The Latest in Emergency Contact Services for Rural Areas

Learn about emergency contact services for rural areas, including cell phones, satellite phone service, specialized mobile radio (SMR) and ham radio.

| April/May 1996

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    Terry Parlato operating his high-frequency radio.
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    Ham operator's guide to Morse code.

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Keeping in touch off the grid. Learn about the latest in emergency contact services for rural areas. 

Emergency Contact Services for Rural Areas

Be it barren desert, wild jungle, or mountain wilderness that moves your spirit, provides you a temporary solace, or shelters you from the madness and din of "civilized life," you don't have to be rich to have your cake and eat it too. Not only can you thumb your nose at the power companies and run your computer all day off solar panels in the backyard or lounge in a hot tub fueled with propane or rooftop solar heaters, but now you are finally free of the indentured servitude of the telephone wires. Cellular phones, once just the playthings of overfed urban types in convertibles, have finally come of age. Those of us in beautiful isolated areas are the people who really need wireless phones anyway, not for talking to our brokers or showing off, but for slightly more important things like saving lives in the event of sickness or accident.

Today, thanks to recent developments in wireless communication technology, telephone service is available to nearly everyone on the North American continent. While all forms of wireless telecommunication services may not presently be available in your area, there's sure to be at least two services to choose from right now, with others becoming available in the not too-distant future.

Cellular Phone Services  

By far the most popular of all wireless communication systems, cellular has the largest number of users (estimated 25 million at the end of 1995), and for good reason. Since its inception in 1983, cellular was the first mobile telephone service to provide private-line access (as opposed to "shared" or "party lines" where others can hear your conversations) in a phone receiver that anyone can easily operate. The similarity to a telephone receiver is a major improvement over hand-actuated microphones on radio transceivers, which have a tendency to intimidate non-radio users.

And equipment cost is generally reasonable. Mobile and transportable phones (which are both well suited for stationary installations) can be bought for less than $200. However, most vendors will sell phones at a major discount (or even throw in a phone for free) when you sign a one or two-year contract with them for cellular service. Airtime costs vary widely from one geographic location to another, as well as between cellular agents in the same locale. Typically, the more airtime you use the less cost per minute. Most agents will have a number of rate options to choose from. An example of a rate schedule for an average user might well be $25 per month base fee plus 50 cents per minute for the first minute of use, and 15-20 cents for additional minutes. Calls outside of the specified local coverage area are extra. Calls you receive count as airtime charged against you as well.

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