Phone-Free Communications


Posted in Miscellaneous | Posted on 17-04-2013

TH-UVF1Sometimes a cell phone just can’t beat a walkie-talkie when you need a quick and easy way to communicate.  Having a lightweight portable two-way radio can make working on projects with another person much easier when you need to keep in contact but don’t have the time or patience to dial a phone and then wait for it to ring until the other person answers the phone.  Sometimes you need something instant, and depending on where you are, maybe a cell signal might not get through, like if you’re in a basement, or a garage or if you’re out in the boonies with limited or no cellular coverage.

There have been times when I needed to get up on the roof to adjust a TV or satellite antenna while another person watches the TV in the house to let me know when the signal is coming in strong, and other times when I went fishing or hiking with friends and we wanted to split up; having a radio to keep in contact with each other made things much easier, especially out in the wild where a cell phone is limited to taking pictures or playing music since cellular service is unavailable in those areas.

I originally started off using a portable FRS/GMRS 2-way radio like the Midland GXT1000VP4 which is very effective for short range communication.  Sometimes radios like these advertise that they can have a range up to 36 miles, but unless you are standing on a mountaintop without any objects between the two radios which could block the signal, that distance is exaggerated.  FRS/GMRS radios usually only have about a ½ watt of transmitting power which typically would only have a range of up to 1 mile, maybe a little more depending on terrain.

These radios are great for communicating over short distances and for working on outdoor projects since they are cheap and if one gets dropped or damaged it wouldn’t cost too much to replace it.  Sometimes these shorter range radios just aren’t enough when communications require greater distances.  These radios are very common and are a favorite among children so you may occasionally hear others talking to one another which can sometimes interfere with your communications.

If you would like to have a radio with many more available frequencies and higher transmitting power with a greater operating range then perhaps you should consider becoming a licensed Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) which would allow you to legally transmit on Amateur Band frequencies.

A great and affordable little dual-band portable ham radio is the BaoFeng UV-5R Plus with 4 watts of transmitting power (on high) these radios could provide much greater communication distances than FRS/GMRS radios.  Also, as a licensed ham you would have the opportunity to use repeaters which could increase your communication distances over vast areas.

I just purchased two TYT TH-UVF1 Handheld VHF/UHF Dualband Amateur Radios which have a little more power than the BaoFeng, they also have an FM Broadcast band tuner which automatically mutes when a call comes in on the radio, so you can listen to music without worry of missing an important call and they can cover FRS/GMRS, MURS and National Weather Service frequencies so you can monitor what’s going on in your area.

All of these radios work great for their various purposes and I would recommend any one of them depending on your needs and budget.  Just be sure to obtain an Amateur Radio License if you plan to transmit on the amateur bands, it’s a fun skill to learn and having a license allows you to do so much more.

It’s also a good idea to keep a radio in your vehicle’s glove box just in case you ever have engine problems, a flat tire, or an accident.  You never know when you might find yourself in a situation where your cell phone doesn’t work and you may need to make a call for assistance, and if you ever go on a road trip with multiple vehicles these radios can be a fun way to communicate with your group or with others that you may meet along the way.