Walkie-talkie channels are universal. But, to talk to another walkie-talkie, you must use the same frequency as the receiver. Besides this, frequency use could differ from one country to another. Thus, a frequency that might be legal to use in one country might be illegal in another.
Though walkie-talkie channels are universal, some frequencies serve different purposes in every country. For example, US military operations and radio amateurs use the same frequencies for PMR446 walkie-talkies in the UK.
What Are Two-way Radio Channels?
The radio channel is the number assigned to a frequency by regulations, which can help segment frequencies used for radio communication. This number reduces walkie-talkie users to communicate with little or no interference. Because if everyone is on the same frequency channel, you can hear everyone’s conversation. It means we will all be talking over each other.
The concept of a walkie-talkie channel is like book slots. Only one book can fit into one slot. Thus if a channel is a slot, only one frequency can fit into it. In other words, a channel represents a single frequency in a walkie-talkie.
A walkie-talkie can have as little as two to as many as thousands of channels. The channels are usually preset; they come with a walkie-talkie, and users can program with different frequencies as they want.
Usually, the factory sets the walkie-talkie to the same frequency and channel. Hence, using it right out of the box will increase the chances of interference.
Before using it, it would be helpful to set it to frequencies less prone to interference in your area. Still, using a particular channel doesn’t guarantee non-interference. It only helps to reduce it.
You can further reduce the risk of interference using privacy codes. Privacy or interference elimination codes add a squelch to your transmission.
When using a privacy code, your walkie-talkie automatically mutes you. And it only unmutes you if the incoming transmission uses the same privacy code as yours.
Hence, you need to use the same frequency and privacy code to talk to another walkie-talkie. While privacy codes can reduce interruptions, interference from other users still occurs. For example, it could happen if the user is on the same channel and is using the same privacy code.
Different Types of Walkie-talkie Frequency Bands: UHF and VHF
Transceivers channel frequencies fall under two broad categories:
UHF (Ultra-High Frequency)
UHF falls between 300MHz to 3GHz. However, this frequency spectrum has shorter wavelengths, so it can only cover a short range.
These frequencies can find their way around solid obstructions with ease. Thus, they are often used indoors or outdoors, in wooded areas or built-up towns.
- Business radios use UHF within 400MHz and 470MHz.
- PMR uses the 446MHz frequency range.
In the US,
- Business radios use UHF within 450 and 470MHz
- GMRS and FRS use 462 and 467 frequency ranges
- Critical communication uses the 700 to 800MHz ranges.
Places more suitable for UHF frequency band applications are:
- Office blocks
- A wooded area
- School buildings
- Hotels, and
VHF (Very High Frequency)
VHF falls between the 30MHz to 300MHz frequency range. Though it can go longer distances, it’s better for outdoor use in areas with little or no obstructions. It is why the VHF frequency bands are the only frequencies used by the Marine service (156 – 162MHz).
In the UK,
- Business users use 136MHz to 174MHz
- Emergency services use 146MHz to 148MHz.
In the US,
- Public safety uses 220MHz
- MURS walkie-talkies use 150MHz frequencies.
The Federal Communications Commission, FCC, created the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) in the US. They did this to reduce the interference rate caused by the limited range of frequencies in the VHF band.
The MURS uses the 150MHz frequency spectrum. It’s a low-power license-free transceiver with 5 channels and a max of 2 watts power output.
There are 38 privacy codes available for use to prevent interference. Thus, to talk to another MURS walkie-talkie, you need to set the channel and match the privacy code.
According to the FCC, MURS users should cooperate to reduce interference. No user is more important than the other. But, all users must yield to emergency communications.
VHF frequencies are more suitable for the following applications:
- Golf courses
- Construction sites
- Ship-to-ship communication
- Ship-to-shore communication
Can UHF and VHF Radios Communicate?
No, UHF and VHF radios cannot communicate. This is because UHF and VHF don’t have the same frequency range, so their channels are different. Therefore, only a VHF transceiver can communicate with another VHF radio.
Also, UHF transceivers can only talk to one another. Still, you will need to set them to the same channel and frequency to be able to communicate.
Walkie-talkies with fixed channels like the PMR446 can only talk to PMR446 transceivers. Moreover, you can’t change the channels of the PMR446 because their 16 channels are preset. Hence, you can only select between the 16 preset channels.
This rule also applies to other fixed-channel walkie-talkies like FRS walkie-talkies in the US. But unlike the PMR446 standard, as most walkie-talkies have 16 channels to program, you can select 16 channels from 22 available FRS channels.
For companies using licensed walkie-talkies, assigning a channel to each department is best.
For example, if the sales department is using channel 1, the security department can use channel 2, and so on. So everyone on the sales team has to set their walkie-talkie to channel 1, and channel 2 is for the security team. So it will prevent interference between the different units of your business.
Are Walkie-talkie Channels Compatible In The UK and The US?
No, walkie-talkie channels in the UK and US are usually incompatible. It is because of the difference in frequency regulations. For example, the license-free radio frequency in the US is for emergency services in the UK.
Hence, a legal channel to use in the US might be illegal in the UK and vice versa. For example, it is common for travelers to bring back a walkie-talkie they used in the country they visited. But, this is illegal since US and UK consumer-grade radios do not use the same frequency range.
Hence, if you buy a walkie-talkie that only supports frequencies in the US, don’t use it in the UK. Here’s why:
The PMR446 (Private Mobile Radio 446) is only for the UK and most other European countries. The license-free consumer walkie-talkie uses 16 frequencies in the 446MHz range.
While in the UK, this frequency range is for consumer or personal use; they serve a different purpose in the US for radio amateurs and military operations. Hence, using them for personal use is illegal, or you will need a license to use these frequencies in the US.
FRS and GMRS
The FRS (Family Radio Service) radio is a US-based consumer-grade walkie-talkie. It is license-free and is for personal use. But businesses looking for low-cost communication options also use them.
The FRS transceiver is like the United States version of the UK’s PMR446. But the watt ranges from 0.5 to 2 watts, making it more potent than the PMR446. FRS walkie-talkies have 22 channels, and their frequencies are in the 462 and 467 range in the UHF band.
Besides the US, Canada also uses the FRS and GMRS walkie-talkie. South America and Mexico permit its use, but they set some restrictions.
The GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) and FRS walkie-talkies have the same channels. But, several differences set them apart.
The GMRS walkie-talkie is more high-powered than the FRS. Usually, you will need a license from the FCC to operate it.
Also, depending on the channel, you can change its channels to have a power output of 5 to 50 watts. Although, channels 8 to 14 have 0.5 watts of power output, like the FRS walkie-talkie.
There are also 8 designated channels within the frequency range that you can’t access using the FRS transceiver. These channels are for repeater input. Thus, you can extend the GMRS signal range, but this doesn’t apply to FRS walkie-talkies.
The GMRS and FRS radios are consumer-grade walkie-talkies in the US. Thus, using any handhelds in the 462 and 467 spectra is illegal in the UK.
The UK reserves these frequency spectra for emergency services. Thus, using a GMRS or FRS radio in the UK will interfere with emergency service communication.
How About Other Countries?
Every country has its communication laws. So, the designation of frequencies for different purposes differs in most countries. Hence, what might be legal for use in your country might be illegal in another part of the world.
Since we cannot list the channel usage for each country, it’s best to double-check the laws. So, check the regulations guiding two-way radio use in a country before using your walkie-talkie there.
As a walkie-talkie user, it’s essential to know the regulations in your country. It is because most countries use different frequency spectra for various purposes.
Your consumer-grade channels might be for emergency services or military operations. Hence, while channels are universal, using them in some countries is only legal sometimes.