Do All Two-Way Radios Work Together?

People use two-way radios for a variety of reasons. When you are in an area with no cell service, it’s the best way to stay in touch with others you are with. It can also be fun to use them to pretend you’re on a secret mission. However, you might come to realize at an inopportune time that the two-way radios you have belong to two or more different brands and may not work together as well as you thought.

Can you use different two-way radios together? Yes, it is possible to use many different two-way radios together. However, different radios operate on different wavelengths, so it is likely you might have to make changes to the receivers for them to work together

There are also many two-way radios that can’t communicate with others. To understand the changes you might need to make to your radio so you can use it to communicate, there are some important factors about the differences in two-way radios that you should understand.

Different Types of Radios

Two-way radios are transceivers that allow a person to transmit information as well as receive it. There are three main types of two-way radios. 

  • Stationary two-way radios are used in places such as air traffic control rooms and taxi and delivery service personnel. These radios typically cannot be moved. 
  • Mobile station systems can be found in cars and other mobile devices. 
  • Lastly, handheld radios, often called walkie talkies, can be held in your hand and carried around.

Duality

Two-way radios have different kinds of transmitting systems. The most common system uses a half-duplex mode, which means that one person can talk on the radio at a time. The person talking holds down the transmission button, and the other person must wait until the transmission button is no longer being pressed before answering. A few two-way radios use full-duplex mode, which allows both parties to talk at the same time. 

UHF Versus VHF

UHF and VHF are parts of the radio spectrum. UHF signals tend to be shorter and at a higher wavelength. This makes UHF signals suitable for transmitting through objects but doesn’t cover as much area and is more costly if you want to use it over longer distances. VHF signals have longer wavelengths, so they are good for long-distance radios. VHF signaling is also cheaper when covering more range.

Range

The range of a two-way radio depends on a variety of factors. Antennae length impacts the range of a two-way radio transmitter. The use of UHF and VHF signals, as well as surrounding elements when the transmitter is in use, impacts the use of the radio.

Analog or Digital

Two-way radios can be analog or digital. Analog systems mean that only one conversation can be carried out at a time on the device. However, these devices also tend to produce a higher-quality conversation. On the flip side, digital two-way radios are more complex and can have multiple conversations going at the same time. However, the systems are usually more complex and, therefore, usually means it is harder to use the radio with different other types of radios. Simple handheld radios like walkie-talkies tend to be analog. 

Radio Purposes

Two-way radios are usually used in two different types of settings. Two-way radios are either sold for commercial use or used for businesses. 

  • Commercial Use: Commercial use two-way radios usually run on two frequencies, either the FRS frequency or the GMRS frequency. Because of the limited number of frequencies, these types of radios can generally be used together and mixed and matched with other brands of commercial use two-way radios. To do this, you must set the frequency on the radios to be the same, keep them on the same channel number, then set a privacy code.
  • Business Use: Two-way Radios used for businesses are a bit more complicated. While most store-bought radios make use of the UHF, VHF, or 800/900 MHz frequencies, dealers might put their radios on a unique frequency they tweaked for themselves. To make these types of radios compatible with other brands, the buyer will have to configure their radio with the dealer the radio came from.

Radios That Work Together

Perhaps you bought a handheld two-way radio a long time ago but now need to get another one and aren’t sure if you need to buy just one or a set. While a two-way radio can communicate with a radio of a different type, some are too difficult for the average person to make work. Then, some others are known to be able to work together well. Below is a list of two-way radios that are known to work well together.

Commercial Radios

Two-way radios that are meant for the same purpose are more likely to be able to work together in general. Even within the list of commercial radios, some can be used together with a better success rate than others.

FRS/GMRS Frequencies

Before 2017, these services considered two different frequencies for radios. The FRS radios had only 14 channels, while the GMRS radios had 22 channels. After something called the FCC Part 95 Reform, these channels were added together. Radios that use these channels are now known to be on an FRS/GMRS service.  Even before the merging of the services, radios that used FRS could communicate with others using GMRS. As long as your radio has one of these services and is set to the same channel number with a privacy code, the radios should work together. However, these radios typically cannot communicate with other commercial radios.

Business Radios

For businesses looking for an update or a companion for their old radios, finding one that is compatible can be a hassle. It is extremely difficult to find a radio that will work with one you already own, even if they use the same frequency, such as 800/900 MHz. While it is hard to find two-way business radios that are compatible, most of them can be configured in such a way as to allow them to work with other radio types.

  • Wattage compatibility: Radios that use one or two watts to work are usually compatible. Some two-watt brands that are known to be compatible with other business radios of the same model are the Motorola CLS Series, the two-watt RM Series, and the two-watt Kenwood radios that have a Protalk label on them.
  • DMR Radios: Radios that use DMR digital technology are compatible with each other. This technology is popular because it allows the radio user to add technologies such as text messaging and GPS to their radio. Brands such as TYT, Motorola, and Vertex Standard use DMR.

How to Make Radios Work Together

For those determined to get their radios communicating, never fear. For both business and commercial two-way radios, certain steps must be taken in order to get the radios working.

Commercial Radios

For commercial handheld radios, there are a few, very simple steps you need to follow to get your radios talking to each other.

  • Set up to the same channel: Put the radios on the same channel and set up a private code. This step will suffice for some brands of handheld radios. If your radios are not communicating after this step, move on to step two.
  • Check for CCTCSS blocking: CCTCSS stands for Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System, which is a blocking system included in some handheld radios used to prevent others from using the radio. The system works by sending a tone undetectable to the human ear with your transmission to the other radio. If the tone received is different from the sound your radio is instructed to accept by the CCTCSS, then your communication won’t go through. To get rid of CCTCSS, the function must be switched off in your handheld’s function settings.
  • DCS blocking: If your handheld radio still isn’t communicating, check for Digital Code Squelch, or DCS, blocking. This works in pretty much the same way as CCTCSS blocking, except the radio sends a digital code instead of a tone. You can turn DCS off in the features setting in your radio.
  • Channel Switching: Depending on the type of radio you have, the channels in your radio might not match up with the channels on the radio you are trying to communicate with. This is especially true for older radios that operated on different frequencies, such as an FRS radio and a GMRS radio. Because of the mismatch in the number of channels, channel two on one radio might correspond with channel 4 on the other radio. To fix this, you will either need to try each of the channels together to see which one works or you’ll need to look up which channels on the radios correspond with each other online. 

These steps are mainly for handheld two-way radios. However, step one can be applied to most other commercial radios using FRS/GMRS services.

Business Radios

Because two-way business radios are so tailored to their specific industries and uses, getting radios of different models from different manufacturers to work together can be hard. The following steps are the best thing you can do to try to configure the radios.

  • Same frequency: The first step to making the radios work together is being on the same frequency. Radios on different frequencies cannot communicate. If your radio works on the 800/900 MHz frequency, the one you want to connect it to must also be on that frequency.
  • Check for custom programing: A lot of business radio dealers put special programing on their two-way radios. This special programming messes with various parts of the radio, including frequency. If your radio has special programming, you probably won’t be able to make it compatible with other ones.
    • Get default frequency: If you are trying to get a new radio that works with your old one, ask an employee from the store or manufacturer to give you default frequency settings on the new radio. That way, as long as the radios work on the same frequency and still doesn’t work, you can take the old radio into the shop and ask for the default settings to be put on. This should allow the two radios to work together. This should also work if you have two old radios that use the same frequency.
  • Check the wattage: The wattage of a radio refers to the transmission power of the radio. Radios that have higher wattage are able to transmit to a further distance. Radios with higher wattage, such as four or five watts, are usually incompatible. Radios that use only two watts are more likely to be compatible with other radios.
  • Check for digital radios: You should check the digital technology used on your radio to see if it is compatible. The three main digital radio technologies are DMR, NXDN, and 900 MHz. If the radio uses the same digital technology as the one you are trying to use it with, then the radios might be compatible.
    • DMR Radios: DMR stands for digital mobile radio. This type of technology was built with the allowance of interoperability, which means that it would have been conducive to use with other brands. However, a lot of brands using this technology have put their own features on it that inhibit that compatibility. However, a lot of DMR radios can still be compatible with radios using NXDN if the owner uses a type of digital converter on their radio.
    • NXDN Radios: The NXDN system is an advanced digital system that allows you to encrypt the transmission, so your conversations over the radio can be kept private. This also tends to mean that these types of radios aren’t compatible with others. However, these radios can be made to be compatible with radios that use DMR.
  • Take it in: Because business radios are so sophisticated and have so many more parts and differences than commercial ones, the average person might not know how to determine if their radio is compatible with another radio. If you feel that you can’t figure out your device, you can take it to a specialist to determine if your radio will be compatible with another type. 

Radios That Don’t Work Together

While there are radios that are compatible or can be made to be compatible with other two-way radios, there is a list of radios that aren’t.

Commercial Radios

Most handheld commercial two-way radios can be made to communicate with each other. However, many other commercial radios are not meant to communicate with radios of a different type.

  • CB Radios: CB radios, which stands for citizen’s band radios, are personal, mobile radios that operate on a completely different frequency than most commercial radios. They have a high transmitting power, with the strongest ones being able to transmit from three to twenty miles away from their current location. An older example is the kind of radio used between cops in older cop shows. While very big and powerful, CB radios are not compatible with any other kind of two-way radio.
  • Marine Radios: Marine radios are used by those who want to go out on the high seas. The older models used the same frequencies as most handheld commercial ones, so they would have been able to be used together. However, government regulations banned the production of those models, so the more modern-day marine radios are incompatible with all other commercial two-way radios.
  • MURS Radios: MURS stands for Multi-Use Radio Service. These radios look similar to the average handheld two-way radio, such as the walkie-talkie, but operates on a different frequency, much like CB radios. Implemented by the government, these radios work only over a short distance and blur the lines between being for commercial use and business use. Because of the frequency they operate on, they are incompatible with all other commercial two-way radios.

Business Radios

Since it is so hard to make business radios compatible with each other, there is a long list of them that are incompatible with other radios. Instead of providing such a list, here are a few things you can look out for that are clear signs your business radio won’t work with other models.

  • High Watt Radios: Radios with high wattages are nice because you can get a much larger transmission range; however, that level of power also makes these radios incompatible with other radio types, even radios using the same frequency.
  • 900 MHz Radios: Radios that use the 900 MHz frequency are highly technical. These radios aren’t compatible with any other type of device that uses a different frequency and are frequently not even compatible with radios on the same frequency. 

In Conclusion

So, do all two-way radios work together? No. Radios that work on different frequencies cannot be used together at all. If your two-way radio is on the same frequency, then various factors such as transmitting power and any custom settings need to be considered. The ones most likely to work together without requiring a lot of extra configuring are handheld two-way radios, like your good old camping walkie-talkie.

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