A push-to-talk radio is any two way radio that requires the user to push down on a button in order to transmit on their frequency.
Push-to-talk is a useful feature as it can prevent radio jams and facilitate smoother communication when using a walkie talkie. This becomes important in emergency radio situations, as well as when using things like business two-way radio.
Why Push-to-Talk is Necessary
If you’re using a two-way radio, then you might be wondering why you would need this failsafe. Why not just ‘call’ the other person as with a phone and then keep it that way?
The first thing to recognize is that – unlike a telephone – there is not a single dedicate line for each person. Instead, there will be a frequency for a particular set of radios. In other words, you will choose a frequency (a band) and this will then act as the communication channel. Therefore, that channel is always open between two people, meaning that there is no reason to call in.
At the same time, this means there is no reason to ‘hang up’. In theory, you can leave a walkie-talkie on all day to communicate with another person, and that way you would have the fastest and easiest way to stay in touch with someone.
So, if you have a team of construction workers, why not just leave this channel open all day while you discuss your work?
The problem is that most radios will only allow for one transmission on a frequency band at any given time. That means that if you have a lot of people all in the same talk group, they will need to take it in turns in order to speak.
So, if one transmitter remained ‘active’ and listened out continuously for people to speak, that would then mean that no one else would be able to talk!
Push-to-talk solves this issue: making it very quick and easy to begin transmitting a message (giving you your talk group at the touch of a button) while ensuring that there is minimal interference and jamming.
So, what is the alternative?
One other option is to use voice-activated radios. These radios work by listening for sound and then beginning transmission as soon as some is picked up. This is potentially even more convenient than using push-to-talk radios, because it means that you can speak without even needing to have your hands free.
Of course, this can also result in a lot of false-positives and lead to radio jams. You could be left listening to the ambient sounds of traffic from the transmitter while being unable to speak!
Solutions like trunked radio systems, or duplex systems make this less of a problem – but tend to be reserved for more specialist applications.
Likewise, there are some scenarios where voice activation can be extremely useful – such as when using baby monitors!
In most cases though, push-to-talk represents the ideal balance between convenience and ease of use – and it is what most of us expect when using a walkie talkie anyway!