Why Upgrade?

December 14, 2014

The other day, I heard a discussion on a local repeater about the various licensing levels, and someone’s desire to upgrade to Extra. The exchange went something like this:

Person A: “I want to study and upgrade to Extra. Is there anything else you have to do for equipment when going from General to Extra?”

Person B: “Nope, it’s the same bands, so if your radio works on the HF bands, you get access to the Extra portions of the bands. But the upgrade to Extra isn’t really worth it, you only get something like an extra tens of KHz”

Let’s look at the actual difference between the General and Extra portions of the various HF bands, and how much bandwidth you gain on the bands by upgrading:

Edit: updated for CW/data portions of band as well:

  • 10m: -
  • 12m: -
  • 15m: 75k phone + 25k cw/data
  • 17m: -
  • 20m: 75k phone + 25k cw/data
  • 30m: -
  • 40m: 50k phone + 25k cw/data
  • 60m: -
  • 80m: 200k phone + 25k cw/data
  • 160m: -

So, in reality, you gain access to a whopping 500kHz - that’s as much as all of 80 meters! One can argue that upgrading to Extra gives you access to another band’s worth of spectrum. In addition, much of this spectrum covers the coveted “DX windows” on the bands, and if you’re an HF-head, this is where a lot of the fun can be.

Granted, the bump from Technician to General gives one privileges on the HF bands, which is arguably a “larger step” with respect to where one may transmit. For some, the extra effort of studying and learning some pretty complicated concepts may not be worth it for the additional slice of spectrum, due to where one’s interest in the hobby may lie.

By the time I had upgraded to Extra, I was not only hungry for the additional spectrum, but to also actually learn the material in the book and the theory behind why radio works. I’ve also learned more about electronics and radio theory while studying for the Extra exam, than I had with upgrading to General, or originally passing my Technician exam back in 1992.

By introducing incentive licensing in the 1960’s, the FCC and ARRL pushed amateurs to “up their game” to learn more, and sharpen their skills. Upgrading isn’t just about getting access to more spectrum - it’s also about learning new things, and taking your knowledge and interest in the hobby to a new level.

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