18 Feb Choosing The Best Two Way Radio + Legislation (for Airsoft & Milsim)
Choosing The Best Two Way Radio + Understanding Legislation (for Airsoft & Milsim)
Today is all about two-way radios or as you may call them, walkie-talkies.
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We know some Youtube channels out there that tried to give some sort of explanation or guide regarding the use of two-way radios for Airsoft purpose. But since this stuff has to do with legislation it can quickly become an “illegal” practice (like almost everything else that has to do with Airsoft).
Anyway, the things mentioned in this blog will obviously not only be for the use of radios in Airsoft. It’s applicable for whatever other outdoor hobbies people do for fun.
Legislation Regarding Two way radios
Here we’ll cover the legislation part as well as what you should look out for when getting yourself a handheld walkie-talkie.
Why do you need a two way radio?
The reason why you need a radio is surely obvious. But when it comes to the use of communication in Airsoft and Milsim it is somewhat essential. If you’re part of an Airsoft team it can almost not be missed.
But even if you’re not part of a team and just lone wolf through the field to enjoy a day of shooting at people. Having a radio that’s connected with your team or squad gives you at least the ability to estimate the situation on the field due to the input of others. And that alone already gives you a tactical advantage.
What’s a two way radio & the law
So, when it comes to legislation regarding the use of personal radios we’ll cover everything for people living in the EU. If you live in the USA, you want search for what’s called the FRS license-free and the GMRS licensed services.
But most of the stuff we’ll cover about the EU services, the radio choices and their options shall also be applicable for the guys living on the other continent.
The following information regards handheld two-way radios or walkie-talkies. These are capable of both transmitting and receiving frequencies which is why they are also called transceivers.
As mentioned, these things work on certain frequencies. But the use of frequencies itself is restricted. Because you don’t want to end up using your local police frequency or stuff like that.
Licensed or license-free?
For the use of such frequencies it can either be licensed or non licensed. Some companies and the authorities obviously require to use radios for whatever they do and they use licensed frequencies.
Being licensed means they are “closed” frequencies and may officially only be used by these companies or authorities and others may not use them. And this is what some guys or teams prefer to do for Airsoft as well. But this requires a fee every few years or so.
On the other side there are the license-free frequencies for amateur usage. In the EU this falls under the PMR 446 service. Here PMR stands for “Personal Mobile Radio” and the 446 is the frequency it operates on, namely “446 MegaHertz”.
In order for you to use this free-service you do need to comply on strict regulations and that’s where most people go wrong and risk being prosecuted if caught.
Restrictions for PMR 446 service
These restrictions require you to use a radio with a power output of maximum 0.5 Watts (500 mW) and in some countries like ours the device must have a fixed non removable antenna.
Not that hard right? Well, next time you go out in the Airsoft field take a look around. You’ll be surprised how many people are not aware of this stuff and are actually breaking the law.
If you follow these restrictions. You will get a range of about a few hundred meters in an urban environment while in a more open environment you will get a few kilometers.
PMR 446 Channels
When it comes to the use of this license-free service you are able to use 16 channels with analog FM devices. Digital radios that fall under the TDMA regulation can use the same 16 channels as the analog radios. The digital ones that fall under the FDMA regulation can use up to 32 channels nowadays.
Most radios you’ll find today are build and programmed with the first 8 channels for analog and the first 16 for digital FDMA radios. Since the newly added channels are only “recently” allowed since January 2018.
Installation of channels
Most radio manufacturers have preinstalled these license-free channels and these can mostly be found as the first 8 up to 32 channels you are able to select on those devices.
For Airsoft purpose, these are the channels organizations and Marshalls refer to for what the different teams may use. For example, Team red can use channels one and two, while team blue may use channel three and four.
But some radios do not have these PMR channels installed already and that requires you to do it manually. For this it’s possible you either need to do it through a computer which requires some tech experience or you can directly do it with a keypad on some radios.
The PMR 446 frequencies
For this you obviously need to know the correct frequencies. The lists of these frequencies can be found by simply searching for the “PMR 446 channels” on Google.
Another thing you need to know is, as mentioned before the frequency these things work on is the 446 MegaHertz frequency.
But in order to make people use different channels and not be interfered by one another, the amount of kiloHertz in these frequencies is adjusted. These are the numbers that you find after the “446” on those channel lists.
Some brands also add extra pre-installed sub-channels into their radios above the PMR 446 channels.
Analog VS Digital Radios
As mentioned regarding the frequencies, radios can be divided in both analog and digital radios. There’s a difference between them and it’s quite big. Let’s start with the most common analog ones.
Analog radios work by sending out a continuous stream of electrical signals. These signals can be easily interfered by other users and natural events like a storm for example. The signals analog radios use also fade over distance until they reach their maximum distance and turn into white noise.
When it comes to voices in loud background environments, they can be well heard and understood with analog radios. But for each channel only one two-way conversation can take place at a moment. And when it comes to pricing they are fairly cheap in general.
The more modern digital radios on the other hand work by the use of mathematical code in block segments. And when it comes to these signals, they stay strong and clear over their entire range and can go better through concrete and walls unlike the analog electrical signals.
Such digital radios are provided with more features, like status buttons and enhanced text messaging. They are also more reliable and allow for more simultaneous talking paths. Digital radios provide a clear sound with lesser interference and also they can distinguish voices from background noises due to an algorithm.
When it comes to battery life, they can last up 30-50% longer than their analog competitors, because a digital transmitter is not constantly on. Also the defense against eavesdropping is much better with digital radios. This is because the technology is much less common and not yet supported by most scanners.
And like mentioned before when we talked about frequencies, digital radios can also operate on analog frequencies. So they can be programmed to be compatible with analog radios.
But the downside of these is that when near too much presence of radio frequency noises they can result in an error and digital radios are in general more pricey than the analog ones.
So, covering this info will already give you important matter of what sort of device you should pick. Now that we covered these differences, we can go over to the different features that you may need for your specific usage.
Features of two way radios
First off, we’ll go over reliability and toughness regarding these devices, because there’s nothing worse than spending money on stuff that dies after a few times of using it. Especially in more extreme outdoor environments this is essential.
The “Ingress Protection” rating
A minimum we suggest to look out for, if you do things like Airsoft, is a so called “Ingress Protection” rating.
This is always shown with an IP followed by two digits and sometimes another letter. This shows a level of protection against solids and water.
The first number after IP refers to the strength against dust. This can be rated up to 6. The second number refers to moisture protection which can be rated up to 9. And the last letter indicates additional information related to the protection of the device.
The most common rating you’ll find on these radios is the “IP67” rating which means the device is both dust-tight and watertight up to 30 minutes when submerged under water up to 1 meter deep.
If you find an IP rating with other numbers and don’t know what they mean, you can look them up by searching for ”IP ratings” on Google.
The “ATEX” rating
For even more extreme situations you can also look for the so called “ATEX” rating. Just so you know, this means the device is made to work in explosive environments.
The “MIL-STD 810” rating
And for even tougher devices you may want to look out for a so called “MIL-STD 810” rating. This United States Military Standard shows that the device has passed through a series of tests. Going from resistance against low pressure, to temperature shocks, to fungus, to pyro-and gunfire shock and even acidic atmosphere.
“Consumer” vs “Business” models
Most brands divide their radios in so called “consumer” and “business” models. Whereas the business ones tend to be much tougher against abuse. But don’t let that scare you off. Because the business models can mostly be bought by consumers as well. As long as they are license-free you should be fine.
Another thing you want to pay attention to is the battery life which is especially a necessity for those longer Milsim events. For this you surely want to look out for Lithium-ion batteries. Since these are light, have a fast charging rate and a slow loss of charge when they’re not in use.
Also remind that already the choice between an analog or a digital radio makes a huge difference in the battery life for radio devices.
Speaking of batteries, some radios are also equipped with a low voltage battery indicator, so you know when it’s time to recharge or replace the battery by an extra charged one.
So, that’s about it for the reliability and toughness features.
Product Features of two way radios
What does such a radio usually come with besides a battery. Of course a battery charger is one and some sort of clip to hook your device onto something.
Also one of the very basic things you’ll find on such a device is a PTT button or Push To Talk. Like the word itself says, nothing very fancy about it, just push the button to make your receiver in a transmitter and talk in the microphone to transmit your message.
For a more easier use, most radios are equipped with a mic jack. This enables you to connect the device to a microphone with a separate PTT or an external speaker. Which allows you to use more tactical products like a headset, a throatmic or an earpiece for example.
There are also things like dual PTT sets, differences in mic jacks and like just mentioned a lot of different comm systems available on the market. But we’ll cover that stuff in another video in the future.
functions of two way radios
key-lock & beep tones
Possibly the most important basic features are the ability to lock your keypad, so you don’t accidentally switch channels for example, and the so called “beep tones”.
If you’ve ever used a two-way radio you might have noticed that some messages someone sends at you seem to start at the middle of the sentence. This is due to the fact that there’s a small delay between pressing the PTT and the actual transmission.
So, if your buddy doesn’t wait for a moment after pressing the PTT and immediately starts to talk. He will most likely get this answer back:
“Uhm, would you repeat that please, because I didn’t understand SH*T you were saying”.
To solve this issue, some radios are equipped with those beep tones or calling tones. This means your device makes a sound when it’s ready to transmit your message, so you get feedback for when you may speak.
The squelch function
A very common feature you also get on all these type of two-way radios is some sort CTCSS (Continous Tone-Coded Squelch System), DCS (Digital Coded Squelch) and a selcall function (Selective Calling function) or XTCSS function.
A squelch system is used to suppress the channel noise when the radio is not receiving a transmission. But mind that a squelch function doesn’t solve the interference issues with others, it just covers them up.
The scramble function
Also privacy of your communication is also very important, especially in Airsoft & Milsim. Because otherwise the enemy team knows exactly what you’re up to and then you can better throw away your radios and just yell at each other.
So, for a more “private” communication two-way radios are also equipped with a scramble function. Which basically allows you to use the same frequency as others do, but you don’t hear each other because of a unique code only you and your friends or teammates use. Do notice that these functions don’t privatize the channel you’re using, it only minimizes chatter of others.
The scan function
Another very common feature is the ability to scan with your device. This allows you to cruise through different channels to find active ones or to search for empty ones as well.
And for the guys that want to listen to their favorite FM radio channel. That’s also mostly an added feature.
The VOX function
Another function, that’s mostly available these days, is a VOX or voice activated transmission. This function makes your radio start transmitting when you talk in the direction of the device. This allows for a hands-free use and doesn’t require you to use the PTT.
But the thing with the VOX function is that on most radios there’s a slight delay, because the radio needs to recognize that you’re talking.
This means that the conversation can be clipped and that’s why most people repeat the first word to overcome this.
So, these are the most common technological features, but of course some radio brands provide their devices with special extra functions. But it’s for you to decide which you really need.
Of course, to use the functions mentioned earlier, you need to read the manual, because these are somewhat slightly different to access for different brands and models.
Furthermore, when it comes to such technological features for the use of teamwork like in Airsoft or Milsim. It is recommended that everyone within the group either gets a device from the same brand or the even the same exact radio.
This will assure that everyone is able to use all the features if they require to.
You best search for the well known quality radio brands out there. Like always it will cost you more at the cash register, but they will serve you a very long time.
Thanks for reading our blog
“Choosing The Best Two Way Radio + Understanding Legislation (for Airsoft & Milsim)“
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