HF - 'FLYING DOCTOR' - RADIO NETWORK
The VKS737 HF radio network is a very useful bush communication tool - updated December 2016
Outback Travel Australia relies on the VKS737 network on all bush trips. Contrary to the belief of many, HF isn't 'dinosaur' system, but thanks to recent developments is the communications network of choice for remote area travel and disaster relief.
OTA team members regularly accompany specialists who are opening up new tracks, tracing explorers’ routes or conducting archaeological work.
In all these pursuits OTA staffers rely on the VKS737 HF radio network, as well as on satellite phone connection. Allan Whiting, OTA’s principal has VKS737 call sign 0981 and Darrell White is on 0320.
The VKS737 HF radio network was established in 1993 to provide emergency and general radio communications for people who live, work in or travel through rural and remote areas of Australia.
The network is managed by administration staff, committee members and volunteers including message coordinator and base station operators. VKS737 is licensed by the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) and subscribers must comply with all provisions of the Radiocommunications Act 1992.
One advantage of HF radio over a satellite phone is that communications can be broadcast over many receivers.
There’s often a wealth of track and weather information at the other end of a VKS737 radio and all the subscribers OTA has communicated with have been very helpful.
Another advantage is the knowledgeable support provided by VKS737 base operators – volunteers who are happy to help with information or relaying messages.
It can be very comforting when you’re in very remote areas to hear a friendly, helpful voice crackling through the HF radio speaker.
Anyone who has used a CB radio is familiar with simplex transmissions, where you make a statement, finish it with the word ‘over’ and wait for a response from another transmitter.
HF radio use is similar, but there are protocols that must be observed, to keep the system working smoothly. It doesn’t take much practice for new VKS737 users to become familiar with the system.
Before buying a new or used HF radio it’s best to check with the VKS737 organisation, to make sure the unit is compatible.
The VKS737 network has an excellent website, with a long list of FAQs and an on line licence application form that can be downloaded in Acrobat PDF format.
Recent HF developments
Caitlin Vogel is a marketing specialist for Codan Radio Communications and she has summarised the current state of the global HF radio position:
When discussing HF radio technology, the topic of satellite communications commonly enters the conversation. In recent years, satellite technology has
become the prominent alternative to HF. Although satellite offers the convenience of a single portable handheld device, the technology can be significantly
more expensive than HF because of service costs and can be prone to jamming and link failure. HF offers a flexible platform that is cost effective
with no recurring costs (other than licensing - Ed) after the initial purchase.
The cost effectiveness of HF extends to the software defined radio (SDR) platform, a software-based radio technology that updates capabilities similar to that of an app on a smartphone. Users can download firmware and updates from their supplier, loading directly to HF radios through a USB or IP connection to add new capabilities such as GPS positioning, frequency hopping and data upgrades.
The platform integrates IP-based technology for remote configuration and monitoring. This means an HF radio connected to an Ethernet port can be loaded with a profile and have its software updated or reconfigured from anywhere in the world. Software applications for managing HF radios are smart and intuitive. An HF network configuration from a desktop computer can be pushed to all IPconnected radios on the network.
Long range digital radio (LRDR) is the evolution of HF long-distance communications from analog based to clear digital voice messaging and data communications that integrates into other radio technologies.
A feature of HF especially important to defence forces is the one-touch emergency alert button on HF handsets. The button is configured to send an emergency alert to a specific location with GPS coordinates, allowing those at command centers to act immediately to provide reinforcements. By monitoring assets, forces can determine if radios have fallen into the wrong hands and can remotely disable the radio. Remote monitoring is a valuable option that protects personnel, as well as radio networks.
HF radio is becoming more prevalent in first-world countries and is the primary communications solution in the event of a disaster. During major flooding, fires or earthquakes, infrastructure can be completely wiped out, disabling emergency services and national response in a region. With an HF network installed, local governments and agencies have a reliable communications link to reach out to communities to coordinate disaster relief and monitor the situation. With the ability to integrate the HF networks of emergency services into a single talkgroup, HF provides the missing link in disaster communications strategies.
Globally, humanitarian agencies are relying on HF radio technology. With deployments in locations of conflict and crisis, HF radios installed across headquarters
locations and vehicles support local communities and are essential to the safety of personnel. HF radio manufacturers, including Codan Radio Communications,
are continually working to develop and enhance solutions for humanitarian agencies to save lives, create security and support peacekeeping worldwide.
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