The Importance of Outback Communications
Travelling the outback can throw up all sorts of unexpected situations and being able to communicate with others is extremely important. Whether it’s to get in touch with the RFDS, family or friends in emergency situations, when you’re in areas beyond the reach of mobile communications, an alternative is required.
(Image: Once you get outside the coverage of the mobile networks, you’ll need a satellite-based device for outback communications.)
A satellite phone is the most common tool for remote communications in recent years and can be hired or purchased outright. Four networks are covering Australia; Iridium, Globalstar, Thuraya and Inmarsat. You’re reliant on satellite positioning with a satellite phone and there may be times when you cannot connect, an external aerial will assist in increasing your coverage.
One of the easiest and cheapest solutions is the Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot that connects to your mobile phone via Wi-Fi through the SatSleeve Hotspot app, turning it into a satellite phone. It also means if someone calls the satellite phone using a mobile phone, the call is charged at the normal mobile call rate.
(Image: Before the advent of satellite telephones HF Radios were the only means of mobile communication 4WDrivers could rely on when out in the outback.)
HF Radio is another possibility, although this system is almost obsolete due to satellite phones, it’s a fixed option and new devices are very expensive. A licence is required to transmit from an HF radio and you then need to subscribe to a service provider. The Australian 4WD Network (VKS-737) is the most popular HF network in this country. They provide an extensive network with base stations situated in key locations around Australia.
(Image: A UHF Radio is an essential, non-negotiable tool for any remote area and outback traveller. It's a great tool for vehicle-to-vehicle & 4WD convey communication.)
UHF radio is a popular method of communications; however, it has a very limited range. Used mostly for vehicle to vehicle or person to vehicle comms, the UHF is a handy little tool, especially when matched with a 5-watt handheld. Repeater and duplex channels use towers to extend the transmission range, especially in the outback.
There are 80 UHF channels in Australia, however, not all are available for use, with several reserved for emergency services, duplex and repeater input channels and data transmission. There are several channels recognised for use by particular groups; 10 for 4WD convoys, clubs and National Parks, 40 for the highway, 18 for caravan/camper convoys, 29 for Pacific Highway (NSW) and Bruce Highway (QLD) and 30 for UHF CB broadcasts.
(Image: A SPOT is a compact, lightweight, portable one-way communication and tracking device. Using satellites, the SPOT can send pre-programmed messages via email or SMS with your GPS coordinates, to nominated contacts such as family or friends.)
A SPOT is a small personal satellite GPS messenger, tracker and locator that allows family to track where you are as it sends GPS locations in real-time. It can also send your exact location, with a predefined message to alert a pre-programmed contact group if you get into trouble. The SPOT also has an emergency SOS button that relays to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the federal organisation responsible for all emergency beacon activations.
(Image: A Personal Location Beacon (PLB) is a last resort solution and should only be activated if your life is in danger.)
A Personal Location Beacon is a last resort solution and should only be activated if a life is in danger, not if you run out of fuel or simply lost. Being compact, they are designed to be easily carried when you are away from your vehicle or campsite. PLB’s operate on a 406MHz digital frequency and must be registered with the AMSA and are for use on land, water or air. The best devices have an inbuilt GPS that provide a more precise location.