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There's more than meets the eye when it comes to getting the best distance from your walkie talkie or two-way radio. Some may think buying a radio with the highest transmit power is the answer to the problem, but this only one factor.

There's lots of factors that make a big difference:

The most limiting thing is using your walkie talkie indoors, particularly if you're trying to talk to another person at a distance who is also indoors. Your transmissions are reflected and absorbed by walls, ceilings, floors, roof, fences, trees, neighbouring houses, etc and this has a major impact on the usable distance you will achieve.

Moving outdoors makes a significant difference to the distance of all walkie talkies, particularly if you get clear of any obstructions such as trees and buildings. If you can also move to elevated ground or hill then distance improves significantly.

Outdoors, you can improve the range further with an extended tuned antenna fitted to your walkie talkie.  These are designed to change the way transmissions are directed, something known as antenna gain and can extend the distance by up to 50%. Antenna gain is measured in dBi - more on this later. In theory, the better the gain, the better the distance.

If you're wanting to use your walkie talkie indoors there's a simple way to make a massive difference to the distance you can achieve. This comes in the form of an outdoor high gain antenna with a cable that runs down and connects to your walkie talkie. Most brands and models have an antenna that can removed to  expose the connector.  Installing a high gain outdoor antenna in an optimal position - clear of the roof and obstructions will effectively radiate your signal without reflections and those absorbed by the building walls. It also adds height to the transmission and the bonus of antenna gain improves both transmission power radiated and reception sensitivity by the same ratio - a win-win. The only catch is the coaxial feed cable, this works to get the signals from your walkie talkie to the antenna. You want to make sure this is as short as possible and if cable length is over 5 or 10 metres then installing a very low loss high performance cable would be best otherwise you may find a significant drop in the amount of the transmitters power actually reaching the antenna - this is called attenuation and you want this to be as low as possible. We'll include some example later that help to explain this.

Similar to using your walkie talkie indoors, when using in a vehicle the metal surrounding reflects and absorbs the signal. Windows often have UV protection coatings which reflect signals and turns the inside of your vehicle into a semi-shielded metal enclosure - the worst place to use your walkie talkie. A similar solution to the indoor problem, like inside your home, is to install an external antenna on your vehicle. These can be a temporary magnetic mounted type or permanently mounted - screwed or bolted in place.  A short length of coaxial cable to connect to your radio is usually included in a mobile antenna package. This will make a significant improvement to the distance of your walkie talkie.

Some theoretical differences antennas can make:

  • With standard (rubber duckie) antennas:
    • Indoors talking to another person indoors - 1 to 2 km
    • Outdoors talking to another person outdoors - 2 to 3 km
  • Fitting an extended range antenna to both walkie talkies:
    • Indoors talking to another person indoors - 1 to 3 km
    • Outdoors talking to another person outdoors - 3 to 6 km
  • Installing an outdoor antenna on one walkie talkie:
    • Talking to another person indoors - 3 to 6 km
    • Talking to another person outdoors - 4 to 8 km
  • Installing a high gain outdoor antenna at both walkie talkie locations:
    • Talking to another person - 6 to 20 km

To extend the range further over flat ground a very high gain omni-directional or very high gain yagi directional antenna can help to improve the range to more like 20 to 30 km but this is a specialised antenna installation to achieve these special distances.

High gain antennas installed on a vehicle can achieve almost as good a range as a house outdoor installed antenna.  Once again, signal reflection and absorption from the vehicle surroundings can cause signals to vary dramatically particularly when moving.

As a rule of thumb having the most efficient antenna, with the lowest loss coaxial cable and operating at the highest transmit power legally allowed is the way to improve distance.