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Beartooth Adds VHF and UHF Voice and Data Communication Capability to Smartphones

Last August I wrote about the goTenna personal communications device using the 150 MHz MURS band. It connected to a smartphone using Bluetooth and allowed communication with other goTenna devices within range.

Now another communications device has been announced – Beartooth – that goes well beyond goTenna's VHF peer-to-peer(s) data transmission. According to its experimental license grant WH2XLW, the device can operate anywhere the 137 – 174 MHz and 400 – 470 MHz bands with an ERP of 2 watts (ERP). Using Comsearch's handy FCC emission designator decoder I see the license covers amplitude modulation and phase modulation transmitting voice, data and telegraphy for automatic reception.

Beartooth is software-defined radio (receiver and transmitter) that interfaces with supported devices (iPhone 5/5S/6/6+ and Galaxy S4/S5) and includes a battery to double smartphone battery life. In a TechCrunch interview available on their web site, CEO Michael Monaghan said Beartooth will be a part 95 device. Uses include personal communications, industrial communications services, and public safety.

Since the device is an SDR with a wide frequency range, it not only supports the same type of personal communications provided by the goTenna, but also the ability to communicate with any analog or FM radios operating on Family Radio Service (FRS), General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) or Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) spectrum. Amateur Radio use was mentioned in the TechCrunch session – the device will operate on the 2 meter and 3/4 meter ham bands. Broadcasters will note that all VHF and 450/455 MHz broadcast auxiliary RPU bands are covered by the device.

Beartooth will include applications allowing voice and data communications between Beartooth devices. Selective calling is supported. Geolocation functions are available allowing users to see the location of other Beartooth devices on a map. Data and text messages will be encrypted, but FCC rules do not allow encrypting voice communications on the unlicensed frequencies the device operates on.

I will be interested in seeing the FCC authorization for this device. With its wide frequency range, the FCC will certainly mandate some sort of block on using frequencies for which the owner doesn't hold a license or for which the device hasn't been certified. I hope the restrictions won't be such that it prevents licensed Amateur Radio operators from experimenting with the device.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.