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TennDECA
03-25-2011, 01:15 AM
Sorry, didn't know where to out this.

In an effort to learn the basics of amateur radio before jumping in, I've been reading up on a few things. Looking at my needs and how i would use it, I think my ideal setup would be something that is man-portable, yet powerful enough to "get out there" if I'm deep in the back country.

That obviously rules out a base station. And a portable rig just isn't powerful enough and doesn't have a big enough antenna. That leaves a mobile unit. But I don't want it to be tied to a vehicle in case I have to abandon it.

The PCR 117 seems like an ideal rig for what I want, however I believe it is a .mil unit only. Is there a civilian equivalent in terms of size, power and portability?

I've seen some "portable" setups where guys put a more powerful mobile unit(s) with batts and/or inverters in small toolbox size boxes (Pelican, etc) and carried stowable larger antennas. Basically, it was a setup where the operator could pack everything up in a small backpack and go, then setup and plug everything in when at a stationary location.

Is that DIY setup as good as it gets for the kind of setup I'm looking to get? I'm still learning, so forgive my ignorance.

Best regards.

PRC 74
03-25-2011, 04:03 AM
Do you mean PRC 117? Nothing I know of in the civilian market that equals it. Here is some info on it:

http://www.rfcomm.harris.com/capabilities/tactical-radios-networking/an-prc-117g/default.asp

Yes it is portable but that is military terms it prob. weight 12 to 18 pounds with the battery. Not too bad if you are an 18yo RTO but I would not want to hump one too far.

What kind of range do you need? And what are your communication needs, surely not the type required by the PRC 117.

SPQR476
03-25-2011, 04:31 AM
What do you want to do? The AN/PRC-117 is a nice radio...beats the hell out of the PSC-5 for a lot of things IMHO, but who do you want to talk to? Civilian SATCOM generally uses satellites that aren't in a geosynchronous orbit, so it's not as usable as .mil--I know my bird is always bearing 350 deg at a 50 degree take off angle--so if you want to talk over distance you need a repeater system or HF. If HF is where you are going, then we get into antenna size issues. Personally, I wish I had an AN/PRC-150...the Harris HF radio that is the same size as the 117. If repeater is where you are going, then you can talk on a lot smaller unit--an HT in a lot of places-- but that doesn't do you much good where there is no repeater network or if the network goes down.

PRC 74
03-25-2011, 04:43 AM
I don't think you will ever see a PRC 150 in the civilian market as it has embedded encryption that can't be removed so is controlled by NSA. The older version is a PRC 138. You can pull one module to remove encryption and are on the market. I would love to have one but are expensive. If you need SATCOM you can always pirate the FLEETSATCOM system. They have a problem with Brazilians using the system for personal commo. But I would never want anyone to do this as it would interfere with vital national communications. If you are interested in a PRC 138 this guy has them from time to time. He is good to deal with and stands behind what he sells.

http://www.murphyjunk.bizland.com/

B+Shooter
03-25-2011, 05:58 AM
To do a mobile base isn't that bad. There are other setups besides just HT's and tackle boxes. Check out this site.

http://www.powerportstore.com/index.htm

You can put together some cool setups with batteries and chargers. The important question is who are you going to talk to, and what setup do they have? That will narrow down the type of comms you will want.

TennDECA
03-25-2011, 08:21 AM
Thanks for the replies guys. Yes I meant the PRC 117. Obviously, I don't need encrypted comms via satellites on military freqs.

I guess what I'm looking for is a multi-band ham setup that is powerful enough to have the range of a base/mobile unit, but be small enough to be man-portable. I spend a good amount of time in the backcountry hiking and camping where there are no repeaters at all. I'd like to have comms with me for emergencies. While the obvious answer is a sat phone or personal EPIRB, I'd also like this unit to serve a dual purpose as a SHTF comm unit.

A portable HAM unit would be perfect, except at 5 watts, it doesn't really have the juice to reach any more than a few miles without repeaters (right?). A mobile HAM unit seems doable, except they're generally tied to a vehicle (right?)

I was wondering if there was something in between. I was just using the PRC 117 as an example. Powerful enough to have great range (although, I guess it relies on sats for this and not repeaters?) yet compact enough to be carried in a pack.

Is there a civilian HAM setup that would meet those needs?

TennDECA
03-25-2011, 08:33 AM
B+,

Thanks for the link. That's. Exactly the kind of set up I'm picturing! Much nicer than the DIY setups put together in the garage.

KaiserJeep
03-25-2011, 08:50 AM
In a word, NO. The PRC-117 offers continuous spectrum coverage from 30Mhz to 2Ghz. That is MF (Medium Frequency, aka "Shortwave") to 2Ghz (line-of-sight satellite frequencies). This is possible for members of the armed forces because the FCC will not be enforcing regulations about assigned frequencies and channels. In peacetime, the guys in uniform normally voluntarilly adhere to assigned frequencies in order to avoid conflict with civilian commercial radio, telecommunications, television, etc. Of course, they are not REQUIRED to do so - after all, they do work for the government.

However, in civilian life, you don't get to ignore FCC assigned frequencies, and if you try to do so, sooner or later gray government vans with antennas will be cruising around your neighborhood, and then they will show up at your door with a warrant and confiscate everything you own that looks like it could have any telecommunications-related purpose, including your kid's iPOD. Then after a few years and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees, you will get some of it back.

It's true, there are a few amatuer (ham) transceivers that offer multi-band coverage. But the hams have divvyed up these few small bands they have left into different applications, and they too are protective of what spectrum they have left (it's a dying hobby). If you want to play in their bands, you have to get the correct license and obey their rules.

In general, the best thing you can do is own several dedicated communications rigs. Those would include short range (I like plain old CB radio for that), medium range (2-meter ham band works good), and long range (sat phone works best).

WIG19
03-25-2011, 09:56 AM
TennDECA

http://w4ti.net/ft857.html

Short answer is that news of the death of amateur radio is premature, and yes there are "ham" setups that can probably cover the bases you need. Without going to a true QRP rig (~5 watts) something like the above is still worth investigating. Like many things (picking a main battle rifle, GSR, personal carry handgun), it all depends on what you want to do with it. You have obviously figured out how to upload an avatar - you have therefore displayed the propensity to study and the FCC General license (certainly the Tech) would be no problem for you. (Extra is another matter.)

Like most gear, TINSTAAFL. More power = more/faster consumption = bigger batteries/bigger inverters = more weight. Really answer what you want to do.
My portable IS my base. And it works fine with a decent antenna that doesn't travel with me. For travelling, a couple of easily made things in ziploc bags do the trick. The only power lack I note is when IN the town suburban location and I've decided I do need a little muscle to get out of that stuff to the other end of the country; so I'm going to get an extra 45w amp to take care of that. Anyone inside a 300mile radius doesn't know I run a portable rig generally; other side of the country is another matter but they're not gonna be much help anyway. But travelling I take a gel-cell on the back if needed, along with the battery in the rig. If doing the weather-spotting thing & plopping my behind in a chair for awhile, I can tailgate the thing & run off the cig lighter socket in the bed of the truck (or just run coax out the window and sit IN the truck if needed).

Define what you need to do (who, how far, by what means?)
How much do you want to haul (is there an endurance tradeoff in terms of power consumed vs. how much battery weight on your back)? The few true multimode/multiband rigs around these days are pretty good stuff. If you're getting good comms & want to sve the battery, you can always turn the power down. Any ham here can help; most have been through this question alot more times than I.

It is true that hams are protective of their spectrum, but not against you. The modern digital stuff sucks up chunks, and the genuflecting by our G to other govts in treaties - instead of enforcing things to protect American amateurs - has led to encroachment that is "tolerated" by the Fed.[/othernutroll]

I just finished last night getting my bag organized to the extent that I literally just have to disconnect from the home coax, grab the key/headset/mic and the rig and its power cable (extra w/cig adapter is in the bag) and go.

Most actual "mobile" antennas are much more limited than a homebrewed wire antenna you can make for < $5 and stick in a ziploc bag. Again, depends on what you wish to do. I'd still recommend you investigate one of the current generation of multimode rigs available. Just because something is the size of a PRC-25 doesn't mean it can't be portable, but just because it's the size of a baby DVD player doesn't mean it can't be a base either.

To answer one other question you posted, the long distance amateur comms use HF vs. higher frequencies (not satellites, although you're allowed to talk to them and the ISS as well). Has to do with the frequencies and how they reflect and.... it really is easy, study for the exams is pretty easy, taking them is really easy and when you come through the looking glass the G doesn't know much more about you other than your mailing address is in another database.

There's just some stuff to learn in a new genre and most here would be happy to walk you through it. Note: I am also probably what some would call a 'bad' ham - not into alot of Saturday morning "rag chewing" about the world, or the latest antenna, or the wife's gout, or whatver & staying on the air forever. Comms is a tool/enabler for me, although I've encountered some neat people who've enjoyed that as a hobby for a long time and are WTers to boot and have helped me along. Seems consistent with the way they roll.
:wink:

JustMe
03-25-2011, 10:08 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHRSsbpy2aU
- 2 radios
- 2 Sets of batteries for HF; internal and external
- Beam and longwire dipole, rope
- Log books
- Room for water, food, and more
- Vermont to Michigan / 8 states and Canada

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqjsbgFQhTw
- Unlike the other guy, This guy did not forget his gun
- 2 Sets of batteries for HF; internal and external
- Longwire dipole, rope and antenna tuner

Here is a good video for the size of this radio relative to a guys hands:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQ-_mD28oiI

What improvements are you trying to make? ;)

NOTE: The FT817 has and internal battery and the ability to connect an external. So I'm making the assumption both these folks loaded the internal pack in their setups. The internal is short lived compared to using the external gel cell.

TennDECA
03-25-2011, 01:29 PM
Thanks WIG and JM. I'm a little confused on one big thing, though, regarding power and repeaters.

If I understand correctly, small handheld units (portables) are generally about 5w and as such, generally have a very limited range WITHOUT the use of, or access to, repeaters. If they can find a repeater, it can significantly increase their range. But without it, they are very limited.

Whereas more powerful mobile or base applications generally have about 50w of power and, while they can use repeaters to reach out around the world, can still reach out a couple hundred miles (in the right conditions) WITHOUT a repeaters.

Is that correct?

I am operating under the assumption that I won't have access to a repeater (I don't know if that is true or not, but I don't want to absolutely have to rely on repeater use for comms). I don't know how deep in the woods those guys were, but I can sometimes find myself 50+ miles in the backcountry/desert with NOTHING around.

Just on it's face, it seems like a handheld by itself would not be powerful enough to contact anyone.

Or am I wrong?

Teckomando
03-25-2011, 01:51 PM
Just to confuse things a little, you can also use the twenty+ OSCAR satellites as repeaters as well. With a handmade antenna and a smartphone telemetry tracking app you can use those satellites to extend your comm range. My HTX-202 is large for an HT but it comms well with OSCAR. You can use voice on 21 MHz, 29 MHz, 144 MHz, and 440 MHz bands all the way up to 47 GHz. There are several niche hobbies in amateur radio that get overlooked by the non-geek Elmers.

JustMe
03-25-2011, 02:30 PM
Thanks WIG and JM. I'm a little confused on one big thing, though, regarding power and repeaters.

I will define “Communications” as being the overlap of the region your transmitter can reach, and the region your receiver can hear from. If you can’t HEAR, and SPEAK, then no communications can occur.

Yes, this definition can be debated, but it’s purpose is to make a very specific point. You can pump out all the power your want, reaching the deepest depths of the universe means nothing when the only person that hears you, and is trying to respond, is using a more humble and common setup. When your ears are plugged, the biggest megaphone in the world will not help you hear.

When it comes to long distance communications (above definition), we really want to focus on the antenna and not power. A very good antenna will also use the transmit power applied to it in the most efficient way possible thus extendeding you transmit distance as well as your receive distance - When it comes to the antenna receive and transmit effecincy go together.

It’s also useful to remember something else. The average person is only capable of hearing amplitude differences of about “2 db”, radios are a bit different for reason I will not get into, but the analogy I’m about to make is reasonably correct. The difference in signal amplitude of 100 watts for power and 200 watts of power is “3 db” or about the same as human decernment. If you move your antenna 20 or 30 feet the effect of that moved might well be GREATER that the difference of 100 watts versus 200 watts when communicating with a given person.

Thus we see even more reason that power is often not the issue, the antenna is. Changing your antenna design usually makes more difference than changing your power level. Thus for portable applications, it makes far more sense to carry a long “tuned” antenna in the form of a rolled up wire than carrying a heavier radio.

5 or 10 watts is plenty of power for a good antenna. And the rope and wire of the antenna can serve other emergency purposes as well. The radio is far more limited uses. A seperate 12 volt gel cell, carried for the radio, also has many other possible uses assuming you select other emergency gear that can run off 12 volts.

On your second issue, a repeater changes nothing. The repeater is just a "proxy" which provides you an extension leg. It's receive and transmit regions will overall. Just like you need an overlap to talk to a person, you need that overlap to "hit" the repeater and thus gain the full benefits of the extension it gives you - "Extension" being how it extends the receive/transmit region you have without it, think venn diagram.



Just to confuse things a little, you can also use the twenty+ OSCAR satellites as repeaters as well. With a handmade antenna and a smartphone telemetry tracking app you can use those satellites to extend your comm range. My HTX-202 is large for an HT but it comms well with OSCAR. You can use voice on 21 MHz, 29 MHz, 144 MHz, and 440 MHz bands all the way up to 47 GHz. There are several niche hobbies in amateur radio that get overlooked by the non-geek Elmers.

Teckomando's "complication" is nice because it then shows an aspect of how other infrastructure components will empower temporary “links” to others. And Teckomando’s example is tip of the iceburg relative to what I’m seeing in today Amateur Radio infrastructure.




Again, I’d suggest not taking the view of lone wolfing comm. For Amateur Radio you just want to connect to somebody with a high confidence of doing so at any given moment. I think that’s pretty easy to do with the true protables available today. That said, it’s not going to be “plug and play” like entering 911 into a cell phone, you’ll need to learn a little about the various bands and their behavior and a little about how antennas behave. Both of these can be areas where you can get a PhD so it can get as overwhelming as you allow them to be. However the videos I offered clearly show it takes very little to get the real world practical stuff ... And learn from experiance that just moving 20 feet can mean the difference of no contact and lots of contacts. I put this link of the front of that PDF I wrote for a very good reason. You got a top Army dog humbly thanking him and his group for what all his provided resources could not do nearly as well for many many reasons:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pejhtY1pMig

And these days most all the R&D that goes into into military electronics is the same as consumer, assuming you get a top brand like Yaesu, Icom or Kenwood. That’s part of why the Military went “COTS”. Yeah their versions have far most robust packging, So just grab a second/spare “non robust” consumer radio if the first one breaks somehow, not likely these days, and you’ll still probably be carring “less” than a military version.

Amateur Radio exists due to government’s desire to have emergency radio communications:

http://www.arrl.org/arrlletter?issue=2011-03-24
http://www.arrl.org/news/radio-amateurs-in-japan-still-providing-communications-support

Amateur Radio is second to nothing, a fact not conveyed by the unfortunate use of the term “Amateur”. But that does mean you must learn just a little technical stuff like antennas, and most of this is learned my just going out and doing.

TennDECA
03-25-2011, 02:52 PM
So are antenna's THE most important part of the equation then? If so, learning all about antenna's would arguably be the most important thing for a FNG to do?

SPQR476
03-25-2011, 03:17 PM
Learn about the various bandwidths available and their characteristics as they match to your communications needs. If you want 50 miles without repeaters, you're talking about HF or SATCOM...and teckomandos reference to OSCARs is what I was talking about initially....since they are non-geo-synchronous orbits, you need to be able to track the satellite position in order to use it, and your "comm windows" can be short or unacceptably timed.

Which...leaves HF, where your antennae are long and generally cumbersome to be effective. 20m can talk to the world, 80m is good for intrastate or regional, even 10, 12 (and 11 when no one's looking) can be used effectively over distance when the bands are "open". You can also do packet or other protocols that allow you to send data over HF similar to sending an e-mail. Here, to be portable, we are talking about a wire antenna, althought there are tunable mobile antennae out there.

Pick up the ARRL tech and general study guides and the ARRL antenna book, and get your general ticket. Those are pretty good starts at at least getting to where you know what it is that you want to get good at and have as a capability.

WIG19
03-28-2011, 06:27 AM
Thoughts below in bold.
Thanks WIG and JM. I'm a little confused on one big thing, though, regarding power and repeaters.
JM & SPQR476 give good advice. I promise you won't get corrupted & be issued red-flannel if you treat Amateur Radio as a venue to learn tools. I'm a bad ham; I'm not a rag-chewer, comms is a tool to me & I'm more interested proving a commo circuit or some component of it (so contesters out there if I call you at all it's because I'm using you, get over it).

I'll see if I can put it a different (but maybe not better) way by example.

If I understand correctly, small handheld units (portables) are generally about 5w and as such, generally have a very limited range WITHOUT the use of, or access to, repeaters. If they can find a repeater, it can significantly increase their range. But without it, they are very limited.

True, handhelds generally limited by the antenna that comes with them, the inevitable rubber duck. It's not necessarily the 5w that is the limitation.

Whereas more powerful mobile or base applications generally have about 50w of power and, while they can use repeaters to reach out around the world, can still reach out a couple hundred miles (in the right conditions) WITHOUT a repeaters.

The higher frequency (e.g., 146MHz) are clearer, but travel via ground-waves rather than skipping off the ionosphere like lower frequencies of HF (like at 3.8MHz); so they need repeaters because they work by line-of-sight. How well that works is how well integrated an area's repeater system is. Illustration:

We have some really good repeaters in my AO for freq above, used widely by wx spotters, but key question is does the NWS office in the big-city listen to them, and do the spotters also have the meager allocation of out-of-date "official county" radios? For reliable comms you may want more than one tool in the bag, hence the multi-band transceiver. The frequency you use may dictate a different antenna solution.

I am operating under the assumption that I won't have access to a repeater (I don't know if that is true or not, but I don't want to absolutely have to rely on repeater use for comms). I don't know how deep in the woods those guys were, but I can sometimes find myself 50+ miles in the backcountry/desert with NOTHING around.

Just on it's face, it seems like a handheld by itself would not be powerful enough to contact anyone.

While it's true the handheld would be limited by its standard 'duck' the limitation on distance w/o repeater is going to be limited by the frequencies handhelds come in. (This is why compact multi-band transceivers are so popular, weighing maybe 1 pound more, not counting battery solution you pick.)

Not a pitch for any particular make/model but:
My 5w compact can work HF up to hundreds of miles with a simple wire antenna thrown into a tree; don't have a tree? Hang both ends 6' off the ground between two cactus or a walking staff at one end and truck's tie-down at the other. It's not the power, it's a combination of the right piece of wire for the right frequency. I can also attach its 'duck' and talk right in my AO *IF* others are listening on repeaters *AND* my antenna can "see" the repeater's antenna - very-high-frequency highly portable stuff is very dependent upon that line-of-sight thing, because it doesn't bounce off the atmosphere. Then I can take the same radio home, plug into a 3A DC power supply, hookup my fixed long piece of wire and talk even further. What's a portable & what's a base?
:wink:

Unless you are into what it takes to make use of satellites, you will get alot of capability out of having a multi-band rig of some kind. It doesn't need to be hugely powerful because, as mentioned, there's a tradeoff for power out vs. power it needs to eat = battery size/solution you need to carry.

It is true that HF antennas are generally more cumbersome in the sense that they're typically not something you use on your back while walking. But they are not necessarily heavy. Until the winter up here moderated and I could get up a "supposedly proper" antenna at my town location, my base antenna was this (http://www.qsl.net/wb3gck/dollar_store_special.htm)and I talked all over out of the 2nd fl BR window. It's in a ziploc bag this second in a 'go' pack. When at home I'd like more power sometimes to climb out of the suburban noise (and even talk to grnzbra on the coast once in awhile) but I really like it that 5w still lets me talk very nicely for a several hundred mile radius. I could have that power but it's a trade-off when I go portable; the bigger rig weighs more and eats more battery when portable. That's why I'll keep the small rig and add a separate amp for the home location. Something you must weigh based on what you need to do.

SPQR476's recommendation to get your General license is a great one. I promise you that, in the process, you will learn some stuff on purpose, and you will learn some other stuff by accident along the way. Like why higher frequencies translate to shorter antenna requirements but need line-of-sight and why lower frequencies need more wire but don't care & bounce of the sky to come down much further away. (Grnzbra recently taught me a term regarding a type of echo & I was able to recognize it the other night on a morse net coming out of AZ, so the learning stuff apparently keeps going.)

Go here (http://www.arrl.org/licensing-education-training) and find the study guides and go to eham.net or qrz.com and take practice exams online.
:veryhappy:

mde762
03-28-2011, 11:44 AM
Tons of great experience in this thread.....I was in the same boat before leave a month ago. Check out the Yaesu 817, its already been recomended here so Im beating a dead horse. But, it was easy to use, can interface with PCs, and comming from a guy who uses 117F for a living, ID MUCH RATHER HUMP THE FT817.(its like a 10th of the size) With some creativity, it can be run in the same manner as a Harris or an ASIP. Just realize the imitations of each system, because mil comms mostly rely on VHF and freq hop algorithms, as well as electronic crypto equipment. You can do all this yourself really cheap and simple by knowing first who you want to talk to in your net then agreeing upon some sort of code(number lines out of an obscure paperback for example).
Not sure what you do, but if you have any commo guys around talk to them. Also get a copy of the USMC feild antenna handbook. It goes everywhere with me. It will have anything you need to know about every antenna you can run in the feild or build yourself. Also pick up Communications for Survival and Self Reliance by Micheal Chesbro. Great reference on everything civilian commo related.
PM me for anything you might need bro.

Teckomando
03-28-2011, 11:58 AM
You can do all this yourself really cheap and simple by knowing first who you want to talk to in your net then agreeing upon some sort of code(number lines out of an obscure paperback for example).
PM me for anything you might need bro.Make sure you do not try this on civilian amateur radio. It is illegal. If you want to practice it I would suggest you use the unlicensed two-way talkies or CBs. That way you are legal and still know if your codes works. Then if the SHTF you will have the system in place if you need it and there is no harm no foul. Plus CB band is also known as 11 meter band. The legal power limit makes it a short range transmitter however it has the potential for long distance commo. Any 10 meter antenna or amplifier can be used with 11 meter with just minor fine tuning.

Also get a copy of the USMC feild antenna handbook. It goes everywhere with me. It will have anything you need to know about every antenna you can run in the feild or build yourself. Also pick up Communications for Survival and Self Reliance by Micheal Chesbro. Great reference on everything civilian commo related. I have both of these books. They are a great resource. So are local ham clubs. You can visit the ham club meetings without any obligation and pick the brain of anyone willing to chat. There are usually several Elmers who are more than happy to chew your ear off and answer any questions you have. Elmers are my favorite source for radio info.

JustMe
03-28-2011, 12:13 PM
The higher frequency (e.g., 146MHz) are clearer, but travel via ground-waves rather than skipping off the ionosphere like lower frequencies of HF (like at 3.8MHz); so they need repeaters because they work by line-of-sight. How well that works is how well integrated an area's repeater system is.

I know we are trying to focus on the context of RELIABLE communications, but this is an opertunity to make an example why jumping in and learning is so important (as WIG19 also said).

There are unusual cases of "atmospheric ducting" in the VHF band, not sure about UHF as I've not experianced it myself. I've experianced this a couple time on 2 meters 144 mhz, suddenly, and for a brief period, your coverage area just explodes far beyond the horizon as in hundreds of miles. See page 46:

www.emergencyradio.ca/course/Lesson-7%20Propagation.pdf (http://www.emergencyradio.ca/course/Lesson-7%20Propagation.pdf)

Again, just jump in and start learming. :)


Elmers are my favorite source for radio info.

Translation: The most experianced Amateur Radio Operators.

Full circle back to gaining ones own experiance just jumping right in.

The great part is, after the radio itself, you really don't have to spend much money after that. Any old cheap wire from HomeDepot and some basic geometry allows you to start playing around with antennas - Just don't forget to grab some ground rods for lightning protection for home/base antennas.

Need help? Jump on the radio and ask. :)

Kansas Volunteer
03-28-2011, 05:21 PM
:confused: Oh! for the simplicity of an AN/PRC 10, but I think I'm learning.