Well organised travellers in Australia's remote areas have always placed a high priority on reliable long-distance communications. As well as helping to avert personal disaster, effective communications can save you time and money where breakdowns and strandings might occur.

Communications hardware usually takes the form of an HF Radio and/or a Satellite Phone (Satphone). Because these two communication methods have their individual desirable attributes, choosing a system is not always straight forward.
With ongoing discussion in various forums on the choice of communication methods, we make the following points.

1. If you have the money, use an HF radio and a Satphone to maximise your reliable reach to help. Purchase outlays for this option will be around $5 - 6000, plus the various memberships, service fees and call charges.

2. If you don't want the above outlay, both HF radios and Satphones can be hired. The Satphone may have a service plan included in the hiring arrangement..

3. You could also opt for a single mode communication setup: HF Radio or Satphone. With this stance, costs are reduced but your options are also reduced (though not dramatically). Many travellers choose a single method of communicating, adapt their expectations toward that system and probably suffer no practical disadvantage as a result.

4. In choosing your communications system, we see the following issues as important.

When using a satphone, clear and reliable communications to any phone number on the planet are generally assured (but there can be many "dead" spots and service "drop outs") and there is usually a considerable cost for this option.

If you are in trouble you can communicate with only one person/party at a time. There is no network of Base Stations, Operators and helpful authorised users with support. With a satellite phone you are on your own. A number of time consuming calls may be required to finally arrange assistance from a source of help that may be a long way off. The best scenario here may be to have a correspondent do the arrangements for you, and then ring you back.

In the case of VKS-737's HF radio, communications may not always be as "clear" as that found on the satphone, and in some circumstances you may not be able to call directly your intended correspondent. When you do enter the airwaves though, you access a "community of the air". There are usually many users monitoring the system, so contact with someone, somewhere is virtually assured (and using selcall, you can "wake up" and "connect with" our bases, via automatic interconnects).

Should you need assistance when calling, base stations will transmit the situation report and you may find that other

VKS-737 subscribed users are nearby (possibly only a hillside away !).
While using a satphone, this "transmission" factor is not employed and opportunities for time-saving and cost-saving assistance may be missed as a result.

If you are in trouble, base station operators can phone anyone, anywhere, to try and arrange assistance - and it is all included as part of the annual fees. In 2007, a state of the art radio would be around $3500, VKS-737 annual licence authority fees - see
[VKS-737 Fees]
for details and there are no usage costs. A basic radio from the used market will do nicely for "talk only" communications and they are often sold under $1000
see [ VKS-737 market ] page the Trading Post, your local classifieds or the HF retailers who often carry second hand stock).

Radio Telephone (Radphone)
An opportunity to "bridge the divide" between HF and Satphones exists, in the form of Radphone (radio telephone) systems. When using radphone on a suitably equipped HF radio, you selcall the provider's base station, key in the desired phone number on your radio interface, and commence the call when answered (a broadcast call in fact - no privacy). This low cost system is attractive to many users but note that it may not be as clear as a Satphone. See [ HF-Tel Service ]  available to subscribers of the VKS-737 Radio Network..

A comparison of estimated costs for ownership and use of both systems may be of interest - one such exercise has been documented by staff at  [ ] .


See our PDF sheet

[ DOC 06 Communications Systems Comparison ] .

The choice is yours...........