Is 10 watts enough or am I wasting my time?

Amateur radio is a delicate balance (especially in suburbia) of installing what you need and want, whilst at the same time, making sure your neighbours are not affected by interference (EMI) or aesthetics (Antennas/Masts).

As you have found, the foundation licence has a limit of 10W across all allowable modes.

Which is not a lot when you compare it to Standard and Advanced with an SSB wattage of 100W and 400W respectively.

The power limits and frequency limits are set with good reason and commensurate with the amount of knowledge that you have, the amount of experience that you have and in a certain way limit the amount of impact should something not be set right. Put it this way, would you be more comfortable dealing with a single neighbour with an EMI problem (which you can work through amicably) or whole neighbourhood (with inspector in tow) baying for blood.

Lets look at HF (which is usually one of the areas that Foundation members get into). First of all, 10W is enough to get to most countries, but it will depend on some of the following : –

  • Quality and Design of your Transceiver
  • Experience with your transceiver (Filters / RF Controls etc.)
  • Band / Frequency
  • Sunspot Activity
  • Antenna construction / Height / SWR / 
  • Choice of Voice / CW / Digital 
  • Propagation / Grey Line
  • Time of Day
  • Location
  • Height
  • Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)

Now this list is not exhaustive, but that is a lot of variables, variables you have control over (to a certain extent). That’s part of the enjoyment of Amateur Radio. It is multi-discipline hobby, with multiple facets. No matter how much you learn, there is still a lot more to learn. It is not a hobby with a finite end. It is not a hobby where you go out and splash money down for to the best rig and best antenna and you will get any contact you want, as you will be affected by the above variables.

What you do is take the 10W as a challenge. How much can you achieve on 10W?, by reducing the EMI, improving or changing your Antenna design, selecting the right mode, waiting for a few more months or a year so that you can use 10m and 15m which support DX during the peak of the Sunspot cycle. And then you have SOTA, taking your equipment out into the field (and miles away from EMI).

Think of it another way. There are a very large contingent out there who only work QRP, which is generally regarded as 5W or less on CW/Digital Modes and 10W or less on voice modes (SSB/etc). There are clubs, websites, nets that are centred around QRP, and guess what your Foundation licence (and your equipment) lends itself to being part of this very large group. These people focus their efforts on getting the most out of their 10W, and this is by learning the impacts and benefits each of those variables have on your radio hobby.

The amateur radio operator of today is a fortunate one. There are vast range or physical tools, software applications, allow you to almost get instant feedback on your changes, whereas go back 30-40 years (or less), your testing was limited to anecdotal reports from other hams. Now you have tools like FT8 (amongst others) and WSPR to confirm where you are reaching and strength of signal, to confirm that change you made your antenna or indeed the change of antenna is making a real difference. You also have the advantage of the Internet, being able to contact people just like yourself, discussing and sharing ideas.

Now we have mainly talked about HF bands, but Amateur Radio is not just about HF Bands. The Foundation licence permits you to use the VHF and UHF bands as well. This opens up to another range of skills and knowledge, and in many cases, the equipment is lower cost, and in the case of antennas, easy to build. 10W with a good antenna (which can be built for less than $AU10) will get you to a few close repeaters, and your learn how to use a repeater, signal transmission paths, simplex mode and how tropospheric ducting works plus add in APRS for something different, and to really throw it open, lets look at DMR, DSTAR and C4FM, and they open a brand new learning curve.

So, is 10W enough? Yes it is. Take the time to take it as a challenge, to learn and hone skills, to learn better Antenna design, to understand the tools available to you. When you do make the move to the Standard Licence, just think how much more you are going to get out of 100W (HF) with the skills that you picked up as a Foundation licence holder.

2 thoughts on “Is 10 watts enough or am I wasting my time?

  1. 10 watts is less then CB radio, f call should get 25watts, people forget about some peoples location in a bowl or surrounded by mountains, its easy proven 25 shits all over 10 watts when your not in a prime location.

    1. Bill,
      It’s been a little while since I wrote that article and regarding your comments I am in two minds.

      1) I agree, 25w is a more useable than 10W especially in adverse locations, it makes a difference. It can also make the difference between a young Amateur Operator remaining interested in amateur radio which is what Amateur Radio wants and needs. So not knocking you on that point at all (I am in one of those bowls)
      I will also point out however, that the lower power limit also limits the “mistakes” that a Foundation Licencee (will list it as Foundation) can make that will impact on the general public (general interference) and impact on other Amateurs enjoyment of the bands (spurious emissions and harmonics), particularly as Foundation can build their own equipment (and that includes obtaining and buying equipment that may have some design flaws). So the limit does have it’s benefits as well. Not sure whether a legal CB in Australia operates at a higher power than a Foundation. If I am correct, 27Mhz 4W AM/12W SSB – UHF 5W. (can’t tell for sure as the Federal Legislation system 2024 Website rebuild has crashed badly whlist writing this) and the last time I touched CB was back in 1977 and as you can appreciate the different between 10W and 12w will not make much of a difference and legally they are restricted to equipment which has been approved by ACMA.

      2) Now the other side of the equation is, especially if the Foundation is really keen on the hobby, they will take the time to
      a. Understand their issue with “getting out”
      b. take the time to extend their knowledge past what the foundation course taught them
      c. take the time to seek out other Amateurs in their area that will be experiencing the same issue and work out what they did.
      d. look at what can be improved / changed to resolve the issue.

      They will take time to understand take off angles, what Antenna’s provide better take off angles, what NVIS antennas will do for them, take time to understand propogation and the effect it has on signals (and we are talking about MUF and Circuit reliability here as well as VOACAP and even learning to utilise NCDXF beacons). I had the same issues (as mentioned I am in bowl as well), so I backed off a little on the Voice, spent some time on the digital modes (which was great in understanding where my 10w was being heard), spent some time updating and changing my antenna types (the only Yagi I have is my VHF/UHF basic), again using the digital modes and WSPR to work out whether things were improving.

      And whilst doing this, absorbing the knowledge and understanding, I completed my Standard and then my Advanced in quick succession. It is surprising when you have a driver to learning and understanding, how much you absorb. And yes it is nice to have 100W, but honestly, my radio is set to use 10w most of the time, only turning it up when I really am trying to reach someone that cannot hear me.

      I should point out that even though I have my Advanced licence, does not mean I know it all – far far from it, your foundation licence starts a life time of learning. I am still learning every day, my next project is replacing all my feeder lines with upgraded quality Coax, commencing an residential EMI Audit (waiting for family to go away for weekend, so I can shutdown house power for a clean baseline), spending more time on propogation and its affects, and getting some SOTA Activity (on some of the peaks of the bowl) in before Winter to give me a better idea of the effect.

      Hope this makes sense…

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