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#222765 - 05/03/11 12:48 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
Another cel phone network might help but it would be just as wise to find other non-cel phone solutions for back-up. My experience with temporary gps disruptions on two different cel phone networks really brought that point home for me this weekend. Don't count on it because it can fail.
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#223035 - 05/06/11 05:19 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: rescueguru]
Bingley Offline
Veteran

Registered: 02/27/08
Posts: 1415
Originally Posted By: rescueguru
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.


I am seriously considering getting a ham license. It seems to be a good idea in case of emergencies, not just on the road. If a tornado comes through my neighborhood and knocks out cell towers and internet, ham will help me stay connected to the outside. So on the road, how would one ask for help through ham? If you can find someone listening, you ask him/her to call the cops/towing service for you?

From looking at various ham websites, I gather that you can have a portable handset (i.e., do not need a whole bunch of machine plus antenna in order to talk). Is this correct? I'll have to get started studying for the exam.

What worries me most is what Rescueguru said about the lack of people listening in. That kind of defeats the purpose.

Prepaid phones are not cost-effective, as I discovered. I don't travel all that much. Spending $15 or $30 per month just to keep an account active doesn't make sense. Maybe I need to invest in a good smoke signal kit... *sigh*


Da Bing

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#223050 - 05/06/11 12:37 PM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
chaosmagnet Offline
Sheriff
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/03/09
Posts: 3270
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Bingley

I am seriously considering getting a ham license. It seems to be a good idea in case of emergencies, not just on the road. If a tornado comes through my neighborhood and knocks out cell towers and internet, ham will help me stay connected to the outside. So on the road, how would one ask for help through ham? If you can find someone listening, you ask him/her to call the cops/towing service for you?

From looking at various ham websites, I gather that you can have a portable handset (i.e., do not need a whole bunch of machine plus antenna in order to talk). Is this correct? I'll have to get started studying for the exam.


I'm a licensed ham.

Short-range handheld radios are available and popular. Before cellphones, hams developed the concept of the repeater. It's basically a radio with a big antenna that hears what you're saying on one frequency and retransmits it in realtime on another, greatly increasing the range that two (or more) people can talk.

Hams who operate repeaters understand their utility during natural disasters, and many repeaters have backup generators. Hams also frequently use mobile repeaters when operating in the field.

On the road, you would consult your handy-dandy list of repeaters in the area, tune in to one, and ask for assistance. If someone is listening you'll get a response. There are also simplex (direct, non-repeater) frequencies that folks monitor.

I consider a ham HT to be a poor second to a cellphone for almost everywhere I go. I'd buy a PLB before getting a ham license and buying an HT for emergency communications.

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#223287 - 05/10/11 02:23 AM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: chaosmagnet]
Bingley Offline
Veteran

Registered: 02/27/08
Posts: 1415
OK, looks like ham radio is not a good solution. At least it would provide some food in emergency (ha ha).

I started looking into two possibilities:

1. Cell signal booster. This works better for car travel, since it requires antenna installation, etc. However, lacking electronics knowledge, I am unable to translate manufacturer specs into something I understand. The gain is measured in decibels. Is a gain of 40 db enough to cover me on most road travel? Does anyone know this?

2. Tracfone (Blast's recommendation) seems cheaper than other prepaid phones. If you buy 400 minutes for $100, you don't need to pay any more fees to keep the phone active for a year. Tracfone uses CDMA and GSM, but you don't get to choose. Your location determines the variety. Their GSM carrier seems to be AT&T, the the CDMA carrier Verizon. So current AT&T customers might not see much of an improvement. Tracfone phones are not terribly fancy, so they might not be able to pull in weak signal.


Da Bing

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#223319 - 05/10/11 02:11 PM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
chaosmagnet Offline
Sheriff
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/03/09
Posts: 3270
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Bingley
1. Cell signal booster. This works better for car travel, since it requires antenna installation, etc. However, lacking electronics knowledge, I am unable to translate manufacturer specs into something I understand. The gain is measured in decibels. Is a gain of 40 db enough to cover me on most road travel? Does anyone know this?


Decibels are a logarithmic scale. In the radio world, 40db gain is huge. Keep in mind that power increase does not scale in a linear fashion with range where terrain is a factor.

The rule is that one dollar of antenna is worth ten dollars worth of amplifier. There are cell signal boosters that have a little antenna on the inside of a car, with a larger antenna on the outside. These tend to work well if they're designed for the cellular technology that your phone uses (CDMA, GSM, etc).

Quote:
2. Tracfone (Blast's recommendation) seems cheaper than other prepaid phones. If you buy 400 minutes for $100, you don't need to pay any more fees to keep the phone active for a year.


What's the cost difference between a Tracfone and a PLB?

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#223321 - 05/10/11 02:13 PM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
Pete Offline
Veteran

Registered: 02/20/09
Posts: 1372
Alternate solution .. buy yourself a SPOT device that is used for emergency signals. Although intended primarily for emergencies, the SPOT also works for other purposes. You can use it in different ways.

The SPOT has several buttons on it. You can use the "SOS" for really serious situations, and if you subscribe to "roadside assistance" then there is also a separate button that you can use to summon help specifically for breakdowns.

In addition, the SPOT has an "OK" button that you use to send a message that you are indeed OK. And it also has a "Custom" button. Both the "OK" and the "Custom" buttons allow you to send a pre-programmed message by satellite that will get routed as text messages to peoples' cell phones. Furthermore, you can go online to the SPOT service (www.findmespot.com) and change these pre-programmed messages whenever you like.

I have found by using this system that it is very convenient, and you can be smart in how you tailor the messages on SPOT to suit your own individual needs. The important thing to know is that you can use it to transmit a variety of messages, and they come through as text to peoples' cell phones.

Pete #2


Edited by Pete (05/10/11 02:14 PM)

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#223327 - 05/10/11 03:43 PM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: Bingley]
comms Offline
Veteran

Registered: 07/23/08
Posts: 1502
Loc: Mesa, AZ
Pete,

After much debate on what PLB to purchase a few years ago, I went with the SPOT2. People of course comment on it not being a 'real' PLB or because it's run by a private company that's inherently evil and full of error.

I like my SPOT2, my DW loves me using the SPOT2.

I do a lot of training in no phone service territory. I carry the SPOT2 and establish a series of communication based on the OK message I send to DW. For example, if I am running and swimming, the first OK is that I am done running. The 2nd is that I am done swimming and heading back to grid and will call as soon as I can.

For some of my longer run or riding days, I set the TRACK feature and leave the Share page up so that DW and son can follow my progress in real time.

So, +1 on SPOT2
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#223337 - 05/10/11 05:40 PM Re: Back up plan for poor cell phone coverage? [Re: comms]
hikermor Online   content
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7155
Loc: southern Cal
I was doing a short volunteer project on San Miguel Island (Channel Islands National Park) a while back. Only the ranger and I were on the island, and he was called away unexpectedly. Before he left, he showed, and demonstrated for me, the island's SPOT.

Frequently on that island, and others as well in the park, one could be the only person on the island. Even with a radio, SPOT makes sense. I carried the gadget, even tough I was rarely out of sight of the ranger station.

I am put off by the need for a subscription service, and it yet another electronic widget to cart around, but, hey, it is officially endorsed by a federal agency. It is cheaper than losing rangers.
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