Outback Communications

The vastness of Australia's outback requires particular long distance communications suitable for four-wheel drivers who may wish to have radio contact for emergency/safety use.

The page provides a general introduction to the aspects of communication for fourwheel drivers and travellers in remote parts of Australia. Please note the disclaimer at the bottom of the page. Further information sources can be found at the bottom of this page.

27MHz CB (Citizens Band) Radio

Rarely used by the 4WD community.

27MHz AM (amplitude modulation) & SSB (single side band) CB is generally limited to a maximum range of approximately 10 to 50km depending upon terrain.

The main application of 27MHz CB is mobile to mobile, base to mobile and base to base. 27MHz is prone to "Skip" where signals may travel many thousands of kilometres but cannot be heard "just down the road".

27MHz is very susceptible to ignition and other man made noises which generally limits its use in mobile installations over large distances.

UHF CB (Citizens Band) Radio

Commonly used by the 4WD community, caravaners, and truck drivers for vehicle to vehicle communication.

UHF CB signals are generally line of site giving a range of typically 10 to 40km maximum. By using repeater stations it is possible to greatly extend the range.

Since UHF CB uses FM (frequency modulation) on 477MHz, as compared with AM & SSB on 27MHz, the quality of the signals is improved and noise & interference is reduced. The use of high gain antennas also improves the performance of UHF CB.

The main application of UHF CB is inter-mobile, base to mobile and base to base over limited distances. The use of Selcall allows users to contact other suitably equipped users without the need to listen to other traffic on the channel.

There are no individual User licences associated with operating either 27MHz or UHF CB radios.

Mobile Telephone

Mobile Telephones operate through providers such as Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, the maximum range within a cell is limited to 32km for GSM phones and approximately double for Next-G units (vehicle mounted units - the range is considerably reduced for hand held units).

While mobile telephones now cover around 95% of the Australian population they are primarily concentrated around metropolitan areas, major highways and regional centres. Only about 5% of the outback is covered with cells in and around some country towns such as Broome, Ceduna, Kalgoorlie, Karratha, Mt Isa and Port Hedland etc.

Mobile telephones incur a monthly rental charge as well as timed call charges.

Satellite Telephone

Satellite telephones can provide satellite telephony, voicemail, text, email messaging, and GPS location data, almost anywhere in the world.

Satphone's are now a viable option as there are models that are cheaper to purchase than HF equipment, cost very little to run and provide broader emergency contact because they can be carried when away from the vehicle.

Some phones can be purchased outright for only $750.00

One 4WD specialist quoted that it is possible to have:

  • A prepaid plan for 100 minutes of calls costs for approx $100 and call credits last for 2 years.
  • Call costs are 90 cents per minute.
  • Text messages are 50 cents.
  • Free text messaging available to phones through a webite

Sat Phones can also be hired from a number out outlets, and can even be hired from or dropped off at the Mt Dare Hotel and the Wirrari Tourism Centre in Birdsville.

Satellite telephones do not provide the "community" based support to travellers that can be provided via HF radio, such as to subscribers via the VKS-737 Radio Network, but the satphone can be carried when bush walking, boating etc and thus be available for emergency use at any time, as well as provide privacy.

High Frequency (HF) Single Sideband Communications.

Using frequencies in the range of 2 to 25MHz, HF can offer reliable communications over thousands of kilometres.

An important use of HF is for contacting emergency organisations such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Police, Ambulance and Vehicle Breakdown Associations.

Modern radio features allow users to reliably make contact with each other and Base Stations located all around Australia, some radios permit Direct Dial Radio-Telephone calls through VKS-737 Base Stations.

Mobile Outpost Licence conditions can be found at Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The VKS-737 Radio Network

The VKS-737 Radio Network is a HF Radio communications network licensed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority to serve Australian travellers (land, sea or air). Primarily, they provide safety orientated information, pass on messages and arrange rescue/support for people in difficulties. With their many strategically located bases, they effectively cover the nation.

Read more...

Royal Flying Doctor Service

The RFDS provide emergency services via high frequency radio.

The RFDS recommends all travellers to remote areas investigate the possibility of obtaining and using an HF radio.

Choose the appropriate frequency for the nearest RFDS control station - your HF radio must have Selcall to contact RFDS bases in Queensland and Western Australia or an Emergency Alarm Button to contact Broken Hill (NSW) or Port Augusta (SA).

RFDS operates 2 High Frequency base stations at Broken Hill in NSW and Port Augusta in SA and in conjunction with the VKS-737 Radio Network operate 7 high frequency base stations in Queensland and Western Australia using a large number of frequencies which have been allocated to optimise communications under varying conditions.

The RFDS frequencies have been assigned specifically to allow the provision of a medical emergency service to people living and working in, and travelling through remote areas.

Emergency medical contact can be made with any RFDS base station using selcall on any VKS-737 frequency through any VKS-737 base station, for further details refer to DOC 40 on the VKS-737 website.

RFDS frequencies cannot be used from areas where easy access to a fixed telephone is available - this ensures their maximum availability for their intended purpose. However some social use is permitted by licensed mobile users (eg after hours use) - refer to RFDS for details.

An Outpost, Non-assigned Mobile Licence is required to operate on RFDS frequencies - this is obtained from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Other conditions and operating procedures, details of controls stations etc are available in brochures from the ACMA and RFDS and should be obtained if you intend to use these services.

For more information see the RFDS Outback Travelling publications.

HF Operating Practices

DO...

  • Listen before transmitting (including using selcall)
  • Use call signs especially before selcall
  • Leave a pause between "overs"
  • Use CB for short range convoy communications where possible.

DON'T...

  • Operate without the relevant Licence Authority
  • Respond unless called
  • Use offensive language
  • Hold long conversations

Remember that selcall is annoying to other users, has NO priority over other radio traffic, and should only be used with discretion.

It is an offence to operate a transmitter contrary to licence conditions.

Distress Beacons

Distress beacons come in three types. EPIRB's (mainly used for marine situations), ELT's for aircraft, and PLB's (pocket size Personal Locator Beacons). Vehicles and bushwalkers travelling in remote parts of Australia may carry a distress beacon.

Signals from distress beacons can be picked up by passing aircraft and satellites. The Rescue Coordination Centre (AusSAR) in Canberra deals with distress beacon signals. Coverage is Australia wide via satellite.

Every week valuable search and rescue resources are wasted in dealing with beacons that have been activated accidentally and without the owners knowledge because they have not be stowed correctly or travelling companions/children have activated them. If this occurs every effort must be made to contact or relay a message to AusSAR - 24hr contacts are 1800 641 792 or 1800 815 257.

There are severe penalties including imprisonment for any person found guilty of the activation of a distress beacon with the intention of misleading authorities regarding an emergency situation.

The above is just some of the information you need to know - if you intend carrying or depending on a distress beacon then acquire the fact sheet on Distress Beacons from the Australian Communications and Media Authority, www.acma.gov.au.

Hiring

A number of companies hire out equipment, both UHF, HF & Satphones. These may be communication companies or four-wheel drive equipment suppliers or camping / outback hiring companies.

Check the Supporting Businesses List (DOC 09) on the VKS-737 website or the Yellow Pages under "Radio Communication Equipment and\or Service". Just ensure you are licensed, understand how to use them and if practical (eg for radios) that they work before you start your journey. VKS-737 base stations are happy to receive a "test call" and this is worthwhile doing to overcome any nervousness.

Further information

Australian Communications and Media Authority

Mobile Outpost Licence conditions can be found at ACMA  (use that site's web search).

Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)

www.flyingdoctor.org.au

Australian National 4WD Drive Radio Network (VKS-737)

www.vks737.on.net

PO Box 2101 ELIZABETH EAST SA 5113

DISCLAIMER

The information contained herein should not be taken as legal advice or as a substitute for such - it is provided as a general introduction and may change at any time - you should contact the relevant manufacturers, authorities and organisations for complete and current details on operating requirements, limits, and regulations.

Letting others know your movements and travelling with other parties helps minimise risks when travelling in remote areas.