Basic Radio Communications Service available in the USA.....

Discussion in 'Survival Communications' started by BTPost, Aug 24, 2011.


  1. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    This is written as Basic Information Post for those folks, just getting started in thinking about Personal, Family, and small Group Comms. The basic information presented here, is mostly universal, and can be used throughout the USA, and may even be available, in some form, to folks in other countries.

    I will break this topic into Close Neighborhood, (close = 10 Sq Miles) Neighborhood, (100 Sq Miles) State, National, and Worldwide Comms. We will also talk about non-Licensed, and Licensed Comms, as well as breaking the Comm types up by Frequency Bands, and Tx power levels. Some of these systems you may have heard of, and some are Alaska Specific.

    We can start out by setting a few Definitions, so that everyone is on the same Page. Above we have setup the first Five, which are for "Area of Operations" (AoO)
    1. Close Neighborhood = 10 Sq Miles around your site
    2. Neighborhood = 100 Sq. Miles around your site
    3. State = State of Alaska (which is a Darn BIG PLACE, and up to 3000 miles from one point to another) Your State IS smaller, but the results should be similar.
    4. Nation = USA (that is "Us", as opposed to, "Them")
    5. World = All the rest of those other folks, "Them"

    Now lets set some definitions of Radio Services that can be used to fill comm's needs
    1 . Unlicensed Services These are covered under FCC Blanket Licenses for ALL Us citizens, and no Station License, or Operators License, is needed or required.
    a. Part 15 Devices = "cheapo" 49 Mhz TwoWay Devices, Fm Broadcast Band devices, and Am Broadcast Band devices, etc.
    b. CBRS = Citizens Band Radio Service 27 Mhz
    c. FRS = Family Radio Service 460 Mhz
    d. MURS = Multi User Radio Service 156 Mhz
    e. iDen/ISM Cellular = ISM 900 Mhz (there is now a new Blog concerning these type devices published on
    SurvivalMonkey.com: An Interesting, SECURE, Comm's Device, for your CN-AoO
    f Marine = Maritime Mobile Radio Service (Unlicensed only for non-commercial Vessels, and Aircraft) 156 Mhz

    2. Licensed Radio Services Each of these Radio Services REQUIRES an FCC Station License to be applied for, and granted, before you can operate your system, and in some cases an OPERATORS PERMIT is also REQUIRED to Operate the Radio Station. If you can figure out how to fill out the Application Forms, and use all the right Buzz words, in all the right places, these Licenses are not to hard to get. It only takes TIME and MONEY.
    a. GMRS = General Mobile Radio Service 460 Mhz
    b. BRS = Business Radio Service 47 - 50 Mhz, 150 - 174 Mhz, 450 - 470 Mhz
    c. Marine = Marine Radio Service (License REQUIRED for a Land based Station) 2 - 30 Mhz, 156 Mhz
    e. Ham = Amateur Radio Service DC to Light Mhz

    3. Cellular type Services Licensing for these is done for you by the Carrier Service Provider, so nothing on your end is REQUIRED, Except MONEY for the Service.
    a. Cellular = Cellular Radio Service 800 Mhz
    b. PCS = Personal Communications Radio Service 1800-2000 Mhz
    Basically you can tell which of Radio Services can be used, in each of the five AoO's, by the Frequency they operate on, as distance will be in the most part dependent on Frequency and Tx Power.

    So let us look at "Close Neighborhood" first as this is likely where you need to start from anyway. This is what you may be using just around your place. It needs to be small, light and effective in the 10 Sq Mile Area around your place. Now 10 Sq Miles sounds like a BIG Area, but think of it as a BOX with 3.3 miles on each side with your cabin, or place, in the center. So, any place inside the box is never more than 2 miles from the cabin. See, when you look at it in that light, it is not really that Big. Part 15 Devices are not really what one would consider a "quality" Comms System, but you may just want to use them in a Squad Comms Tactical situation, as they are cheap. Fm and AM Boardcast is a way to provide Oneway Comms to Outposts, that you wouldn't necessarily need twoway comms to, but that could keep hidden folks, up to date on any situations, while keeping them Tx Silent and hidden. CBRS is what I would class a Starter System, although it is now out of favor, as unreliable. You are just as likely to be able to talk to a Trucker in Texas, as you Mobile, or Base 4 miles away, when the band is OPEN for skip. FRS is what is most usual, for most CN Area comms. These are small, light, FM, twoway radios that have good coverage in the CN AoO. They are a subSet of the GMRS system and can communicate with any, and all, GMRS Radios. MURS is the VHF (156 Mhz) equivalent of FRS, (UHF) and could be used in the CN AoO, but has a few limitations, like only a few channels, and a bit heavier, and more expensive radios. MURS has a much better effective Range than FRS, due to the Frequency Band it uses. Last of these is iDen/ISM. This is a Digital Cellular type Service that works directly between handheld units, and does NOT require any Cellular Service inside your AoO. It is a Spread Spectrum radio that uses digital Encoding and is the most secure comms available to regular folks. Any of these, (FRS, MURS, CBRS, iDen/ISM) will provide solid comm's in the CN AoO, from you, back to the Home Place. Just one more thought, here. You understand, that there has to be someone on the other end of the comm link to answer you..... RIGHT???

    Now let us look at the Neighborhood AoO. We said this was 100 Sq Miles around your site. Again here that seems like a lot of ground, but when you look at it like we did for the CN AoO, it is a BOX 10 Miles on a side, with the cabin in the Center, and usually less than 6 miles to the farthest edge. Here again many of the CN Units can be used, HOWEVER the FRS units will likely NOT cover the whole AoO, and Iden/ISM also has this same limitation in range, only a bit more so. CBRS will work for this AoO, but again it is old technology and the same limits apply. MURS will certainly work but has it's same limits on number of channels available. But we can now add some of the Licensed Radio Services, to the mix which CAN cover the AoO, and more. GMRS is one of these, and does REQUIRE that you file and have Granted by the FCC, a Station License to operate your Comms System, as noted above. GMRS has the advantage in that it is a SuperSet of FRS, and all the FRS Radios, which do NOT need licenses, can communicate with the GMRS Radios. So, you could setup a system where FRS was used around the CN AoO, and GMRS is used around the larger N AoO, only on different channels. GMRS also has the advantage of High Site Repeater operations, which can extend coverage area, well past the N AoO. GMRS also has significantly more Tx Power authorized, and bigger, better, Antenna systems available, which greatly enhances its range. There are enough channels available, to support a fair sized Community Based system, for Groups of like-minded Folks, to cover each others back, on a coordinated. local basis. ALL GMRS/FRS Radios can communicate with any, and ALL, other FRS/GMRS Radios of any other licensee. BRS is the SuperSet of the MURS radios, and again a License needs to be applied for, and granted, to operate a system. BRS has many advantages in that not only are Repeaters allowed, but BRS has three Frequency Bands, (Low Vhf = 48-50 Mhz, High Vhf = 150-174 Mhz, and Uhf = 450-470 Mhz) and is authorized up to 500 Watts Tx Power, from which to design, and build a system, with. This allows for a much wider range, than the AoO we are talking about here. If your place is on Navigable Waters, (you can float a boat on it) the the Marine Radio Band can provide many of of the same facilities and coverages of the BRS, with less Licensing hassles. Marine radios are authorized for up to 50 Watts Tx Power for Land Stations, and 25 Watts for Vessels, and 10 Watts for Aircraft. There is one small "gotcha" for the Marine radios. They can NOT be used for Land to Land Communications, PERIOD. You can talk Vessel to Vessel, Vessel to Land, Land to Vessel, but not Land to Land. Aircraft are considered vessels. This is NOT a USA only thing, it is an INTERNATIONAL Rule, agreed to by ALL Nations. There are other Radio Services for Land to Land operations.

    Ok we now have the Neighborhood, covered, but that is basically all local comms, and we need to talk about Comms that connect us back to the world. These will cover the State, Nation, and World, AoOs, as they do provide connections to all of those. The most used will be the Cellular type Services, and I will cover those, including the technology that makes them work, so that you have an understanding of the options, and limitations, of the systems. Cellular has been around for a few decades, and is a mature technology.

    What most folks understand "Cellular" to mean, is really two similar but also different, technologies that have merged into what is now the Generic term CELLULAR. The original Cellular system was designed by Motorola, and first field tested in Chicago. It was an Analog FM Radio System, that used one of the original, unused UHF Tv channels in the Chicago area. The Cellular system is made up of Cells, where each cell is covered by one Cellsite, in its center, and uses a single set of channels called a channel Bank. All the surrounding Cells use different Channel Banks, so that no two adjacent Cells use the same Channel Bank. The Cells can be of varying sizes but usually only 2-5 miles in diameter. This allows for the limited number of Channel Banks, to reused over and over again, as the system is extended in size. The Cellsite Tx uses a Maximum power of 40 Watts, and the Subscriber Units, (Cellphones) have from .1 Watt to a maximum of 3 Watts of Tx Power, which is controlled by the Cellsite, to limit the Tx power of the Subscriber Unit to the minimum required, to meet a Designed SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio) at the Cellsite receiver. As one Subscriber Unit moves from one Cell to and other, it's Transmit Signal, is received by the new Cellsite, and when it reaches the designed SNR, the System Control Computer tells the Subscriber Unit to switch to a new Frequency in the new Cellsites Channel Bank, which then causes the previous Cellsite, to free up, the old Frequency, for a new Call in its coverage area. All the CellSites in a System, are controlled by one central System Control Computer, which can talk to All the other System Control Computers, in the surrounding Systems, and coordinate Handoffs from one system to the next system, just like they do for Cellsite to Cellsite handoffs. All the System Controller Computers also talk to the Master Network Computer, that authorizes each Subscriber Unit for entrance onto the Network, when the first turn on, and it collects all the Billing Information for the whole network, and keeps track of which units are ON, and which Cellsite they are currently talking to. If your cellphone is ON, the Master Network Computer knows who, and where you are, down to the Cellsite, Sector, and SNR. This is how they find lost folks, who call 911, but do not know where they are. There are two Networks available for licensing in each area, in the 800 Mhz Cellular scheme, here in the USA. Here in Alaska, these two networks are the AT&T Network, and the ACS Network. Now you say, "But I have a Verizon, or a Sprint, or a Joe Schmo, Cellphone and it works in alaska." Well that could be, but if it is an 800 Mhz Band Cellphone, then it is piggy backing one one of these two Carrier's Network. There is another possibility as well. Once the Digital Cellular technology was deployed, the FCC carved out another chunk of UHF Bandwidth in the 1800-2000 Mhz range for what is called PCS. (Personal Communications Service) These networks use the same basic technology as the Cellular systems, but work on the newer Frequencies, and have many more Channels Banks, and Network space, for many more Carriers to grab, and use. Most if not ALL of the modern Cellphone have ALL three of the "Cellular" Frequency Bands built in and they can switch between them, on command, just like switching from Cell to Cell. Most of the Carriers, today have Interconnection Agreements in place, with their competitors, so that they can use each others Networks to provide their customers, service, without actually maintaining their own Network in that specific area. This is what is called "Roaming", and roaming may cost you extra, because your Carrier has to pay the other guy, something to use his Network. In the last few years, as the old Analog Cellular systems were upgraded to digital, and Digital Services were added to the Networks. Now Internet, Text Messages, Pictures, and other digital services, piggyback on the RF signals from your Cellular Provider, on most of the FlatLand Cellular systems. CellSites in the BIG Cities and towns are the Kept small to allow for more users. Once you leave the Population Centers, Cellsites get MUCH bigger. A typical rural Cellsite is 50-60 miles in diameter, and the Cellsite itself is on a high Mountain Top, so that the signal carries out to the Cell edges. They are spaced farther apart and in many places there are Dead zones between Cells. My CellSite that I use, is 15 Miles away, on top of Hoonah Mtn, at 3500 Ft. If I take my Cellphone out of the cabin, and walk around, I can find "Hotspots" where I have one or two Bars. If I get to a place where I can SEE, Hoonah Mtn, then I will have 5 Bars, but high brush, and trees, especially wet trees, cut the signal to the point of No Service, for a handheld Cellphone, in rural settings. So, we use External Directional Antennas to boost our Cellphones ability to access the Network. For my location that is all that is required, but for some of my neighbors, they require not only External Directional Antennas, but Bidirectional Amplifiers as well, to boost their .5 watt TX powered Subscriber Units to the maximum allowed Tx power of 3 watts. I suspect many of you have never heard, or seen a Cellphone with an External Antenna Jack, for connecting these extra devices up to your cellphones. That is simply because you live mostly where the Cells are relatively small, and there is no need for these things, and most of the OEMs design and build for that BIGGER Market. So, we up here, do not get to use iPhones, or Blackberries, or any fancy units that do NOT have an External Antenna Jack. My Cellphone is a 5 year old Motorola, that has been obsolete for 4 years, BUT it WORKS, and works WELL, here.

    So, now either you have Cellular coverage, or you don't, and for this discussion we will assume that you do. It does take some energy to keep the Cellphone online 24/7. Most of my neighbors have well enough established Power Systems, that they just leave them on, but some just do NOT want to have the hassle of a telltale, so they just let everybody know that they are available for calls between say 6 and 8 Pm local. That works for a low energy lifestyle. Now you have all your AoOs covered for basic Comms, so where do you go next? If you have the talkative type, maybe Ham Radio is in your future. This form of Comms can cover ALL the AoOs, by using the many and varied Ham Radio Bands. Yep, from comms, across the road, to around the world, and anywhere in between. There are just two little "gotchas" with Ham Radio. First, It is a NON-Commercial Radio Service. You can't call up and order a PIZZA, using Ham Radio, or for any other commercial application. You CAN ask your wife, or significant Other, as the case maybe, If they are also a Ham Radio Operator, to pick up a Pizza for Dinner, while they are in town on a Town Trip, But NO Direct Commercial Operations. You are allowed to communicate with ANY and ALL Ham Radio Operators in the USA, and in MOST other countries. You can bounce signals off the Moon, but you can NOT use it for commercial Purposes, PERIOD, and there are enough Ham Operators listening, that if you do, you will find yourself speaking with my Good Friends from the FCC Monitoring sites, and the FCC Resident Field Agents around the USA. Of course, we all understand that when the SHTF, and the "Revolution" comes, all these rules will be GONE, and only the radios will be left. ..... But if you get License, or are a Ham, feel Free to give "Me" a shout, anytime, it is ALWAYS on....

    Now if you still farther out, and have NO Cellular connection, possible even with remote site, then you basically have ONE Option, with three Providers, and that is SAT based IP Technology. The providers in the USA are HughesNet, Starband, and WildBlue. I have dealt with the first two, but WildBlue doesn't do well in Alaska due to it being a KA Band service, where as the other two are Ku Band Services. The difference is in the frequency bands they use to talk to the SAT, and how much atmosphere those signals have to pass thru to get from the SAT (23000 miles above the equator) to your place. The farther north you are the BIGGER, and more expensive, the Dish Antenna needs to be. I also have used, and now use, commercial SAT based IP Services provided by other folks,, but these three are the "Biggies" in consumer Based SAT IP Providers. HughesNet costs a bit less per month, but has some serious drawbacks, in Total Bandwidth allowed per day, week, and month, as well as TOS issues. (TOS = Terms of Service) Starband is about the best I have seen in the consumer type services for the regular folks, and I understand that this Spring they will be offering a "ObamaBucks Special subsidized Deal" for new customers, under some Rural Electrification Grant from the Feds, for a, No Upfront Equipment Costs, No Installations Costs, system for $50US/month for the first Year, and $60/Month for the second Year. We pay $99US/Month for each SAT Link from them, and that buys us "up to" 10Mbs Bandwidth, and 5 GB/week Data, on a Daily Rotating Basis. The "Up to" is Sales Droid speak, for "on their best day, in the middle of the night, when everyone else is sleeping" but to be fair, i usually see in the neighborhood of 800-900 Kbs, except on Monday days, and Friday afternoons, (East Coast Time) when lots of users are online. One interesting note here, if your really far out, with NO Cellular Comms, and have a solid Starband link, you can do "Voice over IP" with Skype, and it works fairly well. Momma and I actually do VideoChats, with the Grandkids, using Skype Connections. We also use Skype to communicate, when she is on deployment in some far off land, and has Internet service. It was really cool to do that Christmas Morning, as we got to watch all our Grandkids, do their "Present Openings" because they each live in a different Time Zone from us, using Skype. If you have an Internet connection that will do at least .5 Mbs, and want to see how that works, load on up, Skype, for your OS, and PM "Me" for a Chat Time, and User Id, and Ill fire up the Skype system on my server and we can have a video-chat.

    This is an edited version of my Alaska Wilderness Communications blog, which can be found here. Alaska Wilderness Communications
     
    melbo, kellory, TheEconomist and 7 others like this.
  2. Sumex

    Sumex Monkey+

    Hi ,,

    That was a really helpful post,,

    Thanks you

    Sumex
     
  3. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Bookmarking, really interested in this info when the cash flow allows it.
     
  4. Suerto

    Suerto Monkey+

    Bookmarking as well..
    TY
     
  5. Gafarmboy

    Gafarmboy Monkey+++

    Excellent...

    Another Great Post BT...Much thanks..
    [kneelsuckers]


    gafarmboy
    If you can not protect what you own, you won't own it long.
     
  6. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

  7. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Ok, it would seem, then if we Monkey Hams, document the PADs used for the purpose of securing OUR Network, of Inter-Monkey Comms, in our LogBook, AND identify our Transmissions as REQUIRED by the FCC Rules, in plain, in the clear, language or Morse Code, then we would be in compliance with these relevant sections of Part 97. Thanks for publishing this find, Ghrit. I will query, some friends @FCC HQ, and see if they think this is A Correct Inturpretation of the relevant Sections of Part 97. I will do this UNOFFICIALY, as a friend, rather than, formally, as when asking for an OFFICIAL Clairification. This way they can choose not to answer and leave, it open for hams to decide for themselves.
     
  8. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    IIRC, the pad itself need not be published, the system itself is in the public domain. Morover, if the one pad is used only once, it avoids the encryption prohibition entirely. It will be interesting to see what your guys say.
     
  9. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Not Published, but kept in the each Stations LogBook, for Inspection, should the FCC come to your door, or make a Formal Request for it.....
    Also note, that this would be ONLY for PADs actually used in a Transmission via RF, on Ham Radio Frequencies, and not for PADs used for Reception, on Ham Radio Frequencies, or by any other means, or Frequencies....

    Just thinking, @ghrit, You might want to post that on that other site, as well.... That issue has been discussed over there, as well....
     
  10. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Did you manage to get the informal readout on that? Bear in mind that the requirement for logs no longer exists.
     
  11. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    The LOGGING Requirement Still exists, for specific things, like the above, and any STAs (Special Temporary Authority) that may apply for your Station. Yes, I did get an answer to my query. UnOfficially it was stated that this WAS "an interesting Interpretation of the Rules" and that this Specific Person, had No Issue with it, as such.
     
  12. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    OK, and roger on the logging of specials. Comes the time of need, Uncle Charlie is apt to be occupied with other things. Still, it'll need an HF test somewhere along the way.
     
  13. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    @ghrit. As soon as you get on HF, we need to run a test, and send a PAD encrypted Message back and forth! To just test out the system.....
     
  14. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Months away, but yeah, that's been my thinking. The antenna question is still not resolved, looks like it's going to have to be end fed unless I flip the house end for end.
     
  15. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Nothing wrong with End Fed.... It works well, if you have a good Tuner.... and have built a GOOD RF Ground, to support it.....
     
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