Digital vs Analogue Two Way Radio

Last modified By Michael1 on
on July 30th, 2019
Motorola DP4401E Digital Radio

It doesn’t need to be highlighted that the technological developments in the current era are more than significant. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with all the gadgets currently available. The communication industry is far away from what it looked like 10 years ago. The changes in communication technology have affected everyone and every industry. Radio communication is no different.

Two Way Radio Communication

Two way radio communication could be considered as one of the ancestors of today’s mobile phones. Interestingly, the very first mobile phones were actually operating on analogue modes (the same as walkie talkies). Since then mobile phones have went through significant transformation and became ultimate communication devices (for now). But what happened to the walkie talkie? Nothing.

Walkie talkies are still here and are broadly used within all industries (and institutions), from security services, through hospitality, retailers, transportation to energy companies. Two way radios are still considered as the most reliable communication devices especially due to the straight forward communication, durability and of course the price.

Industry Changes

However, the two way radio industry is starting to operate on digital mode and more and more people are confused when it comes to making a decision between analogue and digital two way radio. Many people also think that analogue radios will become extinct in few years time. Well, it is hard to predict what will happen in the future. This discussion tends to inform about key differences, advantages and disadvantages of both, and also tries to navigate to decision whether to go for digital or analogue.

Analogue

Let’s start with analogue radios. These are on the market for some time now (according to BearCom paper from 2010: “Analogue two-way radios have been used for business applications as far back as 1933, and they were originally placed into service by the U.S. military 20 years before then” ). So it is clear that this product has a strong history and position on the market and is widely used around the world. Analogue radios are traditional walkie talkies operating on analogue modes and using frequency modulation. They are transmitting natural voice. Mostly, only one conversation can take place while using analogue radio. They also require hardware receivers and transmitters. Furthermore, while using analogue radio in the broader area, voice might get lower and signal lost completely when the user is further away from the transmitter.

Digital

Digital radios on the other hand are operating in digital mode, which means they are using a mathematic system represented by binary numbers 1 or 0 to transmit the voice, which becomes digital. Therefore, the transmitted voice is much clearer. Furthermore, digital radios can recognise the background noise and simply not transmit it. Using digital radios in the broader area is more efficient and if users stay within limits of the coverage, the voice will stay the same and clear. Digital radios also come with fancy applications such as GPS, data tracking, more conversations at the same time, text messaging, emergency alarm and many more. Disadvantage of digital radios is it costs a bit more and it may take a little longer for the first time user to get comfortable with them.

Comparison

Analogue

– traditional technology

– smaller area coverage

– one conversation at time

Digital

– new technology

– digital voice

– wider area coverage

– simultaneous conversations at time

– software applications

Which One?

It might seem that the analogue radios have fewer features (they really do) but to really decide which radio is better, you must take into the consideration where they are being used.

For instance, digital radios are more suitable for usage where there is a lot of background noise and are used over much wider area such as construction sites, plants and factories. Whereas analogue radios can be used in retail and schools.

But to be fair digital two way radios are the latest generation of radio communication and are rapidly replacing traditional analogue radios. Pretty much the same thing is happening with walkie talkies as what happened with mobile phones. The needs of consumers are increasing and digital radios offer much more applications, designs and due to the demand prices of digitals are more than affordable.

P.S.: A huge benefit of some of the digital radios is that they are compatible with analogue radios. Therefore, compromise in terms of smooth and slow digital migration can be done  

Ref.: BearCom 2010, White paper: Comparing and Contrasting Analog and Digital Two-Way Radios, available at: http://www.bearcom.com/resource-library/BearComAnalogVsDigitalWhitePaper.pdf

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