2-way radios provide a very quick, cost-effective way to communicate among small groups of people, regardless of whether cell phone service is available in the area. They can also provide a greater degree of security for communications than cell phones. To determine the best 2-way radio for your purposes, consider a few basic factors, such as whether you want the radios for personal or business use, indoor vs. outdoor use, transmission range and features of the radio itself.
>> How do you intend to use your 2-way radio?
Personal use of 2-way radios, also called microtalk radios, is quite varied, from keeping in touch in an urban crowd to staying in touch on ski slopes, to remaining in contact during camping or hunting trips. Business use is popular wherever people need frequent and rapid communication between two people in an area or between a central location and people in the field. For example, this office technology is popular with construction crews on job sites and security firms with a central dispatcher and officers on a work site.
Note: It's a good idea to have all your radios be on the same brand to maximize their compatibility and privacy features.
>> Consider indoor vs. outdoor use
Before you buy 2-way radios, make sure that the radio you choose uses the frequency range and transmission mode appropriate for your needs. 2-way radios operate in one of two frequency ranges: UHF or VHF.
• UHF signals don't travel quite as far outdoors as VHF signals, but they do a better job of penetrating wood, steel and concrete, which makes them the best 2-way radios for indoor use.
• VHF signals don't penetrate buildings' structural elements as well as UHF signals, but they travel farther, making them the best 2-way radios for outdoor use.
>> Consider transmission range
Some 2-way radio Guides talk about transmission range in the same terms that manufacturers use: up to a large number of miles. For consumer-grade radios, though, under typical conditions, 1 -2 miles is the most range you can expect. Claims of much larger ranges are achievable only when there are no obstructions between callers, such as when one person is on a mountaintop talking to someone in a valley below.
The range for business-grade radios are typically expressed either in square feet or in building floors. Depending on the power (wattage) of the radios involved, they can have ranges of 150,000 -350,000 square feet or 8 -30 floors.
To extend the range of a 2-way radio, consider a model that works with a repeater. Repeaters listen for communications on one frequency and then immediately re-broadcast the transmission on a different frequency, usually at a significantly higher power. Repeaters are usually attached to antennas that are centrally located and in a high location at a site in order to provide the best coverage. Radios that can work with antennas are usually programmed by a radio dealer for particular frequencies.
>> Consider licensed vs. unlicensed communication
No 2-way radio Guide would be complete without discussing 2-way radio communication licensing. Most radios can use two different radio services that operate at different sets of frequencies:
• The Family Radio Service (FRS)
• The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
If you operate a radio that has been approved exclusively under the rules that apply to FRS, you don't need a license, and there's no fee to operate the radio. If you operate a radio under the rules that apply to GMRS, you must have a GMRS license, for which there's a fee. No test is required to obtain a GMRS license.
A third service, called Extreme Radio Service (eXRS), doesn't require a license. Radios that use eXRS operate well indoors, similar to high-powered UHF radios, but typically don't have as much range outdoors as VHF radios. With eXRS, a radio "channel" is actually a sequence of 50 different frequencies between which the radio continuously hops. Eavesdropping is almost impossible with such a radio, making it a good choice if you need secure communications over a short range.
>> Consider analog vs. digital
Traditional analog technology for 2-way radios is widespread, but digital radios are gaining in popularity. This 2-way radio Guide can't discuss all the details of digital radio advantages, but here's a summary:
• More channels -double the number of analog channels
• Better security
• Better voice clarity, even when signal strength is low
• IP connectivity (RoIP) -allows you to connect multiple systems and bases together over a digital network to interconnect sites, provide wide-area coverage and remotely manage the system
• Increased battery life -up to 40% over analog models
>> Think about features Here are some of the features found in the best 2-way radios: Privacy codes: Most analog 2-way radios can use privacy codes, which split up each radio channel into sub-channels, making it more likely you'll find a frequency that no one else in your area is using and less likely that others will overhear your conversation. Privacy codes, however, don't prevent unauthorized people from listening to your conversation.
Voice activation (VOX): This feature lets the radio begin broadcasting automatically when you speak in the direction of the radio. This allows hands-free operation when your attention must remain on the task at hand, such as driving a vehicle.
Channel scanning: This feature scans through all channels or through a preset selection of channels, making it easy for you to find and join ongoing conversations.
Call alerts: Some radios provide a choice of different tones to notify you of an incoming message. If you use your radio when hunting, for example, you might want a radio with a vibrate alert to avoid spooking your quarry when you receive an incoming call.
Weather channel: This feature allows a radio to listen to channels where you can obtain the latest weather information, an especially useful feature for camping or hunting.
Low-battery alert: This feature notifies you when you need to replace the radio's batteries.
Rechargeable batteries: If you use your radio a lot, battery replacement can become expensive, so you might prefer a radio that uses rechargeable batteries rather than regular ones.
With the information in this 2-way radio Guide, you can easily do a 2-way radio comparison to find the best one for you. You can find these radios in the phones and accessories or headsets and accessories sections of retail electronics stores.