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Which types of walkie talkies are suitable for me

An overview of the different types of Walkie Talkies you can buy in Singapore

At ​Smart Walkie​, we get a lot of calls from customers whom are buying a walkie talkie system for their first time. They might not know the types of Walkie Talkies available and might make a wrong purchase decision. Typically they only know that they have made an unsuitable choice after the purchase when they experience lost messages, disruption from other users in the same area or frequent device failures.

Information found online is also not useful as they are US centric while Singapore has specific licensing requirements that differ. To help prevent unhappiness over wrong purchases, we have written about the 4 main types of Walkie Talkies available. They are

  1. Nationwide Cellular
  2. License Free
  3. Localised License
  4. Localised License with Repeater

Why use Walkie Talkies?

Walkie Talkies in Singapore are used for Team Communication for their unique group broadcast ability. This means everyone can be updated at the same time. They are also used as a backup communication system when there are problems with existing communication methods (i.e phones or intercom systems).

In Singapore, Walkie Talkies commonly in use are the Nationwide system or 2-Way Radio system. These two systems serve different industries as their technology and use cases are different.

The Nationwide system allows for usage throughout Singapore and are often used by logistics companies, large hotels, the airport and seaport. It can also make phone calls and SMS like a normal phone.

The two way system is mainly used by security guards and warehouses for communication within a complex or local area only.

We will cover the Nationwide system first as the range limitation of that is purely limited by Mobile reception and Wi-Fi reception. The range can be easily tested with your mobile phone and can be improve by choosing a good network provider (Usually SingTel).

Types of Walkie Talkies in Singapore

1) Nationwide/Cellular System

Instead of relying on VHF or UHF radio frequency, there are Walkie Talkies which allow you to insert a SIM Card. The SIM card is the same as your mobile phone SIM card and the Walkie Talkie function is powered via mobile Data and an app. Unlike the previous 3 options, the range is greatly increased because it uses the mobile network.

However the Walkie talkie needs to be able to connect to the SIM card provider which means that there must be reception. A good 4G reception is also recommended as there is less congestion on 4G and the latency is better than 3G.

These Nationwide walkie talkies come in various form factors. Some look like Walkie talkies and others than look like Smartphones. They can run Android Apps which business with digital apps appreciate. They can also make phone calls and send SMS.

The sets cost $200 to $400 upfront and there is a subscription for the SIM card and Software ($25 $40 monthly)

Nationwide Walkie Talkie

Usually also Android smartphone so can take pictures and track location.

- Range: Useful for Nationwide Area coverage. Depends on Base Station reception.

- Requirements: None. But depends on Cellular coverage

- Device Cost: $300-$400 per set

- Recurring Cost: $33 per device per month

- Where to Buy: Smart Walkie

- Durability: Ensure you get a rugged smartphone. Buy sets which can replace batteries without going to the servic center. Here is a Rugged Walkie Talkie Phone you can look at.

Nationwide Walkie Talkie could work for you if you have a logistic company where you need city wide coverage or if your building has telco reception indoors. You can also reduce cost if you combine Walkie Talkie and your business Smartphone Apps into a All-in-One device for your workers.

VHF/UHF based Systems (#2, #3 & #4)

The other 3 options below rely on VHF/UHF radio so they have limited range due to a limited power output. These can be tricky to ascertain the range without actually doing a walk around test. Nevertheless, we have done a real world testing of #2 and #3 to give you an idea of the ranges in Singapore.

2) License Free

License Free walkie talkies can be bought from retail shops and do not require any programming or setup to work. In Singapore they are limited to 8 public channels. This means that you can use any of the 8 channels but anyone else using these channels can also hear you. Hence you cannot assume your communication is private. The walkie talkie should have a IMDA Sticker to be compliant.

The range for license free walkie talkies are about 5-6 stories indoors, or up to 300 meters outdoors. You can purchase them online or at Sim Lim Square at about $100-$200 per set. There is no recurring cost after purchase.

- Range: useful for 5-6 stories indoors, or up to 300 meters outdoors.

- Device Cost: $100-$200 per set.

- Recurring Cost: No recurring Cost.

- Where to Buy: Buy License Free Walkie Talkie Online or at Electronic Shops

- Durability: Short Lived.

License Free Short Range Walkie Talkie

License Free Walkie Talkies could work for you if your area is small like a small building for restaurant usage.

3) Localised Licensed

Localised Licensed walkie talkies have to be programmed with a frequency that you are licensed to use. The license can be applied from IMDA annually.There is a application fee of about $400. The license requires you to specify a location of usage which means that you should not bring the walkie talkie outside of this location as you might infringe on other people’s license.

Once IMDA has given you the exact frequency to use, you can program the walkie talkie to use that frequency and there is typically only 1 channel available. The power setting can be 1 Watt to 5 Watts. The typical operating range is 7-10 stories indoors or up to 500 meters outdoors.

The cost for branded licensed walkie talkies are around $200-$400 per set. You also have to apply and pay for the yearly licensing fee of $100 - $400. Retail shops do not sell such walkie talkies as there is a programming required so you should approach businesses that sell radio equipment. They will also advise you on IMDA procedures and the application process.

Licensed Walkie Talkie in Singapore

- Range: useful for 7-10 stories indoors, or up to 500 meters outdoors.This can only be used for a single site.

- Device Cost: $200-$400 per set

- Recurring Cost: Yearly IMDA license required. . Yearly licensing fee ($100 - $400).

- Where to Buy: Businesses that sell radio equipment and can advise you on IMDA procedures

- Durability: Good. But buy more extra batteries as those tend to wear out fast.

Localised License could work for you if you have a larger warehouse or a compact hotel.

4) Localised Licensed with Repeater

So far, in #1 and #2, we having been referring to Point to Point walkie talkies. Each Walkie talkie is talking directly to another Walkie Talkie. To help the walkie talkies, you can install a repeater at a central location to double the range.

The range from a repeater to a walkie talkie is still the same as a localised license walkie talkie but with a repeater in the middle, two walkie talkies on opposing edges of a circle can now talk to each other.

You will need to physically install and maintain a repeater. To use a repeater system, you also need to have a minimum of 50 users to get the IMDA license. If you have a large area but only a few users, the license will not be granted.

With one repeater, you can get range of 10-20 stories indoors and or up to 1000 meters outdoors. The walkie talkie cost is the same as #2 but you would need to factor in the repeater installation and maintenance cost annually which is estimated to be $2,000 to $10,000.

Repeater for Walkie talkie

- Range: useful for 10-20 stories indoors, or up to 1000 meters outdoors. This can only be used for a single site.

- Requirements: A minimum of 50 users is required. Installation of Repeater on-site.

- Device Cost: $200-$400 per set

- Where to Buy: Businesses that sell radio equipment and can advise you on IMDA procedures. They should also have experience setting up and maintaining your repeater.

- Durability: Good. But buy more extra batteries as those tend to wear out fast.

- Recurring Cost: Yearly IMDA license required. Yearly licensing fee ($100 - $400). Yearly Repeater Maintenance ($2,000 to $10,000)

Localised License with repeater could work for you if you have a multiple buildings or a Tall (more than 20 stories) building.

Real World Test in Singapore’s Environment

A real world test was done in multiple environments like Open Field, Low Rise Buildings and High Rise Buildings to see how far you could go.

The models that we tested are

  1. Baofeng BF88E​ - License Free (0.5 Watt)
  2. Baofeng BF-R5 - License Free (0.5 Watt)
  3. Kenwood Localised Licensed (2 Watts)
  4. Nomu T18​ Localised Licensed (2 Watts)

The test was done around our office area at Pasir Panjang which is considered a sub urban environment.

Open Air Test under ideal conditions

In open areas where you can see the person you are talking to, License Free Walkie Talkies effectively reaches only 300 meters. Localised License Walkie Talkies reaches 500 meters. This is the ideal scenario and it is rare to be in this environment.

Typical Suburban Environment: With low rise buildings

In the typical built up area of Singapore, Walkie Talkies effectively reaches only 100m meters for License Free Walkie Talkies and 400 meters for a Licensed Walkie Talkie. This is the typical environment in industrial areas of Singapore.

Single Building and Multiple Buildings

For this test, we choose a building about 50m wide. There are 8 stories in this building.

As a general rule, Single Building usage works better than between buildings. If you plan to have multiple buildings, you not only need a licensed walkie talkie but you also need a repeater system. However there is a requirement to have 50 users before you can apply for a repeater system. If you have less users, you could consider the nationwide walkie talkie system instead.

Conclusion

We have tested and collated the results of some real world scenarios of walkie talkie usage based on the Singapore’s urban environment. We hope that you will find it useful. If you are still unsure of what type of walkie talkies could work for you, please leave a comment on your situation below and we will try to give you our best recommendation.

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