Understanding the Rise of Push-to-Talk Radios

Far from being a thing of the past, the push-to-talk radio market is expected to grow in coming years.

Understanding the Rise of Push-to-Talk Radios

One of the primary drivers for this market is the high rate of migration from analog to digital Land Mobile Radios.

Most people, at one point or another, were able to play with push-to-talk radios, or PTT radios. Before the true rise of cellphones, these were the de facto mode of wireless communication — easy to use, very durable and secure.

But for most people in the U.S., cellphones have mostly replaced them. Hardly anyone out there today uses them — perhaps some truckers, ham operators, construction workers or police departments — but besides that, they are mostly for nostalgic reasons to relive the past. Or are they?

Surprisingly, this industry is picking up steam, and rapidly! Various surveys show that we can expect a yearly rise of as high as 16 percent in this market — from a $13.5 billion industry in 2017 to a nearly $30 billion industry in 2022.

These devices are actually more popular than ever — partly due to the fact that they are easy, cheap and VERY secure compared to cellphones.

Yes, cellphones provide other features not available to PTT radios, but this also comes at a significant price and during even the smallest hiccups (power outage anyone?), they are essentially worthless.

According to Technovia:

One of the primary drivers for this market is the high rate of migration from analog to digital Land Mobile Radios (LMR). Advantages of less power consumption, better quality coverage and high standards of performance are a few of the features that compelled manufacturers and users to shift towards digital LMR from analog ones. Also, the above features support digital LMR to offer strong communication involvement and high bandwidth. Many technological advances have taken place during the developmental phase of LMR technology. It has grown over time from traditional analog systems, which offer a basic platform for reliable two-way radio communications, such as PTT and one-to-many communications, to digital systems that are compatible with a seamless cloud ecosystem. Moreover, the capability of digital LMR to offer low total cost of ownership to users, rugged and robust products that can operate in the toughest conditions, and productivity tools that maximize ROI, will further propel growth in the global LMR market during the forecast period.

They have a number of benefits compared to cellphones — cellphones require towers to provide service. While cities are well covered, countrysides are a different story, so a LMR might be the only way to get connected.

And as already mentioned, they work even when the power grid fails (at least, until their battery runs out). And from a security standpoint, they are wonderful — cell towers have a fixed location and a very complex infrastructure that can be brought down.

But LMR’s only require two people and two radios and provide very secure communication. They can easily be encrypted to prevent third parties from listening in or, through the magic of digital service, allow to be trunked to function as a very capable system that works even in the worst conditions, so that a number of recipients can use them similarly to cellphone (one on one) communication.

Many in the field are familiar with the radios provided by companies like Motorola, JVCKenwood or Harris, but the low barrier to entry allows a large number of new companies to take advantage — specifically Chinese manufacturers are flooding the market.

Boafeng is a good example of a manufacturer who has been incredibly successful in the world market.

These are very capable systems and come at a very low price — Amazon offers a wide variety for $25 per unit, or entire sets sufficient to provide comms for a dozen people for less than $200.

On the flipside of course, is that bad guys can take advantage of the same exact benefits — low cost and good comms are essential to them as well.

That also means that the modern security professional must be vigilant and cognizant of the shift we might experience, and what we might encounter.

The military is well aware of this — LMRs are sometimes the only mode of comms in the rugged, mountainous regions of the Middle East.

Even domestically, since the NSA leaks started happening, we all learned that cellphones can be compromised and might not be the best mode of communication to discuss important dealings.

Communication is an absolute critical part of security — be it in the physical world (one person communicating with another person), or the cyber world (computer talking to computer).

Since the beginning of time, communication has been the most critical part of human evolution — it allows us to share ideas, plan together and learn from one another.

Being aware of the technology available to secure it, or ways to crack it, must be understood to be able to plan ahead for the “what if” scenarios.

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3 responses to “Understanding the Rise of Push-to-Talk Radios”

  1. John Jaderholm says:

    This was a nice update article on digital technology and the value of LMR two-way radios. However, your inclusion of one brand of low end product set a dangerous expectation that all the professional two-way radios should be priced at $25 each. I think the article would have better served the campus community if you left that one comment out.

  2. Tim Mrva says:

    I agree with John Jaderholm that this is a nice article and it helps dispel the myth that Cell Phones have replaced traditional two-way radios in routine, life safety and emergency communications on School Campuses and in business and industry as well. HOWEVER, not only is the inclusion of “one brand of low end product” dangerous, the specific ($35.00 each) brand you mentioned is 100% illegal to use in ANY context on School Campuses or anywhere in the Land Mobile Radio Spectrum EXCEPT Amateur radio. That brand has only ONE radio in their line-up that is Type Accepted for Part 90 and that radio does NOT sell for $35.00 as you stated. It sells for MUCH MORE and still should not be purchased online, because operating them on the default frequencies that come in those radios would be illegal for anyone to do unless they have an FCC License for those frequencies.
    You should immediately print a retraction of that statement and make sure that your Campus Safety readers know that they CANNOT just go onto Amazon and buy one of the plethora of radios available there, put in on “any old channel they want” and proceed to talk on them. PROPER operations of campus-wide communications REQUIRES that the School District (or School) obtain an FCC License by going through a reputable two-way radio dealer who works with a Frequency Coordinator to obtain a frequency (or several frequencies) then – only AFTER the license has been issued by the FCC, proceeds to the step of obtaining LEGAL equipment to use on the authorized channels. Anything less than this is to incite your readers to commit a crime.

  3. Two-Way radios are indeed an essential tool for campus security and operations. Having compatible radios for each type of operation is essential. While the use of a Baofeng type radio will allow short-range communications (for a while at least) these cheap Chinese imports are not capable of Mission Critical operations or even lesser jobs due to their cheap construction and unreliability. They are toys, no more.

    These radios are shipped with the ability to dial in any frequency in both the VHF and UHF land-mobile bands, including police and other emergency services, business and transportation services. While some models carry Part 90 and other FCC rule certification labels they are not actually legal in most radio services due to the keyboard frequency selection capabilities. These are no more than throw-away radios and do not offer the reliability required by campus operations.

    These radios are fine for amateur use but not for any type of important communications. Be sure to purchase only from a reputable local Land Mobile Radio dealer who will take you through the FCC licensing process (if you do not yet have a license) and will be sure that you are operating on authorized frequencies. Stick with high-quality name-brand communications tools that have local support and the feature set needed for the operation. Good quality commercial grade radios will last for a decade or more and cost less in the long run. You will keep your communications legal, reliable and secure.

    If any two way radio dealer tells you that you don’t need an FCC License to operate your on-campus radios, RUN – don’t walk, out of his shop and look for a reputable provider.

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