being transmitted that identify this, that, or the other thing.   The first rule of Unlock Club, is Don’t talk about Unlock Club. 🤣

One thought on “Unlocked Ham Radios

  1. Paul Barry

    Much like zoning violators authorities having jurisdiction cannot selectively enforce, say, 2 unregistered vehicles stored on one’s property for salvage or future use. Especially without doing so throughout town.
    Assuming an authority having jurisdiction over RF waves can be empowered to regulate natural phenomena then we might all be regulated into silence. Or deafness, or blindness.
    The basic aspect behind the regulations is sound, unless someone or something , with basic rights to use their god given senses, including the ability to sense and us RF individually makes their enforcement authority moot.
    When one who possesses this intrinsic RF sensing ability submits to licensing or other means to seek “permissions” to use their god given ability one admits that the regulations apply to them, and then voids their god given ability to the authority.


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