What is a Two-Way Radio?

Matthew Lindley

A two-way radio, or transceiver, is a radio device that can both transmit or receive audio broadcasts. Virtually everyone has used some type of two-way radio in their lifetime. The types of devices that classify as two-way radios range from simple "walkie-talkies" or even baby monitors to cell-phones used in everyday life.

A walkie talkie is a type of two-way radio.
A walkie talkie is a type of two-way radio.

Two-way radios generally come in two different styles, simplex and duplex. A simplex two-way radio is classified as one that uses one channel to relay messages. What this means is that only one person in the conversation can speak and be heard at any one time. The most common type of simplex two-way radio is a hand-held radio, or walkie-talkie, which usually features a “push-to-talk” button to instigate transmissions from one unit to another. Meanwhile, a duplex two-way radio uses two different radio frequencies simultaneously, creating the ability to carry-on a continuous conversation. Common examples of these types of two-way radios are products many people use in their everyday lives, such as cordless or cellular telephones.

Walkie talkies are considered simplex two-way radios.
Walkie talkies are considered simplex two-way radios.

Both types of two-way radio have the ability to send data as well as audio with differing ability and limitations. Duplex two-way radio systems can transmit data from one point to another in real time while simplex systems have a time lag. There have also been examples of radios that can utilize both simplex and duplex systems. Meaning that two radios can communicate simultaneously when they are within a certain range of each other, but can also communicate through a single channel when out of range. A two-way radio with this ability is often referred to as a talk around device, direct device, or car-to-car device.

Some two-ways use analog technology while others broadcast digitally, and as always, there are advantages and disadvantages of both. With analog there is better ability to communicate when signals are weak or noisy but, as mentioned above, only one side of a conversation can be held at one time. On the other hand, digital systems provide simultaneous communication and the ability to send more information than analog, such as text messaging. However, digital devices, such as cell phones, all have to be designed to a certain standard, are more expensive, and become obsolete quickly.

Portable shortwave radio sets have been used by militaries and spies for decades because they allow two way, long-range communication without the need for an existing local radio infrastructure.
Portable shortwave radio sets have been used by militaries and spies for decades because they allow two way, long-range communication without the need for an existing local radio infrastructure.

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Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- Here is another time when a two way radio does the job a smartphone can't. Think about emergency dispatchers. There is another time when a dispatcher needs to communicate to everyone tuning in on a frequency so police, firemen, etc. can all respond to an emergency and coordinate their activities.

If we relied on smartphones for such coordination, the job might get done. But the 2 way radio makes it a heck of a lot more efficient. When seconds count, you want as efficient a system as possible. You just can't beat a central dispatcher who can communicate with everyone at once, receive information from everyone in the field and then relay that out to other emergency responders. The two way radio may be old technology, but it is efficient and works very well.


@Soulfox -- I disagree. Let me point out a scenario when a two way radio is the best tool for the job. Let's say you have a business with 20 people putting on a convention. They are spread all throughout a facility, but are close enough together that they can all keep in touch with a walkie talkie.

In that situation, you cannot do with a cell phone what you can do with a walkie talkie. That two way radio, see, allows one person to talk and everyone tuned in to that frequency to hear it. You can coordinate activities that way. You cannot coordinate them with smartphones.


I almost hate to say it, but the two-way radio has been rendered obsolete by cell phones. I hate to say that because I, like most kids, had great fun with walkie talkies when I was growing up. That technology just doesn't have much use this day and age when everyone and his dog is carrying a smartphone.

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