Longer range !!! NON HAM !!! radio communications

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???

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I live in the sticks and use a cellular modem for internet and magic jack, voip, streaming works off it fine

my actual cell phones not so much, I have a repeater to strengthen them but that means largely needing to be in the room with it

my neighbors all use satellite iternet and all complain of what you mention

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Any cellular options are sketchy at best for my needs. Cell reception at the house is poor to begin with and the towers near my folks have gone down along with the landlines on more than one occasion. I’m trying to steer clear of anything that requires someone else’s infrastructure. If it weren’t for the ‘ticket’ requirement a few decent amateur radios would do the trick.

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No ham…pigeon!

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I’m in rural PA…That’s target practice :rofl:

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:joy: I’m in sw Pa

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instead of GMRS go down in band from uhf to VHF MMB - much better range per watt, handhelds are slightly larger but they also tend to be waterproof.

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MURS frequencies are another option:

https://www.wearecb.com/murs-base-station.html

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Use of marine band on land is a federal no no(though I doubt there’s any coast guard ships nearby to report me). Yes the radios have great range for their size and power, but I’m trying to stay legal. If it were a true SHTF scenario(world coming to an end), rather than power and phone outages, I’d use them or more likely straight up HF ham.

MURS has its own set of issues and limitations.

MURS is limited to 2W either HT or base station vs GMRS 5W/15W/50W limits, and MURS HT’s must have fixed antennas. That limits them to 3 mile range at absolute best with a clear line of sight. I could easily do that or likely far better with 5W dedicated UHF HT’s and upgraded
antennas(Vertex VX-231’s programmed to GMRS channels for example).

MURS base stations, which can have a better antenna, are little more than glorified intercoms and still limited by wattage. Trying to put the antenna at any decent height for better reach will lead to power loss through the coax.

MURS repeaters are verboten except some grandfathered and licensed to businesses before MURS was opened up to everyone. I doubt the local quarry would be all to happy about me jacking into their repeater.

The last issue is that everybody with a piece of farm or construction equipment in three counties uses MURS because FRS/GMRS isn’t legal for business use but MURS is. There’s lots of traffic on only 5 channels including remote gate openers, electric dog fence collars and more(I really don’t want my mom keying up a radio and electrocuting their dog :flushed: ).

In the end, they are great for short range(events/office buildings/warehouses) but seriously lacking otherwise(They are also great for perimeter security as they can be linked to motion/vehicle sensors but that is a different topic entirely).

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I have my Technician license and I own a Yaesu FT-60 HT with the mars/cap mod. That allows me to transmit on ham frequencies, GMRS, FRS, and MURS in one convenient little package. I have base, HT, and mobile antennas for the various bands. I’ve never operated on GMRS, FRS, or MURS, but I like having the option for emergencies or SHTF. It’s a good option that is worth considering, in my opinion. Otherwise, I’m out of ideas for your specific situation.

spaceballs

:wink:

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I have a cheap BTECH(Baofeng) UV5x3 for listening to the local hams that will do the same(Still procrastinating on getting my ticket). Due to its better antenna it might pick up my base station from inside their house unlike the fixed antenna Talkabouts(I should test that out, might even reach my base station from the front deck on a good day). I doubt I’d get in trouble using it strictly on GMRS channels as I have a GMRS license which covers my whole family(plus I’d be under the max 5W for GMRS handheld) but I’d be worried about my father phutzing with it and accidentally transmitting outside those allotted frequencies.

The Vertex VX-231’s I mentioned earlier at least require software and connectors to program. On those I could simply set channel 1 to my proposed repeater frequencies/CTCSS codes and the rest to other GMRS frequencies or nothing at all. Turn the channel knob all he likes and my father would never stumble into ham territory. They would also do better than the Talkabouts when my folks are in here town and away from their house(5W/real antenna vs 2W/‘rubber ducky’).

Ham/HF/VHF would definitely fit the bill for my range needs and make things simple. Even a full 4W CB base station with a good antenna might do it(but no way to filter noise/yapping/profanity and a base station install is out). It’s that damned ticket, or more so the fact my parents would never get one, that has me leaning toward GMRS.

By the way…
raspberry

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:rofl: :+1:

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OK, I’ve got an update based on some research for anyone interested. Some people are reporting problems connecting Midland MXT’s and many HT’s to repeaters even with permission. This is because Midland and others ONLY allow the same CTCSS or DCS tone on the RX/TX repeater channels. To secure repeaters from unauthorized use, repeater owners often set different tones for RX/TX(and/or odd frequency splits). Sometimes 1 of each(CTCSS on RX/DCS on TX). This is certainly a path I would consider to secure my own repeater and found a possible work around for my MXT400.

Apparently the MXT400 is nothing more than a rebranded TYT TH9000/Luiton LT-590 UHF mobile unit with a different mic(no frequency controls to meet Part 95 requirements), frequencies other than GMRS locked out(again Part 95) and an FCC sticker that >DOUBLES the price. The TH9000 is programmable through Chirp or OEM software using the data port next to the mic connection.

MXT400-

TH9000-

Of course I ordered the TYT programming cable and software. For $13 it’s not a big loss if it doesn’t work on the Midland. Hopefully they didn’t put in a factory password for the programming(and if so I’m sure someone online probably cracked it already). I even found wiring diagrams for setting the TYT’s up in a repeater arrangement that might work on the MXT400 if I decide to forego the CM200 route to remain 100% Part 95 compliant.

The TYT/Luiton radios offer remote kill/stun/activate/revive, allowing me to shut down the repeater if I go the full Part 95 route(required for all repeaters anyway) and the MXT400 has the same capability hidden in the firmware. TYT speaker mics are also available and should be compatible, which would be an upgrade from the Midland OEM mic allowing those codes to be sent from my mobile.

I’m still researching small HT’s that can be programmed in order to upgrade from my parents Talkabouts and better secure the system. Still scouring Ebay for a used Sinclair or Motorola portable duplexer at a reasonable price. Still trucking along…

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TYT also makes a stand alone repeater, that with solar charged batteries would answer/solve your needs. I have in the past used Wouxun and “built” a suitcase repeater for a SAR group which allowed both simplex/duplex functions.

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Got any links? I know the TH9800 is capable of working as a ‘cross-band’ repeater but I’m trying to stick to analog GMRS UHF frequencies because my folks will NOT get technician licenses but my GMRS license covers them.

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http://www.wouxun.com/radios/two_way_radio_KG-UV9K.aspx
http://www.wouxun.com/radios/two_way_radio_KG-UV950P.aspx
I use to be a dealer of Wouxun but have been out of it since early teens.

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For what it’s worth, I’m a General licensed ham, and I say just go ahead and set yourself up with ham radios. All amateur radio frequencies are authorized for emergency use, even by non licensed persons. So long as you aren’t using it in bullshit day to day chatter, there’s no harm in having it in case of an emergency.
I get the impression that your main concern is contacting them in the event that phone lines and internet are down, in which case you may have legitimate cause to use the bands, considering their age…
Anyhow, if YOU get licensed, there are certain “nets” called traffic nets, where you can contact a ham in their area, relay a message to your parents, and the answering ham is under his or her personal obligation to carry the message in any way they can to the recipient. And they take the obligation seriously.

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Yes phone/internet(communications) outages are a prime concern but there are other more benign reasons. A few months ago, after returning home from shopping, they locked the keys and cell phone in their car. Something I doubt the FCC would consider a ‘life or death emergency’. They had to walk to the neighbors house(1/4 mile, luckily he was home) and call a locksmith in order to get into the house and retrieve the spare car keys(they couldn’t remember my cell number and I have no landline to look up). What they did have were their Talkabout HT’s, or at least my father had his clipped to his belt. If those simply had better range they could have reached me in the valley. I work from home these days, would have almost certainly gotten the call, and could have easily driven up there with my copy of the house keys saving them $100.

I am planning to eventually get my ticket(as mentioned earlier). 20 years ago I could have convinced my old man to do the same but not now. GMRS however gives us a means of communicating back and forth that is license free for my folks {1} just so I can ask “Everything alright up there?” when a storm hits and the phones go down. I wouldn’t want to make a local ham drive up there and check on them every few hours. I’m probably just as close as any hams so I’d more likely just drive the 35 minutes and spend the night.

The last consideration, focused on my father, is stubbornness. Were I to simply buy them a cheap Baofeng or similar amateur band HT with a decent antenna that could reach my house from theirs and say “only use it in an emergency” he would never use it even if he was having a heart attack. He’ll spend an hour or better fighting to dig out enough wood from under snowfall to heat the house for the night and then another hour or more trying to get it burning. Don’t get me started on him and the snowblower {2}. By linking GMRS HT’s to a repeater that can reach my house, my mother would have no issue asking me to come up and help move/split/stack firewood, clear the driveway or shovel the walk and decks. Again, not something I believe the FCC would consider life or death.

GMRS makes the most sense because we also use it on the family shooting range/hunting property. My B.I.L. has a GMRS license/radios as well that he uses to communicate with the kids/spouse while working/hunting on their property, vehicle to vehicle comms(ATV/UTV), treestand to treestand banter during hunting season on the family property etc. By expanding the local coverage with a repeater the whole family benefits. It might even extend my personal range as far as my sisters house {3}.

1}Looking back I should have put the GMRS license under my mothers name, even if I paid for it. This would have provided 10 years of coverage for both of my parents, myself, sister, B.I.L., nieces and nephews all on one license at $75.
2}I have a plow for my little Toyota Taco. It aint much for commercial jobs but fine for clearing driveways. I’ve run up to their house after a snow storm intent on clearing 2-3’ of snow for them only to find my RETIRED WITH NOWHERE PRESSING TO GO father trying frantically to do it with the snowblower. I called before I left my house. He knew I was coming. STUBBORN!
3}After a few drinks and a lengthy convo with my B.I.L. last night my MXT115/Ed Fong antenna will be migrating to his house as a base station and I will be replacing it with a reprogrammed Part 95 accepted Kenwood TK880H-1/Diamond X30A antenna, upping my base station power to 40W +3Dbd gain for less than the price of a new MXT400.

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With elderly I’d disagree

good for him, makes hims feel good let him roll with it :snowflake:

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75yo, mobility issues, high BP, too stubborn to admit he CAN’T do it…Probably not good for him.

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