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Thread: Satellite phone as comms during disaster

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    Satellite phone as comms during disaster

    Let me preface this by saying that I searched the forum and did not find a thread discussing this topic. I have been thinking about comms lately and am curious about satellite phones. Seems like a good option to have one per household for like minded family and friends to use in the event of a disaster that disables traditional communication options. This is an area where I don't know what I don't know. I would appreciate any suggestions.
    SLG Defense 07/02 FFL/SOT

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    It's a hierarchical service that depends on a small amount of centrally controlled infrastructure.

    Which normally means that in any large-scale emergency that even if it keeps working you are prioritized so low as an individual so low that it's very difficult to get usable service.

    Even aid agencies during Katrina and similar found this to be a very big issue.

    It's also phone circuit based, so does not work in any scenario when local or long distance is not working or overwhelmed.

    It's a harder path, but I would start with Chinese walkie talkies with a full load of gmrs and other point-to-point FM capability. Then get your amateur radio license and ideally add HF ssb/digital to the mix.

    HF get you long-range peer-to-peer communication. Useful in-state non line of sight or reaching out of Disaster Area email servers, Etc.

    VHF & UHF FM handhelds and mobiles are great for short-range stuff. Will always have a role.

    But if you are serious about maintaining communication in an emergency you need to add HF to the mix.

    Sat phones are handy for isolated locations in situations where there was not a large-scale disaster that will saturate the service.

    But if I regularly traveled locations out of cellular coverage I would for sure have HF radio to back it up.

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    Pinzgauer discriminates against certain 4x4s but I agree with his post.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pinzgauer View Post

    It's a harder path, but I would start with Chinese walkie talkies with a full load of gmrs and other point-to-point FM capability. Then get your amateur radio license and ideally add HF ssb/digital to the mix.

    HF get you long-range peer-to-peer communication. Useful in-state non line of sight or reaching out of Disaster Area email servers, Etc.

    VHF & UHF FM handhelds and mobiles are great for short-range stuff. Will always have a role.

    But if you are serious about maintaining communication in an emergency you need to add HF to the mix.
    I didnít realize that about sat phones, I thought you either had dedicated uplinks based on your geographic location or piggybacked for a gianormous fee.
    Before the GWOT when I deployed Iíd take a sat phone with me and it was literally like in some old spy movie. Aluminum metal case, with a directional antenna that Iíd set up. (That also usually broke by the 3rd or 4th time I used it.) Based on what hemisphere I was in and what satellites I wanted to connect to. The connection was usually hit or miss for most places I was in, and rather expensive. Ok, maybe A LOT expensive. But as I said that was before the handhelds our SOF brothers were using in the GWOT.

    Are you referring to radios like Baofeng?

    We had HF radios in our aircraft and could pick up some pretty distant stations. On late night surveillance flights, Iíd tune in Voice of America and listen in.
    We rarely if ever used for actual comms. I had some freqs I set up with my guys so we could talk in the red without flight ops or mission ops listening in.


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    Quote Originally Posted by RobertTheTexan View Post
    I didn’t realize that about sat phones, I thought you either had dedicated uplinks based on your geographic location or piggybacked for a gianormous fee.
    Before the GWOT when I deployed I’d take a sat phone with me and it was literally like in some old spy movie. Aluminum metal case, with a directional antenna that I’d set up. (That also usually broke by the 3rd or 4th time I used it.) Based on what hemisphere I was in and what satellites I wanted to connect to. The connection was usually hit or miss for most places I was in, and rather expensive. Ok, maybe A LOT expensive. But as I said that was before the handhelds our SOF brothers were using in the GWOT.

    Are you referring to radios like Baofeng?
    There are multiple sat phone providers. They nearly all have similar constraints: Fixed amount of bandwidth and a growing customer base.

    Since they all run very close to capacity most of the time, it does not take much to saturate them into overcapacity.

    Has happened repeatedly, and does not have to be an event as large as Katrina, it happens with bridge collapses and even (based on reports) in war zones.

    Getting short messages through as data is much more reliable, and that's a very large market now with the advent of hockey puck sized data devices.

    They (sat phones) have a role, and can be useful. But I'd never put even most of my eggs in that basket due to prioritization of service. BTW, cell phones do the same, so are no better. Was very apparent on the old IDEN networks, was positioned as a feature.

    Yes, was referring to the ubiquitous baefong handhelds. Really annoying to setup by hand, but it's so easy to download canned configs that you can do worse to get started. (Literally, $30 for a kit with cable and big battery)

    My go-to handheld is the VX-7. Others really like the PRC-148 clones, when they were available. Both are very tough radios. The VX-7 covers many more frequencies. The PRC-148 clone has very long battery life and easier interop with mil accessories. (Though I use civvy gear with mil audio all the time)

    HF is a broader discussion, and it's far more than the old morse code (CW) and even SSB. The advent of PC soundcard DSP's have opened up many very high performance waveform/modes to hams. Some can send signals with very low power levels and with RF paths that traditional modes could not even hear. Others are implementations of the mil ALE 141 protocols and data modems. I run HF ALE quite a bit, both with amateur radios and commercial/mil radios with the capability.

    If I were starting from scratch I'd end up right back where I am now: unlocked VX-7 Handheld. Yaesu FT-857 mobile for HF, 6m, 2m, and 70cm. (And quite a bit in between). Larsen 2/70 dual band for VHF/UHF. SGC-237 autotuner with whip for instant 3.5-54Mhz HF/6m capability.

    I also have HF manpacks (civvy, and until recently, Mil) that I use for voice/data in the woods and in emergencies.

    Put another way, I had 7x24 voice & email comms in the middle of the katrina zone the whole time I was there when an agency we were helping completely gave up on irradium type satphones as they could not complete a call 99% of the time.

    You'd be looking at $1-1.3k to get a decent mobile setup + a handheld like I described. I will always maintain that HF+vhf/uhf mobile capability. Even now that I have cellular coverage many places that used to be an hour out of range. In big events, they carrier networks can (and have) gone down. Repeatedly.

    In disasters, sometimes local cellular works, and long distance calling does not. (usually initially pattern while the sites are still on gen power, if no antenna damage). Then they go offline. Then as they come back online, the long distance trunks in/out saturate. But you can often get SMS through as it uses separate channels.

    All that said, as a pilot the mantra on priorities was: "1) Aviate, 2) Navigate, 3) Communicate". There is probably a similar thing for preparedness.

    And some big questions: Who do you plan to talk to? Depending on the event, can you trust them? Can they even help you if you could trust them?

    Natural disasters they are very important. Man-made... maybe not so much outside of low power point to point stuff.

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    During Irma, not a particularly strong storm as far as Hurricanes go, I lost the ability to send data and phone calls were extremely garbled. I Could receive and send calls but many others could not receive my calls.

    That VHF UHF worked fine though, as it always will.
    Last edited by Eurodriver; 10-30-17 at 10:42.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eurodriver View Post
    During Irma, not a particularly strong storm as far as Hurricanes go, I lost the ability to send data and phone calls were extremely garbled. I Could receive and send calls but many others could not receive my calls.

    That VHF UHF worked fine though, as it always will.
    During Rita, sms was the only thing that got through to my sis in East Texas. Besides voice would have consumed more battery so it was a preferred option. But yeah, not every message I sent for through and not every message she sent back made it to me.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Eurodriver View Post
    During Irma, not a particularly strong storm as far as Hurricanes go, I lost the ability to send data and phone calls were extremely garbled. I Could receive and send calls but many others could not receive my calls.

    That VHF UHF worked fine though, as it always will.
    A big part of the cellular stuff is what I call "Hunker down boredom effect". Folks are at home, hunkered down, not much else to do. So call folks, use data, etc. Saturates the network.

    That same thing leads to the long haul network saturation during event recovery.

    It's also why any service which sells to gov and NGO agencies, utilities, maritime/aviation services, etc. will maintain Priority of Service. Or in Irradium's own words: "Ruthless preemption of lower priority calls". And as a consumer, you are the lowest priority.

    The old Nextel iDEN network was the first large subscriber network where POS was designed in and it became very apparent any time even a minor storm came through FL.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pinzgauer View Post
    There are multiple sat phone providers. They nearly all have similar constraints: Fixed amount of bandwidth and a growing customer base.

    Since they all run very close to capacity most of the time, it does not take much to saturate them into overcapacity.

    Has happened repeatedly, and does not have to be an event as large as Katrina, it happens with bridge collapses and even (based on reports) in war zones.

    Getting short messages through as data is much more reliable, and that's a very large market now with the advent of hockey puck sized data devices.

    They (sat phones) have a role, and can be useful. But I'd never put even most of my eggs in that basket due to prioritization of service. BTW, cell phones do the same, so are no better. Was very apparent on the old IDEN networks, was positioned as a feature.

    Yes, was referring to the ubiquitous baefong handhelds. Really annoying to setup by hand, but it's so easy to download canned configs that you can do worse to get started. (Literally, $30 for a kit with cable and big battery)

    My go-to handheld is the VX-7. Others really like the PRC-148 clones, when they were available. Both are very tough radios. The VX-7 covers many more frequencies. The PRC-148 clone has very long battery life and easier interop with mil accessories. (Though I use civvy gear with mil audio all the time)

    HF is a broader discussion, and it's far more than the old morse code (CW) and even SSB. The advent of PC soundcard DSP's have opened up many very high performance waveform/modes to hams. Some can send signals with very low power levels and with RF paths that traditional modes could not even hear. Others are implementations of the mil ALE 141 protocols and data modems. I run HF ALE quite a bit, both with amateur radios and commercial/mil radios with the capability.

    If I were starting from scratch I'd end up right back where I am now: unlocked VX-7 Handheld. Yaesu FT-857 mobile for HF, 6m, 2m, and 70cm. (And quite a bit in between). Larsen 2/70 dual band for VHF/UHF. SGC-237 autotuner with whip for instant 3.5-54Mhz HF/6m capability.

    I also have HF manpacks (civvy, and until recently, Mil) that I use for voice/data in the woods and in emergencies.

    Put another way, I had 7x24 voice & email comms in the middle of the katrina zone the whole time I was there when an agency we were helping completely gave up on irradium type satphones as they could not complete a call 99% of the time.

    You'd be looking at $1-1.3k to get a decent mobile setup + a handheld like I described. I will always maintain that HF+vhf/uhf mobile capability. Even now that I have cellular coverage many places that used to be an hour out of range. In big events, they carrier networks can (and have) gone down. Repeatedly.

    In disasters, sometimes local cellular works, and long distance calling does not. (usually initially pattern while the sites are still on gen power, if no antenna damage). Then they go offline. Then as they come back online, the long distance trunks in/out saturate. But you can often get SMS through as it uses separate channels.

    All that said, as a pilot the mantra on priorities was: "1) Aviate, 2) Navigate, 3) Communicate". There is probably a similar thing for preparedness.

    And some big questions: Who do you plan to talk to? Depending on the event, can you trust them? Can they even help you if you could trust them?

    Natural disasters they are very important. Man-made... maybe not so much outside of low power point to point stuff.
    The Baofeng is a PITA to program. I have a few of them, with better antennas and also magnetic antenna I can mount on my truck. Well could I forgot to get it out when I totaled my truck a couple weeks ago. I have the cable and the software to upload configs. Fortunately my step moms husband is a super knowledgeable HAM operator. Heís been slowly giving me some hand-me-downs that by the time I get my license I should be able to communicate from home.
    I also have a PRC-148 clone that I have a pretty good mobile set up for with a 2m/70cm roll up antenna that I keep in my GP pouch on my chest rigs that I would carry a radio. They are good for throwing up in a tree to help my tx/rx capability. I am behind the ball though. I started studying for my HAM license but got distracted with something and havenít picked it back up.


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    During a disaster situation what's the probability of being caught and or problem
    With Operating ham, vhf, uhf comms without a license?

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