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Do I Need a Licence for a Two-Way Radio or Walkie-Talkie?

Do I Need a Licence for a Two-Way Radio or Walkie-Talkie?

date Released On 13th Jan 2022

This guide will help you understand:

  • The difference between a licence-free two-way radio or walkie-talkie, and one that requires a licence.  
  • When you need a licence for a two-way radio system
  • The common types of licence available from Ofcom for business or amateur use
  • How to apply for a two-way radio licence.

We've used the terms "two-way radio" and "walkie-talkie" interchangeably throughout this article, but there isn't really any difference.  

Shop for licence-free walkie-talkies straight away, or read on for more information.

Licensed or licence-free? What's the difference?

In very simple terms, most two-way radios, especially those used for business, require a licence from Ofcom before you can operate them on most radio frequencies.

If your needs are simple, though, licence-free walkie-talkies, which operate on a strictly limited range of frequencies, can be used right out of the box with no other permission or costs required. 

We've written a whole guide to licence-free radios, describing their advantages and disadvantages, but here's a few key differences between them and their licensed counterparts.

  • Licence-free radios are generally lower-powered handsets with a shorter range. This can be ideal for small businesses or personal use, but it isn't sufficent for most business users. These lower-powered radios are commonly referred to as walkie-talkies, but then many users refer to the higher-powered, professional-level devices as walkie-talkies, too - it doesn't really matter.
  • Licence-free radios operate exclusively on a limited number of pre-programmed frequencies in the UHF frequency range 446MHz, which means that these channels can get very congested. Again, this isn't ideal for business users, who need secure, private and uninterrupted channels of communication, but it might be adequate for amateur or hobby users.
  • Licence-free walkie-talkies are often cheaper to buy and operate, require no contracts or programming. For simple businesses, amateur and leisure users, this might be perfect for your needs.
  • Licensed radios work on a much broader range of frequencies, sufficient for business needs
  • Because licensed radios operate on dedicated channels, concerns about congestion, interrupted or insecure transmissions are much lower.
  • Licensed radios offer greater range and coverage.
  • Licensing costs make these radios more expensive to operate.

When you must have a licenced two-way radio system

If you use a two-way radio system that does not operate on one of the pre-programmed, licence-free frequencies (within the band 446.0 - 446.2 MHz) approved by Ofcom, you'll need a licence.  All business walkie-talkie licences are regulated and issued by Ofcom.

Ofcom logo 

Many businesses choose a licensed two-way radio system because, despite the benefits of licence free radios (PMR 446), they do have some disadvantages (such as lower power, interference and a shorter range) which can make them less suitable than licensed radio systems for some businesses.

Taxi and other transport companies, large sites such as hospitals, manufacturers or factories, care homes or businesses based in more than one location are typical examples of situations where a licensed radio system would be preferable.

Business users need more powerful radios than handheld portable “walkie-talkies” provide. If your radio system relies on a base station or vehicle-mounted radios, a  licensed radio system is a must.

What type of Ofcom licence is best for two-way radio business users?

Ofcom provides different levels of business radio licences. RadioTrader can explain each of these in more detail depending on your needs, but some of the common types are:

Portable two-way handheld radios

Simple UK Light

This type of licence is ideal if you require a small area of coverage.  You can use hand-portable or mobile radio equipment anywhere in the UK, with access to nineteen frequencies spread across four Business Radio frequency bands. Simple UK Light licencees must self co-ordinate with each other for use of these frequencies. This type of licence does not cover use of a base station.

Cost: £75 for a five-year licence. Radio Trader can supply both handheld and vehicle-mounted radios on these frequencies.

Simple Site Light

This is the type of licence you need for operating a radio system with a base station and mobile stations over a small area (typically one kilometre or less). Simple Site Light is often used for radio paging systems, with a range of frequencies available for use. Again, licencees must self co-ordinate with other Simple Site Light users. This type of licence is particularly useful for factory, nursing home or housing association use.

Cost: The licence fee is £75 for five years.

Suppliers Light

A Business Radio Suppliers licence permits you to:

  • Service and repair business radio and marine equipment
  • Hire out business radio (including trunked business radio) and/or radio paging equipment to customers for up to one year
  • Allocate business radio (including trunked business radio) equipment to customers awaiting Business Radio licences, for up to three months (known as ‘parking’)
  • Demonstrate business radio (including trunked business radio) equipment to customers for up to 8 days

There are a range of frequencies to choose from shared with other users of this type of licence.

Cost: £75 for five years.

Technically Assigned

Authorising the use of a wide range of business radio equipment, this type of business radio licence is very flexible, with a wide range of frequencies and coverage areas, from small (in-building) to large (county-wide).

Cost: Costs will vary, as they are calculated on various factors such as coverage area and the popularity of the frequency band. Ofcom indicates current costs from around £75 up to £1,480 for a single-channel assignment.

Area Defined

If you want exclusive use of a frequency across any area, be it a 50km2 grid, a county or the whole of the UK, you’ll need an Area Defined licence from Ofcom. You’ll also need to check with Ofcom first, as availability of UK-wide channels can be very limited, but ask RadioTrader if you’re unsure, as this is something we are always happy to advise you about.

Costs: Again, costs will vary depending on the frequency width, its range and the region it covers, but exclusivity will raise the cost to several thousand pounds.

Applying for a licence

All applications for two-way radio licences for business are made via Ofcom. Your application can be made online from their website in most cases (unless you operate more than one base station, have more than one antenna or control points, in which case your application must be paper-based) or you can download a blank application form and post it back to Ofcom’s licencing department. 

If all this sounds rather complex, don't panic! RadioTrader is happy to help customers with their free licence advice and application service. We'll cut through the jargon and explain everything, helping your licence application to Ofcom go smoothly.

Get in touch for expert help - Call 0151 676 2888

Recommended Products:

The Motorola DP4400, recommended for use with Technically Assigned Radio Licences.

The Motorola DM4400, ideal for use with Area Defined Radio Licences.

An ideal licence free radio - the Hytera BD305LF Licence Free PMR446  

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Tags: Business Radio Licence, Licence Free Frequencies, Ofcom, Two Way Radio Licences, Two Way Radios

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