Overland communications: My current solution

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Gryf

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TLDR: Wife and I wanted a way to talk to groups without use needing to become radio operators. I programmed the Rugged Radio defaults & GMRS channels 17-22 on my hand held radios. If you want to know the logic please read on.

I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and influence. I haven't "solved" the communications item but I have a solution I picked at least for the short term. I thought I would share it with y'all and collect any thoughts you might have.

For our first overnight group trip we went with a fairly large group (13 vehicles) through Death Valley on Thanksgiving weekend. Really great group of people from OB. We did not have a unified radio system for the group. I picked up some used pofung GT-5 radios in the hopes I could connect with the group. There were two members of the group that had Baofungs and channel was suggested 151.xxx (can't remember the rest). The rest of the group used either CB or the little family walkie talkies.

The trip was great but for the most part Laura and I were chatting in the truck and not talking with the rest of the group. It made it difficult for bio-breaks , stopping and looking at scenery, historical items, etc. I think we all would have had a bit more fun and seen more if we had that.

Around the campfire we talked a lot about radios and how we could improve this. Rugged Radios came up a lot as a brand due to their support of off roading in general. In post trip conversations some of the group look like they're pulling the trigger on the rugged radio as a solution since they provide a stable format and channel system like a CB with the advantages of range and clarity.

Once I got home I dug into what rugged was doing. From my research they're simply taking radios, of whatever manufacture, and programming them with the standard MURS, FRS/GMRS and weather frequencies. It seems a GMRS license allows one to use their entire frequency range (please correct me if I am wrong).

I decided to program my cheap radios to operate with all the frequencies they use as well as the GMRS channels 17-22. This will us to operate with the FRS walkie talkies, listen to weather, and communicate on the GMRS and MURS frequencies. The only glaring hole is CB communications and that is easily remedied with a used CB radio if we need to.

Since ya made it to the bottoms I expect you'll have some thoughts, criticisms or comments. I'd love to hear them so I can better flesh out a strategy for communication that connects me with the world and doesn't break the bank in time or resources.
 

Graeman

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I have a Midland GMRS radio installed in the 4runner and a hand held Motorola GMRS radio for other to use when we are trail riding. I have the same problem with the group that I usually ride with - cb, ham, frs, gmrs, honk the horn, flash the lights, etc.. It is hard to get everyone on the same piece of equipment.
 
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TerryD

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You can research all the frequencies for each service and what's required to use them. All that is available online.

Stick with GMRS and FRS. They share frequencies.

RR is a sore spot as they put frequencies in their over priced gear that you have to be licensed to be on without regard for the havoc those people cause folks who are licensed and using the frequencies legally and responsibly.
 
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Gryf

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You can research all the frequencies for each service and what's required to use them. All that is available online.

Stick with GMRS and FRS. They share frequencies.

RR is a sore spot as they put frequencies in their over priced gear that you have to be licensed to be on without regard for the havoc those people cause folks who are licensed and using the frequencies legally and responsibly.
I would imagine there is some controversy about this. Correct me if I'm wrong but with a GMRS license you can operate on the frequencies they program.

However there are other areas of hobby use that have kinda solved these issues. On my motorcycle i have an item that has close to a 6 mile range and has a dynamic network setup where I people can drop in and drop out, has standard channels/frequencies and is pretty easy to setup. I really don't understand why we cannot purchase higher powered radios with these capabilities for overlanding.

I want a radio that:
  • I turn on
  • Pair with all the other members of my group. Think bluetooth type thing
  • Gives everyone in the group now a drop in/drop out network
How difficult is this really?
 

Kent R

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@brian can you help this member out?
 

TerryD

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Correct me if I'm wrong but with a GMRS license you can operate on the frequencies they program.
I wouldn't bet on it but I'd have to see the list of frequencies. At one point in time not long ago they were putting in Amateur repeater frequencies which caused quite a stink.
 

TerryD

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However there are other areas of hobby use that have kinda solved these issues. On my motorcycle i have an item that has close to a 6 mile range and has a dynamic network setup where I people can drop in and drop out, has standard channels/frequencies and is pretty easy to setup. I really don't understand why we cannot purchase higher powered radios with these capabilities for overlanding.

I want a radio that:
  • I turn on
  • Pair with all the other members of my group. Think bluetooth type thing
  • Gives everyone in the group now a drop in/drop out network
How difficult is this really?
I would have to see what that system you are talking about is to comment on it, but that sounds like something working on the cell networks, which there are many programs that will do similar things if you are in cell phone range.

As for the difficulty, it seems pretty hard. I would think going to Wal-Mart and grabbing a $30 pair of FRS radios that don't require a license to use and simply putting batteries in them and reading the manual so you can make changes to the privacy tones would be super simple for folks and everyone would have communication. However you'll find guys who still insist on going through the hassle and expense of CBs.

I have my GMRS license and I'm a Ham. I carry a hand held CB and FRS radios as well. What I've found is most folks just think owning the radio is enough to use it and won't read the book on them to learn how to operate them. Heck, I know at least a hand full of Hams that can't make changes to their own radios. That's a sad situation folks. Comms is like any other tool in your kit, if you don't know how to use it, it's basically just an expensive hammer....

Is there a list of the Rigged Radios freqs I can look at?
 

TerryD

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What a quick search turned up was that RR is programming those radios with a lot of frequencies that are licensed to companies in the "business band" and are not for general population use unless you are associated with those companies. Comparing the list I found with band listings from the FCC for business and MURS it looks like more of the same old thing. Their way of getting out of litigation when you are found on bands you aren't licensed for and possibly prosecuted by the FCC, is a disclaimer at the bottom of the product sheets I saw on their website.
 
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Gryf

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I would have to see what that system you are talking about is to comment on it, but that sounds like something working on the cell networks, which there are many programs that will do similar things if you are in cell phone range.
Doesn't work on cell at all. I honestly don't know the radio channel/frequencies it works on but it has a digital pairing capability.

The motorcycle system I am speaking of: https://www.twowayradiotalk.com/cardo-scala-rider-packtalk-review/

A real road test of that system: https://www.rideapart.com/articles/247439/packtalk-saves-the-day-a-first-ride-with-cardos-new-communication-system/

I have my GMRS license and I'm a Ham. I carry a hand held CB and FRS radios as well. What I've found is most folks just think owning the radio is enough to use it and won't read the book on them to learn how to operate them. Heck, I know at least a hand full of Hams that can't make changes to their own radios. That's a sad situation folks. Comms is like any other tool in your kit, if you don't know how to use it, it's basically just an expensive hammer....
So, not to be controversial, but I believe this thinking is the heart of the matter. We use a lot of tools we use with no understanding and no need for understanding.

I guess the FRS radios are the current answer. I just wish it were a more robust solution.

Oh, rugged radio frequency list: https://www.ruggedradios.com/PDF/Frequencies/Frequency-RH7X.pdf

And what I read about MURS: https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/bureau-divisions/mobility-division/multi-use-radio-service-murs
 

TerryD

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Notice on the FCC page for MURS that it only has 5 frequencies that you can use unlicensed. The rest of the band is allocated to businesses who have paid for the license to use the frequency and that varies region to region based on who licenses it in what are. For example, the station I hear at 93.9 on my FM radio probably isn't the same station that you do because they are licensed to different people in different regions because for the most part, propagation of those frequencies are pretty limited the majority of the time and the FCC maintains minimum separation distances between stations with the same frequency licensed.

151.820 MHz
151.880 MHz
151.940 MHz
154.570 MHz
154.600 MHz

The motorcycle headset thing appears to only work (per company website) to about a mile. I would guess that it's on a wifi frequency, 2.4GHz or maybe 5GHz and since it works like a mesh network, you as the rear bike are not actually talking directly to the lead bike. Your message is relayed through each unit till it reaches the lead bike. So you could have (per company website) about 3/4 of a mile between each bike and cover 8 miles, but each individual unit will only do about 3300' reliably.
 

Prerunner1982

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Just some of the channels programmed into the RR radios that are in the business band and some of the entities who are actually licensed to them.

1 WTHRMN 151.625

2701 Licensed users. Including: Union Pacific, FCA US, Subaru, University of Oklahoma, NM State University, BP, Exxon, Boeing, Vertex standard (Yaesu ham radios), UPS


2 BFGRLY 151.715

1243 Licensed users. Including: Many school districts, City/State agencies, McDonalds, and various businesses.


3 BAJAPTS 154.980

644 License users. Including: State, City, County, Police and Fire for States all over the country.


4 NETWORK 151.685

1232 Licensed users. Including: American Airlines, School districts and Universities, Costco, fast food restaurants.


5 CHECKRS 151.925

1178 License users. Including: Verizon, Haliburton, Hospitals, City/State, Schools/Colleges, various businesses.


6 FAIR 150.860

127 License users. Including: Hospitals, automotive, schools.


7 YOKOHAM 153.110

396 License users. Including: Exxon, Marathon Oil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, NBC Telemundo, FCA US, CBS, Clear Channel, various other TV/Radio.


8 RUGGED RELAY 152.960

653 Licensed users. Including: Various Oil/Gas companies, Concrete companies, Kingsford Charcoal, many farms, Urgent Ambulance service, schools.


9 CHKRS 2 151.505

1736 Licensed users. Including: UPS, Construction companies, Conoco, Phillips 66, Exxon, Goodyear, AM General, T-Mobile, Tampa Bay Search and Rescue & REACT. Denali Off Road club holds a license for their members.


10 BFGPITS 153.395

282 Licensed users. Including: FCA US, Northrop Grumman, Dow Corning, Oil/Gas, farms, Tyson foods, Kroger, Oklahoma State University, Boeing.


11 MAG 7 153.380

295 Licensed users. Including: GE, PPG Paints, Ford, Trane, Citgo, 3M, Green Bay Packaging, Valero, Yokohama Tires, OK State, University of Texas Permian Basin, Idaho Power Company, New Hampshire, Electric Coop, IBM.



12 RESCUE 155.160

1133 Licensed Users. Including: National Ski Patrol, many search and rescue teams, many municipalities, schools, and hospitals.


13 CORE 153.245

227 Licensed Users. Including: Sinclair, Exxon, Dow Corning, Northrop Grumman, 3M, Volvo Trucks, Nestle Purina, various manufacturing companies, Dana (axles), many schools, municipalities.


14 PRIVATE 156.675

117 Licensed Users. Including: Municipalities, Chevron, Shell, towing companies, oil/gas, many maritime businesses,


15 SANDLMO 152.510

53 Licensed Users. Including: Communication companies, Telephone companies,


16 PCI RLY 154.515

1738 Licensed Users. Including: Municipalities, many Hospitals, many schools, Fastfood.


17 BITD 151.490

540 Licensed Users. Including: Oregon State Forestry, Nevada Dept of Wildlife, State of Arizona, Penn State Police, State of California, farms, NH State Dept of Corrections, City/County, State of Maine Info Tech, Texas DOT, schools, State of Washington, State of West Virginia, Lockheed Martin,


18 KOH 1 157.450

200 Lincesed Users. Including: many hospitals, schools, City/County, State of New Jersey, City of New York, State of Colorado, State of California, State of New Mexico, LA County, State of Nebraska.
 
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Gryf

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Interesting on the headset being such limited range. I knew in the group they acted as repeaters but thought the individual range was much greater. I must have just been lucky to consistently pick up my buddy when we were leaving our houses to meet since they were about 1 mile apart as the crow flys.

Thanks for all the information. I guess it's simply best to stick with GMRS and go with that.
 
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Interesting on the headset being such limited range. I knew in the group they acted as repeaters but thought the individual range was much greater. I must have just been lucky to consistently pick up my buddy when we were leaving our houses to meet since they were about 1 mile apart as the crow flys.

Thanks for all the information. I guess it's simply best to stick with GMRS and go with that.
Sorry to have not jumped in earlier. as for an OLB position we recommend Ham first GMRS second then others. You already have gotten an earful about the rugged radios so I wont go into that, but one thing about GMRS that might help with your need for a way to share frequencies with others on the trail is GMRS radios only have channels and tones you don't get to program in frequencies so its easy to tell everyone in your group go to ch __ and tone__. The OLB starting GMRS ch is 15 because it is the first one that we can talk on a higher power on.
We at Overland Bound are working very hard to get a common communications system that might include Ham and GMRS, at the top of the forum you can see we have posted our channel/frequency recommendations also if you click on that header it will take you to some more radio info.
 

Gryf

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Thanks Kent. I have tried to follow this a bit from a prior thread.

Candidly I'm trying to figure out how to get reliable comms without needing to study and take a test. Both the wife and I would need to do it to operate.

BTW, does a HAM license cover FRS/GMRS frequencies? Get a HAM license and don't need a GMRS license?
 

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No, I'm afraid you have to have both licenses to use them both.
Ham license only gets you Ham frequencies.
GMRS only gets you GMRS.
They are separate services and have different rules. There is also no cross-banding from one to the other and they are not interoperable.

BUT, there is NO test for GMRS and one license covers you and your wife both for 10 years.
 
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Kent R

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FRS&GMRS channels are duplicated to a point, you do not need a lic for FRS it is very low power and not good for our comms. Your GMRS lic is good for your whole immediate family.

In the West region even though it is not legal most hams program GMRS Ch 15 into their portable radios just so when there is a convoy they can make sure everyone talks to each other.

Obviously this is a very complex problem and we are working to help our members be as safe as possible on the trail so that being said watch for further info for our ham/comms committee in the near future.

Dont hesitate to message me if you have any further questions @Kent R
 
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Mark D

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Ok! This thread has been very interesting. Thank you to everyone who has commented. We use FRS or CB when we travel. It has been my experience that both are only good for a mile or two as long as there are no obstacles. I can not get everyone in our group into HAM licenses so it looks like, from reading this thread, that the GMRS would be the best option? What kind of range can I expect from GMRS radios? I know wattage is a key to range and I see GMRS radios on Amazon that claim “30 mile range”....am I correct that any 5 watt radio is going to have a range of about a mile, maybe two?
 

TerryD

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Different frequencies propagate differently at different times. The higher frequencies will work better for line of sight and certain ranges are more likely to "bounce" off things like mountains and talk around ridges, CB not being one of those bands. GMRS will work better than CB MOST of the time. A vehicle mounted antenna system works better than a HT.

GMRS uses FM modulation that is clearer and doesn't' waste power on the carrier like CB's AM does. You'll have to play with them and see how it works out for you but I much prefer GMRS to CB and try to push for it's use locally since you can talk to folks with just FRS radios as well so everyone can talk, whether or not they have the GMRS license and no one has to install a CB antenna.

90% of the CB issues I've come across in trying to help people set theirs up is that they don't want to remove paint from mounts or vehicles to get the contact they need for the antenna to operate properly. Beyond that it gets into tuning issues and then longevity issues with having to remove and clean connections regularly to maintain good operation. It's not cell phone simple and most folks are looking for the easy way out.
 
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Kent R

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Ok! This thread has been very interesting. Thank you to everyone who has commented. We use FRS or CB when we travel. It has been my experience that both are only good for a mile or two as long as there are no obstacles. I can not get everyone in our group into HAM licenses so it looks like, from reading this thread, that the GMRS would be the best option? What kind of range can I expect from GMRS radios? I know wattage is a key to range and I see GMRS radios on Amazon that claim “30 mile range”....am I correct that any 5 watt radio is going to have a range of about a mile, maybe two?[/QUOTE
Correct on the 5 watt depending on terrain. GMRS will give you several high power channels helping with range.
 

Todd & Meg

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Ok! This thread has been very interesting. Thank you to everyone who has commented. We use FRS or CB when we travel. It has been my experience that both are only good for a mile or two as long as there are no obstacles. I can not get everyone in our group into HAM licenses so it looks like, from reading this thread, that the GMRS would be the best option? What kind of range can I expect from GMRS radios? I know wattage is a key to range and I see GMRS radios on Amazon that claim “30 mile range”....am I correct that any 5 watt radio is going to have a range of about a mile, maybe two?
I have just been looking into radios a lot lately. And there is no easy answer. I have no experience with any of these radios it all just what I read and saw online.

There is no way to get 30+ miles on a hand held FRS or GMRS radio. just not going to happen. Now I saw a video where two guys had Midland mobile GMRS 40 watt radios and 6 Db gain antennas and were able to get around 35 miles. But that was mostly over water along the coast. those radios can use repeaters but most all repeaters are in and around cities. Not much help to an overlander. So the fact that some radios can use repeaters is a not a factor.

After all I've read this is what I've settled on. (for now at least, it might change) In the Jeep I'll get a Midland MXT115 with upgraded antenna. Maybe a MXT400 but it is more money, so most likely not. for hand held probably a BTECH GMRS-V1 radio, seems to be better than the blister pack hand held you get from Midland, Crobra, Etc.

I was thinking about Ham but that is another hobby I don't need. And It was mostly for emergency help. But you still have the problem is someone going to hear you call? Is there going to be repeater you can reach in the middle of nowhere? That is why I'll pair the GMRS radios with an In-reach.

Todd