Outback Comms

Submitted: Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 12:42
ThreadID: 76087 Views:3654 Replies:12 FollowUps:3
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I am taking off around OZ in a couple of months and don't know what type of comms gear to go for and wonder if someone can help out. I have had a look through the info here but would like to here from people's personal experience.

We will be doing a bit of off road work, Gibb River Road, Steep Point and similar. We will have a mobile phone for use in the towns but I am having trouble deciding between UHF and HF radio. From what I can see the HF gives much better coverage but at a price. Also is it suitable for short range, vehicle to vehicle?

I'm hoping I can get away with a UHF system but don't want to end up stranded in the middle of no where.
Any advice appreciated, thanks in advance

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Reply By: Tenpounder (SA) - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 12:56

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 12:56
Hi (again) Nik. We did the Kimberly and Pilbara areas (starting from Adelaide) a couple of years ago. We carried mobiles and UHF. There were many areas with no mobile coverage at all (just in or very near the major towns) with our basic digital handsets. The UHF was useful for talking to wide loads etc. on the blacktop but not really much relevance otherwise. The range of a UHF plus the vagaries of terrain etc. mean they're fine for convoy use and other close range line of sight, but not much use if you are stranded on your own! Such short range vehicle-to-vehicle can be handled with a simple hand-held UHF for under $100.
I have no experience of satphone, but others seem to be quite in favour as an alternative to HF.
If I was going really bush, and solo, I would completely discount mobile and UHF for emergency purposes. So much so that UHF probably gives a false sense of security!
Hope this helps.
AnswerID: 404550

Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:49

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:49
Agree with Chris. There are 2 issues to resolve - If you are travelling with others and want to talk to them or to other traffic within 5 or 10 km, a UHF is excellent. If you need local help in an emergency, UHF with its limited range may be very useful. If though you expect to travel alone away from much travelled tracks, your choice is between hf radio and satellite phone. Both cost $$$.

A sat phone will connect you to the world sometimes or mostly, depending on which network you use. In an emergency you will (probably) be able to call for assistance if you know who to call and if the satellites are in the right place. Any sat phone call is very expensive.

Hf radio is not always useful either, but has a number of advantages in my opinion. If you have a vehicle or personal mishap where there's very little traffic, an hf call may well reach someone not far away. The sat phone won't. As a member of an hf network you can call in and let the world know where you are and that you're OK or in trouble. You can receive messages relayed from home. You can also have very limited phone capability. Hf covers the whole continent, though like any radio system it is subject to changing radio characteristics in the atmosphere.

If you intend going seriously off on your own, a Personal Locator Beacon (EPIRB) is a valuable fallback option. Press a button and it will alert the rescue services to a life threatening situation and its location. It provides no other communications.


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Reply By: George_M - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:33

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:33
It all depends on your appetite for risk, and who is travelling with you (eg young children), Nik.

UHF radios do very different things than HF radios - I'd assert that it's impractical to use one to do the job of the other

We usually travel solo, and carry a mobile phone (for comms in some outback towns), a phone card (for when there is a public telephone and no mobile phone coverage), a UHF (for short distance comms) and a Satphone (for the long distance stuff). You can also carry an EPIRB/Spot messenger for emergencies - I haven't upgraded yet to the 406Mhz system, and will probably rely on my Satphone until the prices come down.

In practice we probably only use the UHF radio regularly.

Many people we've met on the road don't carry either a Satphone/HF Radio (which can do pretty much the same thing at different costs), an EPIRB, or a UHF radio. When you talk to them they are quite clear about their needs, and have made this choice deliberately. In an emergency they rely on there being lots of people out and about who could help.

So it all depends on what you perceive the risks to be, and the probabliity of needing to call for external assistance.

Enjoy your trip!

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Reply By: olcoolone - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:42

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:42
Don't get UHF and HF mixed up.

UHF is a MUST HAVE and get a good quality 5 watt one with an external antenna.

UHF is used for short range communications of up to 15 kilometers and maybe further, most people have UHF in regional and remote areas either in vehicles or at home.

UHF is mostly used by other travelers, farmers, businesses, truckies and road gangs making it ides for being able to get in contact with them.

DON"T rely on UHF as your only form of communications to the out side world for emergency situations.

DON"T buy the cheap ones, we get sick and tired of people in remote areas using them, they can hear us but you can not hear them or the audio quality is so bad we turn the radio off or change channels......a piece of string and two cans may be a better option.

HF radio and Satellite phone are more closely related then HF and UHF radio are.

HF radio is ideal for out back travelers (remember UHF is a must) who want long range communications(200 to 2000+ kilometers) with other travelers, emergency personnel or listening during sched times for road closures or other information that may be helpful.

HF radio is harder to use then a Satellite phone but can have benefits over a Satellite phone and vise-versa.

If I was you....a vehicle mounted 5 watt UHF is a MUST HAVE and should be the first thing on your list, then maybe look at hiring a Satellite phone for emergency situations or for family and friends to keep in contact with you.

Many people here will tell you you don't need HF radio or a Satellite phone and maybe not even a UHF radio...but at the end of the day it's your well being and that of your familys that is getting put at risk.

With the mobile phone make sure it is Telstra NextG.

AnswerID: 404557

Reply By: snailbait (Blue mntns) - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:55

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 13:55
Nik & Dee
There is a couple of types of travel methods and that is
1. Travelling with other vehicles
2. Travelling alone .

If you are going the way of being alone then i would suggest that Safety, safety, safety, should be the way to go. The cost does not come into it.
With my UHF, Next generation Telstra phone which is suitable for Fringe reception and a HF radio club such as VKE237 YOU have comms all over Australia with the HF Radio you will have comms out of the middle of Gibb River Road and you can use the HF radio to phone for asstints , to take to the Clubs operators on the schedules that are set up morning and night.
To find out more google HF Radio club.
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Follow Up By: Member - Allan B (QLD) - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:10

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:10
"asstints"?? Now that's colourful expression. LOL


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Reply By: Brian Purdue - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 14:00

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 14:00
It depends who you want to yak to and how often. I carried a "Telstra" pnone for a while and then changed it for a handful of $2 coins to phone home every now and again when I got to a town - and not often at that.
Phones are like distress rockets - set one of for fun and you will have every man and his dog come racing over the sandhills. Get into trouble and no-one ever sees it.
About 50 years ago I worked for company and had to travel into what was then "remote area" I carried spark plus, coil, condenser, plug leads, oil and .... Never used any of it.
In recnt times of four years of real outback travelling I never had any real reason to phone anyone. Just keep your equipment up to the mark and you will be OK.
Keep a positive mental attitude and have fun.
Life is just too short to be an eternal pessimist.
AnswerID: 404561

Reply By: Jedo_03 - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 14:55

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 14:55
Hi Nik & Dee

We have both UHF and HF (VKS network) as well as 3G mobile.

UHF is good in convoy mode.
MOST useful for contacting operators of BIG WHEELS looming up in your mirror...
"Hello Truckie - I see you coming... I will maintain my speed and sit on the fog line. Come around at your discretion..." THIS usually results in a sigh of relief from the Truckie - at least he knows you are aware he is there..."

HF is subject to the vagaries of the sun and the ionosphere... On good days I can call-in and chat to Charters Towers, St Mary's, Alice Springs and Adelaide from Broken Hill area on Ch 1...

That's what works for me...

AnswerID: 404562

Reply By: vk1dx - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 14:56

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 14:56
Others are covering this quite well.

May I say one thing on the choice of UHF radio. Don't get a super duper do everything one. Keep it to the lower end of the range. And this is why. Driving along and someone bumps a button. The radio sor some reason only known to Murphy has gone into some trange mode and you are having trouble getting it to work. And to top it off the user manual is at home safe.

There is only one word for it and it rhymes with pit.

I suggest either the GME 3220 or 3420 models. Both simple and relaible the 3420 has a detachable remote control that may suit the dash layout for yoyr car better.

I have the 3220 and my sons have the 3420s. All of us just got the 9db antennas on the bullbars and let it go at that.

Of course there are other brands which are very very similar.

Heep it simple though is the main issue.

Cheers and enjoy the ride.

AnswerID: 404563

Reply By: Mick O - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 15:14

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 15:14

Here was a recent thread on the HF/Satphone question. As earlier stated, don't leave home without a UHF. It's a must have.

HF/Satphone Thread

Cheers Mick
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trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
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Reply By: Nik & Dee - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:10

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:10

Thanks to every one for their quick responses and good experience as well. It sounds like I need a UHF no matter what. I think that will have to do me.

The Patrol is well maintained and we carry a range of spare parts so hopefully we don't get stuck and kick myself for not getting the HF/Sat phone. We are letting people know where we go and when to expect to hear from us etc, how long we will be out of range for...

AnswerID: 404568

Follow Up By: Bob of KAOS - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:44

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:44

Check thread 75997 on what it can be like without adequate comms/navigation.

FollowupID: 674262

Reply By: Motherhen - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:50

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 16:50
Hi Nik,

Did you check out a the recent thread on Sat phone, EPIRB and Spot messenger? I notice a lot of replies have come on since i started typing this earlier in the day.

We have been 'stranded in the middle of nowhere' and without a Sat phone it would have a much more difficult and costly situation. We have a built in UHF and find it essential for communicating with Truckies and announcing/listening on roads with narrow bridges and single lane crests. Hands helds can give reasonable reception over shorter distances but i find the clarity of sound harder to understand.

The GRR is fairly crowded, i don't know how much traffic goes to Steep Point or where and how far you may be going off road. Of course if you did need to ring for assistance be it medical or in case of a breakdown, how comfortable would you be asking for and using someone else's Sat phone? We carry a huge amount of tools and spares, but you can guarantee that every time something goes wrong, it is something different and impossible to carry absolutely everything. With us, Murphy's law prevails.


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Reply By: Sand Man (SA) - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 18:30

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 18:30
Nik & Dee,

As you can see there are many different solutions.

Firstly, you need to decide what you require in the way of communications in the more remote areas.

Do you need to stay in touch with civilisation or family, or are you more concerned with emergency contact?

I agree with others in that a UHF radio is very practical. You can use it to communicate with other travellers in the general area (around 15-20 km range) and further in some areas if you use the repeater channels. (1 to 8 with 5 being the nominated emergency channel)
This should give you a good and cost effective basis for communications with other travellers.

As far as emergency requirements are concerned, there are a few options, such as a satellite phone or HF Radio, bith providing other benefits as well.
But do you need them?

My last line of defence is a 406 MHz EPIRB device which for a once off cost of $500 or so, will give you peace of mind in it's ability to summon help in an absolute emergency. These devices contain a GPS which will give an accurate fix of your location.

Depending on where you are travelling you may decide that the UHF transceiver is sufficient as the chances are that someone else will be in your general vicinity.

If you venture off "the beaten track" however, an EPIRB is worth considering.



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Reply By: Member - Graham H (QLD) - Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 21:09

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010 at 21:09
There will probably be enough people on th GRR and there is a Ranger Station not far from Steep point so you may not need anything other than a UHF WHICH IS ESSENTIAL as are MIRRORS if towing.

We took both a Satfone and an HF. I never turned the HF on and sold it in WA.

The Satfone we used crossing the Nullabor but there is so much traffic you would only need it if off road and lost.

It is adviseable to have some sort of backup though.

look on Ebay for a Satfone Only buy one that works on the IRIDIUM network Usually a MOTOROLA 9500 9505 9505a With the latter two texts can be made but not with the 9500.

Costs are Phone about $1000

Call costs using a TELSTRA internationally roamed sim card ON A PLAN

Outward approx $3.25 min

Inward the same, as YOU pay for the diversion of the call from the cellular network to the Iridium network.

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