Licence-Free vs Licenced Two Way Radios

One of the big two way radio faqs is what is the difference between licence-free and licenced two way radios is an important first step in choosing the right radio equipment for your application.

Licence-Free Two-Way Radios

Licence-free two way radios are often referred to as walkie-talkies or PMR446 radios, (PMR stands for Personal Mobile Radio and the 446 is the frequency in which they are programmed to operate), or non-licenced radios or finally unlicenced radios. They are all the same, it just depends on how the person/supplier are describing the product.

Licence-Free Two Way Radio Uses

Manufacturers refer to licence-free two way radios as consumer or leisure radios. The common use case would be hiking, fishing, skiing, small shops or restaurants etc. as a simple means of communicating where mobile phone coverage is not available.

There are many manufacturers of licence-free two way radios and the ones with a price point under £30 are often used as toys.

More often than not, brands such as Motorola Solutions, Hytera, Entel, Kenwood Communications, Icom, Cobra etc. have small commercial businesses using them as they are cheap and a cost-effective communication solution.

Licence-free Two Way Radio Power Output

All licence-free radios have a maximum power output of 0 .5 watts as stipulated by Ofcom in the UK, (Each country has their own communications regulator). They come pre-programmed on the 446MHZ frequency range. The frequency is then split across typically eight or more channels using the 446MHZ frequency and a unique CTCSS tone. Each manufacturer programmes the radios with the 446MHZ frequency and their own designated CTCSS tone.

Licence-free Two Way Radio Range

The million-dollar question; how far can two-way radios communicate? Manufacturers often present claims of 6km, 8km or 10km and while these are accurate claims, what they do not mention is that the distance is representative of a mountain top to valley floor or mountain top to the mountain top with near perfect atmospheric conditions.

In reality, users are more likely to be at ground level, using them in the home, garden, village or town and then cannot understand why they do not get a 10km range.

The fact is that the power output is low at 0.5 watts and building structures, different atmospheric conditions and geography all play a part in how far the radio signal can transmit.

Often the range is less than 500 metres in built-up areas and perhaps over a kilometre on the open ground within line of sight.

Licenced Two Way Radios

Licenced two way radios come as hand portables (carry in your hand) or fixed-mobile radios (installed in vehicles or offices) and are available as either VHF (Very high frequency) or UHF (ultra-high frequency)

Licenced Two Way Radio Uses

Manufacturers refer to licenced two way radios as business or professional radios. These two-way radios are used in virtually every industry sector you can think of such as Retail, Construction, Hospitality, Events, Manufacturing, Distribution, Oil and Gas, Mining, Warehousing etc.

Licenced Two Way Radio Power Output

Handheld licenced radios have a maximum power output of 5 watts for VHF and 4 watts for UHF. Fixed-mobile two-way radios have maximum power outputs of between 25 watts and 45 watts depending on the model you purchase. As the radio is licenced, this means that the radios will require an Ofcom Business Radio Licence in the UK (other countries have their regulator). O

Licenced Two Way Radio Range

A licenced two way radio range will still depend on the same numerous factors as detailed in the licence-free section, but it should be possible over flat open ground within line of sight to get 3km and up to 1km in a built-up area. If there are any obstructions or the area is heavily built up, such as in London these distances can be reduced further.

For the above reasons the only successful way of actually knowing is to test some of the two-way radios in the intended area of use.

Our Thoughts

If your looking for some quick and easy out-of-the box two way radios and you do not mind any interference or cross communication then licence-free is the quick and cheap way to go. If your communications are more important and you need better range or privacy then licenced two way radios are a must. If you are serious about efficiency aswell, the understanding two way radio lingo can be valuable help for team communications.