As companies evaluate their wireless communications needs, the discussion often turns to the relative merits of cell phones and two-way radios. Today, we’re continuing our own review of the points of comparison generally used when evaluating the two technologies. The first post in this series explored overall communications philosophy and urgency. As we turn to questions of coverage, reliability, and security, we see again that frequently it’s not a question of which technology is better, but which is better suited to a specific situation.
You’ve heard the commercials. There’s a reason that a major cellular phone company uses the catchphrase, “Can you hear me now?” Cell phone networks are notorious for dead spots, dropped calls, and service-level issues. Ever tried sending a text message from a crowded sports stadium? That said, these days, cell phone customers have a reasonable expectation of national coverage. And the network is already built, so there’s no infrastructure for the customer to maintain.
Two-way radios, meanwhile, are not intended to be the nationwide solution cell phones are. However, they can be configured to cover large areas—such as a corporate or college campus—and with the proper supporting infrastructure, they can be more effective than phones in difficult areas, such as underground or remote locations. Purchasing and maintaining the necessary infrastructure is the responsibility of the user, and while that comes with added expense, there also is added control.
Control of the system is a major factor in discussions of reliability. With two-way radios, the user has complete control of the system and can enhance, modify, and maintain it to their own standards and on their own timetable. Control also comes from the fact that two-way radio systems are closed systems in that not anyone can join. That’s important when everyone needs to communicate at once. Phone systems can get overwhelmed, for instance, in emergency situations. Radio systems don’t. They can also prioritize users and traffic so that the most vital communications are handled first. Another benefit is talk-around mode, in which individual radios can talk directly to one another without use of a tower.
Interrelated to considerations of coverage and reliability is the question of security. Cell phone users have to be confident that their calls are private, so these systems place a huge premium on security. Radio systems, with their one-to-many orientation, are inherently less private. But when necessary, radio systems can be made very secure—and the trunked systems now commonly in use can prevent most outsiders from following conversations with any regularity.
So again, we’ve seen that when it comes to phones and radios, one option is not inherently better than the other. Both have advantages. The key is to find a wireless provider like BearCom that offers both and can perform the kind of needs assessment that leads to a solution—not just a sale.
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