​Two way radio: Why a tech old timer is still an essential in the security industry

Brentwood Communications speak to Security Buyer about the continued use and development of ‘walkie-talkies’ which still play an integral role in modern security.
When it comes to technological longevity, two way radio is hard to beat. The best part of a century after they first appeared, ‘walkie talkies’ are as widely used in industry today as they have ever been. No mean feat in an age when the latest digital communications tools do well to last a decade without becoming obsolete.
In the security industry, two way radio remains the go-to communications hardware of choice. Used in the emergency services, events management and premises security, two way radios play a vital role allowing security professionals to organise and coordinate in fast-paced, often challenging environments.
So why has a technology that Marconi would have recognised continued to be such a success story? What is it about two way radio that makes it an ideal fit for the security industry, and how has the technology adapted to see off more recent competitors?
In with the new
The fundamental principles behind two way radio are much the same as the technology behind mobile phones, 4G internet, satellite TV, even Wifi. They all depend on the transmission and reception of data using electromagnetic wave frequencies.
However, the likes of mobile phones and wifi may well have started to push two way radio to one side had it not been for a modern very overhaul of the technology.
Most business class two way radios now operate using digital rather than analogue signals. This update if an old classic has allowed two way radio to evolve to outperform all of its wireless communications rivals in all of the key performance measures essential to business – reliability, durability, and adaptability to purpose.
Modern digital ranges such as Motorola’s MOTOTRBO handsets offer intelligent, feature-rich functionality that can be harnessed to match the precise needs of the user. They are built with business and industry in mind: easily scalable as networks grow, flexible enough to be provide wireless communication in virtually any situation, whether on the move in in one place, on large sites or small.
Security and two way radio – An ideal fit
But where two way radio really ticks the boxes for the security industry is reliability. Security teams need communications devices they can trust – in some scenarios, reliability can be a matter of life and death.
Modern two way handsets offer outstanding call clarity to rival that of landline telephones. With digital noise cancelling technology and high quality speaker units, they are built to deliver crisp, clean audio in all circumstances.
Network coverage has always been a strength of two way radio. Unlike mobile phones, you are not relying on having a clear signal path to a transmitter miles away. Transmission is controlled by the handsets themselves to create an effective local network, reducing risk of losing signal or call drop out within the coverage zone.
Security can be rugged work, and personnel need equipment that is built to last – and to withstand the elements when working outstanding. Virtually all business class two way radios are built with durability in mind, and many carry ISO certifications for things like water, heat and dust resistance.
In addition, your average handset will guarantee long battery life regardless of constant use, again providing that sense of trust on those long shifts.
How two way radio is used in the security industry
Events management
Two way radios are routinely deployed at events of all shapes and sizes, from festivals to football matches, conferences to concerts, to help organisers coordinate and keep in touch with their teams.
Security and safety is a critical part of this. Whether you are assessing first aid and medical assistance requirements, emergency and evacuation procedures or any other contingency measure, you need to plan your lines of communication. That is where two way radio comes in.
Events take place in all sorts of different places – big and small, indoors and out. Many two way radio vendors will offer site visits to assess needs before you start. Size is a big factor because two way radios create local networks with a limited range. The coverage required for a conference centre or sports stadium is very different to that of an outdoor festival or a city-wide street event like a marathon or cycling race.
Network coverage can be made flexible using equipment known as repeaters, which increase the signal range of handsets, or base stations, which make use of public radio antennas to boost signal.
Digital solutions are also increasingly common. Trunking software like Motorola’s Connect Plus pools together separate radio networks into one larger whole. Trunking is also useful for large security teams where lots of users may need to talk on the network at once. Combining separate networks makes a larger number of channels available, so you don’t have to wait for someone else to finish before making a call. This is a popular at large sports stadia with large teams of stewards and safety personnel.
Signal interference and noise are also critical factors in event communications. Most digital handsets now come with Intelligent Audio technology, which reduce background noise when a call is made – perfect for making yourself heard at a loud rock concert.
In terms of signal interference, two way radio operates on two different bandwidths, UHF and VHF, and many handsets can switch between the two. VHF has a longer range but is prone to interference from objects, so is a better choice for events in large, open outdoor spaces such as festivals. UHF, on the other hand, can handle more obstructions indoors or in built up areas.
Licensing also plays a role in reducing signal interference. Interference happens when other people are broadcasting on the same frequency in the same area – your radio will pick up, and confuse, both. To prevent this, licenses restrict the number of users accessing each frequency
The most effective type of license for preventing interference is a geographic, or Technically Assigned license. This gives the holder exclusive access to specified frequencies within a certain area.
Premises security
For door staff, surveillance personnel, guards and store detectives, work has its risks. You need your wits about you, and you need a reliable means of communication you can trust when you absolutely need it.
Modern two way radios are built to be as unobtrusive as possible. They are remarkably lightweight and portable and offer a range of hands-free and one-touch operational options for ease of use – ideal in emergency situations.
Nearly all handsets now feature Push To Talk, meaning users can make a call to the whole network at the touch of a button. Digital handsets often also come with VOX, or voice activated, function. Handsets can be accessorised with wireless earpieces and microphones, freeing the user’s hands entirely and allowing for discreet, covert use.
Personal safety is another critical aspect of premises security. Modern two way radios provide reassurance with a range of monitoring and alert features.
An Emergency Button will broadcast an alarm call to the entire network, which can be coupled with Call ID so you know exactly who is in distress. Similarly, Man Down will activate an alarm if it detects unusual movement such as a fall. Lone Worker requires a user who is out operating away from colleagues to log in with the network at fixed intervals, otherwise an alarm is again raised. Many models now also offer GPS location tracking.
Two way radio also plays a key role in crime reduction initiatives in high streets and town centres. Technology such as IP Linking uses broadband to link radios used by individual retailers and licensed premises into a large scale single network. Coordinated by law enforcement and local authorities, these radio networks give businesses a direct link to police and CCTV control centres, allowing for rapid response to crime and effective information sharing between businesses.
Better than mobile phones?
But when is all said and done, why not just use a mobile phone? Everyone has one nowadays, and they can’t be that unreliable – otherwise no one would pay the contracts.
Well there is one benefit of two way radio straight away – once you buy the equipment and licenses up front, there are no further costs. No contracts, no call charges. The hardware itself is built to last – you won’t crack a radio handset screen the first time you drop it, and the batteries last longer.
But the crux is still reliability. Ever tried to make yourself heard on your mobile stuck in the middle of a loud crowd full of hundreds of other people also trying to make calls? Or to make a call one handed while you are running full pelt at night? Two way radio is designed specifically to with these kind of scenarios in mind, and closing in on a century suggest it isn’t doing too bad.

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