Walkie talkies are commonly used by safety personnel, recreation personnel, and amateur radio operators. Originally, walkie talkies were quite large devices. During the Second World War, they were so large that they had to be carried in backpacks by the radio operators. However, today, thanks to advancements in miniaturised electronics, walkie talkies are now quite small. Some walkie talkies are as small as a deck of cards. As walkie talkies have come down in size, they have also come down in price. They are now used to facilitate communications in workplaces and as a way for campers and hikers to stay in touch.
Buying a set of walkie talkies can be as easy as searching local electronics shops, shops on the high street, or online venues such as eBay. Buying a set of walkie talkies requires some research on the part of the buyer. The buyer should be familiar with how they work, and assess where and when they need to use the walkie talkie. For instance, if the walkie talkie is to be used in an urban environment with lots of high buildings, the buyer should select a UHF walkie talkie. The buyer also needs to consider the range of the walkie talkie and whether it is powered by disposable batteries or rechargeable batteries.
What Is a Walkie Talkie?
Walkie talkies are handheld portable radios that communicate by sending and receiving radio waves over a shared frequency band. Every battery-powered unit has a transmitter, receiver, antenna, and loudspeaker. The loudspeaker also doubles as a microphone. When the user pushes the "push-to-talk" button, the microphone switches from being a microphone to being a speaker. The loudspeaker/microphone works like an intercom. With some of the more high-end and expensive walkie talkies, the loudspeaker and the microphone are separate components. When the handheld unit sends the radio signal to the other unit, the destination unit converts the radio signal into an oscillating current that the loudspeaker then converts back to the sound of the sender's voice.
Unlike a music radio, which only receives voice programming or music, a walkie talkie uses two-way technology, so that the user can talk as well as listen with the device. The only drawback to walkie talkies is that they use the same frequency for sending and receiving, so only one person can talk at a time.
Legal Issues and US and UK Walkie Talkies
There are no 'combination UK/US' walkie talkies available on the market. Although any radio works anywhere, it is not legal to operate some walkie talkies in some countries. For instance, UK and European radios are only approved for use in the UK and the European Union. These are also referred to as PMR466 radios. It is illegal to use them in the US and Canada because the frequency they operate on is a licenced frequency in North America.
Likewise, one cannot legally use walkie talkies from the US or Canada in the UK. The reasoning behind this ban is that the North American radios operate on the same frequency used by emergency and safety personnel in the UK, making North American walkie talkies illegal to use here.
What Can Walkie Talkies Be Used For?
Personal walkie talkies can usually access any available channels or squelch codes in the frequency range allocated for their use. Sometimes these walkie talkies can be used in conjunction with GPS devices and can transmit their location digitally between handheld units. They are also able to access MET office transmissions for weather forecasts, and can even send and receive text messages.
Low power walkie talkies do not require licences and are popular as children's toys. Interestingly, a feature only available on children's walkie talkies is a 'code key' used to transmit Morse code or other tones to other walkie talkies on the same frequency.
Walkie talkies are often taken along on outings to the beach, on camping trips, or when embarking on long walking tours or hikes. These versatile radios can be used when caravaning cross-country in two vehicle convoys to maintain communication while driving, as well as to ensure safety when hiking in rough terrain where mobile phone services may not be available.
Many workplaces today now employ walkie talkies. They are now commonly used by workers in large organisations such as universities and hospitals, or on large business campuses. A workplace that has people who are regularly out of the office can benefit greatly from having a communication device that keeps the whole team in direct communication with one another.
UHF vs. VHF Walkie Talkies
There are two types of walkie talkies: UHF and VHF. Generally the UHF signal is the best choice for walkie talkie users, but it is important to know that a UHF walkie talkie is not able to communicate with VHF radios. If a buyer is looking to add additional units to their existing cadre of walkie talkies, they should ensure that the new walkie talkie is compatible with the other units in the set.
UHF, or Ultra High Frequency, radios are a good choice for most walkie talkie users because they use shorter waves that can more easily penetrate any obstacle the radio might encounter, like walls, buildings, and dense thickets of trees. If a UHF walkie talkie has a good-sized antenna and sufficient power it can broadcast through steel, concrete, and even trees and earth. A UHF walkie talkie is a good choice for urban environments and communication within large building like high rises and warehouses.
VHF stands for Very High Frequency. It is a range of frequencies that operates in the 136 to 174 MHz bandwidth. VHF walkie talkies can operate over large distances while using less power. This is due to the fact that VHF radio waves are longer and stay closer to the ground. VHF walkie talkies work best when there is a clear line of sight between the transmitting unit and the receiving unit. The marine and aviation sectors use VHF radios exclusively because the wave travels over water and through air just as easily as it does over the ground. For this reason VHF walkie talkies are perfect for open settings like golf courses and sports fields, and for those who work as landscapers and in the personal security field. The antennas on VHF walkie talkies are generally longer than UHF antennas, because they need to enable the transmission of the radio waves over longer distances.
The Range of the Walkie Talkie
The main difference between the types of walkie talkies available is the range over which they can communicate. Normally, walkie talkies can be categorised as either short-range or long-range. Short-range walkie talkies are designed for use over shorter distances. They generally have a range of about 500 metres up to a kilometre, while long-range walkie talkies require the user to have a licence, and the long range walkie talkie can cost much more. However, the benefits include a larger number of channels and more power. These walkie talkies are available in 1-watt varieties that can transmit up to 12 km, while a 2-watt radio can transmit up to 32 km. Unfortunately, walkie talkies do not have the capability to display the range over which their signal can be broadcast, which makes determining their effectiveness a matter of trial and error.
Walkie Talkie Channels
Walkie talkies work by sending radio waves from one handheld unit to another over a shared frequency. The frequency is called a channel, and all of the walkie talkie channels are 'half-duplex', meaning that they can only connect in one direction at a time. An example of full-duplex devices are mobile phones. These devices use two radio frequencies to carry the signal in two directions simultaneously. Walkie talkies do not utilise cell towers like mobile phones because they operate radio to radio. For this reason they do not fail in emergency situations as mobile phones sometimes do when mobile phone towers become overloaded. In the UK, unlicenced radio frequency PMR466 operates at UHF 466Mhz.
The frequency over which the US and Canadian walkie talkies operate is the 462 to 467 MHz range, making them incompatible with the European PMR446 walkie talkies, and also making them illegal to use in the UK or Europe.
Walkie Talkie Accessories
Walkie talkies can be accessorised by the use of such items as rechargeable batteries, drop-in rechargers, multi-unit re-chargers for business use, and audio accessory jacks that enable the use of headsets or speaker microphones. Some headsets have push-to-talk switch earbuds that are similar to those used with music players, or a single-ear headset that sits behind the head and has a boom microphone and a pendant push-to-talk switch like the headsets worn by call centre agents. Using headsets with voice activation capability enables the user to talk 'hands free'. Or, one might choose to buy a pendant speaker microphone that clips onto the ear and features a push-to-talk button and built in microphone.
How to Buy a Walkie Talkie on eBay
After you have done your research and decided upon the type of walkie talkie you want to buy, simply enter relevant keywords into the search bar at the top of eBay's homepage and the local search engine will populate a results page with relevant listings. For instance, if you enter 'walkie talkies' into the search bar, potentially thousands of current listings will appear on the results pages. This number can be whittled down by selecting and deselecting various search filters. You can also hone your search by entering a more specific search query into the search bar.
Once you have selected a handful of listings that interest you, read the item descriptions carefully. The item description must state that the walkie talkie is a PMR466 radio. If this important piece of information is not present, you should contact the seller. To do so, simply click on the seller's username and go into their member profile. From there, simply click on the contact link and ask any questions you may have. You should also look carefully at the photo of the walkie talkie posted in the item description. Look for signs of wear and tear and any evidence of corrosion on the contact points for the battery.
Although mobile phones are used everywhere today, the use of walkie talkies is still favoured by those who want, or need, to talk to another person or a large group in a setting where mobile phone services are not available. If a group has decided to split up for varied activities, the use of walkie talkies can keep them in contact and allows instant communication at the push of a button. This can be helpful in situations where mobile phone service may be lacking or nonexistent. Walkie talkies are perfect for recreational uses, business use, and some very low power models can even be used as children's toys.
The buyer should consider a UHF walkie talkie if they plan on using the device in an urban setting, while VHF walkie talkies are better for outings in the country. Transmission ranges can vary. UHF walkie talkies are often used to maintain close communication in buildings, as the shortwave radio transmission can penetrate walls. VHF walkie talkies can boast transmission ranges of several kilometres. Buyers can find a large selection of PMR466 walkie talkies on eBay, as well as a variety of accessories for walkie talkies, like headphones and charging stations.