Hi, I am Tony I0JX
Almost everything on the Italian ham-radio callsign assignment system


Let us firstly review the current situation:

Please keep in mind the Italian prefixes allocation:

All that said, what follows is for those who wish to more precisely understand the rationale (?) behind the quite complex Italian ham-radio callsign assignment rules. A bit of history first...

In Italy, ham radio callsigns were initially assigned, on legal basis, only after WW II. At that time only one type of license existed (what we will here call the full license, that offers full operating priviledges), and there were yet no call-areas. At that time all stations used the glorious prefix I1, with suffixes assigned in alphabetical order: firstly they gave out all the two-letter suffixes (calls I1AA to I1ZZ), after which they started assigning the three-letter suffixes (I1AAA, I1AAB...). Note that stations located in the two major islands were allowed to replace prefix I1 with prefix IT1 (Sicilia island) or IS1 (Sardegna island). After a few years this assigment rule was no longer strictly enforced, and hams could select the suffix they liked most among those still available, including suffixes that had been previously assigned to other hams (either deceased or resignees), even the old 1-by 2 ones. This is the reason why, today, a 1-by-2 call (or 2-by-2 for Sicilia / Sardegna) may not necessarily be older than a 1-by-3 call (or 2-by-3 for Sicilia / Sardegna).

However no 1-by-2 calls were reassigned after 1970; so any existing 1-by-2 license (or 2-by-2 for Sicilia / Sardegna) is dated back to at least 36 years. Obviously, 1-by-2 calls are gradually getting out of the scene. 

In 1971 the big call-area revolution took place, by assigning each Region its own prefix.

In practice, hams did not do else than just changing the number 1 in their prefix with the number corresponding to their Region (e.g. I1AA into I8AA, or IT1AAA into IT9AAA, or IS1BB into IS0BB). As a matter of fact, call-areas are associated to Regions, as better explained later. At the same time other ad-hoc prefixes (namely IB0, IA5, IB0, IC8, ID9, IE9, IF9, IG9, IH9, IL7, IM0, IN3, IV3) were introduced, in addition to the already existing IT9 and IS0, to identify other non-major islands or special-statute Regions.

However, neither the call areas nor the new ad-hoc prefixes increased the number of available calls, because suffixes were never repeated (i.e. if I0AAA existed, neither I2AAA or IT9AAA or IV3AAA could exist). In other words, there still was a single basket of suffixes, that we here call the first lot. The total number of possible calls were:

26 * 26 = 676 (1-by-2 calls or 2-by-2 calls)

26 * 26 * 26 = 17,576 (1-by-3 calls or 2-by-3 calls)

676 + 17,576 = 18,252 (total full license calls of the first lot)

This decision revealed to be a very poor choice, because, after a while, there were no more calls available for assignment to new hams.

In the meanwhile, in 1972, they introduced the special license (VHF/UHF/SHF only, today also granting 50 MHz operation), with prefix IW. For such special licenses they used a completely different suffixes assignment criterion:

With the above approach, the total number of possible special license calls is very high:

26 * 26 * 10 = 6,760 (2-by-2 calls)

26 * 26 * 26 * 10 = 175,760 (2-by-3 calls)

6,760 + 175,760 = 182,520 (total special license calls)

Plenty of calls, aren't they? Yes, but for densely-populated areas the geographical partitioning criterion could anyway represent a constraint with regard to calls availability. In practice such problem will never show up, because in year 2005 they decided that special license owners have the same operating priviledges as the full license owner. So we expect that no special licence will be issued any longer, and they will then cease assigning IW calls to new hams, who can now directly get a full license call.

Going now back to the full licenses, around 1980 the first lot of full license suffixes was going to be exhausted, and they then decided to introduce the new prefix IK. The assignment criterion was:

 In total, the number of possible full license so becomes:

26 * 26 * 26 = 17,576 (total full license calls of the second lot)

18,252 + 17,576 = 35,828 (total full license calls of the first and second lot)

It should be noted that IK-series calls were never given to new hams in Sicilia, Sardegna, other islands or special-statute Regions; as a matter of fact they were still getting assigned the original ad-hoc prefixes (IT9, IS0, IB0, etc.), with suffixes taken from the first lot (three-letter suffixes only), and that rule is still valid today. As there were not many first-lot suffixes available for new assignments, they got a brilliant idea on how to overcome this problem: they enforced very stringent license renewal rules so that, if a ham having a one-by-three call (i.e. with a first-lot suffix) forgets to renew his license by the end of its 5-year validity period, he would definitively lose his call the very day after the expiration date, and his suffix would so become available for re-assignment to a new ham in Sicilia, Sardegna, other islands or special-statute Regions. This fact explains why some very old amateurs, who were not timely in renewing their license, lost their call and had to apply for a new call of the IK series. By the way, the license validity period has recently been extended to 10 years.

Sometimes after, they started to also give out special prefixes (such as II, IO, IR, etc. for contests, special events, small islands, etc.) that one can temporarily use in place of his normal prefix. At that time they probably did not realize the inconsistencies starting to appear among the various suffixes lots (this quite complex issue is discussed later).

By 1995, all IK calls were exhausted and IZ calls started to be issued. following exactly the same criteria already adopted for IK calls, i.e. a third lot of three-letter suffixes assigned on strict alphabetical order and not reassigned per call-area. This makes the total full license calls of the first, second and third lot equal to:

35,828 + 17,576 = 53,404 

Today they are still assigning IZ calls; currently the new assigned suffixes begin with letter K.

Let us now briefly talk about transmit power. Since the beginning of legal ham radio (late 40ies), and up to year 2001, the allowed power for a full license was bound to the paid annual fee, i.e:

Special licenses were allowed 10 W only, and paid 3,000 liras (about 1.5 Euro) per year. 

Not much really. Believe it or not, the fee has remained constant for about 54 years. Note that "power" was DC input power (plate voltage times plate current), not actual RF power.

Since January 1st 2002, the legal full license power has been increased up to 500 W; this is actual RF power, no longer DC input power. Tax was raised to 5 Euro for the full license (a 66% increase as a minimum) and 3 Euro for the Special license (a 100% increase). Special license power stayed at 10 W.

Since 2006 hams with a Special license have the same priviledges (bands, power) of those having a full license (and pay the same fee). The IW call holders can either keep it or exchange it with an IZ call.

This concludes our historical review. The future? Noone knows what can happen when organizational matters are left to burocrats.

For those wishing to have a deeper insight on the matter, there is much more text to read below. Some background on our administrative structure and on the mail zip-code system is necessary.



Italy is subdivided into 20 Regions. Note that the island of Sicilia is a Region called Sicilia; the same applies to the island of Sardegna.

Ham call-areas are tied to Regions, as evident from picture below. Please note that Region Basilicata is also named Lucania.

Each Region comprises one or more Provinces. In the picture below the inter-Region boundaries are marked in red, and the inter-Province boundaries in blue (the  map is not up-to-date, it not showing 7 new Provinces that have been recently added, bringing the total up to 110).

The Province name in most cases coincides with that of the Province chief town (e.g. we have the "Roma Province", the "Milano Province", etc.); accordingly the Province two-letter code is an abbreviation of the Province chief town (that you can still see in the old car plates). Click here to see a table in which there is a mapping of codes to Province chief towns.

Provinces are then further structured in Comuni, but this is of no matter for us.



The Italian for mail zip-code is CAP (Codice di Avviamento Postale). The CAP consists of 5 digits (abcde). For ham radio purposes, it may be sufficient to know that the first digit (a) is bound to a Region or a group of Regions. If you are interested to know more about CAP read bullets below, otherwise skip them:



Similarly to the a digit of the zip-code, the Italian ham-radio call-area (0 to 9) indicates a Region of a group of Regions, as shown below:

The above correspondences have no single exception. Call-areas then coincide with the a digit of the zip-code in the vast majority of cases (though, for instance, the Verbania Province which is part of Piemonte Region has call-area 1, despite its zip-code strangely begins with 2).

The call-area is part of the prefix. The prefix plus the suffix forms the callsign. Example:



Prefixes usage is bound to  the license type, which can either be:

For the full licenses there are:

The normal prefixes are either I or IK or IZ plus the call-area number: I was assigned first, then IK and lastly IZ. When all IZ calls will have been assigned, they will presumably start with a new series of calls.

Hams living in islands (i.e. where there are residents) or in the so-called "special-statute" Regions have an ad-hoc prefix (with a number always respecting the call-areas criterion). This is the list of the ad-hoc prefixes:

To be more clear: all hams resident in e.g. Region Valle d'Aosta must use IX1 (they cannot use I1 or IK1 or IZ1).

Please note that the Italian bases in Antarctica use the ad-hoc prefix IA0.

Finally there are also the special prefixes which can be requested for several reasons, for instance: 

Passing now to the special licenses, these have just a normal prefix, i.e. IW followed by the call-area number (however in a very few cases, e.g. when all amateurs of a city are temporarily and collectively granted a special prefix, such prefix can often also be used by the special licenses, this further increasing the chances of an ambiguity to occur).



Let us start with the full licenses first. For these the following suffixes are possible:

With the above assignment scheme, ambiguities become easily possible when operating from a portable QTH. The following rules should then be respected:

For the special licenses, which only use prefix IW, each Region has its own lot of suffixes to assign, according to the following rule: 

Suffixes, both the two- and three-letter ones, are assigned in alphabetical order (as already mentioned, a possible assignment sequence is IW0BZY, IW0BZZ, IW0CA, IW0CAA, IW0CAB, etc.). As a consequence suffixes are repeated for the call areas (IW3NNN and IW5NNN can both exist). By the above assignment scheme one can easily recognize the stations counting for DXCC country "Sardinia" (i.e. calls IW0UA - IW0ZZZ).

Let us now conclude on suffixes by quickly addressing the VHF/UHF beacons and repeaters.

In the past beacons used the I prefix with a one-letter suffix (e.g. I0A). Beacon calls were assigned by our league (ARI). However, under the new law valid after January 1st 2002, anyone can set-up a beacon using his own callsign followed by the "/B" suffix (my 50-MHz beacon signs I0JX/B). 

FM repeaters use the IR prefix with a one-letter suffix (e.g. IR0A). Digital repeaters use the IR prefix with a three-letter suffix (e.g. IR6AQA). In all cases the call-area criterion is respected. Suffixes can be repeated for different call areas. 

I believe that's enough...

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