An HF radio is primarily designed to enable long distance communication in areas of Australia
where the telephone network is not available. Not only is it inexpensive to operate, it also provides access to free-to-air network broadcasts and services
and connection to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
Your use of the airwaves is governed by Australian Communications and Media Authority. The ACMA assigns transmission rights to frequencies and can issue certain types of licences to groups or individuals that authorise transmission on these frequencies, however anyone can listen to frequencies without a license provided they do not transmit.
HF Radios have long been an obvious consideration if you intend to travel throughout remote regions of Australia
or if you are interested in receiving any of the following services
- RFDS emergency contact* note recently changed (see Emergency Transmission section for latest information)
- To communicate over long distances (from as little as a couple of kilometres, or from one side of the country to the other)
- Making telephone calls direct from your vehicle to any phone line
- "Free to air", and Network operated radio broadcast and transmissions
- To find someone who is near you who can pick up a spare or assist you on your way (if used in conjunction with an optional Radio Network Service)
If however, you only need close distance communication, or vehicle to vehicle communication a UHF radio
Most HF radio owners will be aware of the "Red" emergency button - designed for calling the nearest RFDS base. Recent changes to RFDS operations throughout Australia
have changed the way HF radios can be used in an emergency however so this button will no longer work EXCEPT when reaching Broken Hill
and Port Augusta
. Emergency calls at all RFDS bases except Broken Hill
and Port August is by Sellcall as detailed in DOC 40 on the VKS-737 website.
Joining a Network
You need to be licensed by the ACMA for the frequencies you intend to use. You may elect to join a Radio Network which carries inbuilt licensing for their own frequencies. You do not have a specific license yourself, but are authorised to use the license of the network through your membership.
The most relevant radio network for outback travellers is the Australian National 4WD Radio Network Inc.
(VKS737). The primary role of this network is to provide safety orientated HF radio communications for travellers in remote areas. To join the Australian National 4WD Radio Network Inc. (VKS737) you will need to purchase a 12 month Member Subscription.
A new partnership (Oct 2010) between VKS-737 and RFDS Western Operations & RFDS Queensland
Section has resulted in changes to the use of the Emergency (Red button) calling feature from your HF radio. See Emergency Transmission section (above). The VKS-737 own and operate the RFDS bases at Cairns
, Charleville Derby
, Mount Isa
and Port Hedland
. They provide this service free of charge to the RFDS. The RFDS own 2 dedicated HF radio bases, at Broken Hill
and Port Augusta
- only these 2 can be contacted direct from the Red emergency button on your HF radio. All others must be contacted via Selcall.
If you are a member of the VKS-737 network then you will know what channels and frequencies you can listen in to hear member-base operator discussions. Some people find this very entertaining and you may often pick up relevant track information and safety warnings. The Network will also run scheduled broadcasts at specific times of day for members to listen to relevant reports (weather etc) and offer many other related services
Receiving Radio Broadcasts
The HF spectrum covers the range 1.7 to 30 MHz, which means that you can receive numerous broadcasts including Radio Australia
, BBC World, School of the Air, even Voice of America and of most relevance to outback travellers you can listen to across the various frequencies to member and base operator communications on the VKS737 4WD Radio Network.
Your HF radio unit, can also be used to make telephone calls, for which you will need to subscribe to a direct dial service. There are a couple of Direct Dial HF Radio Telephone Network Services
, offering a range of call plans to suit your particular needs. Yearly access fees are often bundled with pre-paid calls. Look for a network with sufficient base stations around Australia
allowing you to make telephone calls directly from your HF radio to any telephone or mobile phone in Australia
. Some call plans also include free RFDS and Police direct selcall contact and free emergency assistance by 24hr operator. Note that these calls are still made over the radio network, but connect into the telephone/mobile network.
A couple of things to consider when deciding if you really need to make phone calls:
- A "phone" call from a radio is broadcast over radio waves. Anyone with a radio tuned to (or scanning) that frequency can listen to the conversation
- Telstra still provides public phone booths throughout all towns and service centres
- Some HF radio networks offer a message relay service, which you may consider a suitable alternative
Email, Fax, Data and GPS tracking
Recent advances in technology have enabled email, fax, data and even GPS tracking functions to be possible via HF radio. Older HF units will need modification or additional hardware and/or service agreements to enable usage and cover costs. However many modern HF radios have Global Positioning System (GPS) software installed by the maker as a standard feature. HF - GPS interface means that in theory your location coordinates can be transmitted by your HF, to a remote, suitably equipped station.
Keep in mind that these functions will be limited by the HF spectrum so don't expect the same speeds and capability that you're used to from LAN/WAN telecommunications.