Improving the Two-Way Radio Range: Repeaters, Antennas, Bi-Directional Amplifiers, and More

One of the most persistent challenges of using two-way radios (walkie-talkies) is moving out of two-way radio rangeand 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. Radio Selection 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. Vehicle Antennas: 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 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

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