Before we explain how to choose the best UHF radios for your business, first lets understand what UHF two-way radios even are.
There are 2 major types of frequency bands in the professional business radio communication world. You have UHF radios and VHF radios. Typically, when we are communicating between radios, there are objects in between the people communicating such as walls, objects, trees, etc. The UHF frequency band penetrates through those objects much better than VHF can even if you have the same power output on the radio. Then why even have a VHF frequency band? It’s because if you are in situations where you have line-of-sight communication, VHF will actually travel further than UHF. But in most circumstances, we have those obstructions so UHF radios are the best well rounded option.
That being said, let’s take a look at how to choose the best UHF radios for your business.
STEP 1: Evaluate Your Environment
How many floors in a building do you need to communicate? Typically, the rule of thumb is you get 2-3 floors of coverage per every 1-watt of power on your handheld UHF radios. The highest power output a two-way radio can have is 5-watts. If you need more than 15 floors of coverage and handheld radios aren’t getting the job done, you’ll need to look into getting a repeater to boost your coverage.
What is the farthest distance you need to communicate? If you are in one building, it might be a tall narrow building or a tall wide building. So 15 floors of coverage will be harder to get in a wider building than a narrow building. Furthermore, you might need to go off-sight to communicate with everyone in the building. Could that be a nearby airport 5 miles away for a shuttle bus driver needing to communicate with dispatch at the main office? It could be a number of things.
What materials are used in the building construction? Is it thick concrete or thinner wooden framing? Thicker walls means the radio signal needs more power to get through those walls.
Is there any heavy machinery or power lines nearby? These UHF two-way radios are transmitting frequencies through the airwaves and there are many factors which can effect the signal. For example, heavy machinery, power lines, fog, lightning storms, other nearby radio traffic in a congested area and so on.
STEP 2: Determine Important Functions You Need Out of Your UHF Radios
Durability seems to be a big concern. Employees can be hard on their radios. They can drop them on the ground, in water or even mud. A hotel might need a durable radio but probably not to the point of needing something waterproof. However, a construction company might be extremely hard on their radios and even get it covered in mud or paint. A durable waterproof UHF radio for a construction work might be a good option because they can hose the radio off with water to keep it clean if needed.
Power output is also very important. More power equals more coverage. The highest power output you can have on a handheld two-way radio is 5-watts of power. If you have a mobile radio in a vehicle or a base station in an office, you can have 50 or even 100-watts of power. Keep in mind though, you are only as strong as your weakest link. If a 100-watt mobile was transmitting to a 5-watt handheld radio, the handheld might be able to receive that transmission from the mobile but the 5-watt handheld likely won’t be able to respond by transmitting a signal back to the mobile. Strategically placed repeaters, linking systems or even Enhanced Push-to-Talk can help remedy these issues.
Battery life is also very important. There are 3 different battery chemistries. NiCd (which is has been discontinued by most credible manufacturers for environmental reason), NiMH and Lithium-Ion. Always go with lithium-ion, it’s going to be the best and is primarily already an industry standard. You also want to look at the milliamps (mAh). A good battery should have at least 2,000mAh. This should give you adequate talk time to cover at least an 8 hour shift. Typically, you should budget replacing your batteries ever 1-2 years.
Display or non-display radios. If you have a lot of different talk groups, displays can help because you can name your channels to remember what each talk-group is for. However, if you are hard on your radios and need something very durable, such as a construction company, consider opting out of a display because it can potentially get damaged easier than the hard housing on the rest of the radio. Maybe you bump the screen with a hammer or something and now you can’t figure out what channel you are on. So that’s an important thing to consider.
STEP 3: Determine Your Budget
How much are you looking to spend? A basic analog UHF radio should run you around $150-$200. The more you spend increases your durability, audio quality and other features. Spend $200-$300 and you can get an entry level digital radio with better coverage and more durability. Spend $300+ and you’re getting more durability and more features.
STEP 4: Choose the Best UHF Radios for Your Business
Now that we’ve discussed how to choose the best UHF radios for your business, next let’s pick out some great options for you!
#3 – Sonim XP8
We’re bending all the rules on this one but figured it knocks coverage out of the park so we had to add it. This cool radio is also a smartphone and you can communicate nationwide without the need of a repeater. It’s an ultra rugged device with a dedicated push-to-talk button on the side. However, like any other smartphone, you’re going to have a standard monthly rate plan with it. What’s great though is you can also link this up to your UHF two-way radio system with an LMR Interoperability ROIP Kit so you can talk from your phone to your radios. Therefore, if you had a group of radios in California for on-site communication, you can have your Sonim XP8 in New York and able to talk to all your radios in California from your Sonim XP8. Two Way Direct offers this push-to-talk feature for just $5 per month so even though this technically isn’t a traditional 2-way radio, we felt it was important to add to our list since it really takes radio communication to the next level at an affordable price.
#2 – XTR300
This XTR300U would be on the top of our list if we were making a list of the affordable digital UHF two-way radios. It retails for $399.95 however Two Way Direct discounts this radio frequently down to $199.95 which is the lowest price we’ve seen for a full powered digital UHF radio. The XTR300U has the maximum 5-watts of power (with a 2,000mAh lithium-ion battery) and uses TDMA digital technology with is the same as Vertex Standard’s eVerge or Motorola’s MotoTRBO. Vertex is now discontinued and Motorola digital radios are extremely expensive. This XTR300U can be programmed to work with either of those digital radios so you can get excellent performance at a fraction of the price.
#1 – XTR550
Here it is! The Best UHF radio for your business. The XTR550U digital UHF two-way radio! It’s got it all – power, TDMA digital technology (compatible with eVerge and MotoTRBO), excellent coverage, battery performance, durability, extra loud and clear audio, user friendly display and even waterproof. Best of all, it’s another great buy in terms of bang-for-buck. Priced slightly higher than the XTR300U, this radio gets you everything you could need for it’s sale price of $369.95 (retails for $450). We compare this radio to the Motorola digital radios in it’s class which cost upwards $900+ per radio. Another great thing about this radio is that it comes with a 3 year factory warranty. The battery is a high performance 2,000mAh lithium-ion battery which has great long lasting talk time performance.
We hope you enjoyed reading our list and now feel more informed about how to choose the best UHF radios for your business.
To wrap this up, check out our coverage test video of the award winning XTR550U easily covering 30 floors in a hotel without a repeater!