This guide will help you understand:
We've used the terms "two-way radio" and "walkie-talkie" interchangeably throughout this article, but there isn't really any difference, except that the phrase walkie-talkie is commonly used in reference to licence-free business radios.
If you spend any time browsing for two-way radios, you'll notice that they come in two main types: "licensed" and "license-free",
As devices that broadcast via radio waves, walkie talkies come under the same laws that govern regular radio broadcasts. All two-way radios that have more than 0.5W power output require a license. This means that license-free radios don't have as much transmission power as their licensed counterparts. They can also only operate on a fixed number of frequencies within the 446MHz frequency range. This means that basically all license-free walkie talkies are compatible with each other.
But of course, it also means that you're sharing those frequencies with anyone else who happens to have a license-free radio nearby. We've found that in practise, many people don't even change the channel on their radios from the default one. If you're using them in a built-up area like an industrial estate, then you might find there's endless chatter on the channel you're trying to use.
On the other hand, handheld licensed radios can have up to 5W transmission power- meaning they can reach much further than their licensed counterparts. This extra power also makes them better for penetrating buildings, so they perform better in built-up areas.
In very simple terms, most two-way radios, especially those used for business, require a licence from Ofcom before you can operate them on most radio frequencies.
If your needs are simple, though, professional licence-free walkie-talkies for business use, which operate on a strictly limited range of frequencies, can be used right out of the box with no other permission or costs required.
Most casual users will be absolutely fine with a license-free set of walkie talkies. While there are technically fewer of these on the market than licensed models, they are much more popular and are what will come up when you do a quick search for them. Crucially for most casual users, they are much cheaper than their licensed counterparts. For the cost of just a single licensed radio, you could buy anywhere up to eight license-free walkie talkies.
Licensed radios are generally a fair bit more expensive than license-free models. They don't come with the license- you'll need to purchase this separately, although it's normally not that expensive. However, the added benefit of privacy and additional transmission power means many professional users will naturally gravitate towards licensed two-way radios. As we mentioned earlier, their ability to penetrate buildings makes them a natural fit for larger warehouses and multi-building complexes.
We've written a whole guide to licence-free radios, describing their advantages and disadvantages, but here's a few key differences between them and their licensed counterparts.
Radio licenses are issued by Ofcom, and you'll need to apply for one from them. A basic two-way radio license is essentially like a driving license- it means you're allowed to use licensed radios, but it doesn't give you a dedicated channel. This costs £75 per organisation, and is valid for five years.
There's also a "geographic license", which also gives you access to your own dedicated frequency. These need to be renewed annually, and the price varies depending on location. In most places, these licenses cost around £100 a year. In London, however, where there is much more demand for these licenses, they can cost up to £500 a year.