I’m looking for input on realistic communication solutions I am considering for emergency family use covering a 25-35 mile radius. My parents home has had phones knocked out for up to a week and spotty cell service due to heavy snow/wind. Being on DSL means internet goes down too, pretty much cutting them off completely.
Before we get into specifics I will ignore ANY suggestions that involve obtaining a ‘Technician’ license or above. While I will likely be getting mine, there is ZERO chance I will convince my parents(in their 70’s) to do the same.
My situation: I live in a valley roughly 20 miles(as the crow flies) from my parents home which is on a ridge some 500’+ above my location(I could theoretically, with a good telescope, see their home from my roof top). I have a Midland MXT115 15W mobile GMRS unit set up as a base station with an ‘Ed Fong’ antenna on a 20’ mast mounted to my roof as well as an MXT400(40W) in my truck(antenna upgrade coming soon). From just about anywhere in the valley or from my parents driveway(overlooking the valley) I can easily communicate between my mobile unit and my base station. As it sits, 15W is enough to cover the distance due to the elevation difference(and a good antenna). My 40W mobile will reach their house from about 80% of the valley(dependent on where I’m parked).
My problem(s): I’m not going to talk my parents into a mobile unit install on their brand new car or putting a mast on their roof. ‘Bubblepack’ GMRS handhelds have nowhere near the power or antenna to reach back from their house to the valley. They can hear me(either my base or mobile) on their cheap Motorola Talkabout HT’s from their front deck, but again can’t signal back(only 2W transmit power). My parents carry their Talkabout’s with them when shopping or walking the dog. They also keep one on when there is a storm threat because it can pick up weather alerts. Their ‘bubble pack’ HT’s as well as both my mobile & base radios are repeater capable but there are no GMRS repeaters in my area.
My proposed solution: Build a repeater and locate it on the highest point of their property. Their 2W HT’s will connect to the repeater(which can transmit up to 50W) and relay their transmission to the valley below. It will also pick up any transmissions from me and provide plenty of power for reception inside their home on the HT’s(not currently possible due to $#!++y fixed antennas).
First issue with my repeater solution: Lack of electricity. They are on 3 acres and will allow me to put up a repeater as long as it isn’t in the middle of their yard or involve a roof antenna. Luckily there is an out of service power pole at the back edge of their property. Originally electricity for the homes near them ran along the ridge top but do to access issues during winter storms the utility company eventually put in new poles along the road and rerouted all the lines(the pole in question does NOT belong to the utility company, it was put in by the original home builder to support lines to the house). The main problem is that the pole is 200’ from the house and hence no power source out there.
Possible portable power solution: Why not? Solar and alternate battery tech is cheaper than ever before. A 50W solar panel can be had for <$60 and will easily power a repeater when paired with a $150 lithium battery pack. Throw in a $20 charge controller and we got juice.
Second issue: What radios to use for the repeater. As it sits I am currently looking at a pair of Motorola Radius CM200 mobile units. They can be programmed with GMRS channels(I actually have the software from my fleet maintenance days), put out 40W(within the legal limit for a GMRS repeater), run on 12V and can be had for less than $70. My only worry is whether or not they would be legal to use as repeaters on GMRS frequencies. From what I’ve seen, the few commercial GMRS repeaters sold use similar radios so I believe it’s in the clear.
Cost: There are a few bits I left out, including the most expensive. A Sinclair or Motorola duplexer will set me back $470. There are far cheaper Chinese units($100-150) available but they seem to need constant tuning. The repeater controller is another $60 and I’ll need to make my own RJ45 connectors. All in, including another ‘Ed Fong’ antenna I’m looking at right around $950. I could save a good chunk of money if I were doing a fixed installation ‘on’ my parents house, avoiding the cost of solar/battery/charge controller as well as possibly avoiding the cost of a duplexer by simply spacing the antennas properly. That, besides not being an option, also gives up the advantage of my proposed solution being solar/battery operated and immune from power outages.
Here is a GMRS ‘simplex’ repeater(parrot box) built into an ammo can with solar and a tree mount that is similar to what I’m looking into building-
So… Any faults visible in my idea? Better solutions that DON’T involve ham? Any new tech I may not be aware of that could take its place???