July 21, 2010

10-4 Good Buddy

I'm looking at dragging myself into the 21st century, replacing my old AM CB radio with a modern 40 channel UHF PRS (Personal Radio Service) unit, a type of two-way communication increasingly favoured by 4WD clubs, safari-trip leaders and off-roaders in general. Not knowing nearly as much as I should, I sought advice from Brett Whyte, a Land Rover enthusiast who has amassed a good general knowledge of such things. Here's what he had to say:

"• Nothing beats the power of a 5watt dash mounted unit, the maximum power allowed by law.

"• What makes the difference is the aerial. Dash mounted PRS units cost between $450 and $550 so why would you compromise its power by trying to save $30 or so on a cheaper aerial? Unless you are prepared to drill a hole in the dead centre of your roof to create a ground plane, you need to spend the extra on a 'ground plane independent' aerial. These have about 20cm of 'solid' shiny rod at the base of the simple wire aerial and can be mounted away from flat surfaces. Most of us mount them on the bullbar where we can see if they are under attack from trees, etc. Mine has been mounted on the bar, just inside of my left headlight where it doesn't distract my forward vision. It's been there for at least five years and hasn't been broken. My old AM CB unit regularly suffered damage to its fibreglass-based aerials.

"• No hand-held transceiver can deliver the same distance efficiency as a dash-mounted unit with a good aerial. This is despite being available at the same maximum wattage. It's a simple matter of the tiny aerial they have not having the same performance potential. I know club drivers who wished they had not bought a 5watt hand-held as it is clumsier to use in a cab than a microphone on a cord. Conversely I know another driver who is delighted with his 3watt hand-held and I found its three-day+ battery life extraordinary.

"• My advice is to spend money on a dash mounted unit so you have the best capacity in your vehicle. Then I would pick up a bargain hand-held of one or more watts so that my passenger can run up to the front of the stoppage and tell me what's going on. Absolute minimum in a hand-held is one watt, 2watt is much better. Anything below that is enormously frustrating to other drivers in a convoy."

Thanks for that. I'll communicate more about the search for perfect communications in future posts.

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