Pick a Walkie Talkie for your Facility

With smartphones so ubiquitous, is there really a need for walkie talkies at work any longer? Actually, there are a number of reasons, including: you don’t want employees using their cell phones for work-related communications, you don’t want to pay for an employee’s cell phone when it gets broken at work, and there is always the chance an emergency could overwhelm cell tower-enabled communications systems. 

So yes, odds are you and your employees will need walkie talkies that provide fast, person-to-person communications in all types of settings—urban, outdoor, across campus, or in harsh conditions. The next step is figuring out what type of walkie talkie you need with respect to power and range (watts), power source (lithium ion or nickel-metal hydride), frequency (VHF or UHF), and channels and privacy codes. There are other technical details to be aware of, like protection from exposure (IP66, IP67, ATEX), voice activation (VOX), audio squelch, customizable alerts, and different LCD display characteristics. 

First and foremost, according to a recent conversation with two student union professionals, is determining if you could tap into an existing walkie talkie system already in use on campus. “If you can utilize what your campus security is using you’ll be better off for it, especially if your campus security can override your channel for emergency announcements,” noted Michael McKean, associate director at Texas A&M University–Commerce’s Rayburn Student Center. 

If you can join an existing network, “Knowing what that frequency is also somewhat important so there is no over-talk or interference,” added Jason Levy, senior director of student center operations and conferences at Temple University’s Howard Gittis Student Center. 

Walkie talkies come in two frequencies, very-high (VHF) and ultra-high (UHF), with UHF the more popular as its radio waves easily penetrate concrete walls, steel structures, and other obstacles found in and around indoor environments. They are ideal for situations where people are going in and out of buildings. VHF radios are better suited for obstruction-free terrain like fields, forests, and golf courses, and as long as there is a clear line of sight they will cover longer distances. 

Relative to distance is power, which is measured in watts. The general rule is the first watt of power will provide one mile of coverage, but Levy recommended a minimum two-watt radio to ensure talking between buildings, or from basement to basement, is not hampered. 

One final, important component of any walkie talkie system is the power source, which will either be lithium ion (Li-ion) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). Li-ion batteries are designed using reactive lithium and carbon, while NiMH batteries use hydrogen, nickel, and usually titanium. Keep in mind that NiMH batteries can suffer memory loss, a loss of charge when the battery has not been fully discharged before recharging. 

 A costs versus benefits look at power sources 

Lithium Ion 

  • Lighter 
  • Bigger 
  • Cost More 
  • Charges More Quickly 
  • Longer Life Cycle 
  • 3% Monthly Self-Discharge  
  • No Memory Effect 

Nickel-Metal Hydride 

  • Heavier 
  • Smaller 
  • Cost Less 
  • Highly Durable 
  • Slower to Charge 
  • 30% Monthly Self-Discharge 
  • Suffers Memory Effect

Technical details that may be of interest when choosing a walkie talkie: 

Channels and privacy codes: 

There is a limited number of channels on a walkie talkie, therefore a chance someone else may be using the same one. But a receiving radio that has a privacy code set will not unmute its speaker unless that code is sent along with a transmission. So when a receiving radio is set to channel 2, privacy code 5, for example, the transmitting radio must be set to the same channel and code to communicate without interference. 

Voice Activation (VOX): 

Allows for hands-free use with no need to push and talk as the microphone is always listening for a voice to detect and then broadcast. 

Audio Squelch: 

Noise-canceling feature that mutes audio when no signal is present. In some brands, the squelch threshold is preset, so be aware of that. 

Protection from Exposure: 

Ratings to be aware of are IP66, which is dust-tight and protected from “jets of water,” IP67 means dust-tight and protected from complete immersion (think swimming pools); and finally ATEX, which means it's approved for use in hazardous and explosive environments. 

Customizable Alerts/Whisper Mode:

 Alerts give you notice of specific incoming messages; whisper mode allows for you to speak in a whisper with your listener able to hear the message clearly. 

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