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Cygnal Limited Logo


Vehicle and Radio Communications
Automotive Electronics for the North East

- 0191 5172889

Frequently Asked Questions
on Two Way Radios

For clarity and brevity, most of these answers relate to handportable radios used in 'back-to-back' mode.

  1. What are the benefits of licensed radios compared to unlicensed?
      Unlicensed radios (PMR446) transmit at 500mw of power whereas a licensed one transmits 4 or 5 watts (up to 10 times more), giving a greater range.

    Licensed radios generally are more professionally made and are more robust.

    Due to better loudspeakers and audio circuits, the licensed radio usually sounds clearer.

    There are more accessories and more features available for licensed radios. Extended and high gain antennae and long range equipment can also be employed with licensed radios.

    Anyone can listen in on a PMR446 radio and you may find interference from other users. Licensed systems experience little interference or eavesdropping as you are allocated your own frequencies. Should you hear interference, it can be reported to us or Ofcom who will investigate. PMR446 users can only change channels to find a quiet one.

    Licensed radios can cost significantly more than unlicensed. Unlicensed radios are usually sold 'off the shelf' whereas licensed ones come with a higher level of service.

  1. Is it essential for schools to have licensed radios?
      Not at all. If the radios are for casual, insecure, short range communications, and funds are limited, then unlicensed may be suitable.

  1. Can Cygnal arrange a suitable licence and how much will it cost?
      We usually complete the application for new radio systems' licenses. They cost from around £75 per annum. One licence covers the full system for a single channel. A typical school with several handportables working on a single frequency (channel) should cost £75 p.a. to Ofcom. A shared national channel can be as little as £60 for 5 years.

  1. Can our current radios be repaired?
      Unlicensed radios are generally not repairable as the cost of a repair makes buying a new radio more economical.

    Licensed radios can nearly always be economically repaired. Severe physical damage or liquid ingress can be exceptions.

    All batteries will begin to fail after couple of years or so but can easily be replaced. Indeed, after a few years, many customers think that their radios are becoming unreliable and begin to lose confidence in them, when all they need is new batteries.

    Do not allow suspect radios to remain in use unrepaired. If there are, say, three dodgy radios in a system of ten,then this will affect over 53% of the conversations - a very poor system. When you have a suspected faulty radio, remove it from service until repaired.

    If you have radios mothballed because of unreliability, consider having them checked over by a company such as ours. It costs little to have them all tested, especially when compared to their initial cost. Do not let them take up broom-cupboard space!
  1. How far can the average radio transmit and what are the variables?
    We would never guarantee coverage without carrying out a range test, but normally, communications between two licensed handportable radios will reach several hundred yards, or even 1 to 2 miles, in a built-up area. Place them on a hill, or introduce a talkthrough repeater, and this could rise to thirty or more miles.

    Radio signals travel in line-of-sight but, like light, can penetrate and some things and bounce (reflect) off others. Small buildings (without much metal) and trees provide little obstacle but mountains (unless you're on the top) and tunnels present real problems.

    Height, transmit power, aerial type and obstacles are the main issues. Weather, despite folklore, has little effect on reception.

    Never believe the range quoted by unlicensed radio manufacturers/suppliers. The usual claim of up to 10 km is grossly exaggerated.

    For more technical information on the range of two way radios, click here to visit our Radio Propagation page.

  1. How many channels do these radios have and how can they be best used/selected.
      PMR446 (unlicensed) radios have eight channels, each with many CTCSS tone slots. CTCSS gives the ability to use the same channel (radio frequency) but not be heard by, or hear, other users on the same channel but different CTCSS tone.
    When you buy new unlicensed radios, they are usually pre-set to channel 1/CTCSS tone 1. Change this to another, more obscure, channel/tone for a quieter life. CTCSS 0 (no tone) will receive lots of interference. The CTCSS tone is transmitted with the speech but is inaudible.

    Licensed radios are supplied on the licensed frequencies. Radios are usually programmed to just one channel, but if the user holds multiple licenses, then more channels can be programmed.
  1. Can staff from your company advise on the best type of product for our individual use?
      One of our sales or engineering staff will ask you questions and usually visit your premises (with no obligation to you, of course) before advising you on the best system for your requirements.

  1. Can new radios be made compatible with our current radios?
      If you have radios and require more, we just need to supply radios in the correct frequency band (UHF, VHF etc) and ensure they are capable of any features you are currently using (such as selective calling). They will be programmed to your own channel before delivery.
    If your radios are getting old and beginning to be unreliable, it is often better to replace the radios as they fail, piecemeal, rather than fork out for a whole new system at once. The would-be cost of the repair is saved on the cost of the new radio, while also eliminating problem radios from your system.