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Radio System Types

Broadly speaking, radio systems fall into different categories – different license types and different technical standards.

It is easy to buy off the shelf very simple and often very good quality radio equipment for modest prices. The most common systems are detailed below.


A European standard that operates in a band that does not require a license. The number of channels are limited, power restricted, and as the channels are common, anyone can purchase them and listen in to other people’s messages, and even join in conversations. They are a modern version of CB radio, yet many businesses use these on a day to day basis. Interference is common, and in a license free band, there is no protection whatsoever.

Business Radio Simple

A licensed and authorised radio system that can use higher power than PMR446, and much less likely to be casually intercepted. A number of channels are available, but the band will still be shared with other users, who could accidentally listen in to conversations. However, there is some protection from malicious interference, and anyone listening in without permission may well find themselves breaking the law covered by the Interception of Communications Act, that has been updated recently to cover the kinds of interception reported in the national press. Interception is possible, but there is legal ramification if it is done.

Technically assigned licenses

These are allocated to users to use a specific frequency that in most cases will allow the user to be the only radio user on that frequency in their area. Interception is still possible, but less likely by accident.

Digital Radio

The latest systems use digital technology and are a step up in security because they defeat casual listeners. Radio scanners can be purchased for moderate sums that listen in to the older analogue radios with little difficulty, and finding particular users is not hard for an enthusiast. Digital signals can be found, but as the parameters for turning these back into real speech vary so much, the level of success converting them to listenable is much, much lower. The person intercepting them would need to spend time experimenting to find the correct decoding system, and the usual short nature of the messages being transmitted makes this a time consuming process. With effort and time, a dedicated snooper could eventually listen in. Clearly, in any legal proceedings, this would no doubt be taken into account.

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