Two-Way Radio: Still Superior to Cellular in Disaster Situations

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The underlying irony of modern communication technology is that it often fails when it’s needed most: in disasters.

Cellular networks are crucial to everyday life, especially given how reliant most of us are on internet connectivity. Meanwhile, data’s contribution to first responders is irrefutable; command-and-control and real-time crime centers provide invaluable intelligence for everyday emergency operations.

Nevertheless, digital wireless communications are notoriously vulnerable to downtime during inclement weather. By comparison, radio networks have shown extraordinary resilience and, in recent years, have picked up some of the slack during emergency situations. Backpedaling on cellular network expansion is certainly not feasible; however, municipalities, healthcare facilities and commercial businesses that need communication systems capable of weathering storms need to have a reliable backup communication network in the form of two-way radio.

It may not be the primary means of day-to-day communication, but during an emergency, radio-frequency networks are often the only means of communication.

The principal benefit of two-way radios is that they can technically send and receive short-range audio without cellular towers. However, that range can be exponentially increased with repeaters. Many jurisdictions also require public safety distributed antenna systems in large commercial and residential buildings to ensure that first responders have signal coverage on the premises – and adequate backup battery power is typically a requirement for these systems. The point is, infrastructure for two-way is highly durable and resilient to downtime by design.

The handheld devices themselves are also highly rugged, have push-to-talk capabilities and boast significantly superior battery life to digital endpoints. Many two-way radios also enable texting.

Cellular networks are incredibly useful and come in handy in many emergency situations. But the utility of two-way radio should not be undermined in what is rapidly becoming a cellular-first world. This is especially true in light of 5G’s development. While the eventual network promises lightning-fast download speeds, it does so at the cost of diminished range, and something as simple as a rainstorm can cause a signal to suffer.

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