Digital vs. Analog Radios: What You Need to Know

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When it comes to two way radios,  the differences between digital and analog radios can have far-reaching implications for users such as range, clarity, and general functionality.

The explosion of digital technologies has revolutionized our media.

From movies and television to publishing and the music industry, digital capabilities have broadened the horizons and possibilities of creative individuals, as well as the consumers who enjoy their works. Digital information processing generally makes things faster, more efficient, and more easily and rapidly replicable than analog technology.

One of the least discussed, but most impacted fields of digital influence, is the emergence of digital two way radio technology for business. Companies who rely on instantaneous, reliable communication devices to get the job done day-to-day have a lot of options when it comes to two way radios, and the differences between digital and analog can have far-reaching implications for users such as range, clarity, and general functionality.

There’s a lot of information out there, which can be difficult and time-consuming for busy professionals to parse through. Here, we’ll discuss the differences between digital and analog 2 way radios, and go over some of the facts pertaining to their operation and uses for business communication. Don’t purchase or upgrade your radio fleet without first educating yourself on the differences between the two major two-way platforms.

Analog Radios: The Longtime Standard

Analog radio technology has been around for a very long time. Analog 2 way radios for business have been in use by the public since as early as 1933 and were implemented by the United States military two decades earlier than that. Two-way radios using the analog platform are far and away more common than their newer digital counterparts, and their simplicity in design and function guarantee that they aren’t going anywhere soon.


Analog radio signals utilize sinusoidal value waveforms to communicate voice signals in a continuous wave. The simple radio wave is harnessed via frequency modulation and requires very little in the way of technology in order to work. As such, they transmit the natural human voice without digital interference and make good use of bandwidth, making them the preferred radio platform for many businesses and organizations around the world.

Unfortunately, the innovation ceiling for analog radio technology has long been reached; no new and improved methods or systems are going to be created, as the extant analog technology is already the most efficient and cost-effective iteration possible. There are a number of drawbacks to analog radio systems as they pertain to business applications:

Most analog radios can only handle one conversation at a time on each channel, limiting usefulness and potentially creating confusion and frustrating communication logjams during times of high usage.

Analog radio fleets require transmission-specific receivers and transmitters and, generally, cannot be updated. This is problematic for expanding companies whose radio transmission needs have grown to cover a greater physical area or businesses looking to upgrade their equipment without a full fleet replacement.

Software applications for business and communication are not available for analog two way radios, as the simplicity of their design predates computer systems and syncing.

That said, an analog radio fleet may still be a fine choice for your organization. Many two-way radio adherents don’t need bells and whistles like feature-rich capabilities and long-distance projection. Because of the simplicity of their circuitry and operation, analog radios typically cost a fraction of the prices commanded by their digital counterparts command. This is partially due to the fact that digital two-way technology is still relatively new and the market has not yet been inundated with a wide selection of high-quality low-cost options.

There’s nothing wrong with analog radios, and they’re all but guaranteed to work within their specified parameters. However, with the advent of digital 2 way radios, features and options never before considered possible are quickly becoming the industry standard.

Digital Radios: The New School of Business Communication

As with many other industries, the world of two way radios has been turned on its side by the innovation and seemingly unlimited capabilities of digital technology. While the basic functions and uses of digital radios may appear the same as their analog predecessors, their interior workings could not be more different.Digital radios, like digital recordings and broadcasts, process their sound input into numeric patterns. Where an analog radio signal transmits your actual, true voice across a harnessed wavelength, digital radios instantaneously convert your voice into simplified computer language, which can then be transmitted more efficiently over greater distances. While digital signals do still diminish in quality as distance from the transmitter increases, they still offer much greater clarity over greater distances than analog systems.

In addition, digital signals offer improved audio quality, thanks to their near-total resistance to latent interference and other, unwanted signal crossing. These transmission imperfections are a common complaint by analog radio users, as analog passive technology is unable to block out other signals and disruptions; this can cause annoying breaks and interruptions in communication lines, which aren’t generally a problem for digital 2 way radios.

Beyond clarity and range, digital radios also enjoy a greatly expanded set of capabilities, such as GPS-enabled systems and data functionality like text messaging. They are also much easier to secure than analog radios, which tend to suffer a severe drop-off in voice quality when the signals are scrambled for increased privacy. Digital radios also allow for the division of single-call channels, which doubles call capacity and ramps up spectral efficiency; this becomes more and more important every year, as the RF spectrum becomes more crowded and federal regulations require more capacity and efficiency for business communications.

One of the best parts about digital two way radios is that they are generally compatible with analog devices; many current devices on the market come with both analog and digital capabilities, which give businesses the power to upgrade their radio fleets piece by piece and avoid the greater up-front cost of a full digital migration.

This brings us to the only real downside of digital 2 way radios for business: the increased costs associated with the latest and greatest digital tech. Since the world of business communications moves a bit slower than the entertainment industry and tends to rely on systems that are proven to work, the inevitable ubiquity of digital radios may take quite a while to come about. As such, digital radio fleets tend to be significantly more expensive than analog, and many companies and organizations find that the benefits of digital simply aren’t worth the increased cost; at least, not yet.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the unique needs and requirements of your business should be taken into account before any radio purchases are made. If you’ve used analog technology for decades without issue, you don’t need to worry about upgrading everything all at once; the slow march of digital two-way tech won’t leave you in the dust overnight, especially since digital radios are usually backward compatible.

However, migration to digital two way radios is definitely a wise long-term investment, particularly for growing companies. As the technology becomes more ubiquitous and standard across industries, market prices will adjust and digital radios will likely become more affordable. You may not have need of the high-end functionality yet, but you don’t want to wait too long and end up unable to compete, thanks to lackluster communication abilities.

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