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#222235 - 04/25/11 12:13 AM Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage?
Bingley Offline

Registered: 02/27/08
Posts: 1474
My cell phone company's coverage is fine in cities and on major roads, but it's rather poor in out-of-the-way places (tiny towns, on country roads, state parks, etc.). What would be a good back up emergency plan for a road trip? How can I communicate in an emergency?

I've thought about getting a pre-paid phone from a company with a better coverage for road trips and such. (Wal Mart and other big box stores seem to sell these for a reasonable price.) I assume these phones will have the same coverage as the regular phones from the same company. That would be useful if I have to call for roadside service, 911, etc.

Satellite phones seem quite expensive. Likewise, a personal locator beacon seems a bit of an overkill for a well-visited state park. (Maybe I'll grow adventurous, but for now I can't see myself going beyond the comfortable touristy routes.)

Do you see potential problems with using pre-paid phones with better coverage? Are there better ideas out there?


Da Bing

#222237 - 04/25/11 12:27 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
hikermor Online   content
Geezer in Chief

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7531
Loc: southern Cal
Coverage maps are available for the various networks that indicate where reception is or is not available. Consumers Reports has accurate information as well on this topic, as well.

Where specifically do you plan to go? I am not sure which state parks you will be visiting, but many of those I know are often not tremendously isolated, and they are typically rather well developed, to the extent that land lines are typically available. They usually feature friendly cooperative staffs who will come to your aid.

I have used Verizon with great satisfaction for about seven or eight years. I have been able to get out, even from places where reception should not have been available. My understanding is that Verizon has the most comprehensive network to date.

I go well back into the pre-cell phone era, when you jolly well could not communicate at will if things got tight. You just had to deal with the problem. That is still the best strategy.
Geezer in Chief

#222239 - 04/25/11 12:30 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
Famdoc Offline

Registered: 04/29/09
Posts: 141
Loc: PA
If your provider is AT&T, and if your have an iPhone, which usually uses their relatively snappy 3G network (with the even faster 4G coming sometime), then your can turn off the 3G and talk over much larger areas of the USA on their older and slower but much more wider coverage area EDGE network.

Go to Settings>General>Network>Enable3G and turn that to off. In a few seconds you will see the "3G" in the upper left hand corner of the screen be replaced by a bold leter "E" (for EDGE)

I've used this switch back to the older network once so far when the phone said I otherwise had no service. Also texting will sometimes get through even when voice won't.

#222243 - 04/25/11 12:45 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
Squatch Offline

Registered: 09/17/10
Posts: 1
Loc: Virginia
I would consider a Ham Radio license. Repeaters are set-up across the country for VHF/UHF coverage. Just a thought www.arrl.org.

#222244 - 04/25/11 12:55 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Squatch]
kd7fqd Offline

Registered: 08/07/05
Posts: 359
Loc: Saratoga Springs,Utah,USA
I second, get a ham license the coverage from 2 meter repeaters across the country is fantastic. We have a repeater system in Utah called "Cactus" goes from West Texas to Montana, (it's in the shape of a Saguaro Cactus)
EDC: Samsung Galaxy Note 2,DR PSK, Swiss Army Champ, Leatherman Blast
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#222246 - 04/25/11 01:18 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Squatch]
rescueguru Offline

Registered: 09/02/06
Posts: 119
Loc: Southeastern USA
I have carried two cellular devices for several years because of problems like the aforementioned. One on the "V" network and another on a network that features a push to talk type service. Both have advantages and disadvantages noted as I have traveled across the southeastern US and beyond. I am a licensed amateur (ham) as well and the largest problems noted isn't the availability of the repeaters, but the availability of people listening. As an example, I attempt to make contact with the local hams on local repeaters as I travel to new or even familiar areas, often times to no avail. The repeaters are up and listening, but no one else seems to be. However, I will continue this because I realize that when stuff happens, Ham radio may be all thats left. Been there, seen that. Additionally, learning the necessary skills and technical information to pass the test makes one aware of the proximity of amateur frequencies to public safety bands that are monitored continually. In a life or death situation, "ya do what ya gotta do". Bottom line is that there is no one "best fix" for everyone, and no system is perfect.
Forever... A long time to be dead!
Staunch advocate of the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments

#222247 - 04/25/11 01:26 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
bacpacjac Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 05/05/07
Posts: 3601
Loc: Ontario, Canada
This question has been on my mind a lot over the past year, Bingley. I gave up my blackberry about a year ago and have been cel phoneless ever since. It does make me uneasy sometimes.

In and near urban centres, it's only been an issue of convenience. There's almost always someone around who can help.

I haven't soloed in a wilderness setting during this time, and have always had another adult with me who's always had a cel. Sometimes, though, we haven't had coverage. We take our Scouts on an annual week long portaging trip, and cel phone service is spotty at best. We're taking a SPOT with us this year, mostly in case of a medical emergency.

My back-up plan has been intinery planning and filing. Where are you going? What's your route? What stops are you planning? When will you be back? Make as detailed a plan as possible and give copies to several people, including a copy of your map. Then stick to your plan. That way, if you're late, someone can call in the calvary and they'll know where to look. Same goes for your daily commute, check-in before you embark and be predictable.

Edited by bacpacjac (04/25/11 11:27 AM)
Mom & Adventurer

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#222248 - 04/25/11 01:31 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
chaosmagnet Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/03/09
Posts: 3570
Loc: USA
There's nothing wrong with carrying a prepaid phone on a different carrier for improved possibility of getting a call through. Like anything else, it's a cost/benefit analysis that I can't help you make unless I know where you're going and what the coverage is supposed to be like there.

Calls to 911 calls may go through when your phone reads "no signal" if a competing carrier is available -- in the US the law requires all carriers to accept 911 calls even if a phone isn't activated. On the minus side, different carriers now use different incompatible technologies, so "no signal" really can mean that you're out of luck.

Texting often will get through when voice doesn't. This has worked for me countless times. In an emergency it's certainly worth trying.

I carry an iPhone. They're supposed to fall back to EDGE service when 3G isn't available, something I've used successfully many times. Since 3G and EDGE are the data services, neither is supposed to have an effect on voice availability.

There were two times, before I carried a cellphone, that I tried to use a Ham radio HT to communicate in an emergency. Neither time was I successful. That's not to say that it doesn't work when repeaters are available and people are listening, but when you consider the time, effort, and money required to get a Ham license and an HT, I'd sooner recommend a PLB.

#222251 - 04/25/11 07:39 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
quick_joey_small Offline

Registered: 01/13/09
Posts: 540
Loc: UK
>Likewise, a personal locator beacon seems a bit of an overkill for >a well-visited state park. (Maybe I'll grow adventurous, but for >now I can't see myself going beyond the comfortable touristy >routes.)

Just one wrong turning and you are very soon somewhere that will kill you on a cold night. Don't assume it's safe because it's in a park. In 'Deep Survival' (can't recommend it enough) the author explains how him and his girlfriend went for a 'half hour walk' from their hotel. Hours later it was getting dark, they had nothing but their cotton clothes and a 3 day ice storm was settling in....
(by they way he mentions the answer to the question on another thread about 'is it better to be undressed?': get out of wet cotton! mountain rescue call it 'death cloth')

At least carry a whistle and flares.
I just bought a phone at Carphone Warehouse (in England) for 12.95p. That included 10 of credit. It was already unlocked, so I could throw in another companies chip. AND had a torch and radio buit in! I call it 'my smart phone' because getting a phone for 2.95 is smart. :-)
Paying hundreds a month so you can show off your photos is: well good luck for you if you have that much money to spend on trifles.

#222262 - 04/25/11 01:43 PM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
comms Offline

Registered: 07/23/08
Posts: 1502
Loc: Mesa, AZ
Well, my iPhone sucks on coverage. I workout in a state park a few times a week and I know exactly where my coverage works and won't. It takes me between 1-2 miles longer coming out of there. I have been to the tops of mountains and into the Grand Canyon with friends with other networks and they have voice and text ability and AT&T won't. I have to use their phones.

I have tried the 'send text with no service' thing to see if it would send through anyway on a weak signal and it has never worked. Tried maybe 50x. On the iPhone the text will display w/ a red dot with exclamation point indicating that it did not go through. I have to resend it once i get coverage.

I carry a SPOT2 with custom message or set up codes for what each OK Message means; for example if I am going to the park to swim and then ride my bike, the first OK my wife gets means I am no longer swimming. Second OK means I am done riding and heading home. Then she knows I always call her once I am back into range.
Don't just survive. Thrive.

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