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Walkie-Talkie or Two-Way Radio: Are They Different or Not?

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People often use the terms walkie-talkie and two-way radio interchangeably when referring to radios transmitting and receiving signals. But these terms sometimes mean different things.
mobile radio and walkie talkie

People often use the terms walkie-talkie and two-way radio interchangeably when referring to radios transmitting and receiving signals. But these terms sometimes mean different things. 

A walkie-talkie is a type of two-way radio (transceiver). So, all walkie-talkies are two-way radios, but not all two-way radios are walkie-talkies. Walkie-talkie includes all handheld transceivers — if you can’t hold it, it’s not a walkie-talkie. The mobile radio is an example of a two-way radio that isn’t a walkie-talkie. 

Can I Use Both Terms Interchangeably?

While people use both terms interchangeably, there are some situations where they can’t be substituted. For example, you can only use a walkie-talkie instead of a two-way radio when not referring to the other types of two-way radios. 

However, to avoid confusion, it is better to be specific about the type of transceiver you mean. Thus, when referring to handheld transceivers, use the terms “walkie-talkie, handheld, or handy-talkie” instead of “two-way radio.”

What is Two-way Radio?

mobile radio and walkie talkie
Walkie Talkie & Mobile Radio

A two-way radio is a radio that can transmit and receive radio signals, which is why it is called a transceiver (transmitter-receiver). 

Some two-way radios use single radio channels and operate in half-duplex mode. In half-duplex mode, only one user can transmit at a time while others are in receive mode (they can only hear). 

To speak, a user has to press the “push-to-talk” (PTT) button. The button turns off the radio’s receiver and turns on the transmitter.

There is also the full-duplex mode where users can send and receive at the same time. It uses two different frequencies for transmitting and receiving. 

If you use the digital two-way radio, you can use the full-duplex mode through a channel-sharing method. These methods are time-division duplexing (TDD) and frequency division duplexing (FDD). The TDD carries the two directions of the conversations using one frequency by splitting the transmitting time slot for transmission and reception, and FDD uses two radio frequencies for transmission and reception. 

Types of Two-way Radios 

Based on how they are used and handled, there are 3 types of two-way radios. These are: 

  • Handheld Radio (walkie-talkie)
  • Mobile Radio
  • Base Station Radio 

Walkie Talkie 

walkie talkies
Walkie Talkies

Walkie-talkies are handheld, portable two-way radios. They are also referred to as handy talkies or handhelds. However, unlike popular opinion, walkie-talkies aren’t only used to refer to low-power FRS or PMR446 walkie-talkies. Why? Because they can also be high-powered radios used for personal and business purposes. 

As an example, the PMR446 (Private Mobile Radio, 446 MHz) radio is a low-power, license-free handy-talkie. Therefore, it is usually sold at a low price and has fewer features. Hence, why some people generally consider walkie-talkies as low-quality two-way radios.

Contrary to this perception, walkie-talkie usually refers to all handheld transceivers. They don’t have to be basic radios. For example, a complex trunk system radio transceiver can also be called a walkie-talkie if the size is handheld. Thus, some walkie-talkies are licensable and have advanced features such as man down, vibration alert, and remote stun/kill/revive. 

The police, medical staff, emergency services, miners, construction sites, and security personnel tend to call them handy talkies. 

You can also use them to communicate when hiking, skiing, camping, or just for fun. They are an appropriate choice when you need a portable communication tool to move around. 

Mobile Radio 

mobile radio
Mobile Radio In Car

Mobile two-way radios are usually installed in vehicles and connected to an external antenna outside. Years ago, this type of transceiver was more popular than the walkie-talkie. 

When they came into existence in the early 1900s, the Victoria police used them for patrol. This earlier model took up the entire backseat of the patrol car. But mobile transceivers are now more portable. 

The mobile radio helps communicate with employees that are often on the go. For example, the manufacturing sector, transportation sector, emergency services, and security vehicles often use them to communicate.  

Base Station Radio

base station radio
Base Station Radio

Base station transceivers are desk-mounted and plugged into the wall. They are used in a single fixed location and are usually larger and heavier than handhelds. 

You can use the base station with or without handheld radios. It’s used to communicate with other base stations and can work as the primary communication point for several handheld transceivers. 

The typical base station radio has a built-in antenna. Still, you can connect it to an external antenna mounted outside the building using a cable. The higher altitude you mount the antenna, the better the range.

However, increasing the base station antenna height can increase the chances of interference. But you can prevent this by directing it to where you need the signal. 

Although this type of radio is not portable, you get better power (usually from 25 to 50 watts) and range. In addition, using an external antenna helps you get the most extended signal range possible. 

They are best suited for communication within a fixed location. Hospitals, schools, and hotels can use desk-mounted transceivers. 

Connecting the base station to walkie-talkies is also suitable for communicating with other workers outside the base who are within the range of coverage.

Pros & Cons of Walkie-talkies 

Pros 

  • They are an affordable means of communicating within an organization. License-free walkie-talkies are often cheaper. 
  • Transceivers allow for instantaneous communication. With the push of a button, you can communicate with each other in real-time— there’s no need for a contact list. 
  • Walkie-talkies have a rigid structure that makes them durable. They often have an IP (Ingress Protection) that protects them from dust and water. This IP makes them great for rough areas like construction sites and deserts. 
  • Walkie-talkies make for great use in areas where mobile signals cannot reach. You can better communicate with these transceivers underground or in the desert than with mobile phones. 
  • Walkie-talkies can be set to meet your industry’s specific needs, whether a construction site, hospital or security company. 

Cons 

  • License-free walkie-talkie’s frequency channels are shared. They are not secured; thus, other users can intercept and eavesdrop on your conversations, and even high-powered licensed walkie-talkies are still susceptible to interception. Only getting a professional digital walkie-talkie with audio encryption can reduces the chance of interception and guarantees privacy.  
  • PMR446 walkie-talkies and some FRS channels have a maximum power output limit of 0.5 watts, hence can only cover a short range. Other walkie-talkies can cover longer ranges. But, base stations and vehicle-mounted mobile radios can cover the more extensive talking range because they use an external antenna and can use higher transmitting power. 
  • For shared channels, they can sometimes be congested in populated areas. When this happens, there will be a collision which leads to interference. 

Are Other Two-way Radios Better Than Walkie Talkie? 

All transceivers have pros and cons, so which two-way radio is better depends on your needs. 

The license-free walkie-talkie is best for basic use. It is a good option for small to medium companies when communicating with colleagues or for family use to talk to friends and family. 

Also, walkie-talkies are generally preferred for their portability. Thus if you need a radio you can carry around, this handheld transceiver is your best bet.

However, choose the base station transceiver for stationary use as it is in a fixed location. The base station transceiver is most suitable for in-organization communication. But mobile radios are best for communicating on the go and in a vehicle. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Is The Longest Distance of Two-way Radio? 

License-free walkie-talkies generally have a talking range of half a mile in a built-up area and 2 to 3 miles in an open space. But typically, the walkie-talkie’s range falls between 5 to 36 miles. 

Mobile radios cover longer ranges than walkie-talkies. But base station transceivers have the most extended range of signal coverage. You can increase mobile radio and base station signal ranges using the most suitable external antenna or setting up repeaters for the signal relay. 

Why Does Two-way Radio Not Reach The Advertised Talking Range? 

Two-way radios often fail to reach the advertised range because of obstructions that interfere with frequencies. 

It is because frequencies mostly travel through line-of-sight. Therefore, they can’t go through but reflex when encountering solid obstacles like buildings, mountains, and structures. Some other contributing factors are electromagnetic interference and weather condition. 

Is HAM Radio The Same As Walkie-Talkie? 

You can call a HAM or amateur handheld radio walkie-talkie, but they are slightly different. Amateur radio is a hobby that uses various radio equipment under specific frequency ranges. It enables participants to learn, experiment, and communicate with other radio amateurs worldwide. 

Amateur radio is exclusively non-commercial, and you must get an Ofcom license to use it in the UK. There are three levels of amateur licenses. You must pass the corresponding examination to qualify for each license in the UK. 

Final Words

Walkie-talkies are one type of two-way radio called handheld transceivers or handy talkies. 

Although people often interchange the term walkie-talkie with two-way radio, not all two-way radios are walkie-talkies. Some are mounted on a desktop (base stations), while others are installed in a vehicle (mobile radios). 

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About The Arthur
Kenny Zhang
I've been running a factory that manufactures two-way radios & their accessories. We want to share some knowledge and news about Walkie-Talkie from the sight of the supplier.

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