Licenced or Licence Free - Which Two-Way Radio is Best For me?

Modern DMR two-way radios come in two varieties, Licenced and Un-Licenced. In this blog post we talk about some of the differences between the two types of radio available and discuss why you may opt for one over the other.

Licence Free Radios

Motorola TLKR Radio Selection

Licence free radios are the entry point for two-way communications, they obviously have the advantage of not requiring and licencing and can operate legally strait out of the box. These devices are often lower cost and generally sacrifice functionality and a professional level of durability, for users looking for a simple communications solution (select a channel and talk) these radios will provide all the functionality you could need.

The disadvantages of this type of solution are the low power output and open frequencies. One of the advantages of these radios that they work out of the box can become a disadvantage for some users, as these radios do not require configuration to work as you can imagine they all come pre-configured with the same settings whilst this is great if you’re looking for a second set of radios it does mean that anyone else who buys a set and operates within range of you will also be able to pick up any communications.

Often this problem is solved by changing channel to one that is not in use by others but this can become problematic in busy areas like cities where channel availability may be limited.

Finally, the low power output of a licence free device is a disadvantage when compared to a professional licenced radio, by law licence free radios can only operate at 0.5w of output power this is significantly less than the 4/5w available on a professional device. This reduction in power results in less range (discussed below) and less penetration through walls and other structures.

  • Open frequencies mean less privacy
  • Lower power output means less range (discussed below) and penetration through structures
  • Devices are often less durable than their licenced counterparts
  • No configuration means adding additional radios is very easy


Licenced Radios

Putting a radio licence in place allows you to operate radios at full power as well as operating other radio equipment such as repeaters (radio systems), but the correct type of licencing must be put in place.

9 times out of 10 most users need what’s called a Simple UK Licence which can be put in place from as little as £75 for 5 years, this entry level licence gives you 7 full power channels (UHF) and gives you permission to operate the radios anywhere in the UK. This type of licence isn’t completely private but because professional radios can be configured often other conversations won’t be heard but received as interference (digital crackling and beeping), due to less people having this type of licence in place when compared to licence free radios the chances of this happening are far lower.

With a full 4/5w of operating power these professional devices will have far greater range (discussed below) and are more suited for use with buildings where signal can be absorbed by the structure.

  • Full power 4/5w output means far better range
  • Greater levels of privacy
  • Devices are built to more professional levels of durability

If you wish to operate a radio repeater or require more advanced types of licencing, please get in touch with us to discuss your options.

Differences in Range

One of the most common questions asked is “How far will my radios go?”, unfortunately this question cannot be given a definite answer and here’s why…

A radios range is greatly dependant on where its being used, while a radio might go ten miles in an open field it will certainly not achieve those same ten miles if you were for example using them in an underground car park. This is because the radio signal is “absorbed” by the surround structure, just like when you lose BBC radio 1 signal in a tunnel.

Some videos posed online show PMR446 (licence free) radios achieving 20 miles of range. But this should not be seen as normal. Motorola Solutions quote on the box that licence free radios can achieve “up-to” 6.2 miles of range, again our recommendation would be that both of these figures are with ideal conditions and a clear line of sight between both users and we often tell users that they can safely expect 0.5 miles of range with the possibility of going further.

Licenced radios will achieve better range than licence free models, quite often different distributors online will quote a wide range for these licenced devices 2, 5 or 10 miles of range are often thrown around but it is important to remember that all professional licensed radios are operating at the same power level and with only minor differences coming from the antenna choice and the radios sensitivity the ranges achieved with these devices are for the most part going to be the same no matter which distributor they come from.

These differences in quoted ranges probably stem from the original point in this section, a radios range is greatly affected by the location its being used.

As a rule of thumb and to set a customer’s expectations in the right area we say…

Licence Free Radios – 0.5 miles of range +

Licenced Radios – 2 miles +

Don’t forget that with the use of radio systems almost any area that is required can be covered be that wide area comms for a city or precise coverage within a tall structure anything can be achieved.

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