This is Part 2 in a series about Emergency Communications for TEOTWAWKI, or any other time, for that matter. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here:
Here are some different types of communications:
Everyone is familiar with cell phones. They are small, convenient, and inexpensive. However, if you are outside of a city, in a rural area, you may not have coverage. Also, in a disaster, cell phone service is generally not working. So, this form of communcation is only good in minor emergencies.
In the late 1950s, the FCC took a set of frequencies from the Amateur Radio Service and designated it as the Citizen’s Band. The rules were simple, just apply for a license and you got it. It used low power and it was easy to operate, mainly because of channelized tuning.
However, CB did not become popular until the “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Convoy” movies of the 1970s. After those movies were released, throngs of people put CB radios in every kind of vehicle imaginable. Life on the CB airwares was somewhat chaotic. I took part in it during high school and had quite a bit of fun.
CB radio is still around, still mostly unchanged, and still has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that the systems are cheap. Usually in the range of US$50 to $250. It still has channelized tuning, with 40 channels, and in a lot of areas, the CB channels are relatively quiet. You still do not have to have a license to operate on CB. The radios will work on 12 volts.
There are some disadvantages. The main one is range. CB communication is generally from 1 to 15 miles. Although at certain times, range can be considerably longer. Another disadvantage is that antennas are rather large, from 4′ to 8′ on vehicles. Even larger on base stations. They also tend to cause interference with other electronic devices.
Family Radio Service
The Family Radio Service (FRS) was created by the FCC to once again give the average citizen a chance to use the airwaves. The FCC sought to address the problems of the CB bands. The band frequencies were allocated in the UHF range, around 462 MHz, which acts to limit the propogation-induced range effects. In other words, communcation range is less. Also, the FRS radios are limited in output to 1/2 watt and transmissions use FM (frequency modulation). These radios are small, battery-powered, and are referred to as handi-talkies. FRS radios offer channelized operation, just like CB radio.
The advantages of FRS units is that they are very compact (around 4″ h x 2.5″ w x 1.5″ d) and are lightweight (6 – 10 ounces). They have very short antennas, but range is very small on these units. Generally, 1 mile, 2 miles at the most.
You can expect to pay US$50 – $200 for these radios.
General Radio Service
The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is like the FRS in that it operates in the 460MHz region, uses small handi-talkies and is intended to be used by individuals to communicate with immediate family members. The main differences are that the GMRS requires an FCC license with a fee and users must be 18 years or older. In addition, the output of these units is considerably greater at 1 to 5 watts, allowing a range of coverage from 5 to 25 miles, depending on terrain and antenna position.
There are 23 GMRS channels used on an unassigned basis and dependent on the cooperation of all users. The channels are split up for base, mobile relay and fixed station or mobile station use. Each license is assigned one or two of eight possible channels or pairs as requested by the license applicants. In order to avoid interference or conflicts in use, the FCC recommends monitoring existing frequencies in your area before making your application and requesting your channels.
The advantage of the GMRS is that it is the most useful of the previously listed services, but brings with it disadvantages of government oversight and stringent frequency assignment. GMRS radios are bigger than FRS units and have more features. Higher power means more batteries (as many as 6 AAs) and a higher price. Expect to pay US$200 for handheld 2 watt units and considerably more for 5 watt base station transceivers.
In Part 3, we will talk about Amateur Radio, or as it is more commonly called, ham radio.