Good evening everyone! I’m trying to figure out what radios are available for long distance communication? Am I forced into a CB, or is there a handheld option that would work to allow me to keep in communication with my family while out chasing?
Hey Todd! When we’ve been out, I’ve lost cell service and needed to make a report or notify police. My vehicle has WiFi, so I can WiFi call at times, but our other teams, they don’t have that. We had considered Ham Radios, but was checking to see if anything was out that we could buy off the shelf and use for our team.
There are satellite phones, but that is expensive, There is HF ham radio, but that requires big antennas, depends on atmospheric conditions, and would require the other end to be actively listening and even then you may not be able to reach them because of where you and they are at. While there are digital messaging modes like APRS and Winlink on ham radio, your ability to get the message into the system may be an issue in the middle of no where.
Your best bet for the money is a cell phone with an external antenna on a carrier with good coverage (ie Verizon or AT&T). I have a Verizon Jet Pack with 2 Wilson external antennas. I have data access probably 98% of the time chasing the southern plains. I can connect my cell phone to the Jet Pack with wifi and make calls. The key is the external antennas. There are also cell boosters.
CB, being limited to 4 watts of output (8 on Single Sideband), is only good for a couple miles at best. VHF and UHF ham are good to 30-50 miles, a lot of that dependent on your setup as well as the repeater. The DDC repeater comes to mind as one of the more notable ones that have better than average coverage. I can hear that one on 183 in Oklahoma. I don't know if I could hit it from that distance, as I've never tried. Granted, if you have one of the 110watt commercial radios, you can reach out farther, but it's still line of sight based. It's rare in Oklahoma or Kansas that I've run into a large area where I can't hit a repeater, although I can't say the same about APRS. There's a notable gap in southern Oklahoma where I can't hit a digipeater.
For data, I have a cell booster and added a through the roof NMO mount antenna and, with Verizon, I have to be in a REALLY remote area to not get any kind of data signal.
Unless you're really ranging far out of your area, I do not expect you to have an issue hitting a repeater or getting a data signal with a reputable carrier (Verizon or AT&T). North Texas is well covered both on cell service and ham radio wise.