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Scout Camp Radio System

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kg5ycx

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Hi,
I have been asked to come up with a radio system plan for a new scout camp. We plan to put in a HAM shack for the scouts to earn the Radio Merit Badge, and participate in Jamboree on the Air. The need that I have questions about is about setting up a radio system for camp management. I expect we will have around 20 radios, and they are spread across 3,000 acres, with most in a central area of camp. The camp is wooded, hilly, and has metal buildings. I would appreciate any help that I can get selecting a radio system that will work across the camp.
 

MTS2000des

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Not knowing the specific area and going off generalized description, a repeatered system is best. How many talk groups/different users do you anticipate needing? A DMR standalone repeater on the highest ground possible should prove doable. VHF is better in wooded areas, but getting coverage inside those metal buildings may be a challenge if they're on the outer parts of your region, otherwise UHF would penetrate the structures a little better. Of course like any part 90 system, there is getting a good quiet frequency pair, good duplexers/filtering, and good antenna/feedline placed to provide the desired coverage. DMR conventional (non-trunked) also lets you use low cost radios, and encryption- to keep conversations "scan safe" if desired and not be locked into a single vendor, whereas MotoTRBO trunking means buying only Motorola subscribers for trunked use. A single conventional DMR repeater can accommodate two simultaneous talk groups, say a hailing talkgroup on one for emergencies and a general ops talkgroups on the other time slot for operations.

The Radio Mobile online site is a good starting point to play with coverage estimating.
 

mmckenna

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I would appreciate any help that I can get selecting a radio system that will work across the camp.
What's your budget like?

There are a lot of options when it comes to equipment, but first things first. You'll need to contact a frequency coordinator to get a frequency pair for your system. That can cost a few hundred bucks depending on who you use. The frequency coordinator will help you figure out your needs, your location, coverage, etc. Depending on the location, finding a clear pair can be really easy or really difficult. Having some flexibility is important, so don't buy any equipment until you have this done and your license is on the way.
RadioSoft might be a good one to start with. RadioSoft: FCC Licensing & Coordination

You'll need to provide the location info for the proposed repeater, antenna height and desired coverage area. Be realistic.

Having them do the FCC license application might be a good idea. The paper work is nothing like an amateur license, and the FCC will kick it out if it's wrong. Having the coordinator do it can save you a lot of headaches. Don't use the radio shop to do that, as they'll likely charge a lot for filling out the paperwork.

Once you have the coordination done and the license application is accepted by the FCC, you might want to start talking to local radio shops. Setting up a repeater to work well requires proper design, installation and alignment.. Not sure what your skill level is as an amateur, but unless you have your own service monitor and really know how to use it, might be a good idea to let the pro's do it. Buying "pre-configured" systems on line can be hit or miss. Shipping duplexers can result in them getting bumped around a lot, so checking them on site after install is a good idea.

Don't decide on a brand or technology at this point. DMR is great and will work well, but there are other options. Analog works fine if you don't have a lot of traffic and it can save you a bit of money. Radio sales guys can smell money a mile away, so again, be realistic about your expectations. Have a set budget in mind and stick to it. For a scout camp, you don't need public safety grade radios. a basic 4 channel hand held radio will work just fine, and won't break the bank if they go missing or get damaged. You will be required to use part 90 accepted radios, so that rules out most of the Cheap Chinese Radios, and amateur radio gear. Be careful about buying used radios on line. Some of them can take a lot of abuse before they end up in your hands. Any used radios should get a trip to the shop for an alignment before put in use. The licensee is responsible for all of them and that means they need to work correctly.

Make sure you figure in long term care and feeding of your system. Annual checks of the system by a competent shop should be done. Figure that some percentage of your portable radios are going to get lost or go missing. Antennas, batteries, knobs and belt clips will be common expendables you'll need to address.

Using the software that MTS2000DES linked to is a good exercise to compare your possible radio sites. It'll give you a good idea about what sort of coverage you can expect. Just remember, it's all about the antenna. For rugged terrain and short distances, high gain antennas are not always your best choice. I've had good luck making UHF systems work well in rugged terrain with low gain folded dipole antennas.
 

R8000

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I'd consult a local 2 way shop for help. For what you need, a bare bones simple analog repeater will be fine. Talk to a sales consultant there and come up with a doable quote. It'd be best to build a reputation with a local shop for if you have problems in the future.
 

hill

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My vote goes to mmkenna's advice, as his posts are always on point and informative with trying to save the others money.

Going forward I know how sales types like to increase and pad their sales. I can see the Boy Scouts ending up with the latest and greatest digital radio system, when a more economical analog one would work out fine. Plus it is kind of slow economy right now.
 

MTS2000des

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Nothing wrong with digital, don't understand what the hate is. DMR repeaters are just as cost effective as analog ones and are pretty much all one can order these days in the business LMR realm other than NXDN, and DMR gives an increase in coverage, and they can lock down their repeater to prevent eavesdropping, and enjoy the benefit of TDMA allowing two users to simultaneously share a single piece of infrastructure. No static, clean audio, and if security is a concern, easy to enable encryption without additional cost. Some of the Chinese DMR radios even support AES-256.
 

mmckenna

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No hate for digital, I run an NXDN system and am getting ready to build out a P25 system.
You are correct about the cost difference, it's minimal. But without knowing his budget, I'd be reluctant to recommend anything specific.
 
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VHF is widely used in southeast TX (Rusk county) due to the hilly terrain. Do you need coverage from one end to the other on simplex or would a base station in the center of the camp that can hear all portables work? You might not need a repeater in that case.

If you don't want dealers breaking down your door (I would imagine a long established radio shop would not) then a short term rental to do you own coverage tests should give you the info you need.
A dealer would probably lend you radios for a day for a test. I have 2 demo portables if you are interested.

My cousin owns a marina and can tell you that a radio belt clip that prevents you from removing a radio from your belt in normal operation will magically release the moment you bend over a dock to tie off a boat. He figures he has lost enough radios in the water to raise the lake level by at least 3". He's a radio tech and buys used radios in the $50-$75 range after figuring out a new radio sinks as fast as a used one.
 

RadioGuy7268

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I usually put it to people this way:

If you're buying all new stuff - you're likely going to buy Digital.

If you're getting some equipment donated, or your budget restricts you to buying used, then you can get some screaming values in the used analog market. Either one can work well.
 

Randyk4661

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I agree you won't need much. Analog VHF I would think cover the area nicely.
Use a good base station as close to the center and you may not need a repeater. Or a small repeater based on a hill top overlooking the area that could extend coverage into a local town area if needed.
Digital and trunking would be and overkill for something that I would think would only be used mostly on weekends(?).
Sounds like you might have access to amateur radios, get two or three two meter handhelds (Simplex) and walk the property. This should give you an idea if a repeater would be needed. If mobile radios would be used, I don't think a repeater is needed, might be if you go with UHF.

Randy
 

TampaTyron

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Ahhhhh, the usual suspects show up (meaning it in a good way). There is tens of thousands of dollars and decades of experience in the advise listed above. Before you get licensed for anything, I would perform either a propagation study to determine if a single repeater site would work or if you would need 2 or more repeater sites. I have done many scouting events and the repeater sites are typically on a tall structure (like climbing wall), with AC power, in the middle of the desired coverage area. Height is more important than middle of coverage area.

Alternatively (or in conjunction with a coverage study) you could rent the type of solution you are looking to buy before you buy it. I am a Mototrbo guy, so I would say a 2 or more site IP Site Connect system would work great if you need to talk paths (aka channels). If you need 3 or 4 channels, then you may want to consider Capacity Plus Multi Site (aka LCP, multi site trunking).

However, as a guy who travels the world fixing the mistakes of local shops (and bad corporate engineering) do not buy a brand, please buy whoever is most competent in your area (it is the shops at the local level who make or break systems like this). I think DMR would be good, but if the local Kenwood guy is good then don't feel bad about their equipment either.

TT
 

Firebuff880

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All the information you have received so far is valid, but I have to say you are reinventing the wheel here ..

At the James C, Justice National Scout Camp they have done this work and have a very complete MOTOTRBO DMR system and other support in place already and more importantly the expertise to help you. You should reach out to them.

------------------
 

kg5ycx

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Thanks to all, the new camp is about an hour and a half north of Houston TX. Just one talk group most likely, maybe two. The camp is surrounded by National Forest The buildings are grouped together in the middle of the camp for the most part. I am thinking we would want simplex to cover the whole camp, or use a repeater so that camp coverage is obtained. Council staff will be in camp 24/7/365. Activity staff will be in camp weekends, and summers. I belong to the local Amateur Radio Club, and there are a few who have agreed to come out and help with selecting, setting up, and operating the HAM Shack. They would most likely be able to help with the operations and maintenance radio system as well. I am sure they would all come out for a signal check day with a mobile base, and HTs. I am not sure what our budget is yet. I would like to come up with some options to propose, and see if we can raise money to fund it. I have reached out to the Summit Bechtel Reserve to see what they use, but I will reach out to the James C. Justice National Scout Camp as well. Thanks again for the assistance!
 

alcahuete

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My cousin owns a marina and can tell you that a radio belt clip that prevents you from removing a radio from your belt in normal operation will magically release the moment you bend over a dock to tie off a boat. He figures he has lost enough radios in the water to raise the lake level by at least 3". He's a radio tech and buys used radios in the $50-$75 range after figuring out a new radio sinks as fast as a used one.
And people give me a hard time for using CCRs on the water! Bah! I'm up to needing 2 hands to count how many CCRs I've lost to Davy Jones' locker. :D

Sound advice from all, as is to be expected. Personally, I'd do what Randyk said, before you spend a dime on anything. You're only looking at about 5 square miles to cover, but with trees and woods, that likely isn't going to happen between handheld radios. 2m and 70cm frequencies are so close to the business bands. Go out with some ham gear and do some tests. You might find that you might just need a really simple setup.

The other item to determine is whether or not everybody needs to be able to talk to everybody, or if they just need to get to the central camp management area. If the latter, you will likely just need a good base station setup, and don't need a repeater at all. If everybody needs to talk to everybody else, then you really have no choice than to use a repeater. But I personally would go out and do some testing with the ham gear first, to get a good idea of what exactly you are going to need to cover the area.
 

ladn

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I'll throw one other minor consideration into the discussion: interoperability with area emergency services. Considering the size of the venue, it may be worthwhile to see if the local emergency management agency will issue a MOU with the camp to allow camp radios to access their radio system.

I don't know the specifics of the agencies or area, but if, for instance, the Scout camp had VHF radios and the local emergency management agency used VHF, especially the nationwide SAR frequencies of 155.1600 and 155.2200, then it would be relatively easy to add two additional channels to the code plug.
 

kg5ycx

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Baytown, TX
Hi all,
Thank you all so much for your assistance, it is much appreciated. Below is the outline I have put together to work from given all your comments.

Camp Business Radio Plan

Action Items

  • Try out amateur radios to test area coverage
  • Look at Radio Mobile online site for coverage estimates
  • Contact a frequency coordinator to get a frequency pair for the system
  • Review Licensing Process
  • Review RadioSoft for providing licensing
  • Learn about how to use a Service Monitor
  • Research local radio shops
  • Look in to short term rentals or loaners to test systems
  • Perform a propagation study to determine number of repeater sites needed
  • Consider site IP Site Connect system
  • Consider Capacity Plus Multi Site
  • Consider asking the local emergency management agency to allow camp radios access
Specifications

  • Property 3,000 acres, wooded, hilly, central area buildings
  • Location 30.617127, -95.247358
  • DMR conventional (non-trunked) standalone repeater, maybe MOTOTRBO (truncked) or Analog?
    • Camp wide coverage is needed
    • Two talk groups
  • Rangers and maintenance (Year round use)
  • Camp activities staff (Weekends, Weeklong Camps, and Summer Camp)
  • Fiber optic internet and camp Wi-Fi available
Deliverables

  • Installation Plan and Cost
    • Repeater, type, brand, model
    • Duplexer
    • Antenna, type, height
    • Basic 4 channel Part 90 hand held radios, type, brand, model (How many?)
  • Operation Plan and Cost
    • Annual professional operation check
    • Replacement, portable radios, antennas, batteries, knobs and belt clips
 

kayn1n32008

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This thread has both really good advice, and really bad advice.

If the budget is reasonable, and I was building the system, I would build it out on UHF. Yes. Hilly bush. Yes UHF.

3000 acres is a bit over 4.6 square miles. I would also do Capacity Plus Single site if a single site is workable(based on coverage prediction) or multi site if a second site is required. If only a couple talk groups are needed then a single channel. By using Cap+, you are not forced to static talkgroups on static time slots. Used XPR8400 450-520-ish repeaters are plentiful as Cap+/Con+ are upgraded. XPR6550 high split radios are plentiful. If over time, they find more uses for radios(it’s bound to happen) and you need more RF channels, it’s cheaper and much easier to add UHF Channels than VHF. It’s also much more compact than VHF as well. You will also find coverage will be better on belt with UHF then VHF as well.
 

Firebuff880

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Good Morning,

@kayn1n32008 Have to agree with most of what you posted except the use of old / eol hardware. If I were doing this from scratch it would be SLR repeaters as like the 4000 & 6000 subscribers the older repeaters are all about to be left behind from a firmware view point, and that could affect the ability to "rent" subscribers for a major short term event like a jamboree. An yes, the WV system is a Cap Plus UHF installation.

----
 
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