Communication is everything, especially during periods of uncertainty. Ask any veteran, and they'll tell you the importance of communication, which can mean the difference between life and death.
But if you're thinking of survival communication along the lines of landline phones, cellular phones, and emails... let us reshape your opinions on these common platforms.
When the networks shut down, and everyone is forced into silence... what are you going to do? The inability to communicate often happens with power outages, cellular phone network overload, and being in an austere environment.
Planning Considerations For Your Situation
Am I Static or Mobile?
Will you have access to power sources?
# of batteries needed for X time period?
What is the weight of the equipment?
What is the range of your radio?
How many users on the network?
Is my equipment all weather?
Is the equipment easy to use if injured?
What type of traffic can I send? (Data or Voice)
Does my radio require a special license or have restrictions?
Here is our list of Radios with Pros and Cons to each.
1: Ham Radio
Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, uses radio frequency spectrum for non-commercial exchange of messages. The FCC has allocated 219-220 MHz to amateur use on a secondary basis. Amateur stations are limited to 50 W PEP output and 100 kHz bandwidth. Automated Maritime Telecommunications Systems (AMTS) stations are the primary occupants in this band. As of December 31, 2018, there was 755,430 total number of licenses in the FCC database. A total of 0.23% of the United States population is on the HAM Radio network.
• Ham radio operator can transmit with the power of about 10 Watts or less.
• With larger static setups, ranges can dramatically increase.
• HAM radios can communicate with astronauts on the space station.
• It provides long hours of communication during emergencies. (With power source)
• The communications range can be impacted due to weather and terrain.
• Ham radio is not intuitive and requires technical experience to operate.
• Ham radios require a power source for its operations along with bulky equipment.
• Licenses are required to use.
• Tiny user population to make communications with on the platform.
The GoTenna is a radio-based off-the-grid communication tool that lets users reliably send texts and share location data with other users from your Bluetooth smart device, making it an excellent alternative to pricey satellite phones. The GoTenna ($199 for a pair) is a stick-like off-the-grid communication device that uses a 2-watt Very High Frequency (VHF) radio to send messages and location data to other users. That means you and your camping buddy can communicate by text and arrange to meet up using your Android or iOS device without depending on dubious network connectivity. The GoTenna transmits a message on the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) frequency and encrypts all messages from end to end. MURS's advantage is that it offers more reliability and range than alternatives like walkie talkies and doesn't require extra equipment. You can send messages up to a mile in urban areas, up to three miles in forested areas, and up to six miles in open ground (not to mention up to 15 miles while skydiving) to other users of GoTenna. Hell... You could get rid of the cell network for kids with this guy.
• Intuitive to use
• No cellular network connection is needed.
• Good range. (Pro Version has extended range through MESH network)
• End-to-end encryption.
• Low power usage and extended battery life
• Everyday Use: Great to communicate with children without them being online.
• Can't contact emergency services
• No voice calling or picture messages
• Only able to communicate with other GoTenna users
3: Satellite Phones
Satellite phones are an option as long as the satellites are still in the sky. If the disaster you are dealing with is restricted to the ground, a satellite phone will continue to work. The only drawback is if all other phone lines are down, the only people you can call are those with a satellite phone. If you have a family you want to reach after a disaster, make sure they have a satellite phone. They are not quite as expensive as they used to be and could be a useful resource. The cost is $299.99 plus subscription fees.
• Used nearly anywhere on earth
• Novice level functionality
• Does not require special equipment or like items for use
• Open network
• Higher-end models can be encrypted with proprietary software/hardware
• Service plans can become very expensive depending on operator use
• Connectivity issues in dense urban environments
4: Hand Crank or Solar Radio Receivers
Hand crank/solar or emergency radios are legacy items that still have a vital usefulness today. They have been around for decades as a way to receive general broadcast information via the emergency broadcast system and/or other transmission sources. These devices operate by one of two methods: An internal Hand Crank generator or have a solar strip, both of which provide power indefinitely for the device. These are quite useful and continue to be used in multiple environments and scenarios today. In remote, austere terrain areas, or when searching for missing persons, this coordination method is widely used. They're a favorite among hikers and people that spend much of their time in the bush as they do not require the extra added weight of batteries, and overall the devices are lightweight and easily packable.
• Easy to employ by novices
• Widely used
• One-way communication
5: CB Radios
CB radios have been around for a very long time and are familiar with just about everyone. A fixture of pop culture for decades, the CB radio is a short distance ground based radio system that operates on 40 set channels. They're still widely used to this day by truck drivers, remote outdoor enthusiasts, and on vessels out on large open bodies of water. These radios operate either via AM transmission or single sideband. SSB gets a bit longer range and are generally found on higher-end radios. There are no licenses or advanced training requirements needed to operate either CB radio type on the CB radio network.
• Built-in repeater network that is nationwide
• Widely used two-way communications platform
• No license necessary
• Affordable entry cost
• No subscription plan or sustainment costs
• System can be set up as a mobile or fixed station
• Only 40 set channels
• Unencrypted and anyone within operational distance is privy to the communication
Whether it is for keeping in touch while out in the bush or prepping for an unknown calamity, having a thought out and layered communications plan for yourself and others is a wise investment. It is worthy of your time and resources to get some education, do the mental math to define your current situation and what you foresee as best fitting your needs. Stay connected out there friends!