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Does CTCSS ruin GMRS/FRS?


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#1 iadams

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 02:23 PM

CTCSS, PL, whatever you want to call it, I'll use 'tone' to refer to it here.

 

Does the use of a tone ruin GMRS/FRS?  Given that the users are not familiar with communications equipment, and that most users don't know anything beyond selecting a channel and pushing the PTT button, we cannot expect them to understand the use of tones and what they do/do not do.

 

Because of bubble pack radios coming pre-programmed with tones, people will generally only hear those who have the same radio.  While the purpose of FRS/GMRS isn't to find people to chat with, it also loses the possible utility in emergency situations.  For instance, there may be 5 groups of hikers, each with their own separate set of radios in a National Forest hiking when someone is hurt.  Even going through every channel calling for help, the person would not be able to reach another party that may even be close by.  

 

It also seems that it is unlikely that people will check the channel for activity before use, causing interference with other parties.

 

While I can understand the need to use tones in urban areas because the amount of traffic may get annoying, the reality is that the tones just create more of an inability to coordinate and share the frequency.

 

Why wouldn't we really want every radio to come out default with carrier squelch?



#2 OffRoaderX

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 03:01 PM

Its not the tone/CTSS creating the potential issues you mention, it's stupid people that are too lazy to invest 3 minutes of their life to read the directions and learn/understand how their equipment works that are the problem..
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#3 iadams

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 03:26 PM

Its not the tone/CTSS creating the potential issues you mention, it's stupid people that are too lazy to invest 3 minutes of their life to read the directions and learn/understand how their equipment works that are the problem..

 

Even if they do read the directions, that doesn't change the fact that FRS/GMRS radios do not come out of the box with basic cross brand and model interoperability for the most part due to the pre-programming.  To me, they are set up to make coordinated use difficult (sharing channels) and emergency/outside contact unlikely.  

 

Given the transmit range, outside of urban areas the likelihood of needing the tones so that you don't hear other traffic seems very small - especially with the fairly low number of users (on top of the aforementioned TX distance limits).

 

Even someone with a large amount of knowledge would have the same issues with bubble pack radios.

 

When I am walking down a hallway and meet someone, I go right and he goes to his right.  This coordination wouldn't be possible if we both had our eyes closed, and had only opened them once for a few seconds before we started walking.  This is what using tones seems like to me.  You check the channel by using CSQ for a few seconds, hear nothing, and start using the channel oblivious to the (radio) world around you.

 

It seems odd to me that the default mode in this radio service is to block outsiders rather than enabling it if necessary.


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#4 WRAK968

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 03:51 PM

iAdams, Not true at all, and if you or others would read the directions, there is always a chart with a list of what number goes to which code. 99% of the bubble pack radios I have used all used the same number and codes, from motorola to cobra to midland, even older radioshack radios use the same frequency's and code lists. Older radios may not have all of the codes available, thus there are times discrepancies exist. This may have changed but I do believe channel 20 with no code/pl is the emergency hailing channel, much like CB channel 9, however this was mostly a courtesy than a rule and should not be relied on.

Point is, you should be prepared for the trip. Ensure you have a cell phone, bring your radio (and a way to charge it or spare batteries,) but most of all do research. If you know you are going to hike in a particular area, look up the emergency contact information as 911 may not be able to help locate you and could take longer to deploy SAR. While doing research, look to see if there are any GMRS repeaters in the area, or if people use a particular frequency and code on simplex. Lastly always have a fallback plan with family or friends should they not hear from you by a particular date and time. Be sure they know where you were headed and what your goals were. This helps should you find yourself unable to call for help and unable to make your way to safety.

In the end, it works off of common sense. Part of that is understanding that GMRS was not designed with the primary goal of emergency communications, it was designed to keep family members in communication with one another.


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#5 marcspaz

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 05:22 PM

Use of smartphones is way more complex than bubble pack radios.  I know plenty of 6 year old kids that can run a smartphone like champs. Adults have no excuses.

 

As far as FRS radio compatibility goes, 100% of all FRS radios are compatible with each other.  It is mandatory per federal statute and FCC rule that all protocols must be published before use and strictly adhered to.  The original set of continuous signal-controled selective signalling (aka Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System, CTCSS, Tone Squelch) has been published since 1952 with ten code.  The last revision was made in February of 1980, introducing the current 38 codes, which still includes the original ten codes from 1952. 

 

Today, you would need a working radio that is within months of being 40 years old, before your tone options start to become limited. Even a radio that is almost 70 years old, CTCSS is still compatible with a radio made today.  Given FRS was not even a thing prior to 1996... there is zero compatibility issues with any FRS radios from brand to brand and model to model.

 

Also, Continuous Digital-Coded Squelch System (aka CDCSS, DCS, sub-channels) is in the same boat.  It was originally released with 38 digital signals, now has 121, including all original 38 codes.


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#6 iadams

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 09:21 PM

So if all of the the majority of radios sold (bubble packs) come pre-programmed with the same codes....why put codes in at all?

 

I guess you are failing to see my point.  First, yes a cell phone is complex - but also familiar and designed to be intuitive.....and as someone who administers a large group of cell phones....people have trouble even though they've had the same brand for 8 years..  I would not say that use of tones is intuitive, and understanding of RF behavior is definitely not for the average Joe.  

 

Explain this to me:  Given the market and the usage reality - what benefit is served by pre-programming tones in?

 

If someone is already using a channel, you only know that by monitoring (turning to carrier to check).   Many uses may only have TX for 10-15 seconds/minute, so there is a good chance you wouldn't catch the use with a check.  So what, you're going to check again ever few minutes?  Right there shows why it would be better with no tones and you could just hear them.



#7 marcspaz

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Posted 31 July 2019 - 10:17 PM

So if all of the the majority of radios sold (bubble packs) come pre-programmed with the same codes....why put codes in at all?

 

The purpose of Digital Private Line (DPL Tone) is so many "user groups" can share the same channel without causing harmful interference to each other.  The technology is extremely proficient at its intended purpose. 

 

The radio still receives a signal from a radio that doesn't have a matching sub-tone.  The radio just discriminates between received signals and only opens the squelch when your selected code is detected.  You can literally have 280 groups on one channel, all having different conversations, and not interfering with each other.  Go to a major public event (like a Boy Scout Jamboree) and suddenly, 22 channels is no where near enough.  Enter DPL on a modern FRS/GMRS combo radio and now you have the ability to have the equivalent of 6,160 channels.  Even at a major event, the likelihood of interference due to things like splash, inter-modulation, etc, is almost zero.  Especially when you are only using 0.5 watts of power.

 

 

I guess you are failing to see my point.  First, yes a cell phone is complex - but also familiar and designed to be intuitive...

 

I see your point, I just disagree.  "Familiar" and "intuitive" are words used to describe ease of ability to naturally understand how something works.  That understanding ONLY comes with experience and repetition.  No one is born familiar with anything and no one is born "intuitively" knowing how to do anything but suck and poop.  Everything else is a learn skill.

 

 

Explain this to me:  Given the market and the usage reality - what benefit is served by pre-programming tones in?

 

I already answered that question above (my first 2 paragraphs in this post)

 

 

If someone is already using a channel, you only know that by monitoring (turning to carrier to check).   Many uses may only have TX for 10-15 seconds/minute, so there is a good chance you wouldn't catch the use with a check.  So what, you're going to check again ever few minutes?  Right there shows why it would be better with no tones and you could just hear them.

 

How you handle any harmful interference you may cause is up to you.  If you don't want to use DPL.... don't use DPL.  By no means is the feature "ruining" the radio service.  It is extremely beneficial to the radio community and has been for 70 years.


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#8 PRadio

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Posted 01 August 2019 - 11:48 AM

  

 

Explain this to me:  Given the market and the usage reality - what benefit is served by pre-programming tones in?

 

 

 

Actually, the tones are not preprogrammed. Out of the box, all the channels are set to use carrier squelch. You have to make the decision to use a code, selecting it from a menu. I don't see the issue here. I would not want to buy a radio with fewer options. Out of the box, without reading any directions, basically anyone can turn on a pair of radios, hand one to someone, and use them to communicate. 


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#9 WRCC719

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Posted 01 August 2019 - 02:23 PM

Tones benefits all of us. There are so many stations on 1 frequency you will hear every stations on the same frequency without the tones and you talk about interference
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#10 Jones

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Posted 01 August 2019 - 05:47 PM

I use tone (DPL actually) so that I DO NOT hear anyone else sharing the same frequency.  I don't want to hear the annoying chatter from everyone else at the lake, I only want to hear when MY family members call.  THAT is what tone squelch is for.  LOTS of people can share the same channel without me having to listen to everyone.

 

Your argument of "what if I have an emergency and need help"...well, this may sound harsh, but your emergency is NOT MY PROBLEM, and I don't care.  FRS/GMRS is not designed for emergency comms, but may be use as such by organized groups.


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#11 BoxCar

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Posted 01 August 2019 - 08:02 PM

What a large majority of people buying blister pack radios think is that having a two-way with them when they go out into the wilds is the radio WILL allow them to contact someone in the case of emergency. We more knowledgeable users know it just ain't so. I doubt there are very many active REACT groups for 27 MHz CB anymore either. Forty years ago back in the '70s CB was a fad and there were a lot of people that took it seriously but the fad died long with the skip and CB devolved into something long haul truckers used to combat loneliness along with the pimps and prostitutes hanging around truck stops. The language heard could best be described as filth that would put a drill sergeant or sailor to shame that the people that would have stopped or provided assistance all went away. Cell phones replaced CBs along with a sense of being connected to others around you as you drove around. Some Ham operators do provide a critical service in connecting people in a disaster situation but, for the most part you never hear about the service. LMR, Land Mobile Radio is dying. Fewer new voices are being heard and many of the most stalwart proponents are passing on and their keys are going silent.

 

Saying all that, I don't believe LMR in all its forms will ever truly die but it will become more and more a niche industry and hobby. The largest user group of two-way radio are those in public safety followed closely by business and industrial users. Public safety agencies are migrating to a cellular system called FirstNet in the 700 MHz range. Once the key issue of mission-critical voice is resolved you will see their VHF and UHF systems dismantled and the trunked 800 MHz voice systems repurposed to a network similar to FirstNet. As both the 700 and 800 MHz systems are close in their propagation characteristics one could be used to handle the voice traffic and the other the data functions from the same transmission sites all tied together with fiber and computers.

 

This shift will further move people from dedicated voice only devices just as we are seeing the shift from simple flip phones to smart devices capable of doing many different functions with varying degrees of success. But that's just my take on where radio is going.


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#12 marcspaz

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Posted 01 August 2019 - 09:19 PM

LMRS will never go away... ever.  As good as trunked networks, WebEOC and FirstNet are, they will never be reliable because they are all reliant on a single massive infrastructure to exist and be configured correctly to work.  Anyone who has ever worked a true SHTF mass casualty, mass municipality response, knows that NONE of those networks work in the affected area.

 

LMRS only requires that an EMP or Nuke hasn't gone off near unprotected radios, and you're moving voice, video and data around the world.


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#13 Jones

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Posted 01 August 2019 - 10:58 PM

As good as trunked networks, WebEOC and FirstNet are, they will never be reliable because they are all reliant on a single massive infrastructure to exist and be configured correctly to work.  Anyone who has ever worked a true SHTF mass casualty, mass municipality response, knows that NONE of those networks work in the affected area.

 

True THAT!

 

The last true natural disaster I worked as a volunteer communicator was the May 6th, 2015 tornado that went through Roseland Nebraska.  I was taking an alternate route on my way home to avoid the storm, talking to friends on the 2 Meter repeater in Hastings when I got a call (on the 2 Meter repeater) from the Adams County EOC, asking if I was in the area of Roseland.  I was about 10 miles east of there, and could see the problem.  They had ZERO information on the situation, and were unable to contact anyone in the area.  At their request, I turned west, and proceeded toward Roseland.

 

When I got there, the damage was done. The storm was already passed.  No longer able to reach the Hastings repeater, I checked into the Heartwell NE repeater, which is RF linked into the Campbell NE UHF hub, which is RF linked into the Hastings Repeater.  I was the first to call in to Adams County EOC to have them send first responders.  I found no injured persons. I found property damage to the extreme. On my reports, they called in trucks, tractors, saws, manpower, the natural gas and electric power companies.... No one really needed ambulances, so only one or two had to be sent out just in case.  That saved hours of time for emergency responders.

 

Why did ham radio help here? ...because the tornado ripped out the main fiber optic box on the south end of town, thus there was NO internet. NO telephone. NO cable television, NO emergency communications to the dispatch office. NO police radios. NO fire department radios. NO service to the local cellular phone tower.  The place was an island of zero communications due to one point of failure.

 

But that has nothing to do with GMRS.  I was asked to help if I could, and I did. It DOES go to show that any installed communications structure that relies on land based internet, or even cellular data, is prone to failure at the time it will be most needed.


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#14 WRAF213

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Posted 05 August 2019 - 09:41 PM

I'm a little late to the party, but here's my thoughts:

 

Most people are operating in close proximity (to other operators in the same building or within a few hundred feet), where the other party will overpower any other users on the channel except in dense areas. For FRS, that's fine. I use it to talk to my family members and my unlicensed friends, and neither of us wants to hear the other users on the channel.

 

That's all undesirable for disaster communications, where I can use my higher power level to reach many users. Putting a proper emergency channel in FRS radios would end up the same as CB 9, full of false reports and interference. A licensed solution would improve the situation, but that's not possible anymore with 22-channel FRS (I would also prefer a solution under Part 90 or a similar setup, but that's a topic for another thread). FRS can be a tool but much of the hardware are toys and perform in RF-busy environments like you'd expect a $10 radio to perform.

 

Motorola's Quiet-Talk enabled by default is stupid, it defeats the purpose of FRS's interoperability requirements. FRS 1 in CSQ should be the out-of-the-box channel for all radios, and mandating the radios be shipped in that mode would greatly assist emcomm. It wouldn't make much sense in reality where there's no distinction between calling and working channels and where it's impractical to attempt to train kids on that stuff. The FCC won't recommend a calling channel or tone for a reason.

 

Agreed, LMR is not going anywhere. Infrastructure dependence is a real concern among the public and first responders alike, and those views can be seen in some cities' resistance to joining county/state trunked systems (see LA-RICS). Being able to communicate unit-to-unit effectively is an underrated feature of two-way radio that cell phones still can't provide, especially where interoperability is required.

 

If you only remember two paragraphs in this post, I hit the "Post" button a bit early.


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