Outback communication

After recommendations for best means of communicating in the outback. We plan on doing some remote trips over the next couple of years.
Currently have a couple of 3W handheld GME units and an Epirb.
Looking at best UHF for in car and thoughts on Sat phones, brands and plans.
Thanks in advance.
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Reply By: Darian - Thursday, Oct 15, 2020 at 20:43

Thursday, Oct 15, 2020 at 20:43
HF radio (long distance) is an option too. Check out the Communications page here, plus the VKS-737 network’s site for general info (there are other HF providers/clubs too).
As for 5 watt UHF in-car units; Icom and GME are makes that would be hard to top for performance and reliability. I chose the Icom 400 pro, mainly because it is a commercial class radio ( as I understand it ). As for the antenna...take advice from the radio supplier...a properly matched antenna contributes hugely to overall performance.
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Follow Up By: Darian - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 18:58

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 18:58
In light of some of the following comment, I should add (re the HF radio comms option) that the HF networks do add personal follow up support to remote network members in need. For example, VKS-737 base operators (volunteers) will raise and log a task, and then do as much calling and arranging as is required (without charge) in order to effect the best remedy possible. That said, the member is of course responsible for all fees charged by the on site service providers.
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Reply By: wooly0005 - Thursday, Oct 15, 2020 at 21:41

Thursday, Oct 15, 2020 at 21:41
Another vote for HF Radio. We are a member of VKS737 and one of the things I enjoy most about it is listening to the morning skeds while we are packing up camp. People calling in from all over Australia, very interesting and informative.

Also comforting to be able to talk to someone and let them know how we are going etc.

Once you buy the radio and set it up, the cost is minimal. Around $150.00? per year.

Some good bargains around too in the way of second hand units.

Not unusual to see a late model Barrett or Codan with an auto tune antenna for under $1000.00
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Reply By: Member - Cuppa - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 08:21

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 08:21
Another vote for Icom uhf.

We carry a PLB (epirb) and a Satphone. Bought a Thuraya phone second hand & have it on a Pivotel casual plan -costs $15 per month plus $1per minute calls. We only have it for emergency use. Text messages are 50c. If we wanted to chat we can send anyone with a mobile phone & unlimited calls (most people these days) a text saying ‘call me’. Because the Pivotel give the Satphone a std Aus number (not all do) when someone calls us back we can talk for as long as we like at no additional cost to either party. We think this may also be useful if we had to call anywhere to source spare parts - more likely a supplier would call back if the call wasn’t going to cost them an arm & a leg, like some Satphone’s do. We have the Satphone number included with our PLB registration too, so if we ever need to use the epirb emergency services/rescue services can call us. Some folk suggest that the Thuraya geostationary satellite does not have the best coverage, but we have had good signal whenever we have checked, from Cockle Creek in southern Tassie up to Kalumburu in northern Kimberley. We have never needed to use the Satphone in an emergency, but the handful of times we have used it to call someone it has worked just fine. For the ongoing cost of $15 a month it is cheap peace of mind. We just need to remember to recharge the Satphone battery once in a while. ?? When we bought it we did not have a compatible mobile phone to use with Thuraya’s satsleeve options. Now that we do, if buying again I would pay the extra for this convenience. Familiarity with the phone you use daily is something worth having in an emergency.
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Follow Up By: Member - Cuppa - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 08:50

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 08:50
I should add that you can stop & start the Pivotel casual plan from month to month if you wish. I think this involves a $25 reconnection fee each time, & you get a different number. As we have been on the road for sometime we have just kept it going, but for folk doing shorter trips once or twice a year it may be worthwhile to only pay when you need it.
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Follow Up By: Gramps - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 10:26

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 10:26
Yeah, got the same satphone deal as Cuppa. Works well.

Regards
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Reply By: Member - Steve R (NSW) - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 10:04

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 10:04
Suggest you also have a spare mobile sim from an alternate mobile phone carrier to your usual one. That is carry both a Telstra and an Optus sim. We travelled in the Kimberley last year and "glamped" in the Bungle Bungles and at Mitchell Falls and both these places had Optus Wi-Fi for a limited period each day.

We also carried a EPIRB and satphone. When we broke down half way between Winton and Longreach there was no mobile reception. The satphone saved the day. Had picked it up second hand on ebay -an Iridium 9555. Its brillant. Used a post paid plan from TR Telecom which suited.
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Follow Up By: Stephen L (Clare) SA - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 10:59

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 10:59
Re taking a spare SIM....

To do this your phone must be unlocked.

Very few phones that you buy are unlocked and are usually locked to the service provider that you deal is with, ie Telstra, Optus etc.

If you have a locked phone there is a fee to get it unlocked and a few years ago was around the $100 mark
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Follow Up By: Zippo - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 11:56

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 11:56
Rather than just a spare (second network) SIM, we carry a second phone. The hassle of SIM-swapping when our phones are in snap-on high-impact-resistant covers is more than I like to be doing frequently. Most people have their previous generation phone still sitting in a drawer gathering dust.

Re Stephen's comment re network-locked phones, that tends to be on the cheaper end of the market. iPhones have been unlocked out of the box since the 4.
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Follow Up By: Gramps - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 12:18

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 12:18
Zippo,

Agree. Don't know how it is in SA (Stephen) but in NSW if you shop for a phone they're unlocked, if you shop for a plan they're locked, simples. Never had a problem getting a specific phone (unlocked).

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Follow Up By: Member - McLaren3030 - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 12:29

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 12:29
If you have a “stand alone” phone, the phone is not locked. If you bought your phone as part of a plan, then most likely the phone is locked to the provider of the plan.

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Follow Up By: Bazooka - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 23:14

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 23:14
As Stephen suggested, plenty of new phones (esp prepaids) are network locked, particularly those significantly discounted by the service provider. For example, some of the low spec phones found in Colesworth's catalogues, phones which may appeal to people wanting a backup . Depends where you buy and what you pay. Always worth checking before you hand over your dough. Some high spec phones offer dual sim slots which might be attractive to travellers.

I recently went through a convoluted Telstra covid-19 unlock process for a friend. Don't know about Optus but Telstra charges two rates for providing an unlock code: (1) phone in service <6 months - $80; (2) 6-24m - $25; free thereafter. Depending on the brand and model, you might find workarounds on the internet, and there are also fee-based unlockers (usually cheaper) if you're game.
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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 06:52

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 06:52
I beg to differ on the locked unlocked phone thing. I think you will find that things changed a few years ago. Though my only experience is with Telstra

This is my experience

-If you buy a phone on a post paid plan, it is NOT locked, but if you cancel early you have to pay out the phone residual.
-If you buy a subsidised phone for prepaid deal, then it will be LOCKED. You have to use a service to unlock it.
-If you by a stand alone phone, then obviously it will be unlocked.

Then there is the issue of the bands that are supported. Even unlocked, many phones will not work in all areas on another carrier. For example, Telstra uniquely uses 3G 850Mhz, and 4G band 28 - 700 mhz for the country across Australia. These are the two most important bands for Telstra's broad coverage.

Vodafone and Optus don't use these bands, so even if you have an unlocked phone, if you got th ephone from the carriers, then the phone may not work on Telstra - outside the city areas, which is generally covered by Bands 3, 5, and 8.

Most modern phones cover all bands but not all. Even for a particular model phone, there are different variations that cover the different bands.

This can be why some people say things like "My friend got reception on his Vodafone but I got nothing on my Telstra" or visa versa. There may be coverage, but that phone isn't 100% compatible so sees no signal.

My point is that if you have dual sim phones, or swap carriers, you need to check the exact phone specs in addition to making sure it is unlocked.


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Reply By: HKB Electronics - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 11:46

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 11:46
We believe in safety so a bit over the top so we carry:

HF radio is nice to have, you can get help from the base station, this may include general assistance or emergency help etc. I believe VHS737 also provide this via sat phone now. Advantage of HF is others listening in your local area may be in able to offer assistance if needed which may be a lot cheaper than organising a recovery else where and possible quicker medical aid,. HF has GPS connected so location info is available to the base station.

Sat phone, we have yet to use it.

PLB

Tracker with PLB

UHF CB, good for short range communications only, ie a few kilometers not to be considered seriously as an emergency communication medium .

Hand held GPS if your going walking away from camps, you only need to go 50 metres in dense schrub to get lost.
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Follow Up By: Member - Cuppa - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 12:32

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 12:32
"Hand held GPS if your going walking away from camps, you only need to go 50 metres in dense schrub to get lost."

Yup, been there done that ........ having left the hand held GPS in the glovebox - were totally 'bushwacked' for a while in a very remote area. Foolish on our part & scary to boot.
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Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 14:02

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 14:02
Personally I would never consider HF. Years ago we had one, but not now.
One minor roll over and the antennae is stuffed.
The mother-in-law will never work out how to contact you. :)
Last year's technology.
PLB + sat 'phone.
Cheers,
Peter
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 14:59

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 14:59
For me, any rollover would be a fairly major event :-) LOL.
But apart from that agree 100%
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Follow Up By: Member - Warren H - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 15:41

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 15:41
In the late 80s and early 90s, I was responsible for organising HF radios for our field vehicles. While most of our communication was on private frequencies, all vehicles carried rolls of wire cut to length for the RFDS emergency frequencies and fitted with a connector for just that situation of a roll-over. You did however need a tree.
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Follow Up By: Member - Warren H - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 15:57

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 15:57
When I retired in 2014, I still had a Codan 8525 setup purchased in the mid 1990s as a portable HF radio for use when we hired 4WDs. It had the radio, cables and aerial clamp in a box and a tapped antenna in a tube. A comms engineer colleague who travels regularly in remote WA building the SKA Pathfinder radio telescope was keen to have it as a comms of last resort, as she said no satellite or other infrastructure need just a battery. Mind you you'd need to be desperate as RF silence is one of the requirements for the siting of the SKA antenna. All comms into the facility is by fibre optic cable and all buildings are designed as Farady cages.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 16:36

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 16:36
Depends on where the antenna is mounted as to its vulnerability in a rollover. If your silly enough to position it where it can be easily damage and then roll the vehicle what can one say? Will concede though unless you have a portable antenna or can right the car might have trouble using the radio if car is not upright.
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Follow Up By: Bazooka - Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 23:29

Friday, Oct 16, 2020 at 23:29
Been a while but HF radio used to be both interesting and useful back in the day for sending and receiving messages, weather, incident reports, plane movements, RFDS and station activities, and occasionally even gossip. Always wondered if the gossipers thought the channels were private or figured they were so remote no-one else would be listening. Probably just didn't care.
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Follow Up By: old mate - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 00:40

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 00:40
How many times have you rolled a car over?
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Follow Up By: Nomadic Navara - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 08:43

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 08:43
"Always wondered if the gossipers thought the channels were private or figured they were so remote no-one else would be listening. Probably just didn't care."

Naah! Everyone out there knew what was going on. That's why they were known as the galah sessions (everyone on the air - like galahs roosting at sundown.)
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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 08:59

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 08:59
"How many times have you rolled a car over?"
How many times has it been essential to have reliable long range communications?
Cheers,
Peter
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Follow Up By: Member - nickb "boab" - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 09:31

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 09:31
Peter / Margaret are to HF radio Communications.. what Nigella is to Weight Watchers and must have a whole lot better relationship with the mother-in-law than most of us ;))) LOL
Cheers Nick b
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Follow Up By: Member - Warren H - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 09:34

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 09:34
"Always wondered if the gossipers thought the channels were private or figured they were so remote no-one else would be listening. Probably just didn't care."
Back in the 90s in NQ, if you went on the OTC Coastal Radio Radphone channels you could hear the trawler boys calling in to suppliers and giving credit card numbers.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 11:59

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 11:59
"How many times have you rolled a car over?"
How many times has it been essential to have reliable long range communications?"

Satellite reliable, I have been in plenty of places where I could not get a satellite signal, if you believe sat phones are a 100% reliable your being naïve. I have been just outside of Melbourne and not been able to get a satellite signal, on the other hand I have never been anywhere where I got not get a VKS737 base when I wanted to contact one.
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Follow Up By: Darian - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 12:12

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 12:12
Hey Peter...by all means, everyone should arrive at their preferred communications methods, but to call HF last year's technology ? I'm sure this would be news to the likes of Barrett and Codan; Australian manufacturers of premium, state of the art HF technology, supplied to hoards of organisations and field workers globally.
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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 20:07

Saturday, Oct 17, 2020 at 20:07
If we go o/s we could usually take the sat 'phone - not an HF?
I can go fishing in a boat and take the sat 'phone - not an HF?
Travel in someone else's vehicle and take the sat 'phone - not an HF?
Go for a long walk (especially over night) and take the sat 'phone - not an HF?
Cheers,
Peter
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Follow Up By: Member - nickb "boab" - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 07:17

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 07:17
A few of the things i like about HF RADIO
& the vks 737 network.
When you are communicating with the radio operator in most cases they are experienced in outback travel and can help you with Road and weather reports etc .

The radio is in the car primed and ready to go 24/7 .. admitally reception can be poor at times , they are a long distance radio communicator no good over short distance . but there is always going to be someone you can contact.& and you do need to understand how they work.

Cost .. the initial outlay to buy a radio either new or second hand plus the annual subscription to the vks or other network that you are going to use ( I think vks is about $140 a year ) and the resale on your radio is very good second hand they get snapped up very quickly .

I like sitting around for the afternoon call in.. listening to everyone calling in their locations and where & what they are up to from all over the country from my home base in South Australia .

History has shown the HF radio to being a good reliable source of communication over many years .
IMO you would either have a HF radio or a sat phone along with a PLB .
VHS as mentioned only for a short distance communication .

P.s and a big call out thank you for the dedicated volunteer radio operators at the base stations they do a fantastic job ..
Cheers Nick b
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Follow Up By: Candace S. - Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020 at 07:08

Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020 at 07:08
Nomadic Novara posted: "That's why they were known as the galah sessions (everyone on the air - like galahs roosting at sundown.)"

This analogy brought back some memories (of galahs at sundown)! And a smile to my face. :)
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Reply By: Member - McLaren3030 - Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 at 07:23

Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 at 07:23
Hi Guys,

I have found this an interesting thread. If I can add “my two bobs worth”, I think HF Radio still has a place in today’s communications, particularly if wanting to speak with the RFDS, or remote stations. However, for the average remote outback traveller, I think your money could be better spent on a quality Sat Phone and “pay by the month” Sat Phone plan, a registered EPIRB/PLB, and a quality UHF Radio. Even The School Of The Air has moved on to Satelite Communications these days. If you already have an HF Radio, fine, but I would not be going out and buying one.

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 at 09:47

Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 at 09:47
.
Hi Macca,

The RFDS continues to maintain its HF radio monitoring despite implementing satellite telephone as its primary communication beginning with WA and Qld.

The following quote is from a RFDS press release on 16 November 2010: “Despite technology alternatives, the HF radio network remains an important back-up communication system in rural and remote areas, and the RFDS is committed to its monitoring and use in case of emergencies in all outback regions of Australia – 24 hours a day, seven days week, across all States,” says Robert Williams, Acting RFDS National Chief Executive.' Note the use of the term "back-up communication system'.

If you were to search Contact RFDS you will be presented with no mention of HF radio but references to phone numbers. Click on the 'EMERGENCY' button on that page and you are presented with information about satellite phones.

It is clear that RFDS perceives benefit with satellite technology and is moving in that direction whilst still supporting those clients currently committed to HF radio. There are arguments for both technologies just as there are apologies for stone and steel bridges. lol
Those committed to HF such as VKS737 etc. espouse their benefit even whilst 'giving a nod to satphones'.

Time will tell, however I could not wait and disposed of my HF in favour of a satphone several years ago.

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Allan

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Reply By: Member -Pinko (NSW) - Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020 at 07:45

Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020 at 07:45
When ABC ceased to transmit in HF this annoyed me.
No news service and no cricket live to listen to.
Stan
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