Dummies' Guide to Two-Way Radios
First off, I need to state that I am no walkie talkie expert. But I have owned and used many different models of walkie talkies for a number of years. I should also state that I am referring to those amateur walkie talkies commonly in use and not the professional programmeable types used by security guards, courier companies, taxi drivers etc. These require a licence.
The official name for the type of walkie talkies I am referring to is “two-way radio”.
What can I use it for?
I shall simply list the uses that I have put them to:
- Recall my kid from the neighbour’s house (e.g. come back for dinner now!)
- Communicate between cars in convoy in M’sia/Australia/US/Canada (e.g. stop for toilet break!)
- Communicate between service apartment and Chinese restaurant in Australia (e.g. you want duck or chicken?)
- Find my wife in MBK Centre, Bangkok (e.g. where are you? Have you finished shopping? I have walked round the electronics floor 5 times already)
- Summon friend over to help at carnival (e.g. where did you disappear to?)
As you can see, it is a very convenient and cheap way to communicate in place of mobile phones. If you have no problem using your Singapore mobile phones to call one another, even when overseas and just a few metres away, racking up IDD bills both ways, then I guess you don’t need walkie talkies.
What are the network charges?
There are no charges. This type of walkie talkie does not rely on any network. It relies entirely on the transmission and receiving power of the walkie talkies.
What is the range?
This is the biggest letdown. All the walkie talkies claim a range of between 3 km to 20 km but in practice, you will be lucky to get half the range. Our air is humid and there is a lot of built-up areas, so the range is drastically reduced. The stated range is achievable only under optimum conditions e.g. dry arid atmosphere with the two radios having direct line of sight. In Canada and Australia, I have been able to radio many kms away. But not so far in Singapore. Even in Malaysia, when one car is blocked by a hill, the transmission can be lost.
What are the models available?
I have used several makes but in my personal opinion, I find the Motorola models better built than the rest. Walk around Sim Lim and you should be able to find several other makes. I find many of them too plasticky for my liking. You can find a list of all Motorola models here:
I recommend the T5500 and T6500 series. They are rugged, rubberised and not too big. The T7000 series are too big for me. They are more suited for use by people like tower crane operators. The FV200 series are too small for me. In addition, they lack several features including privacy codes and have a shorter range. The FV700 and SX700 series are supposed to be new Motorola models but I do not like their plasticky construction. Their range is supposed to be better though.
You can see many Motorola models at Feedback Comm Pte Ltd, the shop on level 2, Sim Lim Square just when you go up the escalator, slightly to the left. Motorola models are generally about $100+. This shop will tell you that they are the only authorised Motorola dealer who is able to give you a Motorola warranty and that other shops who offer a very cheap price are selling fakes. This is up to you to believe but it is confirmed that there are a lot of fake Motorola walkie talkies in the market. You can ask Feedback to show you samples of genuine and fake Motorolas. They look almost identical.
Many of these walkie talkies come with a charger and rechargeable batteries. If the set is from US, the charger is 110v. If the shop permits, you can buy without the charger at a cheaper price. Almost all the walkie talkies that I hear of can take standard or rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. I always use rechargeable AAs.
There are also the wrist watch type of walkie talkies. Frankly, their range is very limited. May be good enough for your kids to play play. I would not recommend you to rely on them when overseas.
Are they legal?
This is the million dollar question which a lot of people are ignorant about. When buying a set, make sure you check whether it is a local Singapore or US set or from some other country. Sets from different countries are not compatible i.e cannot communicate with each other.
Walkie talkies operate on certain spectrum wavelength and unfortunately, this is different for every country. You can buy those “approved for use in Singapore” walkie talkies but these are lower powered (0.5 watt), usually short range (3 km at most 5 km) and with limited channels. The problem is that these walkie talkies are not compatible (i.e. cannot communicate) with walkie talkies from other countries especially the high range sets from the US, which operate at different frequencies. Many people are using the US sets. So if you want to be compatible, buy the US sets. Otherwise, you can buy the local Singapore sets which are definitely lawful to use in Singapore. No licence is needed.
Many people want to be on the right side of the law. So they buy the local Singapore sets and proceed to use them outside Singapore. They seem to have forgotten that once outside Singapore, their walkie talkies may no longer be legal to use! In Malaysia, they have their own approved spectrum, which again is different. In fact, it is different in almost every country, Australia, Thailand, China/HK, Europe, US/Canada. Many of us use the US/Canada sets in other countries but technically, this may not be allowed. Use at your own risk. The point that I want to make is that using the Singapore set overseas makes no difference.
If in US or Canada, the US sets are actually legal. Even then, you need to purchase a licence from the FCC to use the higher power (and range) GMRS channels. Many of us just use it without bothering. Use at your own risk! If you just use the lower power FRS channels, it is perfectly legal in the US or Canada.
I am currently using the T6510 (specs as per T6500) which boast a range of 10 mile. In real life, I can hardly make a few kms. But it sure feels good to think that in theory, it can go 16 kms.
Hope the above helps!