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Choosing the Right Two-Way Radios for Business and Emergencies

11/17/23

In business or emergency scenarios, effective communication is a key to success and safety. Two-way radios can help ensure uninterrupted communication among team members, especially during emergencies, natural disasters or while working in hazardous environments or large areas where cell coverage is limited or unavailable. Use this guide to help find the right two-way radios for business or emergencies.

Types of Two-Way Radios

Two-way radios, or walkie-talkies, use push-talk functionality to provide real-time communication between team members. Unlike cell phones, handheld radios are designed to be lightweight, compact and strong enough to withstand rugged conditions and regular use. They are frequently used for sharing information and alerts in the construction and security industries. 

In addition to handheld radios, there are vehicle-mount and desktop two-way radios. Vehicle-mounted radios offer more output power than handheld devices. They’re often installed in vehicles to help maintain on-the-go communication, while desktop two-way radios are typically used in fixed locations like offices, control rooms or dispatch centers. 

Specialized two-way radios are also available, including:

  • Marine radios: These are designed for use on boats and ships, ensuring reliable communication in marine environments. They adhere to specific frequency bands regulated for marine use. 
  • Aviation radios: Communication between pilots, air traffic control and ground support crews can occur with these radios. They adhere to specific frequency bands regulated for aviation use. 
  • Ham radios: Also known as amateur radios, ham radios are used by licensed amateur radio operators for personal or emergency communication.
  • CB (Citizens Band) radios: Used by the general public for short-range communication, CBs operate on specific frequencies, allowing users to communicate within a limited range.

Benefits of Using Two-Way Radios

  • Instant communication with a push of a button
  • Ability to communicate with multiple users at once
  • Rugged enough to withstand extreme environments
  • Enable quick response and coordination during emergencies
  • Can work during disasters or when cell coverage is limited or unavailable

Understanding Frequency Bands & FCC Requirements 

When choosing a two-way radio, it’s important to understand the different frequency bands to help ensure coverage, clear communication, legal compliance and minimal interference in different environments and situations. A license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required to operate some radio frequencies. This licensing allows the FCC to control signals, prevent interference and help reduce the risk of fines from unauthorized usage. 

Band Type Frequency Indoor Range Outdoor Range Usage FCC License

UHF

Ultra-High

High

Low

Warehouses, distribution centers, urban areas

Yes

VHF

Very High

Low

High

Outdoor activities like flagging, construction and farming

Yes

FRS

Family Radio

Compatible with GMRS

Medium

Low

Outdoor activities

No

GMRS

General Mobile

Compatible with FRS

Medium

High

Indoor and outdoor group activities

Yes

ISM

Industrial, Scientific, Medical

 Medium

Low

Small indoor and outdoor areas, private communication

No

MURS

Multi-Use Radio

Medium

Low

Outdoor communication

No

LTE

Long-Term Evolution Cellular

Nationwide

Nationwide

Nationwide Communication

Broadband Subscription Required

Important Features to Consider

Two-way radios have unique features and capabilities designed for different uses and requirements. Consider the following factors to help find a radio that meets your specific needs:

  • Business requirements: Consider the number of channels needed and if additional features like scanning or security monitoring system integration are necessary.
  • Range and coverage: Examine the area you need to cover. Different radios offer varying ranges that can be impacted by factors like buildings and the terrain.
  • Analog or digital:  Analog radios are generally less expensive and have standard features, but digital radios offer better range, voice quality and advanced software capabilities. Some transmission types, like DMR and NXDN, can switch between analog and digital signals.
  • Adding or replacing radios: If adding or replacing a two-way radio within an existing system, choose a band and signal type (analog/digital) that will match the current setup. For digital radios, ensure the specific digital signal type (DMR or NXDN) is compatible with your system. 
  • Audio quality: Clear voice transmission is important. Look for radios with noise-cancellation features and high-quality speakers and microphones. Radios with Voice Operated Exchange (VOX) provide quick, hands-free communication without the need to fumble with buttons.
  • Battery life: Choose radios with long-lasting batteries and power-saving features to help ensure it lasts throughout the workday. Consider keeping a backup supply of batteries, chargers and other accessories to ensure your radios stay powered up and ready for use.   
  • Emergency alerts and safety features: Some radios have built-in motion sensors, emergency alert buttons and other security features to help improve worker safety.
  • Intrinsically safe: Radios with the "intrinsically safe" designation can help guard against generating heat or sparks that could ignite flammable gases or dust in hazardous environments like in chemical plants, oil refineries or mines.
  • Durability and water resistance: Use the Ingress Protection (IP) rating to help determine how well the radio is sealed to help protect against substances like dust and water. The IP rating will have two digits; the first rates protection against dust and the second against water. Higher numbers indicate more protection.
  • Display type: Numeric display two-way radios show only numbers, making them ideal for basic communication, while alphanumeric display radios show numbers and letters, providing more detailed information like caller IDs or custom messages.
  • Programming: Radios with easy-to-use menus and controls are essential for communicating quickly, especially during emergencies. Pre-programmed radios come with preset frequencies and basic functions, while UHF and VHF radios can be reprogrammed for specific frequencies. Dealer-programmed radios can also set up advanced features to match existing systems or licenses before shipment.

Finding two-way radios to meet your requirements can help improve workplace communication and emergency response procedures. Familiarize yourself with the different radio options, essential safety features and FCC regulations to help you find the right radio for your needs. By ensuring reliable communication, your team will be well-prepared to tackle obstacles while staying safe and productive in various situations.

 

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.