One of the most persistent challenges of using two-way radios (walkie-talkies) is moving out of two-way radio range and cutting off your conversation. You can’t fight physics – under specific conditions, radio signals travel in highly specific ways. If you violate these principles, your conversation fades out or ends altogether.
Depending on the kind of radio you’re using, your repeater network, the design of your antenna, obstacles and terrain, a radio signal can travel anywhere from a few hundred feet to several miles. If your workers consistently get cut off because they’re getting too far away, you may benefit from extending the effective range of your radios. To make sure you invest in the right range-extending strategies, it is important to understand the fundamentals of how two-way radios work.
What determines a radio’s range?
Several variables influence a radio’s range, including:
- The power of the radio
- The design of your radio antenna system
- The frequency band the radio is using
- Building material barriers such as concrete, metal and glass
- Surrounding terrain
- Whether the user is indoors or outdoors
It’s essential to weigh all these factors when you’re trying to troubleshoot signal loss in your radio fleet. These steps will help you figure out how to solve the problem, or prevent range degradation in the first place.
Commercial and Professional class radios are generally rated from 1 to 5 watts of power. Depending on the expected coverage area, it often pays dividends to invest in more powerful radios. It is also a good idea to choose digital radios. In general, digital radios maintain a clearer signal to the edges of the coverage area, which essentially extends range because you can communicate more effectively over longer distances.
Evaluate the Antenna System for your Location
Improving your antenna system is one of the best ways to improve your radios’ performance. Think about how a radio signal travels: it goes in in straight line that can be blocked by buildings, hills, trees or any other natural or man-made obstacle.
To optimize and maximize range, the antenna must be as high up as possible. This elevates the line of sight with radios and produces a better and more powerful signal. With an effective antenna system in place, sometimes all users have to do is move to higher ground to maintain a strong communications connection.
With mobile radios, oftentimes vehicle materials inherently interfere with radio signals. The solution: Eliminate much of this interference and extend signal range by installing an external antenna (ideally mounted onto the roof of the vehicle).
Add a Repeater to Extend Radio Range
If changing or adjusting the antenna doesn’t do the trick, it’s probably time to install one or multiple repeaters to grab the signal and retransmit it over a wider area. Repeaters work by transmitting and receiving on two separate (but nearly identical) frequencies: one that receives a signal and the other that outputs the signal. This is called duplexing. When you set up a repeater system, you must configure your handheld or mobile radios to transmit on the repeater’s output frequency and enable the radio’s offset mode.
Many enterprises use repeaters, including:
- High-rise buildings
- Manufacturing facilities and distribution centers
- Commercial and school campuses
- Hospital complexes
- Stadiums and arenas
- Any facility that is large enough to require added radio range coverage
Does VHF or UHF Deliver Better Two-Way Radio Range:?
Two-way radios operate within VHF (Very High Frequency; 30-300 MHz) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency; 300 MHz to 3 GHz) wavebands. VHF wavelengths are longer, which lets signals travel greater distances, but also makes them less effective in highly obstructed areas. UHF wavelengths are shorter, which enables them to penetrate concrete, metal, wood and other obstacles more effectively than VHF.
Overall, UHF is more popular because it provides a better all-around signal (except when you need to transmit outdoors across great distances). Most commercial radios are available in either VHF or UHF wavebands, so it is a good idea to test both to see which one is better suited for your environment.
BDAs are signal boosters required by law in many localities so first responders can stay in constant contact throughout any facility in an emergency situation. They are also excellent for day-to-day operations to keep remote workers and mobile maintenance personnel connected. They’re ideal for use in cement and steel structures that have poor reception areas such as basements, stairways, tunnels, parking garages or any isolated area where wireless signals do not penetrate. Safety BDAs are also designed to work under duress, such as high heat, chemical splash, high humidity, underground tunnels, with no electricity, etc.
No matter what your coverage issues you face, BearCom provides the equipment, services and expertise you need. Contact BearCom at: 800.527.1670.
BearCom provides a broad line of high-performance wireless communications products, services, and complete mobility solutions. Founded in 1981, BearCom is America’s only nationwide dealer and integrator of wireless communications equipment, serves customers from 29 branch offices located throughout the U.S., and employs approximately 360 people. BearCom is headquartered in the Dallas, Texas area.
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