Two-way radios and walkie talkies are often used interchangeably, especially in the United States, but have different characteristics that make them distinct product groups. Both communication devices are considered two-way radios that can send and receive radio transmissions. This type of radio is also considered a transceiver because of this type of functionality. A two-way radio can perform in half-duplex or full-duplex mode. Half-duplex mode means that the communication device can send and receive a radio signal but not at the same time. Full-duplex mode means that the device can send and receive radio communication simultaneously. The differentiator between two-way radios and walkie talkies is that a walkie talkie is a mobile radio while a two-way radio can be portable but is sometimes not. Two-way radios are frequently mounted on a base station, desk or in a vehicle and therefore stationary. A walkie talkie is a handheld radio (or handheld transceiver) and can be used while walking around. Walkie talkies are always two-way radios while two-way radios are not always walkie talkies.
A two-way radio’s frequency range operates between 136 MHZ and 900 MHZ. Radio frequencies generally move in a straight line and can pass through blocked transmission paths or sometimes be reflected by surfaces. With perfect line-of-sight, a two-way radio generally has a 1 mile range but that distance is usually much less due to obstructions, frequency used, weather conditions as well as power output measured in wattage. The greater the watts, the more distance the radio frequencies can travel but more watts also means more power output which can have a significant impact on battery life meaning more use of your charger.
Different frequencies are officially assigned by the FCC for various services and bands of frequencies. Here is an overview of select designations:
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is a licensed radio service that uses frequencies in the 462 MHZ and 467 MHZ range. The usual use for GMRS channels is for shorter range, two-way voice communications using portable two-way radio systems, handheld radios and repeater systems.
Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) uses 5 channels in the 151-154 MH range. A license is not required to operate in this band. The most common use for MURS channels is short distance, private two-way communication using smaller, handheld radios like walkie talkies.
Very High Frequency (VHF) operates at 136 to 174 MHZ. VHF produces longer radio waves that work better outdoors since there are fewer objects that will block the long range signal. VHF radio antennas tend to be taller than other antennas so they can transmit over longer distances and fit the frequency range, for example a tower for cell phones. Typical uses of VHF radio which benefit from the longer range radio waves include television broadcasting, Midland manufactured NOAA weather radios, mobile phones, satellite communication, wi-fi, bluetooth, walkie-talkies, cordless phones and many other applications.
Family Radio Service (FRS) is in the 462 to 467 MHZ band. FRS radios are commonly used for amateur radio (otherwise known as ham radio) and casual service. Examples of ham radio range from World War 2 transmissions to college radio djs.
Ultra High Frequency (UHF) operates in the 400-512 MHZ range. UHF radios work best indoors due to the fact that the shorter radio waves are more effective in passing through obstacles that are found inside structures. Outdoor environments that include lots of buildings such as cities and areas with lots of trees also benefit from uhf radio waves. This makes two way radios a great solution for construction sites. The higher the frequency the smaller the antenna can be which allows for smaller, more compact design for two-way radios which are easier to transport.
In addition to the different frequencies a two-way radio operates in, one can choose between analog and digital radios. Analog radios use FM waves which produce clear voice transmission but have limited noise filtering and don’t transmit waves over long distances. Analog is relatively inexpensive compared to digital radios but have less features such as messaging, location services and more. Depending on the application, either analog or digital could work. If one is looking for more advanced features then digital two-way radios would be preferred.
Almost all two-way radios have a push-to-talk button to allow voice transmission. Some two way radios come with VOX (voice operated exchange) that allow hands-free use. When vox is activated the microphone is always listening for one’s voice. When it notices someone speaking it will automatically start transmission. Companies such as Motorola offer VOX activated walkie talkies. This option is great for settings with little to no background noise since VOX will pick up on sounds and switch on and off when detected. Because of these characteristics, they are not appropriate for noisy areas or facilities with ambient sound. Another option available from most manufacturers is the privacy codes feature. Otherwise referred to as the sub channel, its main function is to eliminate interference on the channel so that you set the channel and then the privacy code to hear only the people you want to hear. This works if other groups are transmitting on the same channel and you don’t want to hear them or for the other group to hear your audio transmissions.
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