Murphy's Law: Cell Towers At Sea


January 20, 2012: Two years ago, the South Korean Coast Guard was issued new portable radios. These walkie-talkie type radios used technology similar to cell phones in that they used repeater equipment (like cell phone towers) that enabled users of the radios to talk to anyone on the network (meaning all along the coast). By themselves, the new radios have a range of only about three kilometers. The old ones, which did not use repeaters, had a max range of 4-5 kilometers.

Once put into use the new radios were revealed to have a serious problem. All the repeaters were on shore, and once a sailor was working beyond three kilometers from shore they had no access to the repeaters. The manufacturer insisted the system, as installed, would work more than 50 kilometers from shore. Moreover, many more coast guard operations were farther at sea, trying to deal with the growing number of Chinese and North Korean fishing boats illegally operating within the South Korea exclusive economic zone. This extends nearly 400 kilometers from shore. After over a year of complaints from coast guard commanders, the government agreed to install repeaters on the larger patrol boats. These repeaters could then use longer range radios to transmit signals back to shore based repeaters. There was still a problem with small coast guard boats, sometimes carrying a boarding party, getting more than three kilometers from a ship with a repeater. That is being worked on.