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Two Way Radios vs. Cell Phones

The convenience of the typical cell phone is irrefutable. It allows you to send a photo, text a message, or dial a number and speak to almost anyone, almost anytime, almost anywhere in the world.

While not as widely used by the public as cellular telephones, it is not uncommon to find many people using two way radios for both personal and business applications. Consumer FRS/GMRS walkie talkies are widely used for home and recreational activities. Business radios are used extensively in many commercial, industrial, municipal and government agency operations, and in some cases are used exclusively.

But wait. If cell phones are as powerful, popular and easily accessible as they are, why not just use a phone instead of a radio? For that matter, why use a two way radio at all?

The truth is, there are many advantages to using two way radios over cell phones in many applications and situations. In fact, considering the options, it is rather astonishing how many businesses, particularly smaller companies, don't consider using radios at all and instead opt to use cell phones for one-to-one short range communications between employees.

To find out which option you should choose, let's compare the two.

Cell Phones:

  • are best for long distance communications.
  • are in use almost everywhere; Almost everyone has one.
  • are expensive; they require a service subscription with a monthly service fee.
  • cannot operate without active cell towers and service within range of the phone.
  • do not require a license to operate.
  • typically require a one or two year contract for service.
  • may incur additional fees when monthly usage is exceeded.
  • incur roaming charges when out of the home area of service.
  • are generally not impact resistant, waterproof or otherwise sufficiently durable for many business uses.
  • may not work well or at all in some rural or remote areas.
  • include text message capabilities.
  • require you to dial a number and wait for the call to connect, which can take thirty seconds or longer.
  • feature group calls which involve dialing multiple numbers and establishing multiple connections.

Two Way Radios

  • are best for short range communications.
  • are not as commonly used as cell phones, but very easy to obtain and use.
  • are typically more rugged and durable than cell phones; many are fully waterproof, submersible and even float!
  • usually cost much less than cell phones.
  • do not require contracts.
  • do not incur monthly usage fees.
  • do not have over limit usage fees.
  • do not have roaming charges.
  • Airwaves are free.
  • may require an FCC license to operate on some frequencies or bands. Some are "licensed by rule" and do not require the purchase of a license. Read Types of Two Way Radios for details.
  • only requires a one-time purchase of the radio (and a license, if required).
  • require line-of-site transmission and reception.
  • work well within a limited line-of-sight range in rural or remote areas.
  • Some digital radios have text message capabilities.
  • provide instant communcation with no wait time. Press the PTT button and transmit instantly. Simply turn the radio on to listen.
  • group calls are simple. Turn on the radio to listen. Simply press the PTT button to talk to the group.

Comparing the two, it isn't difficult to determine two distinct advantages two way radios have over cell phones for many recreational activities and commercial applications. One huge difference is the cost. Even considering the cost of obtaining the most expensive license to operate a GMRS or business radio, cell phones can cost more to own and operate, a lot more.

For instance, consider the family that takes frequent hiking trips out of their home cell service area. Roaming charges can add up fast, even on a family plan, and there is no guarantee of service in the area of their hiking excursion. Taking a couple of $200 to $400 cell phones out on the trail and into the elements is also a risky proposition, unless of course, money is no object.

However, a GMRS license currently costs $70 and covers the entire family. A pair of high end Midland GXT1000 radios cost considerably less than one $200 cell phone. These radios are also a lot more durable and can take more punishment from the outdoors. Their chances of survival are considerably higher than the phone. If the hikers are using FRS frequencies, the cost is even lower, because no license is required to operate on the Family Radio Service. In this scenario, using two way radios for short range communications between members of a group just makes more sense.

This is particularly true in a commercial environment. In fact, based on the comparison above, businesses and organizations that require employees to use cell phones for localized, short range two way communications within relatively close proximity to one another instead of business radios can actually reduce or impede the efficiency of their operations very quickly, ultimately wasting time, resources, and, of course, money.

One of the greatest advantages of using two way radios over cell phones in any environment is the ability for simple, instant communication. Instant means just that. You simply pick up the device, press one button and talk, or even simpler, just listen. It doesn't get much simpler than that.

There is an old axiom about using the right tool for the right job. In the case of cell phones and two way radios, this is especially true. Each has their place, to be sure.

However, while a cell phone is useful for one-to-one, full duplex conversations across great distances, It isn't usually the best choice for instant, "always on" group, team or one-to-one communications over short distances or within a limited, confined area. In such situations, the two way radio is usually a more efficient, economical and overall practical choice.

8 thoughts on “Two Way Radios vs. Cell Phones”

  • Marvin Arriola

    There are many ways you can utillize your two communication towers. One, you can lease out your tower space to business and industrial establishments within the area. Tender an offer to the fast food or courier companies in the area and you will earn revenues in no time with very minimal overhead. You might also consider putting radio repeater on those towers to increase your radio coverage for your business. More power will mean more coverage especially if you make those two repeaters reach each other. Your communication cost will be surely go down while increasing your business' efficiency.

  • Charles Steffan
    Charles Steffan July 9, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    We own two communications towers for two way radios and am looking for some resources who might know what their value may be. Both are located in North Dakota.

  • Rick

    Hi barum, we are based in the US and are not familiar with the rules and regulations for radio communications in Germany, so you will need to contact the agency or regulatory office in Germany in charge of telecommunications. This list of regulatory agencies by country may help.

  • barum

    Honestly I can't do agree more. I personally started with radios from a year ago . I 'm trying to understand the concept of it and see if I can go further by using radio in my daily life . But so far I'v realised first a licence and then convincing the others ( like your family ) to use that.I used to live in USA in Maryland, about 10 years ago I moved to Germany !!( in europa ) here getting a license is a act of Gods ,for couple reasons . First of all they are prejudice ( mostly )and second problem seems to be the distance and the limits of using two way radio in that case . Unless we use repeaters which requires call sign and stuff ,,,,. Otherwise I could easily use radio and save money and avoid the harm of cellphone . Please, in your professional opinion is there any work around those problems? for example finding a callsign or .... you have a suggestion for me?
    . Thank you

  • I have been debating whether or not I should get my daughter a cell phone, or just a radio. She is 9 years old and goes to school about a block from our house. Most of her friends have cell phones these days, but I feel like she is still so young to get one. I like the fact that radios can be used for short range communication, because she really is never that far from me. A radio is far less expensive than getting her a cell phone, and she will have a difficult time being distracted by it unlike a cell phone. I think we will try it out!

  • Rick

    We do rent radios. Check our two way radio rental page for pricing, or give us a call at 1-800-584-1445 to speak directly to a member of our sales and rentals team.

  • Patti Osterberg
    Patti Osterberg January 12, 2016 at 5:21 am

    Thank you for explaining why a two-way radio has some advantages over a cell phone.They seem like they are great for areas without reception, and they are for sure a lot cheaper. I'm thinking of renting a two-way radio for a while to see how I like it. Do you know how much a rental usually costs?

  • Richard Taylor

    Hey I don't know nuttun from nuttun about these radios, but with coming crap from the dollar collapse and all the other things we can look forward to I think I might better learn something radios and do it now.
    I'm 78 and never messed with any radios --- so can you help me ???
    O'le Rich
    [email protected]


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