Amateur Radio, sometimes known as ‘ham radio’ is a hobby that allows licensed users to communicate with other amateurs around the globe on a large range of radio frequencies. There are many facets of amateur radio, from operating Morse (CW) or data modes (transferring text, images, television pictures) to design and construction of your own equipment to operating mobile with a backpack and large contests.
You may wish to read the Wikipedia article on Amateur Radio for an overview of different parts of the hobby and its history.
Since the Morse requirement was abolished in 2003, the licensing structure has changed to a three-tier system that requires each stage be passed before progressing to the next. Each successive stage provides more privileges - however you are not required to upgrade your licence to participate in the hobby.
The Foundation licence was introduced in 2002 and serves as an easy route into the hobby. To obtain a Foundation licence, a 20 question test has to be taken and a short practical exercise be completed. The test is straight forward for anybody who has experience in electronics, however it also covers RF specific material and an overview of the licence itself etc.
The course for this can be completed over a weekend, or in short sessions over a few weeks in the evenings at a local amateur radio club. A short “Morse appreciation test” is also taken, however no actual proficiency in Morse code is required.
This then gives you an ‘M3’ callsign such as M3ABC and access to the majority of HF bands (with the exception of 10m), VHF and low UHF up to a maximum of 10W.
The Intermediate is a step up from the foundation and allows access to all bands, however with a power restriction of 50W. This gives you a ‘2E’ callsign prefix and was formally known as the Novice licence.
The Full licence requires more in depth knowledge of how radios operate, interference problems etc and then gives you an “M0” callsign prefix once you have passed the exam. This is the highest level of licence and allows full power, up to 400W on most bands.