Breaking New Ground in Two Way Radio

James Miller, managing director of Brentwood Communications, discusses the latest trends transforming two way radio technology

by Paul Newman | Wednesday 26 September 2018

Listing all of the use cases for two way radio across UK industry would be quite a task. In more than 40 years in the business, Brentwood Communications has supplied in the region of one million handsets to upwards of 3000 organisations, and there can’t be many sectors of the economy that we haven’t served.

From retail to events, construction to sports stadiums, transport and logistics to hospitality, two way radio has long been a trusted front-line communication tool. In manufacturing, across all of the industry’s many and diverse sub-sectors - food and drink, consumer goods, petrochemicals, process engineering, packaging, pharmaceuticals - two way radio has for decades provided an essential tool for on-site coordination and safety management.

Over the years, the primary appeal of two way radio to industry has changed little. As the original wireless communication technology, it provided the mobility large-scale, fast-moving operations needed to improve efficiency and performance. Even as technologies like WiFi and mobile telephones have come along, industry trusts two way radio to be more reliable, to offer better audio quality, to be more robust in tough environments.

That is not to say that two way radio has not had to evolve over the years. Technology in general has undergone a digital revolution, and two way radio is no exception. While the traditional analogue ‘walkie talkie’ offering straightforward voice communication across a local network remains popular, digital two way radio has transformed the horizons of possibility.

Longer distance connections, better audio, a large range of software-defined functions and the ability to integrate into other communications and data systems are the hallmarks of digital two way radio. Digital technology has opened the doors to innovation and vendors are rushing through them eagerly, further pushing back the boundaries of what two way radio is capable of.

Here is my take on the biggest innovations we are seeing.

Less is more
Much like early mobile phones, two way radio handsets have traditionally been relatively large and chunky devices, sometimes to the detriment of convenience when users have to carry one around with them all day. Digital technology has allowed manufacturers to develop compact, pocket-sized versions without compromising on functionality or performance.

The Motorola DP3000e range, for example, packs the highest digital specifications into a tough, durable chassis that sits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Hytera, meanwhile, has tweaked traditional two way radio design to come up with radios like the PD355, a device that resembles a mobile phone in appearance and almost halves the typical weight you would expect from a two way radio handset.

At the extreme end of this trend, manufacturers such and Motorola and Kenwood have stripped back analogue radio technology to come up with ultra-compact solutions like the Kenwood PKT-23 and the Motorola CLK446 and CLP446, the latter two taking two way radio into a form that resembles pagers or wearable devices. The significance of this trend is better portability and therefore greater convenience for the end user.

Limitless networks
One drawback of two way radio has always been limited network range. Because communication occurs directly between devices, with no need for an external network of masts like mobile phones use, range has always been restricted by the output power of the handsets. Various workarounds have been developed, like the use of repeater units and portable antennae, but the principle restriction has remained.

With the advent of software-defined digital architectures, however, those barriers are beginning to be removed. Software platforms built into handsets, repeater units and control consoles can be linked together, with the effect that you can now create chains of networks over large distances, allowing users at multiple sites to communicate with one another. Other solutions include using WiFi or fixed line broadband connections to again link separate networks together, overcoming the physical limitations of broadcast range.

Location services
We’re becoming used to apps and programmes we use on our smartphones and laptops asking us if they can use our location to ‘improve the service’, although the majority of the time that means pushing adverts to us. A similar thing is emerging in digital two way radio, just without the advertising. More and more models are coming to market featuring GPS and GLONASS satellite location tracking.

This is likely to have more and more value to industry as working practices continue become more flexible. If you operate multiple sites and have a distributed workforce moving between all of them, you can now use limitless network technology to run a single integrated communications system across all, and use location tracking to monitor exactly who is where at any given time. This has clear advantages in industries like transport, logistics, freight and so on.


John Phillips
Brentwood Communications Ltd
+44 (0) 1245 403520

Wednesday 26 September 2018 / file under Construction | Retail | Sports | Telecommunications