VHF vs satphone

Submitted: Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:12
ThreadID: 56404 Views:2534 Replies:10 FollowUps:13
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Sure, this topic has been beaten to the death, but still. After quite extensive monitoring relevant threads and extensive research I am sitting on the fence and cannot decide what long-term communication to choose. Up until now we had been 4WD “locally”, i.e. mainly VHC. There is no such thing as “remote location” in VHC (as least where we been) – worst-case scenario is 2 days of walking – I recon acceptable. But now I think to go Simpson and although many say that these days it is “almost freeway”, I still feel uneasy going without any form of long distance communication. So anyone who have first-hand experience with both could help me jump in either direction? But please do not offer to have both and thus enjoy best of two worlds LOL! Cost is important, but I am must more concern about reliability, “connectability”, i.e. if I can make call from anywhere and long-term “supportability” - as far as I understand neither system has definite future.

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Reply By: Member - Footloose - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:16

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:16
Buy or rent a sat phone. Hf is good but sat phone better for point to point.
If point to point is not as important as weather, track conditions and being able to contact someone in your area, buy a HF
AnswerID: 297200

Reply By: The Landy - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:19

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:19
I'm not sure why you want VHF; it is mostly used in the aviation/maritime industries.

I have both HF and satphone as a choice. But I won't sit on the fence and suggest that if communications in remote areas is a concern, presumeably from a safety perspective, then go the HF radio route. It is certainly more expensive versus the Satphone option, but it is far more versatile when taking into account the 'whole package' it offers.

VHF communications will almost certainly limit you to communications with overflying aircraft as not many 4WDs will have one. Also they are still line of sight similar to UHF.

(Just a thought did you mean VHF or UHF?)
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Follow Up By: KSV. - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:20

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:20
Pardon me, ment to be HF
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Follow Up By: KSV. - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:24

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:24
Yes, communication in remote areas from safety POV is main concern. So why do you recon HF is better then satphone? My primitive login (not necessarily correct) suggests on the contrary.

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Follow Up By: The Landy - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:46

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:46
I’ve viewed HF as a communication package, not just something to be used in an emergency. I belong to a network (Radtel) that enables amongst other things connection via HF to a telephone. I’m also a member of VKS-737. HF gives you a broader opportunity of communicating with multiple people at once due to the ‘broadcast’ nature of radio communication. Also you won’t be at risk of a problem with the satellite connection or problems with the service provider and this topic has been well covered in the case of Globalstar.

One important consideration is that in the event of an emergency you may need to ‘convince’ the authorities as to the nature and validity of your emergency if making direct contact via telephone. In the case of HF and the VKS-737 network this is all but guaranteed and is a proven resource. Use a Satphone and you are on your own and without the assistance of professionals who now how to work with the authorities in emergency situations.

I don’t believe that one should be to the exclusion of the other and the reason I carry both is to back up my communication capability. Murphy’s Law suggests that when something goes wrong it all goes wrong, so having a communication alternative might be a useful thing. If this isn’t possible I would definitely go HF as it provides a communication package and this is how you need to think about it.

HF is a communication package; Satphones are a communication tool.
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Follow Up By: Member - Roachie (SA) - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:52

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 16:52
It's like comparing cricket with baseball. Two entirely different things.

Think about this scenario. I am led to believe it really happened....

You're out in the Tanami and have done a bit of a reccy in the bush. You're about 5klm off the main track and you've holed your fuel tank. Being the well-prepared traveller you are, you have the materials to fix the hole...but now you have no diesel to re-fill your tank.

If you have a sat-phone, you have to make several expensive calls before finally getting the number of and phoning up the nearest garage, which happens to be at Alice Springs. You get onto a nice bloke who says he'd love to drive out 300klm with 2 jerries of diesel just for you. You give him the coordinates and he says he'll "only" charge you $1,000- for this exercise and he'll throw in the diesel for free.

Now, if you had a HF radio, you call up the VKS737 base operator and the radio call is heard by numerous other members of the radio network all over Australia. There is a very good chance that a fellow traveller could be just a few kilometers away on the Tanami Track and would be more than happy to let you have 20 or 30 litres of diesel for the cost price plus a 6 pack of grog etc.

This is just one scenario.

Another one I was involved in a few years ago..... We had been rained-in at Birdsville for 3 days, waiting for the Birdsville Track to re-open. On the morning it re-opened, we had travelled about 60 klm southwards and i was listening to the morning "skeds". 4 blokes were just about to leave Longreach, headed down our way and wanted to know whether the BT had been re-opened. The base operator (who happened to be operating out of St Mary's base in Tasmania), said as far as he was aware the BT was still closed but asked if anybody had any more up to date info. I was able to get on the HF and let the Base Operator (and the 4 blokes) know that the track had been re-opened about an hour earlier.

All good stuff.......

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Follow Up By: Member - bushfix - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 19:27

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 19:27
G'day Bill,

Just thinking, is there a phone number that a Satphone operator could contact VKS737 on? I am sure they would do their best to help.
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Follow Up By: Richard Kovac - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 21:28

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 21:28
bushfix Hi

Thats not really the point, the sat phone owner should be a member of VKS-737, as I have too be a member of Radtel to use the phone on my Radio and have direct lines to Police, automotive groups etc.


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Follow Up By: Member - Roachie (SA) - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 22:05

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 22:05
G'day Bushfix,

Yes there is a VKS 737 phone number that members can give to their family, friends and work colleagues. This is for the purpose of delivery of short, urgent messages.

So, say you have an elderly parent about whom you have concerns whilst you are away on a remote trip. You give the VKS number to your brother/sister etc. In the event of an emergency, the relative can phone the number and ask that a message be broadcast over the next skeds in the hope that you might be listening in. The message might be: "message for Whiskey 6226.... please contact John at earliest opportunity regarding your dad".....or something like that.
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Reply By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 17:02

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 17:02
I went for the HF, as outlined in previous threads, If you have a problem and have to shout out for assistance, It's possible another listener may be close to you and hear your plight and be able to assist.
Also after listening to for "scheds" you become to feel part of a, sort of unseen community, hear where other people are, and what their up to.
Satphone are great for one-on-one contact straight away, and for summoning help, as long as you know the phone number.

AnswerID: 297214

Reply By: Steve63 - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 17:05

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 17:05
It depends on usage. We have both but until recently had HF only. I still listen to the skeds on VKS. My wife is quite proficent with the HF as well as the sat phone. You do need to learn how to use HF where as a satphone is relatively straight forward. HF is not like UHF, there are complexities about distance and time of day that you need to understand. This can be frustrating when you are just getting started.

If you want to call particular people and be easily contactable then a sat phone is the go. Be aware there are different sat constellations that give very different performance. Make sure you have all the required numbers in the phone before you go ie RFDS etc. If you want to find out the weather or something local HF is the go. HF is more like a community and people listen to the skeds. If there is a problem or you need to know something, likely there is someone nearby who may be able to help or answer your question.

AnswerID: 297215

Reply By: MEMBER - Darian (SA) - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 18:10

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 18:10
Presume you VHF means HF - the later being for long distance comms). IMO, for remote area travel it is unwise to rely on plenty of other travellers being out there ! Your progress can be halted for a variety of reasons and all of a sudden you find that nobody comes by for ages..... rain in a far off place for example can induce travellers to stay put in a dry spot even ..... you might be stuck in the middle of that scenario. HF is my choice - cheaper comms, and many people to talk to .....I'm with VKS737, but there are other outfits with their dedicated members too. New radios cost plenty but there is a healthy used market on the go at all times too.
AnswerID: 297229

Reply By: Member - Olcoolone (S.A) - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 19:09

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 19:09
You don't have to be along way from the metro area to be remote.......2 days with a injury and someone stuck in the vehicle is a long time.

We have HF, UHF, Sat Phone and a EPIRB with GPS.

HF for listerning to skeds and logging in with our position and where we are going.

UHF for local coms.

Sat Phone for emergancys or for people to ring us in an emergancy ie. family.

EPIRD incase we can't use the HF or Sat Phone for an emergancy ie. if we had a vehicle roll over and lost antennas or batteery issues.

Regards Richard

AnswerID: 297243

Follow Up By: KSV. - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 09:08

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 09:08
Thanks for this “informative” answer. I understand that having everything is better then having nothing. You either have more spare cash in your hand then me (good on ya!) or been collecting your toys for quite a while (hopefully eventually I came to the same situation). My question was not about what is better everything or nothing, but rather where to start.

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Follow Up By: Member - Olcoolone (S.A) - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 10:13

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 10:13
There is no easy answer, thats why I gave my reasons for each type.

I would go a HF radio and EPIRB (with GPS) or a Sat Phone and EPIRD (with GPS).

The EPIRB is if everything else fails are you cannot use the other gear due to injury or damage to the equipment.

HF does have it's advantage as Roachie said in his post.

I would rate HF on the VKS network the best due to there experiance, knowledge and service.

I rate safety as a number 1 priority..... but something is better then nothing.

I think it should be illegal for people who travel in remote areas not to have a EPIRB with GPS, think of the resources it takes to find someone lost.

The VKS network should do alive audio feed on there web site so people can listern into the scheds.

Regards Richard

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Reply By: TD100 - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 20:08

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 20:08

i recently went thru the same scenario and went the sat phone route.HF reqd a licence,fairly costly unit to buy,more room reqd for radio unit and antenna,very hard to stop noise apparently from/to the vehicle electrics etc etc.sat phone,small and compact,with in a nutshell almost work everywhere(iridium)easy to use.can take it on walks or where ever you go.cost for a good s/hand unit is reasonable and can utilise an existing GSM card with international roaming enabled (telstra) as i have done.both have goods and bads but its up to you to decide what you want from either of these 2.pick the one that suits better.cheers Paul
AnswerID: 297255

Reply By: Member - Tim - Stratford (VIC) - Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 22:05

Monday, Apr 07, 2008 at 22:05

I just got my secondhand (like new) Motorola 9505a today! Went through the though process as to which to buy. I decided on the sat phone as I spend most of my time in the High Country with only a few trips planned into the northern remote areas.

My thinking was the phone would be used for emergencies only, hence I run an international roaming 3G/NextG Telstra SIM card - dear call but who cares when it is an emergency.

The most calls the RACV attend is flat batteries - this would mean the HF would be dead. I know everyone has aux batteries - but these can fail too.

Another scenario is vehicle rollover. Once the vehicle rolls - or even slides on its side there is a high chance that your HF aerial is cactus. I'm not sure if the HF would work with a vehicle laying on its side.

Finally - the spinafex problem - can't take your HF with you if your vehicle is on fire. My satphone is to live in a pelican case (when the case arrives) along with a GPS and spare batteries - along with a few other items in a 'bail-out' bag.

I understand everyone has a differing point of view on this, this is only my observations and why I chose what I did.

AnswerID: 297297

Follow Up By: The Landy - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 08:35

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 08:35
Hi Tim

All valid points you raise, and as I have said neither HF or Satphone should be considered as exclusive to the other, both are different.

Much is made of the 'emergency' communications aspect, and once again this is a prime consideration when travelling in the outback. However, when looking at HF it should be seen as an overall communication package as its scope goes far beyond emergency requirements.

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Reply By: KSV. - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 09:13

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 09:13
Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts.

AnswerID: 297340

Follow Up By: The Landy - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 09:57

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 09:57
As a final comment; have a look at some of the post relating to Globastar and the disruption to the Satphone services. Now there is more than one Satphone provider, for example Iridium, and they do not appear to have had any problems to date. That is not to say they won't (or will).

You won't experienc the same sort of problems with HF radio, whilst the intial cost is higher, the ongoing costs are far less and you remove a potential problem by not having to rely on a service provider.

HF can have some performance limitations depending on the time of day; but it won't be shut down and you are almost certainly going to be able to contact someone if you want to.

If budget is the issue....go HF.
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Follow Up By: Member - bushfix - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 10:25

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 10:25
i got lucky. scored a thrane & thrane mini-m unit for $170. Yep, new battery cost $220 but no ongoing costs, no joining fee, $2.60 per minute if I choose to use it via Inmarsat, an impressive network. Importantly, my kids can use it if necc and it is portable.
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Reply By: KSV. - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 12:27

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 12:27
Thanks again everyone - I went HF route.

AnswerID: 297367

Follow Up By: Dave & Shelley (NT) - Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 22:40

Tuesday, Apr 08, 2008 at 22:40
Hi mate,

I am sure you have made the write choice. I am on my second unit now (well pick it up next week) and highly recommend VKS-737 and RADTEL for a newer unit (ie CODAN NGT) as you can us the HF for phonecalls.

Enjoy your HF

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