Group/team comms is a huge complicated subject. We can easily narrow it down to just get radio “A” and be done with it but its really not that easy. We have some questions we need to ask ourselves.
- What is our goal as a group?
- Can everyone in the group understand the use of the radio?
- What is our main use of the radios going to be?
- Do we expect anyone to be listening to our traffic?
- Are we going to be doing high risk activities using the radios?
There are probably many more things we need to consider but these are some I came up with real quick.
So I have some requirements from my radio to even be considered as a group radio.
Number 1. It has to be dual or triband.
Number 2. It has to go outside the ham band frequencies.
Number 3. It needs to be programmable by hand not just by PC.
Number 4. The keypad needs to lock but still transmit when the mic is keyed.
Number 5. Encryption capability
Number 6. Does VHF & UHF
Number 7. Will send SMS messages
Some of these are hard rules for me but a few are just preferences. Unfortunately I’m having a hard time finding a radio that fits ALL of these requirements. Thats life I guess.
Next I will go over some common radios and not so common radios that can be used by a group.
If your group isn’t be going to do anything risky, don’t care about others monitoring your traffic, and not very radio savy then the standard FRS/GMRS radio will work fine for your group. They are super simple and work fine for most people. They are UHF radios that have 22 set channels. They have a fixed antenna and a set power output.
The next step up is the ultimate prepper/survivalist radio. The Baofeng UV-5R. This radio has a lot of capabilities for a low price. I personally would buy it over the FRS radio anyday. The UV-5R is a VFH/UHF radio that push 5 watts. They are open band that go outside the Ham bands which is a plus. They will listen to FM radio. There are TONS of accessories for it. I would suggest that if you go with the UV-5R you should buy an aftermarket antenna and larger capacity battery. The largest battery obviously let’s it run longer but actually helps it fit in radio pouches better. This radio is an analog radio so any analog scanner with pick it up. That is one of the downfalls with the radio. There are ways to make it a bit harder to pick up the signal but I will not go into that today. This will probably be the radio most used by any sort of group/team and it will serve them well as long as they have good radio procedures. There are still better off the shelf options a group can get I believe.
So now we will discuss radios that are tad more secure to the casual user. The first one we will talk about is the TYT DM – UVF10 DPMR. This radio will do all the Baofeng UV-5R will do plus it uses DPMR digital mode which isn’t common in the US. It will send SMS. Most Digital scanners I’ve seen do not even have an option to scan this mode. I’m sure there is a way to decode it with SDR on the computer but I haven’t seen it yet. It also has voice scramble option (not exactly encryption).
Next up is the Baofeng DM1701. It is a DMR radio. It will do all the same as the Baofeng UV-5R plus it does DMR digital mode. It has encryption (32 character hexidecimal key = 256 bit – NCS), it will send SMS messages. The 2 DMR capable scanners I have will not pick up DMR radios easily. If I already know the frequency they will decode it but will not catch the signal on close call/signal stalker. That right there is a plus. Add the light encryption and this radio is already double or more the UV-5R. This will defeat MOST guys with monitoring equipment out in the field.
Right now this radio is on the top of my list for group/team comms. The Anytone AT-D878UV(commercial version) is another DMR radio that will do most everything on my requirement list. The thing that sets this radio above the rest is the encryption. It does AES encryption. You put your own key into both radios and turn on AES encryption. That’s it. Pretty simple. I used a random encryption key generator to get my key. Copied and past the key and that was it. It will hold 32 different keys. That’s plenty for any operation I might be on. One complaint I have with this radio is that I can only lock the screen with the computer and then can only unlock it with the computer also. I’m not sure if I’m missing a setting in the programming software or what. As of now I can look past that downfall since it has AES encryption.
True-2-slot: Provide 2-slot communication which allows for 2 talk paths on 1 frequency; ETSI DMR Tier I and II compliant
• Power: VHF: 7/5/2.5/0.2W, UHF: 6/5/2.5/0.2W
• Auto-senses digital or analog reception
• 4000 channels + VFO; 10,000 talk groups with 200,000 digital contacts
• Display: 1.77 inch TFT color LCD, dual display; dual standby; dual PA
• Bandwidth: 12.5K/25K (Analog); 12.5K (DMR)
• Fixed and defined CTCSS/DCS encode and decode
• DTMF/2TONE/5TONE encode and decode
• Four different Tone-pluse frequencies
• Individual/Group/All call
• Support Contact Manager
• Display the Caller ID and name
• SMS via keyboard, One touch call/text
• Zone selection; Ranging function between radios with GPS
• ANI function and PTT ID; VOX; Digital Recording and Play
• Roaming function; Talker alias function
• IP connect to Motorola Repeater
• Emergency alarm (with GPS data transmission)
• Either Voice Recording 500 hours(optional) or BT (optional)
• GPS with APRS location reporting(optional)
• AES256 Digital encrytion(optional); Duplexer Talk(W/earpiece) (optional)
• Earphone: KENWOOD connector; Waterproof: IP54
• Battery: 3100mAh Li-ion thick battery
As you can see trying to settle on group comms is a difficult decision and one that changes with technology. I’m sure in the next 2 years a better option will come along and this write up will be obsolete but as of now this is the direction I’m heading in. Are there better encrypted radios out there? Yes. Do I want to pay the money for them? No. We all have a budget we need to stay in and right now mine is no more than $250 for 1 radio. The Anytone AT-D878UV fits that bill for me.