First and foremost... under most conditions, typical range for all BRS, FRS and GMRS radios will be a few thousand feet to several miles at best - regardless of what the manufacturer claims.
Understanding Radio Range Claims
Two-way radios that use the Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) frequencies maintain specific range claims, which can prove confusing for most customers. The Motorola Talkabout®, Midland Radio, Cobra Electronics, Uniden... range claims are based on, and verified by, independent field surveys by each manufacturer. The advertised range has grown over the last few years from a couple of miles to 36 miles and more in an effort to distinguish product pricing.
All good quality portable UHF radios, regardless of range claims, will perform essentially the same under the same conditions. It is unlikely a user will normally experience a set of conditions conducive to long range operation, but under those conditions, radios with advertised range of 2 miles will perform almost as well as those advertising greater distances like 36 miles. The extra power will help in providing better coverage in those hard to reach places by "blanketing" the area with more signal.
Even the curved surface of the Earth is a limiting factor for radio signal range. On exactly flat terrain the horizon as seen by a six foot tall person is approximately 3.5 miles away. Similar to the line of sight to the horizon, the radio signals travel in a straight path from the transmitter and do not conform to the Earth’s curvature. If two transmitters are 6 feet off the ground, as they get further than 6 miles apart, the curvature of the earth blocks the path halfway between them.
The truth about Radio Range - the planet is not flat so the curve of the Earth, buildings, trees, mountains... all will reduce your range. Select a high point that looks down on your target transmission area for the best range.
The actual range of ALL UHF two-way radios including BUSINESS, FRS and GMRS (walkie-talkies) is effectively the same, regardless of transmit power. The total range is greatly diminished by the effects of the atmosphere, trees, buildings, hills and all other environmental conditions in the area of use. Portable UHF radios are effectively straight-line communications devices. It is the path that establishes usable range, not the transmit power.
Radio waves emanate in concentric circles and lose power inversely exponentially the further they travel from the source. For example, when the distance from the radio is doubled the power of its signal is only one eighth of its original strength. Additionally, radio waves are negatively influenced by conductive materials, which reflect the waves while absorbing some of its energy. Conductive materials include metal, buildings or other man-made structures. Natural structures are non-conductive and force the radio waves to go around them, thereby altering the path of concentric rings and preventing the signal from reaching the receiver.
Enhancing Range - Things to do to improve your two-way radio range:
• Elevate your radio – the higher your radio the more likely you will transmit over terrain and obstructions, therefore move up hill or use your headset and hold the radio above your body.
• Use a hill as a reflector – stand on the side of the hill facing the direction you wish to talk to. Standing slightly below the top of the hill in the correct direction will enhance the signal away from the hill.
• Move outside metal structures – get out of your car or building they block and therefore contain your radio signal. Note that many glass tinting materials contain metal and therefore block radio waves.
• Reflect your signal – stand in front of metal objects such as your car, it can act as a kind of collector for radio signals.
• Choose an unused channel – most radios have a scan button to determine if others are using the channel. The interference eliminator (DT, QDT, CTCSS and CDCSS) settings will “hide” the other signals from your receiver, but the monitor function will temporarily override the interference eliminator function, revealing all channel users. If you attempt to use a channel when someone else is, regardless of any interference eliminator settings, neither you nor your group will have the best range, as you will be talking over each other.
• Keep your batteries fresh.
Basically there are two type of handheld walkie talkies, those used for personal use (FRS/GMRS i.e. camping, hunting, amusement park, hiking, biking, paintball... you get the idea) and then those for business use (BUSINESS i.e. retail stores, hotels, restuarants, churches, doctors offices, construction site and such). ALL walkie talkies require an FCC license to use them except a few like FRS only radios for consumers or MURS / 900mhz Digital for all or business.
Which is better VHF or UHF radios?
VHF - OUTDOORS ONLY WITH CLEAR LINE OF SIGHT
If your use requires working mostly outdoors in flat, open area's, a VHF radio is probably the best choice. One exception to using a VHF radio outdoors is if it is used it in a heavily wooded or rugged area. Under these conditions a UHF radio may be able to transmit better though the terrain. VHF is used extensively in marine and aviation applications. Also used by business and government agencies that maintain mountain top or building top licensed repeaters.
UHF - INDOORS / MIXED USE - BEST ALL AROUND CHOICE
If the radios are used mainly inside buildings or on campuses between buildings, then UHF is likely the best solution since its shorter wavelength travels through the building better. There are also repeaters that can be installed that relay a UHF signal to increase the communication distance (call for more details).
DIGITAL 900 MHz - HIGH RISE HOTELS, OFFICE BUILDINGS / CAMPUSES IN CITIES
Digital waves tend to pass through massive concrete and rebar structures. Even a small digital radio will go up to 20 floors and larger ones up to 30. Digital radios are also license free and the range can be doubled using a low cost no-license digital repeater. These radios have additional benefits such as frequency hopping encryption and the ability to select 1-1, 1-group of 1-all communication.
There are more available channels with UHF, so in more populated areas UHF may be less likely to have interference from other systems. Since the range of UHF is also not as far as VHF under most conditions, there is less chance of distant radios interfering with the signal.
UHF has a shorter wavelength which makes it easier for the signal to find its way through rugged terrain or the inside of a building. The longer wavelength of VHF means it can transmit further under ideal conditions, For most applications, lower radio frequencies are better for longer range. An example for those of you that can remember when there was broadcasting TV stations illustrates this. A typical VHF station operates at about 100,000 watts and has a coverage radius range of about 60 miles. A UHF station with a 60-mile coverage radius requires transmitting at 3,000,000 watts.
All consumer radios FRS/GMRS are UHF and business radios come in both styles. FYI, Marine radios are all VHF.
Still have questions? Call us - 888-988-4798.