We just took a look at non-FCC License Dependent Communications, including use expectations and purchase considerations. Today, we begin examining FCC license dependent communications devices.
FCC License Dependent Communications
GMRS radios operate on the same frequencies as FRS along with a number of additional channels. They can use up to 50 watts, and the FCC allows for better antennas and repeaters. GMRS will require a license. No test is needed, and the FCC license covers all residents of a household. On last check, the license cost $85 dollars. Pros and cons, along with distance, are similar to FRS, with the exception of additional power, use of repeaters, and better antennas. (See FRS radios for details.)
Amateur Radio – Ham Radio
Ham Radio Overview
Ham radio covers frequencies ranging from 135 kHz to above 275 GHz (as of March 28, 2017). The range of frequencies is immense and covers a wide range of possible communications distances. In addition to the features of each band of frequencies, Ham radio operators have access to satellite-based communications and EME (Earth Moon Earth) bouncing. EME is a technique where signals are bounded off of the moon to a distant location. As long as both antennas can point to the moon at the same time, this can greatly extend range (though it requires significant amounts of power and special antennas). Satellite access is typically setup as a repeater and/or APRS. (See below for information on APRS.) It is even possible to chat with astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) when they are overhead and on their Ham radio.
Various Ham Radio Methods of Communicating
Methods of communicating over frequencies vary too. They can include Analog AM/FM, Digital Voice, packets, TCP/IP, texting, email, file transfer, and CW (Morse Code), to list just a few. There are even Internet integration technologies, such as D-Star and Echolink, that will allow you to use software on your computer or radio to connect over the Internet to repeaters across the world. Ham radios can be combined with GPS and Internet gateways to send text messages to cellphones and email accounts from a handheld two-way radio. Winlink and other programs can send out email from your computer without Internet access, by using radio waves to carry the email to a remote email server or radio to radio.
As for encryption, there are several opinions of the law around this. Some say you can’t use encryption, and some point to sections of the FCC laws that describe the need to document your method of encryption but not your decryption keys. Since I’m not a lawyer, I won’t advise either way. I will note that a popular method of emailing via radio called Winlink does uses encryption. Winlink is used for both emergency and normal Ham radio communications.
Different Ham Radio Classes of License
Different classes of license have different levels of access to these methods on specific bands. Some bands are better for distance at different times of the day or night. Almost all are impacted by the solar cycle and sunspots.
Day vs night communications are all about bouncing radio waves off of the ionosphere. There is some impact with ground waves; however, it mostly concerns what layer of the ionosphere absorbs and reflects what frequency. Since the layers change between day and night, the absorption and reflection will change for each frequency.
- Higher is the larger number in meters, not MHz (i.e. 30, 40, 60, 80 meters are higher than 20 meters).
- 10.1 MHz (30 Meter band) and higher are better for night time.
- 14 MHz (20 Meter band and below – to 12 meters) are better in the daytime.
- 28 MHz (10 Meter band and lower to 6 Meters) are better in the daytime, and they are very close to line of site propagation. Sky wave propagation has an impact but usually not during a solar minimum (or the 2017 current solar maximum).
- 144 MHz (2 Meters and lower) are line of sight and not really impacted by day/night differences.
Groundwave Distances and Frequency
Groundwave is what it sounds like. The radio wave spreads out along the ground, from the source antenna. This happens in parallel to sky wave propagation. The difference between groundwave and line of sight is that when a radio wave is about 6 meters or longer, it starts to follow the curve of the earth. For 6 meters, this curve past the horizon is minimal. For 160 meter waves, it can be out to distances near 100 miles. The following distances are very rough guidelines. Also note that these distances do not include sky wave distances. These are literally ground wave only approximations under good conditions.
- 1.8 MHz (160 Meters) 90 miles
- 3.5 MHz (80 Meters) 70 miles
- 7 MHz (40 Meters) & 10 MHz (30 Meters) 40 miles
- 14 MHz (20 Meters) 30 miles
- 21 MHz (15 Meters) 30 miles
- 28 MHz (10 Meters) 20 miles
When radio waves bounce off the ionosphere, they do so in an inverted “V” pattern, over and over again. At the point where the wave is in contact with the ionosphere, it is not in contact with the earth. Think of it as a ball bouncing. Where the ball hits the ground, you can communicate; when it is in the air you cannot. The exception of this bounce is when you are within the range of groundwave. This bounce distance varies, because of a few things: angle of takeoff (based on type and height of the antenna), day/night ionospheric absorption of the radio wave, and the shape of the ionospheric layer itself. Do not think of the ionosphere as a smooth line in the sky; think of it as bouncing radio waves off of a rolling sea.
Because of dead zones, ionospheric absorption, terrain, and distance, developing a communications plan for a survival situation is not so much a matter of just saying what radio we will use or what frequency/wavelength those radios will operate on, as it is about having layers of backup plans. What frequency and wavelength will you attempt communication over first, and at what time will that occur? If unsuccessful, what frequency/time will be attempted next?
Note: I live in central North Carolina, and I have a horrible (I mean stealth) antenna setup. Using 80 meters at night, I can communicate with the “VA fone net” (one of the oldest Ham radio “nets” in the country, and located in Virginia). This is with a G5RV antenna setup in my basement (NVIS with overhead obstacles) and wrapped around at odd angles. We are generally talking about a 200-300 mile distance before my signal gets too weak. I can hear people in Canada, New England, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. I’ve even seen packets come in from Cuba, Argentina, and Poland, but I cannot usually hear people 100 miles away.
Flexibility is the key to success here. Different distances vary based on what band/wavelength I am operating on and environmental conditions.
There’s more to sending and receiving data and voice over the airwaves than just an antenna and a radio. Before making any HF purchases, I recommend that you read the book Your First Amateur Radio HF Station from ARRL, ISBN: 978-1-62595-007-9. This book will give an excellent overview of what is needed and why and how to set it up.
Programming software allows you to store different configurations for your radios, and it gives you a way to clone this to other radios. For my VHF/UHF radios, I have presets saved for local repeaters and different presets for different areas when I travel. For example, when I have to drive up to my in-laws, I have a number of repeaters pre-saved in a file that covers repeaters along the travel route along with the repeaters that are local to my in-laws location. When I’m about to drive there, I apply that preset to my radio. When I return, I apply the local preset. This saves many hours of manual updating of radios. This also allows me to keep comments and channel numbers in sync between different types of radios, such as my ID-5100 and Baofeng Handhelds.
CHIRP is a free software program that works with many inexpensive radios. RT Systems cost money; however, it may cover a specific radio that CHIRP will not. Remember that programming software is not enough, and you will also have to get a programming cable. These cables are vendor specific and should not be confused with data cables.
When looking for a Ham radio to help in SHTF, keep in mind that the greatest range of frequencies gives you the most options. Many HF radios are listed as “general coverage”, and some include 50MHz (6 meters). General coverage means that the radio can usually receive all the way down into the AM radio range. It does not mean that it will send (TX) on AM radio frequencies. Some radios include HF/50MHz/VHF/UHF like the Kenwood TS2000, or IC-7100. Price can range from $500+ to $14,000 new, depending on what you want and your budget.
There are several single band radios for HF (usually 6 or 10 meter radios). I do not recommend them for anything other than a backup or fun. The frequencies are very limited. If you chose to get one, pay attention to the modulation it supports, because many of these radios are FM only.
SHTF HF Radio Features To Look For
Personally, for SHTF, I recommend the following features in a HF radio:
- Simple to use,
- As water resistant as possible,
- General coverage, and
- 100 watt HF/50MHz.
- Also, it should support CW/DATA/SSB/AM.
FM is not really used much on HF radios, except for 6 and 10 meter repeaters. Some radios include an onboard sound card that will let you plug it into your laptop for sending data. This keeps you from having to buy special HF modems. Models like the ***IC-7200***amazon.com/Icom-IC-7200-Amateur-Transceiver-Version/dp/B00F8G0QNC/ref= even have optional metal carry handles, fit in an Alice Pack, and can be ordered in OD green (looking almost like a PRC77).
Note About QRP
QRP radios are usually inexpensivem single frequency, single band or dial, and hope radios. Many are CW/Morse Code only, and power can be in the less than 1 watt or up to 10 watts. Some of these QRP are high end and will allow for integration of amplifiers, but you will pay for that at checkout. Some you can build yourself for under $10. Although these radios can work well when conditions are prefect, your setup matches, you got that antenna at the perfect height, and no one else is stepping on your signal, in general you will spend more time trying to talk than talking. I don’t recommend these for anything more than learning.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue with another FCC license dependent communications option and also look at components used to enhance performance of the devices we’ve discussed.
- 1 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
- 2 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
- 4 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
- 5 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part three of a five part entry for Round 73 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
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- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
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Round 73 ends on November 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.