It’s important to stay in touch when travelling in the Outback and you’d be surprised at the options available for communication in remote locations. Just because it looks like you’re isolated, it doesn’t mean you are.
Most of the North West and Central West receive coverage from Telstra and Optus networks, such as Longreach, Mount Isa, Charleville and Birdsville. Outside of these towns only the Telstra Next G network is available, usually within a 20km radius of towns. There is limited mobile phone coverage in the far South West corner of the region, west of Quilpie to Bedourie. Public phones are available in all towns, and satellite phones are recommended for extended travel in this area. There are periods where you could travel for hours without reliable phone coverage.
Sat phones connect to orbiting satellites rather than cell towers on the ground, giving access to communication in areas where there is no mobile coverage. There is a wide range of options available, with varying degrees of performance versus cost, so be sure to research the best option for your needs and your travel plans.
UHF CB is an abbreviation for Ultra High Frequency Citizen Band Radio. UHF CB Radio is freely available to any vehicle and does not require a licence or registration to use. UHF allows you to communicate with nearby vehicles and is a crucial tool in Outback communication for safety (e.g., to warn an oncoming vehicle of a traffic hazard or ask for help) and is a handy aid for navigation purposes (convoy trip). Handheld UHFs are available and give a small range of communications, suitable for a convoy – however, built-in UHFs with an aerial fitted to your vehicle provide between 5km and 20km ranges. Keep in mind that dense environments and low altitude can affect the range of your UHF.
A handy list of properties and their UHF channels is included in the rear of the Atlas of QLD and NT Pastoral Stations, by Terrence Alick Mapping.
UHF Radio Channel Allocation
Channels 1 to 8
Repeater Channels Press the DUPLEX button on your radio to use any available repeaters.
Channel 5 & 35
Emergency use only – Monitored by volunteers, by law no general conversations are to take place on this channel.
Channels 22 & 23
Data transmissions only (excluding packet)
Channels 31 to 38
Repeater inputs – These channels are received by a repeater and re-transmitted on channels 1 to 8 to help increase the communication distance.
The Australian Government has legislated that channels 5 & 35 on the UHF CB Band are reserved for emergency use only.