A two-way radio is a radio that can both Transmitter and Radio receiver a signal (a transceiver), unlike a broadcast receiver which only receives content. It is an audio (sound) transceiver designed for bidirectional person-to-person voice communication with other users with similar radios using the same radio frequency (channel). Two-way radios are available in mobile radio, stationary base station and hand-held portable configurations. Hand-held two-way radios are often called , handie-talkies or hand-helds.
Two-way radio systems usually operate in a half-duplex mode: the operator can talk, or he can listen, but not at the same time. A push-to-talk or Press To Transmit button activates the transmitter; when it is released the receiver is active. Other Full-duplex is generally achieved by the use of two different frequencies or by frequency-sharing methods to carry the two directions of the conversation simultaneously.
The first truly mobile two-way radio was developed in Australia in 1923 by Senior Constable Frederick William Downie of the Victorian Police. The Victoria Police were the first in the world to use wireless communication in cars, putting an end to the inefficient status reports via public telephone boxes which had been used until that time. The first sets took up the entire back seat of the Lancia patrol cars.Haldane, Robert. (1995) The People's Force, A history of the Victoria Police. Melbourne University Press. , 1995
As radio equipment became more powerful, compact, and easier to use, smaller vehicles had two-way radio communication equipment installed. Installation of radio equipment in aircraft allowed scouts to report back observations in real-time, not requiring the Aviator to drop messages to troops on the ground below or to land and make a personal report.
In 1933, the Bayonne, New Jersey police department successfully operated a two-way system between a central fixed station and radio transceivers installed in police cars; this allowed rapidly directing police response in emergencies. IEEE History Milestones retrieved Oct. 2, 2007 During World War II walkie-talkie hand-held radio transceivers were extensively used by air and ground troops, both by the Allies and the Axis.
Early two-way schemes allowed only one station to transmit at a time while others listened, since all signals were on the same radio frequency – this was called "simplex" mode. Code and voice operations required a simple communication protocol to allow all stations to cooperate in using the single radio channel, so that one station's transmissions were not obscured by another's. By using receivers and transmitters tuned to different frequencies and solving the problems introduced by operation of a receiver immediately next to a transmitter, simultaneous transmission and reception was possible at each end of a radio link, in so-called "full duplex" mode.
The first radio systems could not transmit voice. This required training of operators in use of Morse code. On a ship, the radio operating officers (sometimes shortened to "radio officers") typically had no other duties than handling radio messages. When voice transmission became possible, dedicated operators were no longer required and two-way radio use became more common. Today's two-way mobile radio equipment is nearly as simple to use as a household telephone, from the point of view of operating personnel, thereby making two-way communications a useful tool in a wide range of personal, commercial and military roles.
In multi-channel systems, channels are used for separate purposes.One example of purpose-specific channel assignments is described in Ivanov, D. A., V. P. Savelyev, and P. V. Shemanski, "Organization of Communications," Fundamentals of Tactical Command and Control: A Soviet View, Soviet Military Thought Series #18, (Washington, D.C.: Superintendent of Documents, 1977) Library of Congress Control Number: 84602565. This is a US Air Force translation of a Soviet-era, Russian-language book. See also, "Inadequate System Capacity," Special Report: Improving Firefighter Communications, USFA-TR-099/January 1999, (Emmitsburg, Maryland: U.S. Fire Administration, 1999) pp. 18-19 and "5.2 Present System," The California Highway Patrol Communications Technology Research Project on 800 MHz, 80-C477, (Sacramento, California: Department of General Services, Communications Technology Division, 1982,) pp. V-4 - V-6. A channel may be reserved for a specific function or for a geographic area. In a functional channel system, one channel may allow City of Springfield road repair crews to talk to the City of Springfield's road maintenance office. A second channel may allow road repair crews to communicate with state highway department crews.
In a wide-area or geographic system, a taxi company may use one channel to communicate in the Boston, Massachusetts area and a second channel when taxis are in Providence, Rhode Island. This is referred to as Multisite operation. In this case, the driver or the radio must switch channels to maintain coverage when transitioning between each area. Most modern conventional digital radios and systems (i.e., NXDN and DMR) are capable of automatic "roaming" where the radio automatically switches channels on a dynamic basis. The radio accomplishes this based on the received signal strength of the radio repeater's recurring "beacon" signal and a "site" or "roam" list that identifies available geographic channels. Some analog conventional systems can be equipped with a feature called "vote-scan" that provides more limited roaming (rarely used in practice). Radio "simulcast" technology can also be used in adjacent areas, where each site is equipped with the same channel. Here, the transmitters must be closely synchronized, and a centralized voter or receiver comparator device is required to select the best quality signal from the mobile radio. This is often used in public safety and utility radio systems.
In marine radio operations, one channel is used as an emergency and calling channel, so that stations may make contact before moving to a separate working channel for continued communication.
Motorola uses the term mode to refer to channels on some conventional two-way radio models. In this use, a mode consists of a radio frequency channel and all channel-dependent options such as selective calling, channel scanning, power level, and more.
There are a wide variety of scan configurations which vary from one system to another. Some radios have scan features that receive the primary selected channel at full volume and other channels in a scan list at reduced volume. This helps the user distinguish between the primary channel and others without looking at the radio control panel. An overview:
For this reason, scan features are either not used or scan lists are intentionally kept short in emergency applications. Part of APCO Project 16 set standards for channel access times and delays caused by system overhead. Scan features can further increase these delays. One study said delays of longer than 0.4 seconds (400 milliseconds) in emergency services are not recommended."3.4.1 User Equipment General Deficiencies," San Rafael Police Radio Committee: Report to Mayor and City Council, (San Rafael, California: City of San Rafael, 1995,) pp. 12. No delay from user push-to-talk until the user's voice is heard in the radio's speaker is an unattainable ideal.
This is an incomplete list of some conventional radio types:
Digital trunked systems may carry simultaneous conversations on one physical channel. In the case of a digital trunked radio system, the system also manages time slots on a single physical channel. The function of carrying simultaneous conversations over a single channel is called multiplexing.
Instead of channels, radios are related by groups which may be called, groups, talk groups, or divided into a hierarchy such as fleet and subfleet, or agency-fleet-subfleet. These can be thought of as virtual channels which appear and disappear as conversations occur.
As with wide-area geographic conventional systems, geographic trunked radio systems require the user to switch channels as they travel unless the radio is equipped with automatic roaming. As of 2018, most all modern trunked radio systems were capable of automatic roaming.
Systems make arrangements for handshaking and connections between radios by one of these two methods:
If all physical channels are busy, some systems include a protocol to queue or stack pending requests until a channel becomes available.
Some trunked radios scan more than one talk group or agency-fleet-subfleet.
Visual clues a radio may be trunked include the 1) lack of a squelch knob or adjustment, 2) no monitor button or switch, and 3) a chirp (made famous by Nextel) showing the channel is available and ready at the moment the push-to-talk is pressed.
This is an incomplete list of some trunked technologies and manufacturer marketing names:
Duplex systems can be divided into two types. The term half-duplex refers to systems where use of a push-to-talk switch is required to communicate. Full duplex refers to systems like mobile telephones with a capability to simultaneously receive and transmit. Repeaters are by nature full duplex, most mobiles and almost all handhelds are half duplex.
In some circumstances, voice-operated transmit (VOX) is used in place of a push-to-talk button. Possible uses are handicapped users who cannot push a button, amateur radio operators, firefighters, crane operators, or others performing critical tasks where hands must be free but communication is still necessary.
Examples of digital communication technologies are all modern cellphones plus TETRA considered to be the best standard in digital radio and being the baseline infrastructure for whole of country networks, including manufacturers such as DAMM, Rohill, Cassidian, Sepura and others, APCO Project 25, a standard for digital public safety radios, and finally other systems such as Motorola's MotoTRBO, HQT's DMR, Nextel's iDEN, Hytera's DMR, EMC's DMR, and NXDN implemented by Icom as IDAS and by Kenwood as NEXEDGE. Only NXDN and Mototrbo are proprietary DMR is an ETSI open standard.
Some two-way digital systems carry both audio and data over a single data stream. Systems of this type include NXDN and APCO Project 25. Other more advanced systems under the TETRA standard are capable of joining time slots together to improve data bandwidth, allowing advanced data polling and telemetry applications over radio. The method of encoding and decoding the audio stream is called a codec, such as the AMBE or the ACELP family of codecs.
After market GPS tracking and mobile messaging devices can be interfaced with popular two-way radio models providing a range of features.
Digital systems typically use data rates in the 1,200–19,200 kilobit-per-second rates and may employ modulation schemes such as frequency shift keying, audio frequency shift keying, or quadrature phase shift keying to encode characters. Modern equipment have the same capabilities to carry data as are found in Internet Protocol. Working within the system's protocol constraints, virtually anything can be sent or received.
Some systems are not engineered. Legacy systems are existing systems which were never designed to meet a system performance objective. They may have started with a base station and a group of mobile radios. Over a period of years, they have equipment added on in a building block style. Legacy systems may perform adequately even though they were not professionally designed as a coherent system. A user may purchase and locate a base station with an expectation that similar systems used in the past worked acceptably. A City Road Department may have a system that works acceptably, so the Parks Department may build a new similar system and find it equally usable. General Mobile Radio Service systems are not usually engineered.
Many mobile and handhelds have a limited duty cycle. Duty Cycle is the ratio of listening time to transmit time and is generally dependent on how well the transmitter can shed the heat from the heat sink on the rear of the radio. A 10% duty cycle (common on handhelds) translates to 10 seconds of transmit time to 90 seconds of receive time. Some mobile and base equipment is specified at different power levels – for example 100% duty cycle at 25 watts and 15% at 40 watts.Kenwood TKR-850 specification sheet
The trend is toward increasing complexity. Modern handheld and mobile radios can have capacities as high as 255 channels. Most are synthesized: the internal electronics in modern radios operate over a range of frequencies with no tuning adjustments. High-end models may have several hundred optional settings and require a computer and software to configure. Sometimes, controls on the radio are referred to as programmable. By changing configuration settings, a system designer could choose to set up a button on the radio's control panel to function as:
Microprocessor-based radios can draw less than 0.2 amperes on standby and up to tens-of-amperes on high-powered, 100 watt transmitters. Base stations, Radio repeater, and high-quality Mobile rig radios often have specifications that include a duty cycle. A repeater should always be continuous duty. This means the radio is designed to transmit in a continuous broadcast without transmitter overheating and resulting failure. Handhelds are intermittent duty, mobile radios and base station radios are available in normal or continuous duty configurations. Continuous duty is preferred in mobile emergency equipment because any one of an entire fleet of ambulances, for example, could be pressed into service as command post at a major incident. Unfortunately budgets frequently get in the way and intermittent duty radios are purchased.
Time delay is always associated with radio systems, but it is apparent in spacecraft communications. NASA regularly communicates with exploratory spacecraft where a round-trip message time is measured in hours (like out past Jupiter). For the Apollo program and the Space Shuttle, Quindar tones were used for transmit PTT control.
In government systems, equipment may be replaced based on budgeting rather than any plan or expected service life. Funding in government agencies may be cyclical or sporadic. Managers may replace computing systems, vehicles, or budget computer and vehicle support costs while ignoring two-way radio equipment. Equipment may remain in use even though maintenance costs are unreasonable when viewed from an efficiency standpoint.For one example, see: "Plan Element S-7: Rationalized Funding" and "Plan Element L-2: Permanent Contra Costa Public Safety Radio Authority," Contra Costa County Public Safety Mobile Radio Master Plan, (Fairfax, Virginia: Federal Engineering, Inc., 2002,) pp. 45, 49.
Different system elements will have differing service lifetimes. These may be affected by who uses the equipment. An individual contacted at one county government agency claimed equipment used by 24-hour services wears out much faster than equipment used by those who work in positions staffed eight hours a day.
One document says "seven years" is beyond the expected lifetime of walkie-talkies in police service. Batteries are cited as needing replacement more often. Twelve-year-old dispatch consoles mentioned in the same document were identified as usable. These were compared to problematic 21-year-old consoles used elsewhere in the same system.For one example, see: "22.214.171.124 Current System Problems," Trunked Radio System: Request For Proposals, (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Oklahoma City Municipal Facilities Authority, Public Safety Capital Projects Office, 2000) pp. 56.
Another source says system backbone equipment like consoles and base stations are expected to have a fifteen-year life. Mobile radios are expected to last ten years. Walkie talkies typically last eight."2.4 Equipment Inventory," San Rafael Police Radio Committee: Report to Mayor and City Council, (San Rafael, California: City of San Rafael, 1995,) pp. 8. In a State of California document, the Department of General Services reports expected service life for a communications console used in the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is 10 years."8000 Exhibits:Equipment Replacement Costs for a Typical Three Position CDF Command and Control Center," 8000 Telecommunications Manual, (Sacramento, California: State of California, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2006) Adobe PDF file on console costs.
In an analog, conventional system, (the simplest type of system) a frequency or channel serves as a physical medium or link carrying communicated information. The performance of a radio system is partly dependent on the characteristics of frequency band used. The selection of a frequency for a two-way radio system is affected, in part, by:See, "Appendix B - FCC Regulations," California EMS Communications Plan: Final Draft, (Sacramento, California: State of California EMS Authority, September 2000) pp.38. and Arizona Phase II Final Report: Statewide Radio Inter-operability Needs Assessment, Macro Corporation and The State of Arizona, 2004.
A channel number is just a shorthand notation for a frequency. It is, for instance, easier to remember "Channel 1" than to remember "26.965 MHz" (US CB Channel 1) or "462.5625 MHz" (FRS/GMRS channel 1), or "156.05 MHz" (Marine channel 1). It is necessary to identify which radio service is under discussion when specifying a frequency by its channel number. Organizations such as electric power utilities or police departments may have several assigned frequencies in use with arbitrarily assigned channel numbers. For example, one police department's "Channel 1" might be known to another department as "Channel 3" or may not even be available. Public service agencies have an interest in maintaining some common frequencies for inter-area or inter-service coordination in emergencies (modern term: interoperability).
Each country allocates radio frequencies to different two-way services, in accordance with international agreements. In the United States, some examples of two-way services are: citizen's band radio, Digital Electronic Message Service (DEMS), Family Radio Service (FRS), General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), Business Radio Service (BRS), and PMR446.
Amateur radio operators nearly always use frequencies rather than channel numbers, since there is no regulatory or operating requirement for fixed channels in this context. Even amateur radio equipment will have "memory" features to allow rapidly setting the transmitter and receiver to favorite frequencies.
UHF has a shorter wavelength which makes it easier for the signal to find its way through smaller wall openings to the inside of a building. The longer wavelength of VHF means it can transmit further under normal conditions. For most applications, lower radio frequencies are better for longer range and through vegetation. A broadcasting TV station illustrates this. A typical VHF TV station operates at about 100,000 watts and has a coverage radius range of about 60 miles. A UHF TV station with a 60-mile coverage radius requires transmitting at 3,000,000 watts. Another factor with higher frequencies (UHF) is that smaller sized objects will absorb or reflect the energy more which causes range loss and/or multipath reflections which can weaken a signal by causing an "Out of Time/Out of Phase" signal to reach the antenna of the receiver (this is what caused the "Ghost" image on old over the air television).
If an application requires working mostly outdoors, a VHF radio is probably the best choice, especially if a base station radio indoors is used and an external antenna is added. The higher the antenna is placed, the further the radio can transmit and receive.
If the radios are used mainly inside buildings, then UHF is likely the best solution since its shorter wavelength travels through small openings in the building better. There are also repeaters that can be installed that can relay any frequencies signal (VHF or UHF) to increase the communication distance.
There are more available channels with UHF. Since the range of UHF is also not as far as VHF under most conditions, there is less chance of distant radios interfering with the signal. UHF is less affected than VHF by manmade electrical noise.
There are other factors that affect the range of a two-way radio such as weather, exact frequency used, and obstructions. Two Way Radio Range Radio Range: How Far Can Two-Way Radios Communicate?"
Another use of two-way radio technology is for a wireless PA system. A wireless PA is essentially a one-way two way radio that enables broadcasting messages from handheld two-way radios or base station intercoms.