My new choice for local communications.

Started by gil, October 24, 2016, 04:39:15 pm

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October 24, 2016, 04:39:15 pm Last Edit: October 24, 2016, 04:41:39 pm by gil
I am pretty well equipped with HF gear for regional NVIS and long range communications, but never really needed to cover the local range. Sure I had a pair of FRS radios and a couple Baofeng UV5Rs, that was enough at the time. Only one UV5R remains.

We have one local repeater in Lille, which was until recently analog UHF and VHF. Everyone seems to like the 1750Hz tone to trigger their repeaters here for some reason, probably to allow older radios, since everyone is broke. Paradoxally, the French like to be at the forefront of technology... They switched to DMR! So much for older radios. I think digital voice is overrated, but that's me...

There are no FRS or GMRS allocations in Europe. We have PMR466 and dPMR466, on, you guessed it, 446mHz. Same as FRS, 500mW with fixed antennas. Motorola has a nice line of "TLKR" handhelds, some watertight. I'll probably get a pair too. Half a Watt though isn't much, especially after the SHTF.

I need to cover a range of 12km with my further contact on a fourth floor apartment in direct line of sight of my own town. Terrain in the North of France is pretty flat. That allows a range of about five miles between two handhelds six feet from the ground. I hope to get eight miles between that fourth floor and my 6'2" height.

First, been on a green radio kick, I thought about the PRC-351, 4W 6m FM manpack. I can get them here for about $100, battery included. That leaves out the local repeater though. I don't think it would be up very long after a major catastrophe, but it would be nice to talk to those guys in the mean time. I still want a PRC-351 but just because, like Bob said, it's green, cool, and I don't have one ;-) In the mean time I do need something that is smaller, rugged, with good power and compatible with my local DMR repeater...

I decided on the TYT MD-680 DMR UHF handheld; just ordered the first one for testing. It outputs about 7W (10W advertised) and is IP67 rated, watertight. If I don't get the eight miles I need, a couple small UHF Yagi-Uda antennas will solve the problem nicely. It's not as cool as the PRC-351 but as cheap ($80) and fits in your pocket. I was tempted by the MD-390, but that will have to wait since they cost $140-$170. I like the MD-680's lack of screen and fewer buttons.

What do you guys count on for local communications and how does it integrate with existing Ham infrastructure?


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Though I live in "rural suburbs" where everyone has 1acre or more and there's woods all over, I'm only 20 miles (straight line) from the middle of Boston.  There's repeaters everywhere.  I'm not keeping up with the digital stuff at all, but I do know that the repeaters that are going digital (Fusion, etc) are generally still compatible with analog.  For really sort range wife & kids stuff we also have a basket full of FRS radios.

One nice thing a local ham does is a monthly simplex net.  We all check in with him on a local repeater then we switch to a simplex frequency.  He's got a big 2m Yagi on a tall tower so he can generally hit anyone that checked in on the repeater.  We all log who checked in on the repeater then we note who we can hear simplex.  That's the real value in the net.  It's kind of hilly here and I live at the base of a 150' hill so I was surprised to hear there's an open path to Marblehead harbor 12 miles away where my inlaws have a small sail boat and summer cottage.


There is a handful of repeaters in my area but NONE OF THEM HAVE BACKUP POWER! Ham radio here is purely a hobby for people. Emcomm is non-existent. I have some two meter rigs. A mobile in both cars and a couple of HTs which I keep in the cars along with a role up J-pole and some paracord. With these I can extend my range beyond that of the rubber duck by pulling the antenna into a tree or lamppost. I have a two meter at home as well, feeding a vertical dipole on the roof about 27 feet up. With this setup I can talk to my wife at home up to about 10 miles from the house.
What I'd like to do is set up my own repeater, that of course would have backup power. It's purpose would just be to let me and my wife communicate between the house and town until the one in town could get home, so a short term repeater would serve. A simplex repeater would be the easiest and least expensive to set up and would work okay for this purpose. 
I have a DTMF decoder which can close a relay when it detects the correct code. I plan to use this to ring a loud bell that could be heard anywhere in the house. A sort of makeshift phone ringer.


I suspect that a lot of amateur repeaters do not have backup power. Those that do probably can't stay on the air for very long. In a real SHTF situation there most likely would be nobody to maintain the hardware, and you can't blame anyone for taking care of their families rather than making a risky run to a distant repeater. If I had one, I would set up a solar power system and daily time slot when the repeater would be on, with a duration based on current available after the daily charge. It would have to be automated, and if possible, hard to reach or break into.

Prepping is pretty much unknown here in France. Surprising since WWII wasn't so long ago, but those who lived it are pretty much gone. The French are used to rely on the government for everything, even though the authorities have zero means of helping the population in a crisis. The "Protection Civile," made up of volunteers is supposed to fill that role, a sort of civilian FEMA... Membership is very low however and the coffers are of course empty. Lucky the local chapter that can afford one old beat up vehicle and a few bandages, maybe a pair of walkie talkies from 1965... If the SHTF here, with the population density, it would be a carnage.