Welcome to 2023, where most people still believe that buying a two-way radio is a straightforward process. You pick the radios you like, and that is it. Easy, right? Well, no, it is not that simple. Many of those not familiar with two-way radios believe radios work anywhere and reach everywhere, which is not the case.
There’s much of a myth around the two way radio, almost like an aura of mystique. Hollywood does not help much, as we often see the movie hero talking on a two-way radio from LA to DC. In real life, that would only happen if those radios worked on a wide area system like the ones used by first responders. The average range for a commercial two-way radio not connected to a wide area system is 1 to 2 miles. Besides, coverage range shrinks depending on the terrain and the structures in between the radio users.
Aside from range, there are other factors that are worth considering when buying the best two way radio. In the next paragraphs, we will take you through the steps necessary to decide which type of radio communication will better meet your needs. Hollywood superhero or not, these articles will be for you!
First Factor, The Environment
The type of environment you’re in affects handheld radio performance more than you could imagine. Depending on the type of environment where you will be using the radios, you will need a less or more rugged model. Let us tell you some of your options for handheld radios and two-way radios in general:
In the case of wet or damp environments, you want to buy a two-way radio that is waterproof. In a sandy or dusty situation, you’ll want to look for handheld radios that are dust resistant. To assess this, always look at the radio specs and choose the one that has the highest IP rating.
But what is an IP or Ingress Protection rating? IP rating is a code consisting of two numbers, the first or leftmost being the level of protection against solid items, and the second or rightmost being the one pertaining to the level of protection against liquid substances. IP ratings in radios go from 1 to 6 in the case of solids, and 1 to 8 in the case of liquids. For example, a radio with an IP rating of 67 (the second highest IP rating, just below IP rating 68) is dust tight for 2 to 8 hours and is protected when submerged in water up to 1 meter for 30 minutes.
For office building management, schools, warehouses, hotels, stores, and restaurants, look for a commercial grade radio with an IP rating from 54 to 56. Radios with those ratings are water resistant and protected against dust, and although not submersible, they still offer the right level of ruggedness for radio users working in those type of environments. You’ve seen now how climate and environment will be a decisive factor in your search for radios, but how about power?
Second Factor, The Power
Different two-way portable radios offer different power ratings. Seems obvious to us in the industry, but we know this is part of the obscured information for newcomers. You don’t need a high power radio for a wedding ceremony or any small space, the same way you can’t just get any radio if you’re in charge of security for a parade or a whole stadium. Radios, like people, come in many shapes and sizes and each is designed to work in a specific environment. So let us walk you briefly through what power differences mean in handheld radios.
When selecting the power of your portable two-way radio you need to focus on the size of the area where you want users to communicate. The power of commercial handheld two-way radios ranges from 2W to 5W. For small buildings (3 to 4 floors) and small outside areas with no structures between radio users, one with 2W or 3W, commonly referred to as low power, will be enough. For in store or intra-office communication, these models will likely suffice and be perfectly functional for you. For higher buildings and areas with walls and other structures between radio users, always choose a portable two-way radio with 4W or 5W, commonly referred to as high power. Always remember physical elements like furniture, walls and such do affect how the power from one radio reaches the other radios.
Orientation and direction also matter, whether vertically or horizontally. If you are trying to communicate from below ground areas, like a parking garage or basement, to the top, or across buildings, we recommend performing a site survey before buying the radios. In scenarios like those, you may need a repeater or base station to cover the whole area. When covering wide outside areas you may need mobile radios with power from 25W to 50W. We have models of Hytera radios, RCA radios and Tait radios that are ready to do these kinds of jobs.
Now you know how both open space and physical objects will affect your buying radios’ decision making. Whenever looking to buy new radios remember this information and take your space into consideration. Just make sure you find the radios with the power that best adapts to your own needs.
Stay tuned for our next blog post on the difference between UHF and VHF radios. In the meantime, if you have any questions about IP ratings or high and low power radios just email us at [email protected] or fill in our contact form.