This information serves two purposes. Firstly, it answers the basic questions about the frequencies and technical restrictions that apply to the operation of radio-controlled models. Secondly, it explains the application of the Radio Equipment Directive to model control equipment, in respect of marketing equipment or bringing new equipment into use.
What are radio-controlled models?
The EU harmonised decision 2013/752/EU for Short Range Devices (SRD) defines model control as: “a specific kind of telecommand and telemetry radio equipment that is used to remotely control the movement of models (principally miniature representations of vehicles) in the air, on land or over or under the water surface.”
There are two types of radio controlled models: those that operate primarily on the ground or on water, known as "surface" models; and those that are airborne. Typically, radio control is used for model cars, ships (including steam, motor vessels and yachts) and aircraft.
Many toy radio controlled models tend to operate either at 2.4 GHz or at 49 MHz, where a small band exists for general-purpose low-power radio devices. Technical details of these bands are specified in the UK Interface Requirement IR2030/1 series, IR2030/7/1 and IR2030/23 series (PDF, 518.1 KB).
Do I need a licence to operate model control equipment?
The use of the specific frequencies for model control is exempt from the requirement to hold a Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 (WT Act) providing that the equipment being used meets the relevant technical conditions in IR2030. In addition, the equipment must comply with applicable EU Directives (must bear the CE mark) which is a declaration by the manufacturer or other person who placed it on the market that it has been properly constructed. Model control equipment complying with all these conditions does not require the user to obtain an individual licence from Ofcom.
Use of equipment that does not meet the conditions of the licence exemption is an offence under the WT Act. The WT Act contains a number of criminal offences prosecuted by Ofcom. Some offences relating to unauthorised use of radio can attract fines of up to £5000 and/or ‘six months’ imprisonment. The courts can also confiscate any equipment used in connection with the offence.
Can I use an Amateur Radio licence for model control including airborne use?
No. Amateur Radio is a service intended to allow hobbyists and enthusiasts to experiment with radio. As licensed Radio Amateurs may operate transmitters at relatively high power levels in various frequency bands, the licence is available only to those who have demonstrated the necessary competence by studying for and passing a special examination.
We receive enquiries from those (principally non-amateurs) who wish to fly radio-controlled aircraft, such as quad-copters, fitted with video cameras (used to view the ground from the aircraft or to provide First Person View (FPV) to aid the control of the aircraft.).
There is a belief that the use of higher power equipment can be authorised by applying for an Amateur Radio licence. This is wrong. Amateur Radio licence expressly prohibits use in any aircraft or airborne vehicle. This restriction is not relaxed for radio-controlled models, airplanes and balloons.
What technical conditions for model control and UAV must be met?
All model control equipment must operate within the frequency bands shown above and the effective radiated power of the equipment must not exceed that shown alongside the frequency band in the table above.
These technical conditions are laid down in the Regulations, which have exempted model control from licensing. The Regulations also contain other conditions; most importantly, model control equipment must not cause undue interference to other wireless telegraphy equipment. See full details of the Interface Requirement (IR2030) governing Model control and all other Short Range Devices (PDF, 518.1 KB).
Enforcement of regulations
Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries.
We take enforcement action for the benefit of citizens and consumers to:
- promote and/or protect competition;
- prevent consumer harm and enforce consumer protection law; and
- encourage compliance.
To ensure Ofcom best serves consumers’ needs it broadly prioritises it efforts and resources when responding to reports of interference or market abuse. The first priority is safety of life services, the second other safety related business radio followed by the remainder.
Ofcom defines the priorities of model control equipment enforcement as:
- ensuring that non-compliant radio equipment is kept off the market;
- ensuring that the use of radio and radio frequencies throughout the spectrum conforms to licence requirements (licence exemption regulations); and
- investigating and taking action to prevent undue interference.
See Ofcom’s spectrum enforcement policy.
Other regulations regarding model control and UAV
The use of flying models is also subject to regulation by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Operators of model aircraft apparatus must therefore take account of CAA regulations, notably Articles 166 and 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009. These relate to Small Unmanned aircraft and Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft, respectively. See the CAA’s CAP 393.
Further, the CAA publishes the document CAP 658; Model Aircraft: A Guide to Safe Flying. Note, the introduction to CAP 658 is explicit that it “refers only to model aircraft used for sport and recreation. Guidance on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for aerial work is contained in CAP 722- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations in UK Airspace - Guidance.”
In addition, the organising bodies for the various sections of the model control hobby have established codes of practice and preferred band plans, designed to ensure the successful operation of models. Details are available from the UK Radio Control Council - see Section 11.
Placing equipment on the market or putting into service
Before it can be placed on the UK market, radio model control equipment must first comply with the provisions of the Radio Equipment Directive 2014/53/EU (The Radio Equipment Directive).
To comply, all equipment has to meet a set of Essential Requirements that are based on voluntary Harmonised European Standards. Manufacturers can meet the essential requirements by ensuring equipment meets the applicable harmonised standards or by seeking the opinion of an Radio Equipment Directive Notified Body. Once this assessment has been carried out, the manufacturer can declare compliance, affix the CE mark to the equipment and then place it on the market anywhere in the European Community.
Ofcom will take enforcement action where non-compliance becomes apparent. Devices which only have the FCC markings but are not CE marked cannot be lawfully placed on the market or put into service in the UK. This includes much of the apparatus which is designed to operate in the 902 - 928 MHz band.
If you have questions on this subject, email SRD.email@example.com
What is the UK Radio Control Council?
The UK Radio Control Council (UKRCC) consists of representatives of all aspects of the model control hobby. It meets Ofcom from time-to-time to discuss model control interests.