Analog radios are one of the few things that still work (relatively) the same as they did 100 years ago. Since the days of Morse code, analog radios have continued to be widely used.
Because they work, and they work well.
Still, technology is constantly changing and improving. Digital radio systems are expanding the abilities of two-way radios and paving a new path that may drastically change the future of two-way radios. Before delving into the analog vs digital radio discussion, let’s first understand the basics of both.
What is an Analog Radio?
Analog radios have been used to communicate since the 1930s to carry messages for the military and business professionals.
Analog radios use either VHF or UHF carrier waves to carry a message. The carrier wave connects to a receiving radio that demodulates the frequency to play the voice message.
By definition, an analog radio creates an “analogy” of the voice across radio waves.
What is a Digital Radio?
Digital radios change the game entirely.
Rather than using waves, the information is translated into a binary format.
This creates a more exact and continuous segment rather than relying on the quality of radio waves.
With digital technology, the sound is either crystal clear or nonexistent. You don’t get the fading, cutting in and out, or breaking up like you would with an analog radio. It either is within range and works perfectly or will immediately drop off once it’s out of transmission range.
Comparing the Pros and Cons of Analog and Digital Radios
On the surface, the analog vs digital radio debate appears to favor digital radios, but it isn’t that simple. Before drawing any conclusions, let’s weigh the pros and cons of both systems.
Pros and Cons of Analog Radios
Older doesn’t necessarily mean outdated.
Today’s analog radios are a reliable option in today’s market with many advantages to commercial users.
- Cheaper: When comparing the cost of analog vs digital radios, analog radios are usually less expensive, which is perhaps their biggest advantage and makes them more appealing. Although some experts claim that this price differential will be null in a few years when digital products become more affordable.
- Inter-Operable: Because they have been around forever, there are several accessories and add-ons available to analog radios. Even new analog radios work with older equipment and accessories.
- Easy to Use: They are a popular choice for first-time users because of their simplicity and user-friendly interface.
- Coverage: In areas where users may be moving in and out of coverage, (search and rescue, wilderness, or outdoor pursuits) analog radios work better. They can provide more coverage options, even if the signal is weak.
- No Group Chats: Most analog radios are only capable of one two-way conversation at a time, meaning you can only have a conversation with one person at a time.
- Older Technology: While devices can be upgraded, the technology cannot. Some device aspects of analog radio can be upgraded; at the end of the day, analog radios still operate using the same simple technology.
Pros and Cons of Digital Radios
Professional radio communications made a big leap with digital radio options. The regulations and real-world needs have driven the innovation in two-way radio technology.
- Group Chat: Digital radios are capable of more than one conversation on the same channel allowing multiple people to participate in the conversation.
- Noise Canceling Technology: Background noise can be reduced to make communication on digital radios more clear.
- Evolving Features and Upgrades: New software upgrades are consistently offering increased performance and new features.
- Better Battery Life: Digital radios typically have 30-50 percent more battery life than analog radios.
- More Secure: Digital offers end-to-end AES 256 encryption to keep your sensitive communications secure.
- Interface Learning Curve: Digital products are more advanced than analog radios, and so they aren’t as user-friendly for first-time users. It may take more time to learn and get used to it, similar to getting a new cell phone and learning all the new features.
- More expensive: Digital radios are typically more expensive than analog options because the technology is more advanced and they have more expansive features.
- Dropped Signal: Because digital radios aim to cut out background noise, the signal may drop if there is too much frequency noise.
Can an analog radio receive a digital signal?
No. An analog radio cannot transmit or receive a digital signal.
Can a digital radio receive analog signals?
Yes, all digital radios can also receive analog signals on designated channels. This allows companies to upgrade to a digital system slowly over time and spread out the costs while still using their current older equipment.
I don’t want to change my radio. What are my options?
If you’re not ready to change your receiver, the best thing to do would be to buy a digital radio and simply program it in analog mode. This allows you to use your current equipment until you’re ready to fully switch to digital.
Are You Ready to Switch?
For the vast majority of users, the swap to digital radios is eventually inevitable. Day-to-day operations are improved, features are increased, and equipment options are advanced.
When you compare analog vs digital radios, the latter has a distinct advantage because of its sound clarity, better battery life, and secure encrypted communication. Whether you work in a school or on a seaport, the reliability, durability, and convenience of two-way radios are essential and that means digital radios.
Some legislators are pushing to mandate that all new designs of two-way radios must have digital capability. This means that practically everyone in the future will use digital.