Two-way radios are pretty useful for a number of different reasons: they’re easy to transport, they’re often reliable, they can allow for communication in areas with no cell coverage. However, one of the most important things you should keep in mind when shopping around for one is the range. The range is dictated by a couple of different factors, but one of them is how your radio deals with obstructions.
Specific frequencies of radio have higher power consumption but can transmit through steel etc with ease. Others have lower power consumption but aren’t too useful if you’re surrounded by obstructions.
If you’ve ever been moving whilst using your radio and began to encounter issues with audio quality – it can be a range/obstruction issue.
Table of Contents
Factors Influencing Radio Transmission in a Building
There are a couple of different factors that directly influence the signal quality on any walkie talkie. Where you are is a huge factor. For example – if you’re out in the countryside with nothing but open fields and air to deal with, you’re not going to experience much difficulty operating within your walkie talkies optimum range.
However, if you’re in a mountainous area – or perhaps surrounded by dense forestry or even buildings, you can start to see some issues. Extremely bad cases of obstructions can actually cut your range by about a half mile. This is okay if you’re operating on this right bands within a building, but if you’re in a city for example it can cause issues.
Furthermore, if you’re indoors, you might need to make some changes to accommodate your radio.
Your elevation is a factor too, you get better range at higher altitudes so you can expect to see a slight increase if you’re at the peak of your terrain.
Antenna quality and length is important for this reason too. The longer the antenna, the great height you’re technically transmitting from. Furthermore the materials inside the antenna can influence its conductivity and thus how likely it is to respond to radio signals.
The power output of your radio is another primary factor affecting range. High wattage radios can transmit across great distances but they consume power faster and can require special licenses to operate.
The type of frequency you operate on factors in too. Ultra-high frequency (UHF) is better orientated at dealing with obstructions than VHF. But VHF has a slightly lower power consumption.
If you’re dealing with signal issues – any one of the issues above could be responsible. It’s best to do some basic troubleshooting by eliminated factors that obviously aren’t an issue. (If you’re in an open field, the issue obviously isn’t being caused by obstructions.)
If you don’t think any of the above are responsible for your signal fault, you can try moving to another location, increasing the power wattage (5w to 10w, for example) of the radio, or allowing external signals through into your frequency.
How To Improve Signal Strength In Metal Buildings
Any kind of structure, whether it’s made from concrete or wood has the potential to interfere with a radio signal at some level.
Even a body of water can affect the direction in which a radio signal is directed. A flowing river actually stopped the police from seizing notorious cartel leader Pablo Escobar.
They were attempting to triangulate his location by intercepting his radio communications and measuring the signal strength from 3 different locations. Allegedly, a body of freshwater altered the perceived location of the RF signals threw off the accuracy of the search.
Some types of material will absorb RF signals too – salt water from the ocean is very good at this. This is why submarines have to surface to send radio signals.
Hardened materials such as concrete can either absorb a signal, or bounce it. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
Luckily, there’s a host of different things you can do to reduce any kind of errors you would normally encounter when using radio in an environment like this.
If you plan on using walkie talkies inside a building with a lot of metal and concrete, here’s some underlying processes to implement to help you get the best out of your signal.
Signal boosting equipment is an ideal place to start. External antenna are a pretty popular solution for people encountering this issue. The Distributed Antenna System is a good example – numerous antennas are placed in a convenient location – such as the roof. These receive signals be it voice/data and boost their transmission range. This can save a bit of power too.
Areas with a high population density such as New York commonly implement strategies such as this. It’s partially why you always see so many antennas on rooftops in New York.
Other alternatives exist also. You could opt for a cell signal boosting system instead. They work in very much the same way – they receive a signal and then repeat it, increasing the power of the signal. Normally they function with both an outdoor and indoor antenna, repeaters to receive and repeat the signal and of course an amplifier to increase the signals overall power. They’re conventionally connected with a coax cable.
These can also be used to improve 4G etc within a building.
You can generally boost signal strength with relative ease. You don’t need to buy a fancy kit that does it all for you. You simply need something capable of receiving and repeating signals on the frequency you desire, something to amplify them and a decent antenna to ensure the signal is getting as much of a boost as it can possibly get.
You could repeat this process as much as you like to increase signal coverage or increase the range outside the building in which you can expect to send and receive signals.
You should always be conscious of local laws and regulations when undertaking these tasks. Transmission strength past a certain point of power can require specialised licenses. Make sure you assess the legality of what you’re doing before working on improvements.