Re: Reply to: Re: Cellular Phones (DC area)
Paul H. Brown (phbrown@CAPACCESS.ORG)
Tue, 5 Dec 1995 12:51:51 -0500
John Ballenger asked me to expand on my assertion that ham radio is
sufficient for emergency communications in the Mid-Atlantic area. I was
referring to the comparability of hand-held ham radios to cellular
Cellular telephones can be excellent, or worthless, in emergencies. This
depends on the coverage offered by cellular receiver sites. If the
receiver site can "see" your transmission, no problem dialing the cell
phone. If not, you're outta luck. Cell phone transmissions, like
VHF/UHF ham transmissions are "line of sight." So, communications can be
better at the top of a hill than at the bottom. Cellular companies
charge (through the nose, IMHBCO) monthly and per-minute fees. No FCC
license is required.
Ham radios operate in various frequency bands. The high frequency
(short-wave) radios can communicate around the world to other hams. Very
high frequency and ultra high frequency (VHF/UHF) ham communications are,
like cellular telephones, "line of sight." They can be as small as a
cell phone, and hand-held ones cost from $100 (used) to abt $500. The
"bells and whistles" on the $500 models improve convenience, but usually
don't increase communications range, etc. VHF/UHF radios can talk
directly with each other, or can be linked to each other (and to the
telephone system) through "repeaters" that convert the low power
hand-held signal into a higher-power signal. As repeaters (like cell
antennas) are found on hilltops, the combination of higher power and
higher location vastly increases range. Unlike cell phones, VHF/UHF ham
radios require the operator to know what frequency the local repeater
uses, and plug that frequency into the radio, in order to operate the
As repeaters are erected by ham radio operators (and clubs), their
presence decreases as the concentration of ham operators decreases: more
repeaters in/around cities than in the boondocks. However, the
concentration doesn't drop to zero quite as quickly as available cell
sites drops to zero.
Ham radio requires an FCC license. There are 5 license classes. The
"technician" class allows privileges on the VHF/UHF bands. The test
includes electical theory, FCC regulations, operating practices, etc. No
Morse code is required for technician licenses. My technology-phobic
spouse passed the exam on her first try, after about 6 hours of classes
and some self-study. Children as young as 7 or 8 have passed the exam.
Its not something that can be passed without study, but it is well within
the intellectual capabilities of those who are familiar with the C:> prompt.
Local radio clubs frequently administer exams.
How comparable is ham to cell phone? My SM has a phone in his truck. I
have a ham radio. When we're out with the scouts, and have a need to
phone home, I can always find a repeater to use. He can't always find a
dial tone. Not all repeaters have the capability to "patch" into the
phone system, but many in the area do. For phone privileges, local clubs
charge about $20 per _year_ for this service. Even without phone access,
the local repeaters seem to be monitored by ex-WWII Navy signalmen who
are happy to help in emergencies.
Enuf of my dissertation. For more info, there's always the library, or
Radio Shack's "Now You're Talking" intro book.
Paul H. Brown, UC, GW District, National Capital Area Council
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City