Analog and digital two way radios comparison whitepaper by bearcom
Executive SummaryAnalog two-way radios have been used for business applicationsas far back as 1933, and they were originally placed into serviceby the U.S. military 20 years before then. Today, two-way radiotechnology is so widespread, it has become nearly as common asa household appliance. This time-saving communications tool hasnow become a favorite choice for commercial, industrial, military,and even personal use.The history of the two-way radio is long and well defined, butthe question still stands as to whether the analog radio is strongenough to offset the advantages of the feature-rich digital devicesthat are growing in popularity.Because the analog two-way radio has been around for as longas it has, the ceiling of innovation has been reached. But with theemergence of the digital platform, a new era of radio technologyhas now arrived. From varying price points and the distinctionin sound quality, both technologies have significant differencesbeyond just their signal types. And even though it offers numerousadvantages, the digital radio will not completely replace its analogsibling. The traditional analog radio still has the upper hand formany applications.Decide for yourself as you discover where the two-way radiohas been, its possibilities for the future, and whether analog ordigital technology best suits your needs.White paper:Comparing and Contrasting Analogand Digital Two-Way RadiosExecutive Summary . . . . . . 1Understanding the Past,Present, and Future . . . . . . 2Defining the Differences . . . 2Reviewing the Advantagesand Disadvantages . . . . . . 4The Bottom Line . . . . . . . 5Success Story: SeattleMariners and Safeco Field . . 7Table of Contentswww.BearCom.com 1
WHITE PAPER: Comparing and Contrasting Analog and Digital Two-Way RadiosUnderstanding the Past, Present, and FutureSince the initial development of wireless communications, analoghas been the primary technology platform for two-way radios. Themajority of radio systems today still run in analog mode. But asdigital technology progresses and transforms—for example, as ithas with music and television—it is beginning to play a major rolein professional two-way radio communications.Because the analog radio system has been around for so long,the limit of innovations has virtually been met. However, with thedigital platform, new levels of productivity and performance can beexplored. Greater calling capacity, enhanced voice clarity, higher-quality coverage, and the availability of software applications areonly a few examples of how the advent of digital two-way radiotechnology will make a difference in the coming years.Defining the DifferencesA traditional two-way radio with an analog signal is not featurerich on its own. Standard analog radios usually offer push-to-talk,scanning, simple group conversations (one-to-many), and limitedencryption capabilities.But the analog two-way radio has a strong history. It has beenaround long enough for engineers to find ways to enhance itsfunctionality with a number of useful features. Chances are, ifyou want your analog radio to perform a certain task, someoneelse has already found a way to make it happen. This could beconsidered a negative issue for the new digital two-way radios, asthey have not been in use long enough for the proper “tinkeringtime.” However, this will undoubtedly change as the popularity ofdigital communications devices grows. For example, rememberwhen cellular phones were first introduced? They were allanalog in the early days. But as more and more people becamedependent on their cell phones, digital devices were introduced,and the rest, as they say, is history.Two-way radios with a digital signal offer all of the same featuresas analog radios–and more. However, the features of digital radiosoffered by the leading manufacturers don’t differ all that much.Some radios promise affordable components, ease of repair, andease of use, while other manufacturers offer features such asenhanced text messaging, IP connectivity, and ruggedized designfor harsh environments. All digital radios enable a 30-50 percentlonger battery life than traditional analog radios, because thedigital radio transmitter is not constantly on.www.BearCom.com“Because analog radioshave proven themselvesover time, they won’t leavethe scene anytime soon.But the digital platformoffers a unique opportunityfor innovation. Fromenhanced calling featuresto greater performance andproductivity, the currentadvancements in two-wayradio technology will haveas much impact as the firstwireless device did when itwas introduced more thana century ago.”Mark KrohVice PresidentSales & ServiceMotorola2
WHITE PAPER: Comparing and Contrasting Analog and Digital Two-Way Radioswww.BearCom.comTo determine your best option, you should carefully review eachtype of radio system available today to decide which is the best fitfor your specific needs. For example, in order to leverage wirelessspectrum most efficiently, you can use simple, local peer-to-peerradio systems for wider coverage.What exactly is an analog signal and what is a digital signal?Take a look at the similarities and differences between both:Analog:●● Analog signals have a sinusoidal, or continuous, value.Today’s analog systems use frequency modulation (FM). Thefrequency modulation produces a continuous wave with thevoice signal. By integrating such a simple system into a singlechip, the cost of this radio has dramatically reduced. Analogsignals are commonly used in many systems today, but the usesfor analog signals are declining with the introduction of themore reliable digital signal.Digital:●● Digital signals are represented by binary numbers: 1or 0. The 1 and 0 values can correspond to different discretevoltage values. Any signal that doesn’t quite fit into the schemeis rounded off. By using a binary signal, error correction-embedded signaling and control bits are possible in eachpacket transmitted. A packet contains an assembly of bits. Thesoftware contains an algorithm that understands the differencesbetween voice and background noise, and in return, cancels3ANALOG VS. DIGITAL TWO-WAY RADIOSMaximum RangeTransmission PointAnalog vs. DigitalThe illustration abovedepicts how a two-way radiosignal degrades as the radiomoves further and furtheraway from the transmissionpoint. A typical analog signalwill continuously deteriorateas it advances toward itsmaximum range, until onlywhite noise is heard. Incontrast, a typical digitalsignal will stay strong andclear until it reaches itsmaximum range, at whichpoint it will completely die.
WHITE PAPER: Comparing and Contrasting Analog and Digital Two-Way Radiosthe unwanted background noise and unwanted audio. Thewireless digital signal provides the same levels of reliability andcontrol as a wired digital signal.Reviewing the Advantages and DisadvantagesA common misconception about two-way radios is that it isa fading technology. With benefits such as instant privatecommunication, one-time purchase incentives, one-to-one or one-to-many call options, durability, and flexibility of communication inalmost any environment, the two-way radio is still a very popularchoice for communications in virtually all markets. These includea variety of business, commercial, and industrial applications,as well as more high-risk environments, such as public safety,military, security, and government.Both digital and analog technologies offer many of the samepopular features, but their differences set them very far apart.Decide for yourself which technology is the best fit for yoursituation as we discuss the advantages and disadvantages toboth systems.The advantages of analog two-way systems include:Analog systems use the natural voice, which is a feature●●preferred by many users.Because analog has been around longer, the number of●●products and accessories offered is much larger and providesfor more options than does digital.Analog systems make good use of bandwidth and are well●●understood by the general public.The disadvantages of analog two-way systems include:Typically, only one two-way conversation can occur at a time on●●each channel.Analog systems require hardware receivers and transmitters●●that are designed to fit the particular transmission. Analogdevices can be upgraded with features but not technology.No software-driven business applications are available for●●analog radios.The advantages of digital two-way systems include:More simultaneous talking paths are possible, and information●●such as unit ID, status buttons, and enhanced text messagescan be embedded into a single digital radio channel.Bandwidth consumption is reduced.●●www.BearCom.com 4“Today’s digital technologycan be configured tooffer advantages such asbetter noise reduction,greater voice quality, moreefficiency, and integrationwith legacy systems.Moreover, many of thenewer radios make betteruse of available spectrum viaanalog logic trunked radiocapability. Operators canplace three to four times theprevious number of userson a system, increasingthe flexibility of the user’scurrently licensed spectrum.”Chris LougeeVice PresidentIcom America
WHITE PAPER: Comparing and Contrasting Analog and Digital Two-Way RadiosDigital signals can be handled by standardized antenna systems●●and existing infrastructure equipment.The digital conversion of a user’s voice reduces external●●background noises. And the digital technology platform is idealfor reducing environmental noise levels during transmission,such as inside noisy manufacturing and processing plants oroutside in windy conditions.A number of new software applications are available for use●●with the digital platform.The digital platform provides a migration path that allows for●●simultaneous use of digital and analog radios.The disadvantages of digital two-way systems include:Digital radios, like all new digital technology, can be somewhat●●more expensive.Due to the additional features and enhanced functionality, a●●learning curve exists for first-time users.Digital signals are intolerant to radio frequency (RF) noises,●●and in the presence of too much RF noise, the signal canresult in an error.In addition to the various advantages and disadvantages listedabove, the sound quality for both analog and digital is very highwithin their peak performance areas. An analog radio will producea clear signal—accompanied by the standard white noise—withinits peak performance range. Once the signal moves further andfurther away from the transmit (center) point, the audio will slowlyfade out until it is unrecognizable. By contrast, the digital signalwill stay strong and clear to the limits of coverage.The Bottom LineDeciding which signal is better or worse is a dependent variable,reliant on the factors surrounding the environment and usage ofthe technology. A digital system requires components that aregenerally more expensive, but moderate prices often accompanylower-end digital systems. And as digital technology becomesmore popular, the prices will become even more affordable. Also,a digital system can more easily be integrated into the rapidlyexpanding wireless IP network world.Analog is best suited for situations that have no use for theenhanced features offered by digital technology. In reality, manytwo-way radio users need only a simple, reliable method ofcommunication. Analog radios are still the most popular choicefor those who would not benefit from feature-rich or software-www.BearCom.com 5“The advent of the digitaltwo-way radio is having adramatic impact on users ofwireless technology. It hasopened up a new world ofpossibilities for significant,innovative enhancementsin communication.”Mark CrosbyPresident CEOEnterprise Wireless Alliance“Some digital two-way radiosystems can operate in bothanalog and digital modesand are easily integratedwith legacy communicationsinfrastructures. Customersusing these systems canimprove basic functionality,add new features, andincrease capacity at theirown pace, while leveragingtheir prior investments intraditional analog radios,which will remain a viablealternative for many years.”Holt HackneyManaging EditorToday’s Wireless World
WHITE PAPER: Comparing and Contrasting Analog and Digital Two-Way Radiosenhanced equipment. For example, someone in the retail industrywould probably not have a need for enhanced text messaging orGPS services, nor would the typical school teacher.Analog two-way radios prove themselves daily, in countlessinstallations. Unfortunately, analog technology has reached itslimits of innovation, and a new platform is now required to helpachieve new levels of performance and efficiency. A user lookingfor an improved analog radio will still find the same functions—plus much more—with the improving digital technology.Although it may look like the world is turning digital, the analogradio will most likely continue to be the prominent choice for mostbusinesses and organizations, at least for the next few years. Thegeneral cost of the digital two-way radio systems will deter somepotential customers who do not see the need for the digitallyenhanced feature sets. But as the digital platform becomes morecost effective and common, most users will eventually replacetheir analog radios with their digital counterparts. Just as we haveseen network television morph into cable and satellite TV andold, clunky cell phones evolve into today’s sleek, e-mail seekingsmartphones, our society is quickly becoming accustomed to theever-evolving digital world.“Brisk developments inradio communicationshave ushered in an era ofadvanced, tactical radioscapable of real-time transferof voice, data, images,and video, with data rateshigher than ever before.These sophisticated gadgetsfurther possess software-defined modules that aidinteroperability and increaseconnectivity.”Advances in RadioCommunications forAerospace and DefenseFrost Sullivanwww.BearCom.com 6For more information about comparing and contrasting analog anddigital two-way radios, please contact BearCom at 800.527.1670or Solutions@BearCom.com.
WHITE PAPER: Comparing and Contrasting Analog and Digital Two-Way RadiosSUCCESS STORY:Seattle Mariners and Safeco Field“Helping to lead the wayinto the digital world is avery exciting opportunityfor BearCom and our manycustomers. For example, theMOTOTRBO platform fromMotorola offers users theability to continue operatingin analog mode until the timeis right for the transition todigital technology. And asthe digital platform becomesmore popular and affordable,BearCom will continue toprovide our customers withthe right custom-tailoredsolutions, whether analogor digital, that best fit theirneeds—for today and wellinto the future.”Jerry DenhamPresident CEOBearComwww.BearCom.com 7The CustomerIn the spring of 1977, Major League Baseball returned toWashington State when the Seattle Mariners played theCalifornia Angels in the Kingdome. More than 22 years later,the Mariners began a new chapter in club history by opening itsnew open-air ballpark, Safeco Field. Sweeping views of Seattle’sdramatic downtown skyline and breathtaking sunsets over PugetSound–combined with excellent views of game action from allangles–give the fans at Safeco Field an experience unequalled inall of Major League Baseball.The ChallengeWith a seating capacity of nearly 50,000 patrons in a stadiumarea over one million gross square feet, Safeco Field neededa stable communications system to facilitate not only thewidespread area and large crowds, but also the dozens ofdepartments that run behind the scenes. The current fleet of 250analog two-way radios had been in use for more than nine years.The radios were operated year round for games, stadium tours,guest services, engineering, maintenance, and housekeeping.Additional channels were desired, and the antennas on therepeaters were not getting the widespread coverage the staffneeded. Only three repeaters had been installed, and thatcompounded the problem.