Cheap way to communicate with field workers

We would like to know if there is something other than a mobile phone (with a large monthly charge) that we could establish some basic 2 way communications with for our field techs.  Essentially, something where we could send a message like, 'Overtime Available Tonight, please reply if interested'.   They could then somehow 'reply' and we would be able to tell who is replying.    I know this is pie-in-the-sky thinking in the age of mobile phones and WIFI, but just wondering if there is any other lower cost alternatives.

Thanks for any ideas....
snyperjAsked:
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Brian MatisProduct ManagerCommented:
Radio communicators are your friend! I've used things like these (see Amazon link below) when staying in touch with groups of friends while out on camping trips:
http://www.amazon.com/Motorola-MH230R-23-Mile-22-Channel-Two-Way/dp/B001UE6MIO
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Brian MatisProduct ManagerCommented:
The term for the type of radio I linked above is "Family Radio Service" if you wanted to learn more or search for other brands.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_Radio_Service
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rgormanCommented:
The problem with those 'family radio service' devices is that it is in no way private and it is only realtime.  If someone isn't actively listening to the radio at the time then it won't be useful at all.  Also, 23 mile range is a huge stretch for normal operations.  That would be maybe from a mountain top to another mountain top with nothing obstructing you in between.  In an urban environment you would be lucky to get 1 mile or so with all the buildings and other radio interference affecting them.

For business radio implementations with private licensed channels and radio towers and handheld units you would be looking at a very expensive solution.

Your best bet would likely be a minimalist cell plan with a desktop SMS application so you can broadcast SMS the devices.  Then just suck up the reply costs if SMS isn't included in the plans.  Just make sure the people aren't using the devices for personal texting or phone calls.
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snyperjAuthor Commented:
Your best bet would likely be a minimalist cell plan with a desktop SMS application so you can broadcast SMS the devices.  Then just suck up the reply costs if SMS isn't included in the plans.  Just make sure the people aren't using the devices for personal texting or phone calls. 

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I don't understand what SMS is can you explain?  

What type of phone would be cheap, yet still allow a SMS application?

Would it have to be a smartphone?
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rgormanCommented:
SMS = texting

Any regular cell phone should allow you to send SMS/Text messages.  It doesn't need to be a smartphone so you won't need a data plan.

If you don't mind contracts, you can likely get 0$ phones on a cheap plan.  If you want you could also go down the pay as you go phone method but I personally would rather do the plan if it is long term solution.
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rgormanCommented:
As for the desktop SMS portion, that is independent of the phones.  SMS is a standard messaging format so any desktop SMS application would work most likely.  There may be some your cell carrier might recommend so talk tothem first.  You will likely need to purchase bulk SMS messages for the desktop app since there will be a charge for sending the messages.

If you want to bulk message 20 people with the same message, that is 20 SMS messages that get sent and you would be charged 20 x the going rate for the SMS messages through the desktop SMS programs provider of choice so you would want to shop around to find the most cost effective option for you.
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KimputerCommented:
I'd still go for the mobile phone, with the cheapest data subscription.
Just have everyone use ANY of the free chat products (Whatsapp, Kik, Skype, etc etc and the list goes ON and ON and ON), and let all the phones join a group chat.
Make sure you ask the user to use the phone ONLY for this chat (or maybe in emergency, use the browser). If the user already has a personal phone (contract paid by themselves), you only need to reimburse them a VERY SMALL amount.
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