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Home > Tips and Hints > Communications

What communications will you need?  Will you be travelling in remote areas where in the case of a breakdown or medical emergency, only a satellite phone or activating a PLB or EPIRB will summon help?  Will you be travelling on regular tourist routes where there will be plenty of traffic?  In the latter case, do you want to be self sufficient in calling for assistance, or do you want to ask a fellow traveller who has stopped to see if you need assistance for the use of his communication equipment?  The more remote the area, the more likely other travellers are to stop and offer you help. 

Mobile telephones

UHF (two way) radio

Satellite telephone

Satellite tracking and messaging devices (SPOT, Yellowbrick, inReach)

PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)


GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation aid

At minimum, take a 3G phone on the Telstra network.  Check where you are going against the Telstra coverage map and see if you will have use of the phone regularly where you are going to travel: Telstra coverage map also has options to see coverage for 3G having a much greater coverage area, as well as choices wider range when using an external antenna. 


Did you know the Telstra 2G network is not longer operating?  2G networks were closed by both Telstra and Optus in December 2015.


Telstra 4G devices have the ability to pick up 3G network when not in a 4G area as the device diverts to 3G at reduced speed where 4G is not available.


Aldi on Telstra network. Aldi uses part of the Telstra 3G and 4G networks.


Boost on Telstra network.  Boost is the only re-seller that uses the full Telstra 3G and 4G networks.  


Optus coverage can be seen here on Optus coverage map   


Resellers on Optus network (TPG, Amaysim, Dodo, iiNet, Virgin and more) as per the Optus link.

Vodaphone has very limited coverage outside of major centres as per Vodaphone coverage map  


Other networks usually use either the Optus or Vodaphone networks and have somewhat limited coverage when outside of areas of dense population, particularly in Western Australia. 


With modern communication technology advancing at a rapid rate, there are now Smart phones and iPhones, tablets and iPads which can be used to access the internet and receive and send emails when in coverage range. 


You can boost your phone signal (but not when no signal is present) using an external antenna or the more expensiveCel-fi repeater.  Cel-fi is made principally for indoor use to amplify signals wthin a building.  Cheaper versions are not licensed for use in Australia and have the potential to cause interference to the mobile phone network.  Heavy fines or imprisonment can apply. 

Mobile telephones
UHF two way radio

On the open road having a UHF is very useful; particularly when towing.  It enables you to keep in touch with heavy haulage trucks and convoys and other travellers.  You will know of any hazards ahead from listening to other traffic, and may be able to find and alternative route by asking for advice.  A built in unit with external antenna gives a better range and sound quality, but a small hand held two way can be sufficient for communicating with those in close proximity.  In flat country a conversation can be picked many kilometres away, so be specific in identifying yourself and the truck you want to talk to; eg “Red XXfreightlines truck behind YYYbrand caravan rego ABC123”. 


On some roads my husband has said "UHFshould be compulsory here" (a good hand held will suffice). Essential for passing and allowing others to pass you, to announce and hear announcements from oncoming traffic on narrow roads at bridges and crests, and worthwhile to be aware of hazards up ahead. Stay on the highway channel 40 (unless other channel specified for that area) unless chit-chatting in which case move to another channel.  In some outback areas, narrow bridges will have numbers, and it is essential to monitor for road trains approaching and give way, and to announce your presence eg “Caravan northbound approaching bridge 14”.


HF radio

Satellite telephones will operate in most areas across the country so long as several satellites can be located with a clear line of sight.  A magnetic antenna onto the car roof improves reception and most phones come with a suitable antenna.  A satellite telephone is expensive, however government subsidies towards the cost of these have terminated.  


A new phone can cost as much as $2,000 without considering access and call costs, although with more competiton for alternative networks, prices have lowered. 


Satellite phones can be hired, but if you are needing one for more than three months, hiring may not be cost effective compared to purchasing your own phone.


Satellite phones can be purchased second hand privately and through eBay. 


The Iridium network is the preferred network for the most reliable coverage by travellers, and can be accessed through Telstra or a number of private providers, however the Inmarsat network is also good but is an international network so there are some limitations see Q&A.


Telstra plans are outlined at Telstra Satellite


If your main reason for having a satellite phone is for emergency use and perhaps an occasional quick call to family to let them know you are out of normal phone range and otherwise OK, you will select the $30 per month plan as the cheapest.  This includes $10 of calls per month, so the quick family call is covered.  


You can choose a more expensive monthly fee with a larger free call allowance and call charges within Australia are reduced with the more expensive monthly plans, so are suitable if you will need to make phone calls daily. 


More suited to part time travellers would be some of the private companies which use the Iridium network, such as the following:


TR Telecom offer plans similar to Telstra, now costing at $40 per month with no calls included, but have more flexibility with casual plans for a minimum four month period with no cancellation or reconnection fees.  A new casual contract comes with a new number.  TRTelecom also offer pre-paid, satellite phone sales and hire.


Fastwave offer sales and service plans, including pre paid options.  They also have a hire service. 


Satcom Hire is another source hiring satellite phones,Spot Messenger and satellite internet as well as selling these products. 


For emergency use only travellers have had success with using the Telstra SIM card from their mobile phone and transferring into their Iridium network satellite phone or purchasing a separate SIM card on the cheapest plan for use in the satellite phone.  Telstra offer casual monthy plans which are an option worth considering.  Note that the fees on the Telstra website are high.  Lower fees can be obtained by phoning 1800 303 302 for a below the line plan.  This method does not need a satellite phone plan.  The mobile phone must be on a plan with international roaming enabled.  You cannot have international roaming on a pre paid mobile phone.  This works as a divert, and divert charges apply for incoming as well as outgoing calls, so having a special SIM for the purpose makes sense if you receive a lot of calls on your mobile phone. 


Which network is best?  With a choice of four in Australia, and each brand of phone may be specific to a network, details of the pros and cons of each is on the Sat Phone Sales website.


Other options are Sat Sleeve or Iridium Go, both of which enable you to use your regular mobile phone on a satellite network.  These are not cheap option and also have ongoing costs, so no real gain compared to using a satellite phone. 

Some travellers use HF radio and networks (membership required), and have a long range of communication. In addition you will be talking to a group, and someone in the vicinity may be able to come and help you.


HF networks are described here and include amongst others, the following:.


Many remote area travellers belong to vks737.   


An additional new UHF club is the newly formed Australian HF Touring Club. Members have access to 9 HF bases and 19 useable frequencies across Australia with further expansion planned. Members may send GPS coordinates with connection to social media, send SMS messages to mobiles, telephone interface connect via HF radio. 


Austravel Safety Net offers an additional dimension with Tellcall + which provides phone calls, GPS logging and SMS capability to your HF Radio.  Fellow members, friends and family can keep in touch no matter where you are located in Australia as well as track where you are through an App on their phones.  See more.

Satellite telephone


HF radio

Satellite tracking and messaging devices (SPOT, Yellowbrick, inReach)

For those not needing voice contact, but wanting more flexibility than a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), Spot Messenger system is a middle of the road choice: Find Me SpotSpot messenger works on the satellite system and can send out an emergency signal like an PLB, or send a pre-programmed “I need help” message or a “I’m OK message” to pre-determined numbers.  It can also be used for family and friends to track you progress at any time (although you are in control of what they see).  Annual fees apply.  Spot Messengers can also be hired. 

Alternative tracking and messaging devices now available have more flexible messenging capabilities.  Read more about Yellowbrick and inReach


Features come at a price, and comparisons weighing up costs and capabilities of messagers versus satellite phones need to be made bearing in mind your individual circumstances. 


PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)

A registered PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) can be activated in case of a life threatening emergency and effectively tells the authorities to stage a rescue operation urgently.  It may still take some time for emergency services to reach you, and they will not know the nature of your emergency.  Read here about registering your Beacon.  If going out to sea carrying an EPIRB is compulsory.  The smaller PLB is more suited to on land users.  Which brand?  See the options on ACMA (PLBs on bottom of page)


Many travellers now have mobile internet, be it through a laptop computer or something like an iPhone or iPad.  This may be essential for keeping touch with your banking or business, communication with family and friends, distributing trip reports and photos and researching your travel plans and accommodation.  With the use of Skype, Viber or similar communication programmes, it can also substitute as a phone at a cost saving.  Many grey nomads regularly talk to their grandchildren using Skype and web cams so they can also see each other. 


In addition to internet on a plan, there is the option of purchasing pre paid internet.  The best option will depend on your needs and what download amounts you will be using.  There are a number of different types of modems.  We chose to have a Next G modem which requires no external power source but just plugs into the USB port.  We have an antenna which can be used inside, outside or on the caravan roof for a better signal when in marginal coverage areas. 


If you don’t want to take your paid internet connection, a computer with a wireless card can be used in a WIFI area, which can be found at some café’s and caravan parks, but be cautious of password security in these areas. By being on a plan which includesTelstra Air, free WiFi can be used in many locations but as for any public WiFi do not use for banking or personal data as it may not be secure and heed the Telstra warning


Alternatively if you don’t travel with a computer, but need to access the internet occasionally to do banking or check emails, there are many public internet access points around the country including in some remote areas. 


If you need internet every day, satellite internet is available, although expensive.  One such provider isAustralian Nomad Technology with the cost of the set up hardware being around $2850 plus freight, with monthly access plans from $29 per month according to data download needed.  Note that the set up cost quoted here may not be up to date.


For those seeking to set up both satellite internet and satellite television, check out Vansat and their plans for Broadband Internet.  The Vansat plan quotes only for 1 gb per month internet download. 

Next article >
Link to RFDS emergency phone numbers

Back to Communications Index ^

See Ground to Air signal codes here 
Ensure you know what to dial for emergency services from your satellite phone.  Most are on Australian networks and 000 is the number to call.  Update: As of 1st July 2013 all hand held satellite phones registered in Australia are required to be able to call emergency services 000.  



Telstra featured phones.


For all you need to know to choose the right communications equipment for your tour or holiday, Staying in Touch on the Road is an excellent and comprehensive guide to communications for all travellers.   You can download the latest (2016) updated version of the e-book after making a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (minimum donation $5).    Click on this link and proceed Staying in Touch on the Road.
This updated e-book includes lots more information helpful to the traveller in addition to how to choose the best communications for your travels, including how to have your own blog or website, managing your photos and videos, and the all important how to power and recharge your devices while travelling. 
Copyright (C) 2013 All rights reserved

Communications for those with hearing impairment

Communications for those with impaired hearing or deafness - please see next page

If you are hearing impaired, see our Safety section for smoke alarm options

For a guide to which channels are used for what purpose click here for a printable chart.  


On most roads and highways, channel 40 is the most used channel and the one to keep in touch with trucks drivers and oversized load escorts.

For more on the 80 channel UHF system see UHFCB 


See more about UHF radios on Q&A

Telstra Easycall 3 for basic phone with large buttons suitable for call and SMS only.  Easycall 3 supports T-coil hearing aids.


New edition of Staying in Touch on the Road is now available.