Communications Myths

Recently one of our customers came in asking about sat phones. Apparently, in the recent Dora the Explorer movie, she uses a sat phone successfully while inside a house.

Things like this are portrayed all the time in movies. We thought it would be fun to dispel some of these myths about how communications work, and help people better understand what they are actually working with.

Myth #1: Satellite phones can work anywhere, instantly.

Satellite phones rely on, you guessed it, satellites. Providers have a large number of these satellites orbiting around the earth. For the most part, they provide constant coverage. However, as one drifts out of range, you must wait for the next one to come along in order to have signal again.

Further, satellite phones must be able to see the sky. In other words, you have to be outside, with a clear shot to the sky. You cannot use a sat phone in a bunker, or a cave, or under water.

Myth #2: Radios can communicate across thousands of miles.

Many war or apocalypse movies show people talking on 2-way FRS radios from New York to North Dakota, or something equally ridiculous.

Radio waves are a natural phenomenon. We have harnessed them as a means of transmitting communications over distances. However, they are a wave. It helps to think of them like this, in order to understand their limitations. For example, if you imagine a wave of water, you wouldn’t assume it would go through a solid object like a cliff face or a building. Yet, often we expect radio waves to perform this feat.

Wave size & frequency

These waves have different properties based on the SIZE of the wave. The lower the frequency, the larger the wave. The larger the wave, the farther it goes. Very large waves literally travel by bouncing off the ‘sky’ and then the ground. Examples of larger waves include CB and HF waves. CB or Citizens Band is 25Mhz.

Smaller waves/higher frequencies are used for VHF and UHF radios. Devices in these frequency ranges are those most identifiable and widely used as ‘radios’. These devices are in the 140-450 MHz range.

Cellular waves by contrast are very small, as a result they have very short range. However, smaller waves are better at ‘bouncing’ off of buildings and other structures. Thus, where a large wave would simply be deflected, the smaller waves will bounce and allow for signal in urban areas. Cellular is in the 700-800/1800-1900 MHz range.

The reason we can call someone on a cellphone in another area of the country is the ground infrastructure of towers built by the cellular networks. It isn’t the wave emitted by our phone actually travelling to that location instantaneously.

Power

Power is another issue that impacts how far a signal will go. For handhelds, 5 watts is the maximum output (for safety reasons). Generally, they are good for around 3-8km. Mobiles (or truck radios) are around 30 watts. This can go up to 100km with line of sight, but certainly not thousands of miles!

Thus, the only way to communicate over massive distances would be to use a low frequency with considerable power. And as we’ve seen, even this isn’t predictable, as the wave may be disrupted by obstacles in its journey as it bounces across the countryside.

The moral of the story? Don’t expect your poor little walkie talkie FRS radio to communicate across miles and miles! It is hampered by its power and by the frequency it is using.

Myth #3: Radios are indestructible

Again, in war and apocalyptic movies, the poor radios go on forever- through tsunamis, and earthquakes etc.

Radios are used for emergency communications because they don’t require infrastructure. Where cellular and satellite devices require many working parts in a system, radios just need one another and the same channel.

A few things to remember however,

  1. Radios require power like anything else- so you must have a way to charge the battery.
  2. Handhelds are often waterproof and to military specs. These ratings are generally for a certain duration and level of exposure (eg. immersed 2 meters for 30 minutes). Thus, military specs does not mean indestructible.
  3. Radios require certain elements to function properly. We already mentioned a power source. A second is an antenna suited to the frequencies you are using.

Conclusion:

The technologies we sell are truly amazing. They perform consistently in tough conditions, with little care or attention. We have seen radios caked in mud that haven’t been serviced for years, that are still going strong.

We’ve had people drop, throw, and sink their handhelds and they keep going strong. You can’t do that with a cellphone!

The purpose of this article is to help you understand the parameters of the technology you are using. This will allow you to use it more intelligently and more efficiently.

Will a satellite device work for me?

One of the biggest questions we get at Walco is ‘will this satellite device work in X location?’ While we do our best to answer client’s questions, this one is a real challenge.

Satellite Device Basics

Satellite devices do exactly as their name suggests, they connect to satellites. The issue is, connecting to a satellite has many variable factors at play.

Sky Visibility:

A key factor in whether you can connect to a satellite is your visibility of the sky. For example, in the image on the left, you will have a very narrow window to connect and make your call or send your message. In the image on the right, you will have considerably more time, and thus likely more success.

Satellite Coverage:

A second factor is the satellite coverage for your particular area. In some areas (like north western BC) satellite coverage can be quite limited. It may take up to 20 minutes for a satellite to be present over head. Thus, just because you aren’t connecting, doesn’t mean you have a problem with your device. It could be that there is no satellite to connect to.

Successful Handoffs:

Another factor in whether your message gets sent is the successful handoff of your information to the various pieces of the system. For example, much like cell towers, satellites often need to ‘handoff’ the information or the call to another satellite that is closer to your location. Further, the satellite must also send your message to a ground station, which then moves the message onto a standard network.

As Globalstar explains on their website:

” Our satellites transmit customer signals via CDMA technology to antennas at the appropriate terrestrial gateway, then the signals are routed through the local networks. “

As you can see, this is a complicated and multi-step process. Where a cellphone simply needs to connect to a local network, your satellite device has two steps to go through before it even gets to a land based network! This can help explain why messages may take a while to go through, or get lost entirely.

Benefits & Limitations

As with all technology, it is key to understand how it works so you can use best practices. Further, having a realistic idea of what the technology can and cannot do will keep you from feeling frustrated!

Satellite technology allows us to stay connected in some of the most remote places in the world. It is an incredibly valuable safety tool to those who work beyond traditional networks. With proper use and understanding of the device you have chosen, satellite devices can be useful companions in work and recreation.

How do Boosters Work?

Many of our customers come in looking for a cell booster. They live, work, and travel in remote areas and want the assurance of cellular signal.

Unfortunately, there are tons of misconceptions about boosters and how they work. Let’s clear up a few!

  1. Boosters ‘boost’ signal. In other words, if there is no signal, the booster cannot help. If you are thinking of buying a booster, you need to have at least some signal.
  2. For in building boosters, the signal needs to be somewhere accessible to the antenna. You need to have some signal in a location of your building where the antenna can be mounted.
  3. The less signal, the less area is covered. If you have very little signal, the booster will cover less area. So for example, if you are in your car- if you have decent signal – the booster will boost throughout the car. If you have almost no signal, you will need to keep your phone very close to the antenna to get signal.
  4. LTE vs. 3G. The older cellular networks have more complete coverage and more towers. LTE mostly works in dense areas like cities. If you are in a rural area, switching your device to 3G usually helps to immediately gain more signal. Not all boosters are set up for LTE, so be sure to inquire.
  5. More power = stronger booster. The more dB the booster has, the farther it can work. In other words, a 50 dB booster will work better than a 30dB booster. This is also reflected in the cost.

Signal of any type is not a perfect science. We are harnessing a natural phenomena that is effected by many factors. This can make it difficult to know if a booster will work for you. As such, we have rental boosters for you to try before you buy!

Hopefully this has shed a little bit of light on boosters and how they can help you!

Basic Radio Rules & Regulations

Did you know two-way radios require a license?

When you purchase a radio, you are required to obtain a license through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. This license is per radio, per year. Further, you must add to your license those frequencies you are using, whether Basic 10, Appendix 6 (BC), RR’s etc. Further, if you wish to have special frequencies added, you must have a letter of authorization and add the frequency to your license.

Did you know that programmable, amateur and marine radios are not usable for land mobile purposes?

Very often people will come in hoping to buy programmable radios to use on resource roads. Unfortunately, programmable radios are not permissible for land mobile use. Frequencies are managed by the government for specific purposes. Thus, ISED wants to ensure whoever is programming a radio understands what frequencies are permitted.

Did you know your license is for a particular area?

This is because frequencies are often ‘reused’ in different areas. For example, a private channel in Kamloops, may be a crane operators channel in Edmonton. If you use that channel in Edmonton you can cause interference with the crane operator- thus putting other people’s safety at risk.

Did you know radios you purchase online may be illegal for use in Canada?

Many popular and cheap ‘walkie walkie’ style radios from overseas are actually illegal for use in Canada. Before you buy a radio, ensure that it is approved for use by ISED. Use this link to check it out.

Happy Holidays!

Thank you for your support in 2018! We love serving you, and helping you solve your communications problems. We wish you and yours a wonderful and safe holiday season.

Please note, we will be closed from December 25th to January 2nd. We look forward to assisting you in 2019!

50% Off Spot Trace & Gen 3!

KNOW WHERE YOUR LOVED ONES ARE WITH SPOT

Those outdoor enthusiasts in your life move from one adventure to the next, so giving the gift of safety and peace of mind won’t go unnoticed. When adventures take you beyond cellular coverage, SPOT keeps you connected to family, friends and emergency responders, as well as protects your most valuable toys from theft.
The Gen3 is an easy way to stay safe in the wilderness. Your favorite winter adventurer can pre-program 3 messages to let you know they are safe. This device is also equipped with an SOS feature that contacts emergency services.
Worried about a different kind of loved one? Like your truck or other equipment? The Trace is a cost effective way to protect your property from theft. Simply mount the device, and it will send location notifications. You can relax and enjoy the holidays knowing your in the clear!
Both these products are available for 50% off through to December 31, 2018. Conditions apply.

Check out the promotion details!

Radios in Times of Emergency

Do you ever notice how in every post-apocalyptic movie, they are using radios? Not only that, but RCMP, first responders, search and rescue and ski patrol all use radios. There is good reason for this. In fact, many amateur radio operators consider themselves key in emergency communications. Learning about how to use, and owning a radio is incredibly important for emergency preparedness.

So why is this?

First, radios don’t require infrastructure. Cell towers can go down in fires or other disasters, removing all communications with cellular. Satellite devices can have delays or become inoperable if the satellites they use are damaged. Radio on the other hand doesn’t rely on this technology.

While radio signals are improved and extended by the use of repeaters or other equipment, radios do not require these to work. If you have two handheld radios, and are within distance of one another, you can communicate.

Second, radios don’t require a number. Thus, if you have a radio and are tuned to an active channel, you can communicate with anyone else on that channel. In BC we have the RR channels, which most radios undoubtedly have programmed into them. Thus, in the case of an emergency, you could likely scan the RR channels and find someone to communicate with for help.

Third, radios are tougher and more practical than cellular phones. They are often designed for combat and extreme work situations. Thus, many radios are waterproof, dust proof and designed for long battery life. Radios also don’t rely on data, upgrades or other communications with manufacturers or developers to function. Software and other features of a cell phone may become obsolete or inoperative in emergency situations. The radio has one function- communication.

Radios have many uses in our current daily lives, from work settings, to charitable events, to sports, to hunting. Owning a radio is just one more way to add to your resources in work, play and in the event of an emergency.

SpotX

The highly anticipated Spot X is here! As with all Spot products, this device is economical, minimalist and amazingly functional. The unit looks similar to a blackberry, with a full keyboard and large screen.

Spot states:

SPOT X provides 2-way satellite messaging so you can stay connected to family, friends and colleagues whenever you’re outside of cellular range, including direct communication with Search & Rescue services in case of a life-threatening emergency. SPOT X even provides you with your own Canada-based personal mobile number so others can message you directly from their cell phone or other SMS devices at any time.

This unit is a step up from the Gen3, which was single direction. Now, you can have two-way communications for a much more affordable price than the competitors.

 

 

Some awesome features include:

  • 10 day battery (on 10 minute tracking)
  • Full keyboard
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Direct line to Search and Rescue
  • Check in texts (like Gen3)
  • Post to social media
  • 2 way messaging
  • Compass
  • Tracking (sends location to loved ones at set interval).

We know the SpotX will be a welcome addition to any outdoor adventurer’s pack! We are very excited to have this cost effective option for our customers.

Get out there this summer

We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth (its on the license plate after all!) If you’re one of the many British Columbians who loves the great outdoors, we are the place for you.

We often think about our gear with respect to tents or hiking boots. However, one of the most important pieces of gear is your communication. Every year, hundreds of people get lost in BC’s back country. Make sure you have the resources you need to get home safely!

There are a few ways you can stay connected while playing in nature. First, you can use ‘walkie talkies’ also known as FRS units. These handy devices help keep you connected with others in your group. Thus, if someone goes wandering off, you can find them and get home safely. These devices are very cost efficient and super easy to use.

Tend to hang out alone during your adventures? Sat devices are the thing for you. These units help you to communicate with those at home while you are out in the woods. These units range in price and features. Spot units are perfect for simple communications. InReach are more complex and allow for two way communication.

Want to learn more? Check out our Adventure Tourism Brochure!

Adventure Tourism

Heavy Duty Dash Cams

Dashcams are becoming more and more popular with the transportation industry. These devices are a solid investment for many reasons.

First, because they provide evidence and information to authorities in the event of a crash. This can be very helpful in reducing your liability and protecting your driving record.

Second, dash cams provide helpful feedback and information for businesses and drivers. The devices we carry at Walco Radio are designed to give you information about the road behind, your cargo loading and unloading. This can be of great value in the event inventory is missing or damaged.

At Walco we carry BlackVue heavy duty dash cameras. The image is HD and designed for the transportation industry. Recreational units do not have the durability needed for commercial purposes.

The unit is a waterproof and infrared rear camera which is connected to the front via 49ft of video cable. It also has built in wifi and GPS via the app. Further, these devices have impact and motion detection.

Have questions? We would love to answer them. We also install dash cams!