In the UK, an Ofcom license is generally required for the majority of radio transmitter usage, including walkie-talkies, vehicle radios, and CBs. Ofcom is responsible for regulating and determining who can transmit, where they can do so, and on what frequency. This ensures that various users do not interfere with each other’s communications.
This regulation is particularly crucial for “official” radio users, such as the police, emergency services, railways, military, and air traffic control, to ensure smooth and uninterrupted communication.
However, radios that adhere to specific standards in terms of frequencies and power output are permitted for use without any license. These radios are known as “licence-free” radios and are often suitable for many walkie-talkie users.
In case a license is required, obtaining one is not overly complicated or expensive. Here’s everything you need to know about two-way radio licensing in the UK.
Licensed or licence-free? What’s the difference?
In simple terms, most two-way radios, especially those for business use, require an Ofcom licence to operate on most radio frequencies.
However, if your requirements are straightforward, you can opt for professional licence-free walkie-talkies designed for business use. These radios operate on a limited range of frequencies and can be used straight out of the box with no additional permissions or costs.
Here are some key differences between licence-free and licensed radios:
- Licence-free radios are generally lower-powered with a shorter range, which suits small businesses or personal use, but might not be sufficient for most business users. Although these radios are commonly known as walkie-talkies, the higher-powered professional-level devices are also referred to as such.
- Licence-free radios operate exclusively on a limited number of pre-programmed UHF frequencies (446MHz), leading to potential congestion issues. This may not be ideal for business users who require secure and uninterrupted communication, but it could be adequate for amateur or hobby users.
- Licence-free walkie-talkies are often more affordable to purchase and operate, as they don’t require contracts or programming. For simple businesses, amateurs, and leisure users, they might be a perfect fit.
On the other hand, licensed radios work on a broader range of frequencies, making them suitable for various business needs. They operate on dedicated channels, reducing concerns about congestion, interruptions, or insecure transmissions. Additionally, licensed radios offer greater range and coverage, but they can be more expensive to operate due to the costs associated with obtaining the necessary licensing.
When is it necessary to have a walkie talkie license?
When a licensed two-way radio system becomes necessary is when you use a radio system that operates outside the pre-programmed, licence-free frequencies (446.0 – 446.2 MHz) approved by Ofcom. In such cases, you will require a licence, which is regulated and issued by Ofcom for business walkie-talkies.
Although licence-free radios (PMR 446) have their advantages, such as ease of use and no additional costs, they also come with some drawbacks like lower power, interference, and a shorter range. These limitations may make them less suitable for certain businesses.
In situations where more robust communication is essential, businesses often opt for licensed two-way radio systems. This is particularly true for taxi and transport companies, large sites such as hospitals, manufacturers or factories, care homes, or businesses with multiple locations, where a licensed radio system offers better performance and coverage.
Business users often require more powerful radios than handheld portable “walkie-talkies” can provide. If your radio system relies on a base station or vehicle-mounted radios, a licensed radio system becomes indispensable to meet your communication needs effectively.
Different types of walkie talkie licenses in the UK
For two-way radio business users, the type of Ofcom licence that is best depends on their specific needs and coverage requirements. Ofcom offers various levels of business radio licences, each suited to different scenarios. Here are some common types:
Simple UK Light Licence
Ideal for small area coverage, this licence allows the use of hand-portable or mobile radio equipment anywhere in the UK. It provides access to nineteen frequencies across four Business Radio frequency bands. Users with this licence must coordinate with each other for frequency usage. This licence does not cover the use of a base station.
Cost: £75 for a five-year licence.
Simple Site Light Licence
This licence is suitable for operating a radio system with a base station and mobile stations over a small area (typically one kilometre or less). It is often used for radio paging systems, with a range of frequencies available for use. Like the Simple UK Light Licence, users must self-coordinate with other Simple Site Light Licence holders. It is particularly useful for applications in factories, nursing homes, or housing associations.
Cost: £75 per site for five years.
Suppliers’ Light Licence
A Business Radio Suppliers’ licence allows businesses to service and repair business radio and marine equipment. It also permits the hiring out of business radios (including trunked business radio) and/or radio paging equipment to customers for up to one year. Additionally, equipment can be allocated to customers awaiting Business Radio licences for up to three months (known as ‘parking’). Demonstrations of business radio equipment to customers for up to 8 days are also allowed. This licence comes with a range of frequencies shared with other users.
Cost: £75 for five years.
Technically Assigned Licence
This flexible licence authorises the use of a wide range of business radio equipment, with various frequencies and coverage areas available, from small in-building areas to large county-wide coverage.
Cost: Varies based on factors such as coverage area and the popularity of the frequency band. Ofcom indicates current costs from around £75 up to £1,480 for a single-channel assignment.
Area Defined Licence
If a business requires exclusive use of a frequency across any area, such as a 50km2 grid, a county, or even the whole of the UK, an Area Defined Licence from Ofcom is necessary. Availability of UK-wide channels can be limited, so it’s essential to check with Ofcom first.
Costs for this licence vary depending on the frequency width, range, and region covered, and exclusivity will raise the cost to several thousand pounds.
To determine the best licence type for specific business needs, it is recommended to consult with experts like us at OS Comms, who can provide more detailed information and guidance based on individual requirements.
How to apply for a two-way radio license in the UK
To apply for a two-way radio licence for your business, you must submit your application through Ofcom. The application process can generally be completed online via their website, except in specific cases where a paper-based application is required. Instances where a paper-based application is necessary include situations where you operate multiple base stations, have more than one antenna, or control points.
For most businesses, the online application process is straightforward. You can access the necessary forms and information on Ofcom’s website to initiate the licensing procedure. However, if your situation requires a paper-based application, you can download the appropriate application form from the website and submit it by post to Ofcom’s licensing department.
It’s important to carefully review the application requirements and ensure that all necessary documentation and details are provided accurately. If you encounter any uncertainties or have specific questions regarding the licensing process, you can contact Ofcom directly or seek assistance from professionals familiar with licensing procedures, who can guide you through the application process smoothly.
OS Comms’s free Ofcom licence application service
In case all of this appears overwhelming, no need to worry! OS Comms is delighted to assist customers with our complimentary licence advice and application service.
We’ll simplify the technical language to ensure a clear understanding of everything. Assist you in determining the most suitable Ofcom licence for your specific needs. Ensure a seamless process for your licence application with Ofcom. Contact us today for expert help- 01440 268 486.