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Many people have questions about two-way radio and short-wave radio listening. Questions range from "How far can I talk to someone else using a handheld radio?" to "How can I talk around the world?"; This section of VERO two way radio Online answer these and other common questions. We know that many of you are Internet visitors who are unfamiliar with radio technology. This section, together with the Welcome section of VERO Radio Online can answer your general questions about general radio technology.

Questions answered in this FAQ:

Q. I saw an ad for two VHF/UHF radios for use in my business. Over how great a distance will these radios communicate?

Q. What if I need to talk over a greater range? I need to communicate over about 20 miles with handheld radios-how can I do this?

Q. What is the difference between a VHF handheld and a UHF handheld?

Q. How much power do I need in my two-way radio system?

Q. Why should I use handheld radios instead of cellular phones?

Q. I live in an apartment (or condo). Can I still do something in ham radio?

Q. Do I really need to get a license? Can't I just buy a radio and start talking?

Handheld Radios


Q. I saw an ad for two VHF radios for use in my business. Over how great a distance will these radios communicate? Top

A. VHF handheld radios usually operate in the 1 to 2 watt range and sometimes up to as much as 5 watts output (but note that higher power levels will more quickly drain your batteries). These radios might provide useful radio coverage at ground level over about 1/2 mile, assuming that one or both radio users are inside buildings or structures. Outside, coverage may be more than 1 mile if relatively free of obstacles.

Q. What if I need to talk over a greater range? I need to communicate over about 20 miles with handheld radios-how can I do this? Top

A. How much greater range do you really need? It may be possible to use a telescoping antenna on a VHF handheld radio, greatly increasing your usable range versus that provided with the short flexible antenna typical of most handhelds. You may also have the option of installing an outside antenna at one end of the link. Depending on your desired coverage area, you might see a 2 to 5 mile range - or more if one end is high above the other and clear of obstacles. If you still need longer range, you should consider using a "repeater". A repeater is a specially built receiver and transmitter pair that receives signals from low power handheld or mobile radios and retransmits them using a better antenna and more transmitter power. Consequently, the repeater can extend the range of a typical handheld by great distances. The actual distance depends on the system design and location. Where a repeater is located high atop a mountain, it may be possible to communicate to another station 100 miles away. For commercial users, you can rent use of an existing, shared repeater system. You can also enquire about using Specialized Mobile Radio Service (or SMR) systems that operate similar to the basic repeater and provide coverage over wide areas. Look under "Radio, 2-way" in your telephone directory.

Q. What is the difference between a VHF handheld and a UHF handheld? Top

The terms "VHF" and "UHF" refer to parts of the radio spectrum. "VHF" refers to radio signals in the 30 Mhz to 300 Mhz range and includes many public safety and business communications systems; FM broadcasting, TV channels 2-13 and aviation radio. "UHF" refers to radio signals in the 300 Mhz to 3000 Mhz range. Until a decade or two ago, it was technically difficult or more expensive to build radios in this frequency range. As demand for radio usage has increased, the technology has improved and the costs of UHF radios have reduced so that VHF radio applications have moved or are moving to UHF. You will also find cellular phone service in this part of the radio spectrum; at the upper end you will find consumer microwave ovens and microwave "wireless cable" TV systems.

Q. Why should I use handheld radios instead of cellular phones? Top

A. A cellular phone is ideal for making phone calls. It is not ideal for short range point to point communications since cellular is expensive. Further, if you need to make frequent short contacts, cellular requires that you dial the phone number and wait for the connection to be established, a delay of up to 30 seconds for every call that you make. With a hand held radio you push the talk button and you talk without delay. If you need to have several people talking to each other at the same time, you can set up several two way radios on the same frequency. Each time one user speaks, everyone on thesame frequency hears that person.

Q. How much power do I need in my two-way radio system? Top

How much power you need depends on how you plan to use the radio system. As a general rule, you should always use the least amount of power necessary to establish your communications. This reduces interference to other users (and they likewise reduce interference to you) when the radio frequency is used again in geographically local areas. Handheld radios normally operate in the 1 watt to 5 watt range. Cellular phones dynamically adjust their power levels, according to directions from the local cellular base station. Handheld celphones operate between 40 milliwatts and 600 milliwats (6/10ths of one watt); mobile cellular phones operate from 40 mw up to 3.0 watts.Mobile 2-way radio equipment operates, typically from 5 watts up to 50 watts, andsometimes as high as 100 watts output. The power level of the equipment is determined by the needs of the system.

Q. I live in an apartment (or condo). Can I still do something in ham radio? Top

A. You sure can! Obviously, when you live in an apartment you will have restrictions on your ability to install radio antennas. Yet there are several steps you can take to enjoy ham radio. First, if your interest is primarily in local area communications, you can use VHF and UHF radio equipment. Often, you will only need a handheld radio to access a local voice or packet data radio repeater. Some apartment-bound radio operators install small beam antennas inside. I know one ham operator who operates amateur television equipment - literally transmitting color TV signals from his apartment. Fortunately for him, he had a window that opened up to face a nearby mountain peak that was home to an amateur radio TV repeater system. So his signals were then retransmitted over a very wide area enabling him to communicate using full motion, full color and sound television signals. If you wish to operate on the shortwave bands (known as "HF"), there are several alternatives you can consider:
(1) you can install a wire antenna on the ceiling of your apartment and operate at reduced power levels to avoid causing interference to neighbors caused by your antenna being close to their TV or sterio;
(2) install a dipole antenna for the higher HF bands in a balcony area;
(3) string an "invisible" wire antenna made from small gauge wire from your apartment to a nearby support such as a tree;
(4) use a closed tuned loop antenna mounted in a balcony;
(5) set up a good mobile radio installation for the HF bands and operate from your vehicle. All of these methods can prove very effective at providing HF communications for persons having limited space for antennas. I know of two amateurs who asked for and received permission to extend a single wire antenna across the roof of their apartment building and were thereafter able to enjoy HF amateur radio operation.

Q. Do I really need to get a license? Can't I just buy a radio and start talking? Top

A. Yes, you really need to be licensed. First, operating high power radio equipment poses certain safety hazards and the licensing process ensures that you know something about radio frequency safety. Second, a transmitter operator needs to know how not to interfere with other users; how to locate and make contact with other users at the appropriate times; and how to adjust and operate the equipment. Third, turning on a radio transmitter is roughly equivalent to turning on a flashlight in a dark room - in other words, you are easy to find. If you operate without a license, you will be caught. This can result in large fines (such as $10,000), jail time and confiscation of your radio equipment. In short, get a license.

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