Truckers may get citizen band radio
By STEVE BALL
CITIZEN band radio could be allowed in truck cabs as the Government reviews how to legalise the burgeoning demand for instant radio communications.
At the moment citizen band radio is strictly controlled because it can interfere with television pictures, blurring and distorting them.
But such is the demand for direct mobile-to-mobile radio contact that the controls could be relaxed, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) said.
Around 80,000 licensed mobile radio systems are in use in Hong Kong, but the vast majority of these do not allow users to speak directly to each other. Instead, messages have to be relayed through a base station.
This has proved unpopular, especially with truck drivers who like to chat over the airwaves and feel it is essential for working across the border.
Last week, two Hong Kong container lorry drivers were attacked by People's Liberation Army soldiers in Shenzhen, but within a few minutes hundreds more lorry drivers were on the scene, brought in by distress calls on the illegal radio network.
OFTA's assistant director (operations) Au Man-ho said a cottage industry had sprung up to get round the law with many licensed users illegally modifying their equipment, while thousands of others did not even apply for a licence.
''The frequencies are controlled by memory chips,'' said Mr Au. ''The illegal users would have to take their radio to a workshop to have the unlicensed frequencies programmed in.'' Among the wavelengths abused were citizen band at 27 megahertz and VHF wave bands between 30 MHz and 300 MHz, including the amateur radio band between 144-146 MHz.
Illegal radio traffic could disrupt commercial radio users such as Towngas, the electricity companies, hotels and security firms, said Mr Au, but occasionally police communications were also hit.
Direct mobile-to-mobile radio traffic was also a very inefficient way of using the limited number of radio frequencies available. A much better way was through ''trunked radio'' networks which allowed several people to talk directly over one frequency, he said.
''They use the radio spectrum more efficiently and it is our policy to encourage mobile radio users to make use of them.
''The main objection seems to be the cost, but if people think mobile radio is essential then compared with fuel costs and other overheads, trunked radio is very cheap,'' said Mr Au.
''Quite simply, if everyone wanted mobile-to-mobile radio we would have to turn people away.'' Relaxing the citizen band controls was one possible method of resolving the issue, but it had drawbacks.
''One thing we have to consider very carefully is the effect this could have on the public trunked radio services. It could have serious implications for them.'' But Hutchison Whampoa, which operates one of the trunked networks through a subsidiary, did not seem too concerned by the news.
''We really don't see any problem with this,'' said a spokesman. ''A lot of companies already have specially licensed mobile-to-mobile systems and do not have to use a trunked network.''