The question, “do I need a licence to use the walkie-talkie in the UK?” is most likely to pop up when you’re considering buying a walkie-talkie. But the truth is, it depends.
Yes, you’ll need a licence from Ofcom if your walkie-talkie is for professional use and, thus, requires more advanced functions. But a license-free walkie-talkie is the way for a hobby or personal use!
Note: The terms walkie-talkie, radio, and two-way radio are used interchangeably during this article, and all refer to the same device.
What is Licensed Radio?
In the UK, a licence is required for handheld walkie-talkies with a power output of up to 5 watts. Licensing also applies to base stations and mobile radios of up to 25 watts.
These classes of radios have a broader and better range, so they have a higher ability to penetrate buildings. They’re also more secure; the licence only applies while the licensee is in the UK.
Licensed radios are best suited for businesses in transportation, communication, air flight services, shipping, security, and military sectors. But a license-free radio is good enough if your business needs are simple.
What Is License-free Radio?
On the other hand, license-free radios are low-powered consumer radios with a power output typically 0.5 watts. Users can use license-free walkie-talkies for small business or personal purposes, but they’re pretty restrictive.
However, unlike licensed radios, these walkie-talkies are permissible and legal for use across the European Union. Furthermore, as low-powered consumer radios, they only operate on 8 channels which can be congested if you’re in an area where many users are tuning into a particular channel.
Thus, if you need a channel line that’s secure and private with a low risk of insecure transmission and congestion, I recommend you use a basic licensed radio.
Another critical difference between licensed and license-free walkie-talkies is that the licensed ones are usually more technical. They often also require programming and are more expensive than their counterparts.
When Is It Illegal To Use License-free Radio?
Though license-free radios can use across the UK and the EU, there are specific locations where it can be illegal to use these devices. Why? Because using them in these locations will create interference that might disrupt the communication system of that locations.
Examples of such locations are:
- Busy roads and railways
- Sports stadiums
- Venues with spectator seating of more than 1000 people
- Government buildings
What is Ofcom, And Why Do You Need Their License?
Ofcom, which means Office of Communications, is the United Kingdom’s governmental body that regulates the use of devices that transmit radio signals within the UK.
Their regulations help prevent different radios from disrupting each other. In simpler words, Ofcom regulates the usage of all frequencies and ensures the allocation and use of one frequency (such as the fire and ambulance services) does not mess with other frequencies (such as air traffic control).
One way Ofcom regulates all radios is to require users to require certain advanced features and functionality to get a license.
This licence grants their two-way radios access to dedicated frequencies, which can use for communications. Hence, communications are more secure, and there is a lesser risk of someone eavesdropping on a conversation.
Ofcom offers various types of walkie-talkie licences. What should guide your licence purchase depends on your purpose for using walkie-talkies.
Getting a Simple Site Light Licence for a single construction site makes more sense than getting an Area Defined License, which is better for operations spanning two or more locations across the country (UK).
Types of Licences Issued by Ofcom
Simple UK Light
This licence is only available to handheld or mobile radios and can be used only within the UK.
Unlike the license-free walkie-talkies, which have only 8 frequencies, the Simple UK Light Licensed walkie-talkies have access to 19 frequencies.
Users of this licence package, licensees, must self-coordinate when using these 19 frequencies spread across 4 Business Radio frequency bands to prevent interferences.
Cost: The Simple UK Light Licence costs £75 for five years, thus needing to renew every five years. It’s ideal for use in warehouses and outdoor environments where users aren’t far from each other.
Simple Site Light
Unlike the Simple UK Light license, which only uses mobile radio equipment, this licence type allows the use of both a base station and portable radios.
The licensed radio systems are meant for use within areas at most 1km and must only be used on the site it’s licensed. It has a broader range of frequencies best used for radio paging systems.
Cost: The Simple Site Light Licence costs £75 for five years and, thus, needs to renew every five years. They are ideal for users who require the walkie-talkies as an extra security measure and are helpful in giant warehouses, factories, nursing homes, and construction sites.
This type of licence is meant for only radio suppliers or hiring companies. These companies can repair, hire out, allocate, and service business radios to consumers.
Their services also include trunked business radio and radio paging equipment. So rather than get a licence for £75, you can hire walkie-talkies from such companies.
Cost: The Suppliers Light Licence costs £75 for five years. Thus this license also needs to renew every five years.
Technically Assigned License
Think of this licence as a customized licence package plan. It’s flexible and accommodates a variety of business radio equipment with a broader coverage area.
Another exciting feature is that licensees can choose from a broader range of frequencies without restriction on the business radio band. That is, they have access to frequencies across all business radio bands.
Cost: There’s no fixed licence fee, and the price is usually calculated based on the specifications required, such as coverage area size. However, the cost often ranges from £75 to £1480 — ideal for businesses in multiple locations.
With the Area Defined License, you have exclusive access to a frequency within Ofcom’s spectrum availability across a wider region, like the whole country.
This plan gives you access to a particular frequency range across a 50km2 grid square, a country, or the whole UK.
Cost: There is no fixed fee, and the price depends on frequency width, range, and region covered. Thus a 12.5kHz frequency across the UK will cost more if the frequency range is high.
If you want to know more about how the fee is processed for Technically Assigned and Area Defined licenses, check out this document.
How To Apply For Ofcom License
Getting a radio licence from Ofcom is pretty straightforward. The first step is to pick the correct type of licence that you and your business need.
The next thing is to apply to Ofcom. An online application form is available for the Technically Assigned and Area Defined licences.
Due to the complexities of these licences, the issuance usually requires 42 days at maximum.
Tip: Apply in advance if you need any Technically Assigned or Area Defined license.
However, suppose you want to apply for Simple Site, Simple UK, or Suppliers Light licences. In that case, you’ll need to log into their online licensing system. These licences are issued almost immediately. So usually you can get your licence in less than 24 hours.
When Should I Pay For My Licence?
Ofcom is very particular about when you should make payments. For example, if you pay before an invoice is sent, Ofcom will refund your money.
You only have 28 days to pay, and your 28 days start counting from the date your invoice was issued. If you’re yet to pay after 28 days, Ofcom will cancel your application, and you’ll need to apply again.
Is PMR446 Radio The Only Type of License-free Radio?
PMR446 radios are radios meant for general public use. These radios can only use 8 licence-free channels in the UHF band. That’s why you’re bound to hear the term often when license-free radios are the topic of discussion.
PS: PMR446 stands for Private Mobile Radio 446MHz. The number refers to the wavelength associated with the 8 channels users can tune in to with their radio. That is, the channels are around 446 MHz.
Should I Get A Licensed Radio From A Radio Hire Company?
You can get a licensed radio or walkie-talkie from a company that hires out radios. This act is legal and only possible because these companies have purchased the Suppliers Light License.
You surely don’t need a licence if you need a walkie-talkie when hiking with a group. But when your needs are no longer that simple, you’ll need a permit to use a walkie-talkie in the UK.
And the type of licence you’ll need to purchase depends on your business requirements and frequency needs.