Okay folks, we are down one phone, so looking at our family strategy for communications. We got to thinking about walkie-talkies...

I like the idea of walkie talkies, especially because the only thing holding our phones in place is emergency communications.

I also bet I could get Clover's homeschooling buddies in on this, which serves as a *much* better device than a so-called "smartphone".

So please now bombard me with information about walkie-talkies and radio stuff for families. ^_^

@maiki first of all (and most important) what country are you in? (this makes a big difference due to frequencies/licensing etc). Be aware too most equipment that does not need a license transmits clear analogue audio (or even if digital something that is fairly easily decoded) so is not suitable for private comms and should be used with caution especially by children..

@vfrmedia Oakland, California, USA

Why is it used with caution by children? Please . ^_^

@maiki because anyone with a similar radio tuned to the frequency. a radio scanner or RTL-SDR can listen in and hear everything that is being said..

There is a vet 1km away whose staff use these radios, using a similar set I can monitor their comms from one part of my house.they were reading the names of pets and their breeds out over the air, I was able to locate one doggo and their family within seconds ⚠️ 🕵🏽


for the USA this is a possible service, although the privacy/security issues still apply (anything with digital/scrambler on is unlikely to be secure against even hobbyists. Luckily *most* radio enthusiasts are good people, but like every group of tech folk there are some bad'uns.)

@maiki I'd expect @alpacaherder to be pretty knowledgeable about various walkie talkies (e.g., #FRS) and issues such as licensing or not, normal range limits, potential for eavesdropping, and so on. I know he'd be the person I'd ask if I had similar questions.

@maiki If you're in the US, GRMS is perfect for this.

You can even install a repeater, to widen coverage. It just requires a family member to pay $75 for a license.

Also, ham licenses, but that requires everyone to have a license. Not hard, but something to keep in minds.

@maiki caution: been in the US for quite a while. Not sure about spectrum usage in other countries. You've been warned!

There are p good GPRS based handhelds. Depending on topo you can get maybe 5 mile range. Much worse in dense urban environments with lots of concrete and above ground wiring. Couldn't get one mile in suburban Miami. Could get four miles in Midtown Tulsa.

@awilfox good to know! We live at the top of a big hill, but in a kinda dense metro (). Looking at radios, this might be a new hobby for our family, so experimentation abounds!

@maiki @vfrmedia have a look at e.g. Sonnet and other data-over-radio devices?

@artsyhonker @maiki Sonnet hasn't shipped yet (at least from what info I can find). Some GMRS sets and the US FCC allow limited text/data transmission.

BTW the EU/UK equivalent of PMR446 radios are widely useed by schools for on site comms; but teachers and support staff are usually very careful never to mention a students name over the air for security (especially bearing in mind schoolkids themselves could easily own a similar set of their own)

@artsyhonker @vfrmedia that's cool, I will check all that out! I didn't even know that was a thing, but the FRS sounds pretty good, and worth experimenting with, so of course some level of data-transmission would be awesome (even something akin to a pager).

@maiki @artsyhonker @vfrmedia FRS isn't that good for more than few hundred feet. You'll want GMRS or MURS, in reality.

@UberGeek @maiki @artsyhonker

was thinking GMRS might be the better option, but current FCC website really is not easy thing for a foreigner to read [even one used to reading Communications Ministry websites of UK, NL and DE] and see exactly what is and isn't allowed (you get led down rabbithole into a whole list of laws .
it looks like somone tbf *has* tried to improve it but then had the funding for their work pulled. So I didn't want to suggest anything that was bad/illegal/obsolete..

@maiki @artsyhonker @vfrmedia *nod* we were looking into it because an area of Somerset we visit regularly has almost no mobile signal. We're not usually more than a couple of miles apart, and being able to send texts would be super helpful for coordination reasons, especially when I don't have a bicycle with me.

@artsyhonker yeah, that is why we want it! We live on a hill next to a lake, and most of time are within a few blocks of the lake. So I think something to just ping each other would be awesome!

Small data messages would be amazing! But I'd settle for discernible bleeps and bloops. ^_^

@maiki A hill with a lake makes me think an alphorn might do the trick but they are rather unwieldy.

@artsyhonker I am on the third floor, too, so I can just have it connect from my balcony. ^_^

@maiki - not sure of your budget, but you could get inexpensive android phones (the kind used for prepaid stuff) and not buy minutes.

Instead use it as a wifi device. Download a wifi voice app, such as Signal, and connect to open wifi whereever you are.

@tinker I could pick up a Nextbit Robin for $120 and put LineageOS on it, and it would be awesome. ^_^

But, in this case, we are actually trying to cut back on surveillance boxes in our pockets, tracking our habits and being additional attack vectors.

I have plenty of phones and tablets, but I don't think we need anything like that. Maybe we just need an infrequent way to say, "hey, heading home now, will pick up kale". ^_^

@maiki - Ah, gotcha. Maybe a PiZeroW build with a small 3.5 touchscreen and a wifi voip linux application?

@tinker I would love that! Especially if I could get it wrist/forearm-mounted!

@maiki - Sounds like a project! Need to find an appropriate SIP or VoIP application, but this is doable.

@mareklach @tinker I use Ting, and I have a drawer full of phones. ^_^

We want to step out of that whole game, though. Ting is great, but the industry of "mobile ISPs" is, I don't know, some clever way to describe a cesspool that everyone has to drink from...

@maiki @tinker Can you really disconnect from any operator altogether in today’s day and age? Even things like Signal, or Bitmessage require at least an internet connection/mobile data.

The only way around that would be a series of secret codes between you, like leaving blue phone on the kitchen sink means to pick up Kate at such and such a time, etc.

@mareklach what about today's "day and age" makes this difficult? I only use my Android phone to jabber with my peeps. I did that for a decade before smartphones and data plans, and I am pretty sure I will be doing it after, as well. ^_^

@maiki Yeah, I mean getting tracked nowadays is easier than ever, but I am all for as much privacy as you can get.

@tinker @maiki in my country old mobile phones are dirt cheap or even given away (I've literally got 3 here next to me) and so are prepaid SIMS, might be a potential backup although in UK "open" wifi is not that common (or open) and using it often requires coughing up some kind of personal info (which is presumably sold to marketers). I've seen conflicting info as to whether Signal voice calls can be blocked/disrupted (text messages usually eventually get through)

@vfrmedia @tinker @maiki I agree with the 'WiFi + cheap Android device' folks. UHF radio is v. short range, has v. limited use-cases, etc.

If you get devices supported by LineageOS you don't even hafta have Google Play Services (the spyware, bloatware, app store, etc.) on the device. VOIP is easy either way: SIP is an open voice protocol supported by many apps; Telegram's protocol is iffier, but supports both text messages and voice calls..

@ej @vfrmedia @tinker been too busy to answer these suggestions in longer form, but I wanted to say that the cheap android device plan is one we already follow. We pay Ting, but run LineageOS and all FOSS. I maintain my jabber server, our main comms.

But I can't fix phones, and they are made to break. I don't want to use them anymore, unless they are ready to be tricorders.

Hence the experiment in radio. And it isn't that bad or anything. We don't compute when we are not on wifi, we're fine. 😎

@maiki @tinker
Just making sure. So you can do all the SIP stuff using a server OR do it using a DHT. Sounds pretty good to me!

@maiki depends on your town, but the gnu ring I mentioned elsewhere might help you. You can get new android phones for like 80$ and just not install sim cards. Now they are tiny tablets happy to use any wifi they can connect with and be gnu 'skype' including video and much else.

Any actual HT or walky-talky radio you use will have range and interference issues (vhf, cb, w/e)

@maiki i am not a radio nerd, at least not yet, but two thoughts:

- you _could_ get ham licenses and some cheap baofeng handheld radios, which are pretty capable and programmable with FOSS stuff. (i have not finished doing this, although i have a couple of the radios sitting on a shelf waiting for the license).

- for short-range stuff, we got a couple of basic MURS handsets to use on the way to / at burning man last year and they worked great. much better than FRS walkie-talkies.


I have done this, and tried all recommendations I can see you've received so far.

1. Forget about the FCC, but don't cause interference
2. Amazon 10 watt VHF/UHF Chinese radios (16 mile range)
3. For max interoperability choose a GMRS frequency
4. For max privacy choose a freq between GMRS 463-466mhz
5. Program the above and MURS freqs into radios
6. Program local radio users from
7. Program local NOAA weather (scan 162-163MHz)
8. Learn what a brevity matrix is


To fully replace smartphones

1. Amazon refurbished Nexus 7 WiFi only tablets ($120)
2. Install LineageOS
3. Get account and number w/SMS
4. Install Linphone
5. Install
6. Install Yalp Store (get apks from Google Play Store) -
7. Install ProtonVPN Free VPN
6. Use prepaid mobile hotspots and use free wifis

Key is to separate uncontrollable cell modem from device with personal info.

There is so much more to these two lifestyle changes, I hope to write a couple articles with all the details and lessons learned, but my two previous replies are the cliff notes version.
oh and as a rule of thumb, keep the tips of your handheld radio antennas 12 inches from flesh. 10 watts is approaching max you want in your hand. 😃 I've personally talked from my yard to a car in a town 16 miles away.
As for private tablet comms,,,

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