Your Ultimate Guide to Two-Way Radios

Your Ultimate Guide to Two-Way Radios
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Your Ultimate Guide to Two-Way Radios

Your Ultimate Guide to Two-Way Radios

It’s been more than a century since scientists showed that energy could be transmitted by electromagnetic waves. Over-the-air voice communication has done wonders for businesses and industries, saving countless lives in the process. Famously, more than 700 passengers aboard the Titanic were rescued when the ship’s company delivered an SOS signal by radio to crews on land.

Nowadays two-way radios have the unfair reputation of being considered outdated technology by some. What comes to mind when you think about radio communication? Kids running around in the backyard during a sleepover? Truck drivers talking to each other over their CB radios?

Fact: two-way radios remain one of the most popular and effective ways for business- and mission-critical voice communications for a range of industry use cases and applications: from enabling workers to communicate over the sound of noisy machines on the factory floor to providing rescue operations to stay in contact after a natural disaster.

We wrote this article to help you feel more empowered when it comes to purchasing two-way radios for your business. If you find yourself scrolling through two-way radios online, trying to determine what would be the best and most cost-effective option for your organization, this article is for you.

Two-Way Radio Frequencies

Two-way radios operate on different frequencies, which are measured in Hertz. A Hertz is the amount of time it takes a radio wave to complete a cycle.

The figure above gives a visual representation of wavelengths at different frequencies stacked on top of each other. Frequency and wavelength are inversely proportional. Wavelengths at the highest frequency have the shortest waves. Wavelengths with lower frequencies have longer waves.

In the illustration, each peak in the wavelength represents one Hertz or the amount of time it takes for the wavelength to complete its cycle measured in 1-second intervals. With two-way radios, frequencies are measured in Kilo Hertz (1,000 Hertz) and Mega Hertz (1,000,000 Hertz).

Modern two-way radios operate in frequency bands of between 134 Mega Hertz (134 MHz) to 900 Mega Hertz (900 MHz). MHz is shorthand for “Mega Hertz.” For the purposes of this article, we will be discussing two-way radio frequencies between 136-174 MHz (also known as Very High Frequency or VHF radios), and those between 400-527 MHz (also known as Ultra High Frequency or UHF radios).

What’s the Difference Between UHF and VHF Two-Way Radios?

When you’re shopping for two-way business radios, whether you buy a UHF or VHF radio makes a big difference. Various businesses and industries will want different frequency ranges depending on their communication needs and their type of business.

Very High Frequency (VHF) two-way radios have longer wavelengths, which means they will travel a longer distance than Ultra High Frequency Radios. They are ideal for outdoor use and instances in which you need to communicate across a large area. VHF radios operating at a lower frequency work best in industries such as recreation and agriculture, where you need to communicate across a distance.

At the same time, radios operating in the VHF two-way radio frequencies are not well-suited for industries where buildings, obstacles, and other obstructions might block radio signals. In crowded and congested environments, you want a radio that operates in UHF frequencies.

Two-way radios that operate in UHF frequencies do a much job when it comes to penetrating through walls, concrete, steel, and other barriers that may block or degrade your radio signal. They are ideally suited for indoor use and businesses such as manufacturing, warehousing, retail, hospitality, and healthcare, among others. 

UHF radios are perfect for professionals working in densely packed areas or buildings. For example, if you’re in the market for a radio for your security team or hotel staff, you’ll likely want to buy UHF two-way radios.

Radio Repeaters and Trunked Radio Systems for Extending the Range of Your Communications Network

Two-way radios offer businesses many advantages over cell phones when it comes to communication. In fact, the two communication methods really aren’t competitors. Cell phones are designed for one-to-one communication, whereas two-way radios are for one-to-many communication. For example, mission-critical communications in oil and gas wouldn’t want to rely on cell phones to convey critical information regarding an oil or gas leak or industrial accident—that would be dangerous and unwise.

Of course, we understand that you can use cell phones for conference calls and group text, but when it comes to operations- and mission-critical Push-to-Talk group communications, two-way radios have no equal.

That said, one major advantage of cell phones is they don’t have a limit to their range. Wherever you have an active cell signal, you have coverage. The same cannot be said for two-way radios. If you want your two-way radios to cover a larger distance and extend their range, you need a repeater or radio trunking system.

What is a Radio Repeater

A radio repeater enables you to extend the range of two-way radios to achieve better coverage, enhance penetration through buildings and other obstacles, and send signals across longer distances.

A radio repeater combines a receiver and transmitter in one unit. It receives the signal from a two-way radio on one frequency and transmits it on another frequency so that it can be picked up by a two-way radio that would otherwise be too far away or blocked from receiving this signal.

Repeaters can be quite compact and convenient. For instance, the MOTOTRBO SLR 1000 Digital Repeater from Motorola Solutions is easy to install and instantly gives you expanded radio coverage. 

Repeaters solve the problem known as line-of-sight propagation, which refers to the fact that radio waves travel in a straight line and have trouble transmitting through obstacles and over the horizon. 

With solutions such as MOTOTRBO IP Site Connect, your business can link repeaters to each other to extend and expand your signal even further.

Trunked Radio Systems

What’s the difference between a trunked radio system and a radio repeater? Trunked radio systems consist of repeaters, but not only allow you to expand the distance your radio signal will travel but also intelligently switch between channels so your work groups will always receive operations- and mission-critical voice messages.

Trunked radio systems are among the most complex and sophisticated radio systems in use for enterprise-grade communications. Trunked radios enable channels to be shared by multiple users or talkgroups with zero interference between conversations.

With a trunked radio system, an enormous number of users can communicate on a limited number of frequencies. How does a trunked system allow large groups to communicate without interference from other radios on the same frequency?

Trunked systems use a control channel, which is called a “trunk,” that transmits data packets that allow your talkgroups to engage in a conversation by letting the members of that talkgroup know the frequency they need to be on.

For example, if you’re a public safety agency such as police, EMT, or fire and rescue, a trunked radio system enables you and your fellow officers and first responders to communicate with each other on a designated frequency without having to worry about interference from other radios operating on the same frequency. Your trunking system will find an open frequency for your mission-critical communications.

Whether or not you need a simple radio repeater or complete radio trunking system depends on the size of your operation, how critical it is you possess the ability to communicate without interference, and the scope of your organization—if you have multiple sites of operation you need to seriously consider radio trunking.

Motorola Solutions, the global leader in two-way radios and radio systems, offers both MOTOTRBO Capacity Plus and Capacity Max for the most dynamic and expansive radio networks.

Analog v. Digital Two-Way Radios

When you’re shopping for two-way radios, you might notice that you have the option of buying either analog or digital radios. For decades, your only option when it came to two-way PTT communication was analog, which offered users in many businesses and industries a simple and easy way to communicate.

But, as businesses continue to grow and evolve, so have their communication needs. There are many reasons you might want to switch up your radio fleet from analog to digital. Digital radios offer many benefits compared to their analog counterparts including:

  1. Better Voice Quality - With features such as automatic noise cancellation and voice correction, digital radios can easily overcome background noise and corrupted signals. When your voice communications are digitally encoded, advanced algorithms give you crystal clear voice communications even in the most extreme conditions.
  2. Eliminate Overly Crowded Channels - One issue that analog radios often run into is crowded and congested channels. The two-way analog radios of yesteryear simply weren’t built to for the massive radio traffic today. With digital radios, you can double the capacity of your radio’s 12.5 KHz channel, which both allows more users to communicate and lowers licensing fees.
  3. Stronger Coverage at the Edge - With analog radios, when your radio reaches the edge of its coverage, you will notice an extreme degradation in the quality of your signal. Digital radios both expand your radio coverage and give you a clearer, better signal at the edge of your range.
  4. Longer Battery Life - Digital radios provide up to a 40% longer battery life than analog radios.

The choice of whether to buy or upgrade your fleet from analog to digital two-way radios is somewhat a matter of personal preference, although if you’re in an industry such as manufacturing with the noise of heavy machines potentially drowning out operations-critical communications, you will likely want to invest in digital radios such as the Motorola R7.

FCC Licensing

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for regulating radio frequencies for both commercial and private users. We often receive the question: do I need to obtain an FCC license for my business’s two-way radios? 

The only answer we can give is: yes, you need an FCC license for your radios. The FCC is responsible for the fair use of the available spectrum as the number of communication devices continues to proliferate.

If you’re going to a big box store and buying cheap walkie-talkies that you plan to use to talk to your neighbor, you probably don’t need an FCC license. But if you’re purchasing commercial radios for your business, you want an expert consultant to explain your options when it comes to obtaining and renewing FCC licenses. Below is general information related to FCC licensing, but you should probably still consult an expert.

  • FCC Licenses last for 10 years until they expire.
  • You have 90 days after your FCC license expires to renew, and you are granted a 2-year grace period for renewal of a new license.
  • The fee for licenses is based on a number of factors, but the FCC takes into account:
    • Your power output. Generally speaking, the higher your output, the higher your cost.
    • Whether you’re transmitting in analog or digital.
    • If you’re deploying an advanced trunking system.
    • Your area of impact. For example, if you’re using high-powered repeaters in a densely populated area, your FCC license may be more expensive because the available spectrum in your area may be limited.

It’s important to remember that sellers of radios are not the FCC. No one is going to force you to obtain an FCC license if you’re deadset against getting one. At the same time, at Amerizon, we specialize in helping our clients obtain and renew licenses. We’re on your team when it comes to assisting you to adhere to FCC rules and regulations. We understand that it’s a process that many of our clients would prefer to have someone else handle.

Amerizon Wireless for All Your Two-Way Radio Needs

Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know when it comes to buying two-way radios for your business, you’re ready to take our brief 32-question quiz.

Question #1: When you’re thinking about a radio trunking system…just kidding!

But if you want any questions about radio repeaters, radio trunking systems, FCC licensing, or anything else that we covered in this article, please reach out to us toll-free at 1-833-311-1170 or fill out our contact form.

Our expert sales representatives are standing by and ready to answer all of your questions as they pertain to two-way radios for your business.