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Walkie the Talkie: Analog or Digital?

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

by Cheyanne Stevens December 21, 2021


“What kind of walkie talkie should I get for my team?” Once you’ve decided that your team needs a reliable way to communicate across your entire facility, it can be overwhelming deciding which set of walkie talkies, or two way radios, are the best for you. Despite the visual similarities of many analog and digital two-way radios, how they function and the type of buyer best suited to each differs greatly. A big step in figuring out what will work best for you is first deciding what type of two-way radio you want to invest in - Analog or Digital?


Accessibility


One of the most immediately notable differences between analog and digital two-way radios is the price. If you are looking for a budget solution, analog radios are generally cheaper due to the simplicity of their functionality. Pricier analog radios are typically so because they are more durable than their counterparts. Digital radios, however, can seemingly shoot up in price because the technology is new and constantly developing. Some that only send and receive voice are more cost effective, but the clear audio and modern technology can add up. Therefore, if you are on a tight budget, the affordable option is almost always an analog radio.


Reliability


In terms of reputation, analog radio has been around much longer, and its ability to pick up the “natural” sounds of the environment make many refer to it as the most reliable of the two. Then again, digital radio, although newer and in many ways still developing, has a lot going for it already.


In short, analog radio relies on continuous frequencies that allow the receiver to hear an analogous interpretation of the sender’s voice as well as the environment around them. Digital radio, on the other hand, sends and receives a digital copy of the voice input, leaving the receiver with a clear recording of the sender’s voice and little to no background noise. Due to the continuous waves required for the use of analog radios, and the commonality of the frequency modulation (FM) that analog radios use, it’s possible for interference to cause static - this issue is not present in digital radios.


Also, when nearing the outer edges of an analog radio’s range, the signal gradually lowers. Someone nearing the edge of that range, as a result, will hear static, and if they attempt to talk themselves, the receiver will hear static as well. Digital radios do better near the edge of their effective range - instead of static, the messages will be as clear as anywhere else. If someone goes past the effective range, their signal will simply drop to silence on both ends.


Generally speaking, if your building has a lot of dead spots caused by concrete buildings or walls, elevators, and the like, digital radio does a much better job of penetrating these physical obstacles. Analog radios may have static interference or refuse to work at all. Digital radios have, on average, 20% more coverage than analog radios as well.


Battery Life


You may expect battery life to be based off of the size of the battery that the radio itself carries. This is not entirely true, however, as the efficiency of what the battery powers itself is also important. Analog radios are not very efficient with their energy use because they have to constantly send and receive signals to be in use. Digital radios, on the other hand, are in a standby mode when not sending or receiving messages. This takes up far less energy, causing digital radios to have a battery life 2-4X longer than their analog counterparts.


Features


Surprisingly, the functionality of some analog radios and digital radios are quite comparable. For example, there are options for both analog and digital radios if you want a radio with no screen to display the audio, such as the analog radio TC-508 and the digital radio BD-502, where both feature 16 channels and no visual display. The main difference in the end is how the radios will sound - analog radios, if you recall, will have a more ‘natural’ sound including the environment around the speaker, and digital radios have crystal-clear voices and little to no background noise.

A visual comparison between the digital radios (PD-362, BD-503) and an analog radio (TC-508).
(L→R) PD-362, BD-503, and TC-508

Analog and digital two way radios also both work with RIS-integration. RIS takes nurse call notifications and converts them into an audible alert. That means that even though there isn’t a physical display, analog and digital radio users alike can hear a text-to-speech version of nurse call system alerts. If you want a physical display of these alerts as well, that’s an option too! Visual displays that can show more than just what channel you’re on are a feature of digital radios. Some digital two-way radios, such as the PD-362i, can actually send and receive short text messages up to 64 characters long.


Potential to Grow


Analog radios have been and still are incredibly useful, but down the road you may end up needing something more than basic functionality. If you know that your business needs room to grow, then marrying yourself to one communication system for your staff can seem daunting, especially if you want to be careful with your budget. Let’s say that early on a few analog radios were enough for your business, but it’s time to expand. If you already have analog radios, do you have to buy another analog radio?


Don’t worry, you don’t have to throw those out, nor are you restricted to using analog radios if you want to keep the ones you have in use. Analog radios can only connect to analog radios, but digital radios can work on analog frequencies. That means that if you already have analog radios, you don’t need to make the switch all at once! Digital two-way radios support a gradual transition.

Digital Radio Integration Supports a Growing Community from the start!


The Future of Two-Way Radios


Without a doubt, the future of the two-way radio industry is in digital radios. Analog radios have been around for so long that the extent of their use has been discovered and innovation has stopped. Digital radio, however, is still being researched, improved upon, and new features are being developed all the time. Digital radios are becoming smaller, faster, more durable, with greater coverage and longer battery lives.


Overall, analog radios are the most well-known and widely used, but the real potential lies in digital radios. More and more companies are switching to selling exclusively digital radios, and innovations in its technology are always being refined. Whether it’s a cheap and simple analog experience that you are looking for, or the sleek advancements of digital two-way radios, there is a unit out there that works great for you and your line of work. If you still aren’t sure what kind of two-way radio you’d like for your staff to use, give a Sure-Response agent a call and tell them what problems you want to solve - we’ll do our absolute best to match your desired attributes and allotted budget to a two-way radio system that fulfills your needs.






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