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Debating on gmrs or something else

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#1
Hello Everyone.

I've been debating on setting up some radios for base to base with family less than 5 miles away. It would be great if everyone had a amateur radio license but its very difficult to motivate everyone for the tech test. I am still working on my Dad though.

I tested before with one of the rs murs units with a ground plane hanging from my ceiling to a ht and we could barely hear each other. If I were to purchase a few of the midland mtx100 units and put antennas in the attic I still have my doubts about it being reliable. Especially with coax losses at uhf and I'm wondering how much a house blocks uhf signals? Maybe a attic yagi at each location would give us a solid signal.

CB with attic dipoles and ssb would be trivial however I'm not sure if I ever want to dip my feet in that band again. Although locally it does seem fairly quiet even in my medium size city.

I've dabbled with the idea for quite some time to get by with cheaper phone plans. We don't have a huge need for it and could more easily just chat over wifi. However its nice to have a backup or just plain fun to chat over the radio with conversations that don't have to be private.

Not sure what my question is exactly. I guess its the same debate of cb vs gmrs for my use. If the cb had better etiquette being license free and ssb has a lot of advantage over gmrs imo.
 
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#2
GMRS would be a good choice for this, but you are going to need to get away from the consumer grade radios. What you need is a mobile radio with an external antenna jack. Install an external antenna outside your house and feed it with good quality coax. Unless there is some serious topographical features blocking the path, you shouldn't have any issues getting 5 miles.

The benefit to GMRS, other than what you already stated about license, is that it uses FM modulation. The nice thing about FM modulation is that its really easy to run coded squelches on your radios, which can help reduce the chances of having to hear other people on your radios. This can be really handy if you want to leave the radios on 24x7.

The building materials in your home will decide how much the signal is blocked. Metal roof, foil backed insulation, foil vapor barrier, aluminum siding, metal lath behind plaster walls, etc. will all attenuate signals. To get reliable coverage you do need to get the antennas outside the structure.

I was in the same boat many years ago. I've had my amateur license for about 30 years, but just couldn't get others to get theirs. I finally got the GMRS license and installed a couple of good radios and that solved the issue. I had access to a GMRS repeater on a high mountain top and enjoyed radio coverage for about 100 miles in many directions.
Eventually most of them did finally get their amateur radio licenses, so the GMRS stuff went away and was replaced with VHF radios. Works pretty well for us.

I keep a VHF radio on 24x7 in our kitchen on one of the simplex frequencies. Family that wants to talk to us can call us at any time. Doesn't get used much, but when it does it's pretty handy.

I'd never go back to CB for that sort of use. The lack of a coded squelch would mean that I'd have to listen to every jack-wagon on the channel, and there is no way I'd do that to my wife or son.

Once you go to a proper GMRS or Amateur radio setup, you'll never go back.
 
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#3
As often is the case, mmckenna is spot on. Unless something major blocks the line of sight signal, GMRS should work nicely for the task. Good mobiles, decent coax, and external antennas up high ought to do the 5 miles with little trouble. We regulatly do a couple of miles on ground level with just handhelds here on the farm.
 

wa1nic

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#4
It may be worth the effort to pull up a topo map and look at the terrain.

I kept wondering why, no matter how much money I invested in equipment and antennas, that I had a hard time exceeding a 1 mile range around my house in most directions.

Topo map told me why... even though I live on a hill, there are bigger hills around me in almost all directions.

At least I know now that if I go up another 15-20 feet in antenna height, some major improvements in most directions should suddenly happen.
 
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#5
We have a dense wooded area that runs behind the houses on my street. It just occurred to me that this could cause me some grief since its blocking where my signal needs to go. Checking a topo map sounds like a good idea also but I can't think of anything else in the way. I understand that at hf tree's aren't much of a problem.

The tree's aren't very tall but a short mast on the roof isn't going to clear them. Its frustrating because none of them are useful for hanging dipoles and they are going to limit my gmrs range as well.

I still want to try. I've at least decided that cb won't be a option. The coded squelch will be nice and I am considering to leave a radio on most of the time. As mmckenna mentioned I need to realize that cb isn't a good band to expose your family to.
 

rescue161

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#6
Register an account with Radio Mobile Online and make a coverage map. It'll give you a very idea (as long as you input the data correctly) of what type of setup you would need to get the coverage that you desire. Here is a map of the P25 network that we just put online.

 
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#7
Definately do the map. However, if you aren't talking evergreen trees (needles), and there are no hill obstructions , I can't see even a 5 Watt hand held at rooftop not making less than a couple of miles. We blast through a lot of trees here and get at least 3 miles on 5 Watts handheld and a rubber duck near ground level. If you're considering bubble pack radios, don't waste your time. A couple of good mobile radios and external antennas should make that trip.
 
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#9
Home to home, on city lots, with broadband computer access already there and being paid for apparently?
If you both have broadband, the you can both get free VOIP telephone service and get that done for less money and with a greater range (i.e. all US and Canada) free. TO anyone who has a phone, not just radio stations.
I'd suggest an Obi (Obihai) 202 or similar. That's a box, often on sale for well under $50, that plugs into your router. Then you plug any phone you want into the Obi box. Sign up for a free Google account from the Evil Empire, get a free Google Voice phone number, and Obi will tell you how to hook that up. The result is decent VOIP service, totally free.
If both premises are already "on the grid"...radio can just be the wrong way to go.

Just one man's opinion.
 
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#10
And if the internet connection goes down, what then? A radio setup might come in handy if you have battery power when the power is out.
 
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#11
You could just buy a Generator from Harbor freight or get a good one that kicks on when power goes out....
To me GMRS would be the best fit,looks like some of those repeaters have some nice range.
 
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#12
Here's a similar thread coming in from the other side (i.e., leaning toward CB):
http://forums.radioreference.com/cb-radio-forum/330983-cb-family-setup-question.html
Not trying to sway you either way, especially since you're leaning toward GMRS -- which is probably the right answer in your case too. It was just entertaining to see all opinions aired out in that thread.

I'm facing a much lesser problem at with a much shorter distance: 0.4 miles to a sibling's house. The questions are (1) can we do this with bubble-pack FRS, or will we have to license up?, and (2) will the windows on my place pass enough RF once the foil-backed insulation is installed? Only one way to find out: testing. Once the insulation is in, we'll get down to sorting it out in the new year. Man, I hope I don't have to put in *yet another* outdoor antenna just to handle GMRS.
 
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#13
It's more than just wattage. Antenna gain plays in too. A good antenna, high gain, directional, etc. will do quite a bit.
Yep. When conditions are right, there are a couple of spots from which I talk on 2M and GMRS nets in two cities far away from me with a 5 Watt handheld and just the included antenna. We have some good elevation relative to the other repeaters. In fact, I never use more than 25 Watts to get out from my location. Usually it's just 2~5 Watts.

My point before was that the bubble packs are generally an exercise in frustration and that a decent GMRS radio even at handheld wattage could do a few miles without major land obstruction and a good external attenna up high.
 
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#14
PrimeNumber, I'm no expert but I've messed with the bubble packs since they first appeared. You might try to pick up a pair at Walmart and give it a shot so that you have the return window in case it does not work under all conditions. I wouldn't personally waste my time with most bubble pack radios.

However, if there aren't any hills blocking, I would try the $55 GMRS-V1. If radio certification wasn't a concern, there is the 2 Watt WLN KD-C1. I wouldn't pay more than $18 per radio. Some are gouging for $25 a radio. They work spectacularly for the money.

We have one house on the farm that is brick with foil backed insulation. It normally attenuates most signal but we have had success with 2~5 Watts at about at least half a mile from inside. 0.5 Watts wouldn't do it. The other houses do not have brick or foil backed insulation. Some of the structures, though, are metal barns. We communicate house to house and barns with no trouble but not with half a watt. Of course, each structure is different so your mileage may vary.

(Don't want to go OT too much here.)
 
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#15
Jedispork & PrimeNumber, if you are considering tcp/ip, you might be able to get two wireless access points to communicate via directional antennas. Then use two ATAs and make a wireless phone system. It can all be run from battery.

For years we were shooting our network around the farm in point-to-point links using Yagi antennas. I also had to help build one of those for a local hospital and a satellite medical practice many years ago. I've set up a server-less VOIP ATA phone system just to play around. IMHO, that's a heck of a lot more work then just going to external antennas and using GMRS, CB, or MURS.
 
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#16
a lot of great responses. thanks everyone.

We already have phones with unlimited minutes and texting. We also both have high speed internet and could even use skype, google voice or whatever.

I have no immediate need to set this up. Its mostly just for fun or if phone / internet fails that we can check on each other. A few years ago when the tornado sirens were going off I couldn't call and could barely get a txt to send.

I've always had a dream to partially disconnect from all the flashy phones and internet. If it was up to me I would cancel our 70$ internet bill and see how long I could go without for fun. Unfortunately I think my Wife would kick me out of the house with that idea.

I built a ground plane and going to see if my Dad can hear me on 70cm over the scanner before I invest in gmrs gear. It seems vhf does much better from my location though. I will try and do another external antenna for them just so we can figure out how much effort were going to need for antenna placement. I would be very happy if taping the thing to a window works ok.
 
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#18
Hurricane Matthew breezed through here and took out phones, internet, cable and power for about 2 days. The power company did a good job. However cellphone coverage also suffered because the towers were without power and overloaded when they worked.
 
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#19
"And if the internet connection goes down"
The internet is both incredibly fragile and robust, but emergency/disaster communications wasn't mentioned up to that point, just casual contact.
Now if you want to talk about a hardened connection that will last in disasters, that's a whole other approach that you have to take on. Among other things, consumer grade radio antennas are expected to be destroyed in hurricane winds, even the premium ones rarely are rated for surviving a Cat3 storm. And of course tornados will just rip 'em off faster. Blackouts? Again, varying considerations.

If the OP wants something for "post apocalyptic" communications, even if that just means a heavy tropical storm (TS Sandy, anyone?) that can be a very different project. And, quite frequently, those kind of communications should be fully portable, since evacuation to a shelter is often the FIRST and best thing to do.

Of course, few shelters are actually built and rated to withstand a Cat3 storm, another reason why so many places will issue "Mandatory evacuation orders" at least 48 hours before something like that is expected. In NY (Nassau County) stick-built homes have to be bolted down to the foundation walls. In Vermont? They just rely on dead weight to hold them down in high winds. A lot of housing in the US isn't much stronger than trailer parks, when it comes to a real storm.

Which comes back to "get a cell phone and a spare battery", because the cellular providers, with the prodding of the FCC after the Katrina and Wilma investigations, now have agreements that "whoever has fuel, puts it in whatever towers are in the area". That's right, they're all supposed to play on the same team when there's a disaster. And in an odd turn of the wheel, cellular systems are now often more robust than landlines. Remaining on the air longer, and coming back up faster, as the cellcos can brings "COWS" into an area to restore service faster than linesmen can splice wires.

A lot to consider.
 
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#20
In case I wasn't clear in my previous post, the system I was talking about requires no external network. It is a self-contained, peer to peer, wireless telephone system that can be powered indefinitely from battery. Just to clarify...
 
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