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What is the difference between walkie talkies and two way radios?

business-consumer.pngRecently we received a comment from a customer who took issue with our use of the terms two way radio and walkie talkie in one of our older posts. Apparently the customer was searching for a two way radio but after locating radios listed as walkie talkies, considered it a misdirection to another line of products, presumably perceiving that an item labeled as a walkie talkie was inferior to another item labeled as a two way radio. According to the customer, walkie talkies and two way radios are not the same.

In reality, the terms walkie talkie and two way radio are often considered interchangeable, at least here in the US, and are sometimes even used together in the same conversation to reference the same thing. As a US based company, our use of these terms is based on their common accepted usage within our country. These terms may be used differently in other countries, so it is, by no means, an absolute.

Of course, there is a difference between a two way radio and a walkie talkie that is somewhat universal. Technically speaking, the two are not the same thing, although in some cases, they can be. To understand the difference, we need to define the terms.

A two way radio is a radio that can operate two ways, that is, it has the ability to both transmit and receive a radio signal, as opposed to a radio that can only receive. A two way radio can either operate in a half-duplex or full duplex mode. Half-duplex allows the radio to transmit or receive in turn but not both simultaneously. Full-duplex allows the radio to transmit and receive at the same time. A two way radio is also commonly called a transceiver, because it can both transmit and receive radio communications. In either case, the radio operates two ways; it can send and it can receive.

A walkie talkie is a portable two way radio, particularly one that can be held in the hand. This type of radio, also known as a handy talkie, handheld transceiver or HT, allows you to talk on the radio while walking around, hence the name walkie talkie.

Now that we've defined the terms, let's consider the argument. Are these terms interchangeable? Well, yes and no.

According to the definition, a walkie talkie is a two way radio, but a two way radio is not always a walkie talkie. This is because there are types of radios that are not portable handhelds, such as a mobile radio mounted in a vehicle or a desk or wall mounted base station.

But, it can be one. In fact, most, if not all manufacturers of business, CB, consumer, marine and amateur portable handheld radios or walkie talkies do not usually refer to their products as "Walkie Talkies", but as "Two Way Radios".

This is understandable, considering the history of the walkie talkie. It originally referred to the portable backpack transceivers used in the military during World War II. More recently it became associated with consumer grade FRS radios. The term has also long been used to refer to extremely low power radios sold as toys and that stigma, while misdirected, still exists today. Given that, it's no wonder some folks shun products labeled as walkie talkies in search of a "real" two way radio.

Do you consider walkie talkies and two way radios different or the same things? How and why? It's a great topic and we'd like to know what you think. We will be discussing it in a January 2015 episode of The Two Way Radio Show Podcast and we want your comments. From now until December 31, 2014, for everyone who comments on the topic below, tweets a response @2WayRadios, or posts it on our Facebook or Google + pages, if we read it on the podcast, we will send you a FREE T-shirt!

We have plenty of shirts to give away, so send in your comments now.

28 thoughts on “What is the difference between walkie talkies and two way radios?”

  • Ellerion

    Well, many consider walkie talkie to be a toy for children because they WERE also made for kids and THOSE were not of as high quality.

  • Godfred Effah Kyei
    Godfred Effah Kyei December 19, 2019 at 4:05 am

    I believe the explanation is quite clear to that effect that, 2 way radios and walkie talkies are one and the same. So thanks very much for the painstaking back ground explanation on how both term came into being. However, my own confusion has always been the difference between the terms 'Simplex' and 'Duplex' and from this article I can now say with confidence that all my doubts are cleared. This article is been very helpful. Thanks again.

  • DT

    Is there a handheld [walkie talkie] radio option that allows full flowing conversation from multiple people at once. I ride offroad motorcycles with up to 10 riders at a time (usually 3 or 4) and am looking for a hands free alternative to hundreds of dollars worth of bluetooth communicators for everyone. It would be nice to have the extra functionality of walkie talkies when not riding too... Thx

  • George, Davis, Montgomery
    George, Davis, Montgomery September 4, 2019 at 12:06 am

    walkie-talkies have single channel two-way radio with a short signal usually sold in pairs., a transceiver is a multi channel two-way radio with a further signal [aka Chand'Bs] ha' ha' and ham radio i want to learn some day. I have a question. if everything is going to a Digital signal What is going to happen to the analog signal?, and how different are these two from each other?

    • Rick

      This is incorrect. The term "walkie talkie" and "transceiver" refer to they same type of device, a two way radio. A transceiver is any radio that has the capability to transmit and receive, as opposed to a radio that receives only. Hence the term transceiver. A walkie talkie can have multiple channels and is also a transceiver. The term "walkie talkie" simply means that it is a portable, handheld transceiver, a device you can carry or with which you can walk around while you listen and talk. Hence the name "walkie talkie". Also, most walkie talkies have more than one channel. As for short and long range communications, it is not a requirement. Range has absolutely nothing to do with either term.

      As for digital and analog signals, there is certainly a place for both. It depends on the needs of the operator and the application. They are very different modes of operation. For the answer to your question, listen to Episode 88 of The Two Way Radio Show Podcast, called Digital vs. Analog Radios. It goes into some detail with a full explanation of the difference between analog and digital radios.

  • Officer Wesley J Vick
    Officer Wesley J Vick June 3, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    With a walkie- Takie, you may communicate 2 ways or as many ways as you wish, depending on the amount of people your converting with during one event. One may be conversing on a walkie talkie and the another utilizing the two-way radio however, you can not tell who is communicating on what while they are in use. A walkie talkie can be portable as can a hand held two way. A two-way may not be considered a walkie talkie when if it is affixed to something making it non-portable. However, the same may apply to the walkie talkie, considering the walkie is affixed to something that can not be mobile. Therefore, you are definitely correct. They can both be considered as each other. They both can also be fixed to something making it non portable thereby making them both, still the same.
    This is like using the words "SAME & SIMILAR". SO ARE THEY? its like asking are they? or they are?

  • Walkie Talkies offer constant communication without having to connect again and again unlike mobile phones. They are instrumental in saving a lot of time, especially in an industrial setup. People working in a given setup usually do not have a lot of time to connect through calls, so these industrial walkie talkies make communication easier, seeing as all you have to do is press a button and your message will be transmitted across.
    Thank you for this wonderful information

  • Phil Lay

    As director of our shotgun range, I think having 4 walkie talkies. We could have one in the range house and with 2 range safety officers. The range house can easily see field 1 and 2 but field 3 is hidden by two big trees and the poll barn is across from field 3. Field 3(trap/five-stand) and the poll are across the parking lot about 1 block away. 2 uses/reasons? for buying walkie talkies, 1) In case of an emergency on the field 2) Calling a cease fire to field 2 or 2 to three to load the bird houses.
    What do you recommend? A 4 pack with chargers?

  • JUAN

    I agree . .

  • Rodrigo Ramilo

    If it can receive and transmit radio signal simultaneously at the same time you say in half duflex then it is now consider a telephone and not a 2 way radio.Inever experienced things like that,that by just clicking device,remain clicked you and the other end can remain in continous communication.

  • Kat

    While reading this my Mom brain kicked in & thought of a way to break it down to a super simple form.... every square (walkie talkie) is a rectangle (two way radio), however not every rectangle (two way radio) is a square (walkie talkie).


  • Gillian Babcock December 4, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    My brother has a business and wants to make sure that the security service is working well. It was explained here that a two-way radio can operate two ways to receive and transmit a radio signal. Moreover, it's recommended to go to trusted professionals when considering having a two-way radio.

  • Justin Lou

    Yes, if you have a more advanced radio they can also tune info FM and AM radio channels, although they probably won't be able to broadcast on those channels. I've seen radios that can access UHF, VHF and FM frequencies although they are quite expensive.

  • Damian

    This may be a dumb question but I am writing something about a fire lookout in 1950s. Would they be able to listen to radio stations to listen to music on a two way radio set?

  • Rick

    Hi Daniel, yes, that would be a walkie talkie or a 2 way radio. They can be used indoors or outdoors. Of course, some work better indoors than others. For details, read UHF or VHF: Which Is Right For You? or our video Radio 101 - The difference between UHF and VHF radios

  • Daniel O'Leary

    Can anyone tell me do they make a device (be it a walkie talkie or a 2 way radio or anything else) that can be used primarily indoors, like a mall or shopping center?
    Any suggestions will be appreciated

  • Sarah

    What ones do you own? This is such a hard purchase to make. Having trouble here

  • Erick

    Good info. I guess separating the terms was natural for me growing up on boats because the two way radio was the fixed device in the boat but the walkie talky was the hand held my dad would take when we would go on shore. They both did the same thing just one was portable and the other fixed.

  • Saba

    Thanks for this good explanation.

  • Ron Bryant

    Do both, walkie and FRS operate on the same freq>? Is channel 4 the same Freq. on both types?

  • sedumjoy

    In other words there is no difference. You can make a case that a walkie talkie can be a two way radio but a two way radio can not always be a walkie talkie. Just the reverse as stated in the article for the simple reason you can always claim your walkie talkie can not only sit on a table or hang on the wall and be a two way radio but you can walk around with it , something you can not do with all two way radios. If a walkie talkie can do half or full duplex then the functions are perfectly interchangeable unless you make the argument that the tow way radio has more power and can reach places the walkie talkie can not in which case the argument can be settled with one simple sentence. Two way had full duplex , walkie talkie does not. But no one mentioned this so I assume it is not the case and there is no real difference.


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