There are two main types of two way radio user in the modern world. One group is kids who like using walkie-talkies to turn games of hide and seek into full-blown strategic adventure contests. The other is the many millions of people who use two way radio as part of their day job.
From emergency services to security, event management to logistics, heavy industry to transport, two way radio remains a prominent mode of communication in the workplace.
This might seem like an anomaly in the age of smartphones and wearable tech, but the fact is that two way radio, as retro as it seems, is very well suited to mobile communications in business. It wouldn’t survive as a multi-million pound industry if it was otherwise.
The question is, now we all carry powerful personal data and communication devices with us, does two way radio have any future outside industry and support services? Is there still room for grown-up walkie talkies, with a proper range and a full set of features, in the consumer market?
Perhaps the key to answering this question is asking what two way radio is good at, where it beats the other mobile technologies we now have available, and where that might have an appeal for consumers.
In workplace communications, two way radio is valued for being reliable and robust. There is a trade-off between the fact that you can use a mobile phone anywhere, thanks to the now international network of microwave broadcast masts they use, and signal strength and quality. We’ve all experienced signal drop out on our mobile phones when we pass into a coverage ‘shadow’, or terrible call quality when the network is being overused in large crowds.
Two way radio has a limited range. You can’t wander wherever you like and use it. But within that range, coverage is absolute. The handsets communicate directly with each other, not via a mast, so there are no shadows and you can create a network wherever you want. Quality is nearly always excellent - exactly what you need when you are coordinating crowd safety and security at a massive event, or organising work teams on a busy construction site.
Finally, two way radio units are built to withstand the rough and tumble, without fear of a screen shattering if you drop it while working outdoors.
So do any of these advantages have an application in consumer gadgets? Motorola certainly thinks so. The brand dominates the market for business two way radio technology, and yet it still finds value in churning out products for consumers, too.
Take the Motorola TLR TK80, for example. Available in standard and ‘Extreme’ editions, the TLR TK80 is aimed at the outdoor pursuits and adrenalin sports markets. The idea is, if you are into running or hiking or mountain biking or skiing and so on, and if you do it with friends, you might want to carry a reliable, tough communications device to keep in touch.
Unlike your average smartphone, the TLR TK80 is waterproof and comes in a durable shockproof casing. You might not be able to download apps on it, but it does let you make group calls without having to arrange a conference on WhatsApp. Moreover, calls are made with a single touch of a button - or, if you prefer, using just your voice in VOX mode. Who needs Alexa? It even has handy little touches like a built-in torch for when things get a bit gloomy.
But perhaps the key thing is the TLR TK80 and similar models offer the advantages of two way radio businesses value at a price consumers can enjoy. For a standard business class digital two way radio handset these days, you are looking at £150 upwards a piece. For that money, you get a pack of four TLR TK80 handsets - you can get reliable, weatherproof one-touch communications for your fell walking club without breaking the bank.
So maybe there is still room for two way radio in the consumer market. Keep your smartphone for browsing and IMing. When you really need to stay in touch, two way still has a role to play.
Brentwood Communications has been supplying two way radio handsets for more than 40 years. To learn more about the latest trends in the industry, visit www.brentwoodradios.co.uk