Can you use a phone without the cellular network?

Imagine, if you will… You’re out in the woods, miles from civilization. You fall and hurt yourself. You have your phone with you, but there’s no service. How can you communicate?

One of our customers brought up recently how it would be great if a phone could also work as a walkie-talkie. I have to agree, but the truth is that it’s not possible with today’s phones. There’s a good reason. OK, maybe not a good reason, but a reason.

This person may have been thinking of the old Nextel phones that had a walkie-talkie-like feature. Could something like that work today?

The difference between phones and walkie-talkies

We tend to think about our phones as sort of these little self-contained boxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. No phone in the world would work if it weren’t for a largely invisible network of servers, repeaters, broadcast towers, and cables that make it all possible.

When you make a call, you’re in two-way communication with the closest cell tower. If you’re moving, you’re probably in communication with two at once. Your side of the conversation is converted to internet traffic and sent through wires, tracked through several levels of server, and makes its way to another cell tower. Then, of course, it’s converted back to radio and sent to the other phone. The system is also working in reverse as the other person talks.

When you use data of any sort, the whole thing’s really not that different. Instead of voice communication, data is sent to towers, wires, servers, etc.

Your phone can’t talk directly to other phones, except…

The cellular part of your phone can’t communicate directly with any other phone. That’s just not how the system works. Your phone could communicate with another phone over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, though, and that opens up possibilities. There are, in fact, apps that let you use your phone as a walkie-talkie that way.

The problem there is distance. Most folks could yell further than Bluetooth will generally reach, making a walkie-talkie sort of silly. It’s certainly not going to help you out of a jam when there’s no one around

Luckily there is a solution

Phones are great inventions, but they’re never going to help you out when you’re that far out of the way. On the other hand, there’s a cheap and easy solution that works literally anywhere on the planet.

You probably haven’t thought about FRS radios since you got your first cell phone. They’re still out there, though, and they offer exactly what you want. FRS radios have up to 35 mile range in open territory, they require no license, and frequencies are monitored by rangers and other safety personnel. They last much longer on a charge than your phone, too. Best of all, they’re cheap and very durable. They’ll get you out of a jam when you need them.

Rather than trying to turn your phone into something it’s not, shop the great selection of FRS radios at Solid Signal. You’ll be glad you kept one in your pack, even if it’s just for emergencies.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.