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Comparing and Contrasting Analogue and Digital Two-Way Radios

Published by Jack Cockinos on 22 January, 2014, updated on 05 February, 2014.

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Executive Summary
Analogue two-way radios have been used for business applications 
as far back as 1933, and they were originally placed into service 
by the U.S. military 20 years before then. Today, two-way radio 
technology is so widespread, it has become nearly as common as 
a household appliance. This time-saving communications tool has 
now become a favorite choice for commercial, industrial, military, 
and even personal use.
The history of the two-way radio is long and well defined, but 
the question still stands as to whether the analogue radio is strong 
enough to offset the advantages of the feature-rich digital devices 
that are growing in popularity.
Because the analog two-way radio has been around for as long 
as it has, the ceiling of innovation has been reached. But with the 
emergence of the digital platform, a new era of radio technology 
has now arrived. From varying price points and the distinction 
in sound quality, both technologies have significant differences 
beyond just their signal types. And even though it offers numerous 
advantages, the digital radio will not completely replace its analogue 
many applications. 
Decide for yourself as you discover where the two-way radio
has been, its possibilities for the future, and whether analogue or 
digital technology best suits your needs.
Understanding the Past, Present, and Future 
Since the initial development of wireless communications, analogue 
has been the primary technology platform for two-way radios. The 
majority of radio systems today still run in analogue mode. But as 
digital technology progresses and transforms—for example, as it 
has with music and television—it is beginning to play a major role 
in professional two-way radio communications. 
Because the analogue radio system has been around for so long, 
the limit of innovations has virtually been met. however, with the 
digital platform, new levels of productivity and performance can be 
coverage, and the availability of software applications are 
only a few examples of how the advent of digital two-way radio 
technology will make a difference in the coming years.
Defining the Differences
A traditional two-way radio with an analogue signal is not feature 
rich on its own. Standard analogue radios usually offer push-to-talk, 
scanning, simple group conversations (one-to-many), and limited 
encryption capabilities. 
But the analogue two-way radio has a strong history. it has been 
around long enough for engineers to find ways to enhance its 
functionality with a number of useful features. Chances are, if 
you want your analogue radio to perform a certain task, someone 
else has already found a way to make it happen. This could be 
considered a negative issue for the new digital two-way radios, as 
they have not been in use long enough for the proper “tinkering 
digital communications devices grows. For example, remember 
when cellular phones were first introduced? They were all 
analogue in the early days. But as more and more people became 
dependent on their cell phones, digital devices were introduced, 
and the rest, as they say, is history. 
Two-way radios with a digital signal offer all of the same features 
as analogue radios–and more. however, the features of digital radios 
offered by the leading manufacturers don’t differ all that much. 
Some radios promise affordable components, ease of repair, and 
ease of use, while other manufacturers offer features such as 
enhanced text messaging, ip connectivity, and ruggedized design 
for harsh environments. All digital radios enable a 30-50 percent 
longer battery life than traditional analogue radios, because the 
digital radio transmitter is not constantly on.
To determine your best option, you should carefully review each 
type of radio system available today to decide which is the best fit 
for your specific needs. For example, in order to leverage wireless 
spectrum most efficiently, you can use simple, local peer-to-peer 
radio systems for wider coverage.
What exactly is an analogue signal and what is a digital signal?
Take a look at the similarities and differences between both:
  • Analogue: Analogue signals have a sinusoidal, or continuous, value.  

Today’s analogue systems use frequency modulation (FM). The 
frequency modulation produces a continuous wave with the 
voice signal. By integrating such a simple system into a single 
chip, the cost of this radio has dramatically reduced. Analogue 
signals are commonly used in many systems today, but the uses 
for analogue signals are declining with the introduction of the 
more reliable digital signal. 
  • Digital: Digital signals are represented by binary numbers: 1  

or 0. The 1 and 0 values can correspond to different discrete 
voltage values. Any signal that doesn’t quite fit into the scheme 
is rounded off. By using a binary signal, error correctionembedded signaling and
control bits are possible in each packet transmitted a packet contains an assembly of bits.
The software contains an algorithm that understands the differences 
between voice and background noise, and in return, cancels
the unwanted background noise and unwanted audio. The 
wireless digital signal provides the same levels of reliability and 
control as a wired digital signal.
Reviewing the Advantages and Disadvantages
A common misconception about two-way radios is that it is 
a fading technology. With benefits such as instant private 
communication, one-time purchase incentives, one-to-one or oneto-many
call options, durability, and flexibility of communication in 
almost any environment, the two-way radio is still a very popular 
choice for communications in virtually all markets. These include 
a variety of business, commercial, and industrial applications, 
as well as more high-risk environments, such as public safety, 
military, security, and government.
Both digital and analogue technologies offer many of the same 
popular features, but their differences set them very far apart. 
Decide for yourself which technology is the best fit for your 
situation as we discuss the advantages and disadvantages to 
both systems.
The advantages of analogue two-way systems include:
  • Analogue systems use the natural voice, which is a feature  

preferred by many users. 
  • Because analogue has been around longer, the number of  

products and accessories offered is much larger and provides 
for more options than does digital. 
  •  Analogue systems make good use of bandwidth and are well  

understood by the general public.
The disadvantages of analogue two-way systems include:
  •  Typically, only one two-way conversation can occur at a time on 

each channel. 
  •  Analogue systems require hardware receivers and transmitters  

that are designed to fit the particular transmission. Analogue 
devices can be upgraded with features but not technology.
  • No software-driven business applications are available for  

analogue radios.
The advantages of digital two-way systems include:
  • More simultaneous talking paths are possible, and information  

such as unit iD, status buttons, and enhanced text messages 
can be embedded into a single digital radio channel. 
  • Bandwidth consumption is reduced. 

  • Digital signals can be handled by standardized antenna systems and existing infrastructure equipment.  

  • The digital conversion of a user’s voice reduces external background noises. And the digital technology platform is ideal for reducing environmental noise levels during transmission, such as inside noisy manufacturing and processing plants or outside in windy conditions. 

  • A number of new software applications are available for use with the digital platform. 

  • The digital platform provides a migration path that allows for simultaneous use of digital and analog radios. 

The disadvantages of digital two-way systems include:
  • Digital radios, like all new digital technology, can be somewhat more expensive.  

  • Due to the additional features and enhanced functionality, a learning curve exists for first-time users.  

  • Digital signals are intolerant to radio frequency (rF) noises, and in the presence of too much rF noise, the signal can result in an error. 

In addition to the various advantages and disadvantages listed 
above, the sound quality for both analogue and digital is very high 
within their peak performance areas. An analogue radio will produce 
a clear signal—accompanied by the standard white noise—within 
its peak performance range. Once the signal moves further and 
further away from the transmit (center) point, the audio will slowly 
fade out until it is unrecognizable. By contrast, the digital signal 
will stay strong and clear to the limits of coverage. 
The Bottom Line
Deciding which signal is better or worse is a dependent variable, 
reliant on the factors surrounding the environment and usage of 
the technology. A digital system requires components that are 
generally more expensive, but moderate prices often accompany
lower-end digital systems. And as digital technology becomes 
more popular, the prices will become even more affordable. Also, 
a digital system can more easily be integrated into the rapidly 
expanding wireless ip network world.
Analogue is best suited for situations that have no use for the 
enhanced features offered by digital technology. in reality, many 
two-way radio users need only a simple, reliable method of 
for those who would not benefit from feature-rich or software
enhanced equipment. For example, someone in the retail industry 
would probably not have a need for enhanced text messaging or 
GpS services, nor would the typical school teacher.
Analogue two-way radios prove themselves daily, in countless 
limits of innovation, and a new platform is now required to help 
achieve new levels of performance and efficiency. A user looking 
for an improved analogue radio will still find the same functions—
plus much more—with the improving digital technology.
Although it may look like the world is turning digital, the analogue 
radio will most likely continue to be the prominent choice for most 
businesses and organizations, at least for the next couple years. The 
general cost of the digital two-way radio systems will deter some 
potential customers who do not see the need for the digitally 
enhanced feature sets. But as the digital platform becomes more 
cost effective and common, most users will eventually replace 
their analog radios with their digital counterparts. Just as we have 
seen network television morph into cable and satellite TV and 
old, clunky cell phones evolve into today’s sleek, e-mail seeking 
smartphones, our society is quickly becoming accustomed to the 
ever-evolving digital world.
*Source Telechnics -


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