Motorola TLKR-T80 PMR446

Legal PMR446 Radios

I’d love to see more affordable, more reliable licence-free PMR446 radio options that are completely legal.

General Article ᆞ Written by Sai (M7TEM)


Disclaimer of Transparency

I have received no sponsoring in any way shape or form for writing this article. This article is based entirely on my own experiences and nothing further. There are no affiliation, kickbacks or rewards from any company or individual for what you’re about to read. If any article I have written is ever sponsored, or not, in this case, I will disclaim it before the introduction, as always. I believe in being transparent so that you can make an informed decision.

Introduction

I am an advocate for PMR446 radios and I believe that licence free radio is a fantastic way of getting people interested in radios. Why do I think this? Because my first ever radio was a PMR446 and it started me down the road into becoming an amateur. It is like a window into the soul of amateur radio. A doorway if you will, into learning more about radios in general. But, of course, there is more to it than that as I know people who use these kinds of radios, who enjoy radios, but don’t want to become an amateur. Then, of course, there are some people who use 446 and have no interest in radio at all; it’s just a means to communicate.

There are many uses for PMR446 radios too. Yes, even in this highly connected world of mobile phones and internet messenger apps. “For what?”, you might ask. Well, if you and your neighbours are part of a neighbourhood watch group and you see something “going down” in your street, you could potentially alert everyone all at the same time. Perhaps promote some kind of community togetherness through weekly “nets” with your neighbours to highlight concerns, pass on news, organising street parties or events, or even swap recipe ideas, whatever. You wouldn’t have to give out your phone number or exchange social media information.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of misinformation about PMR446 radios. The way that companies advertise and market them, for example, often leaves a lot to be desired. There is a lot out there that misleads customers and causes problems down the line. This causes a lot of people who might not know much about PMR446 to completely misunderstand what was advertised and what they are. For example, they can get quite combative when you’re on “their channel”, like its a private channel that only they can use.

I hope to demystify any misconceptions, the stuff that those pesky marketers say, and hopefully leave you, the reader with more information on this very subject by the end of the article.

I wrote this article with the intention for it to be read by those that live in the United Kingdom. This article may not apply to your country if you live outside of the UK. As usual, I would advise that you check your country and state laws, as different countries have different licence-free radio regulations. Although I believe, at the time of writing, that this article can apply to Europe as well.

What is PMR446?

PMR means “Private Mobile Radio” which is typically used by businesses, councils and so on. However, in this case, it has the nickname “Public Mobile Radio”, because the general public can use it, or “Personal Mobile Radio” because it’s personal too. PMR446 is licence-free. Meaning you do not need to be a licenced amateur to use it, you don’t need any license to use it, anyone in the UK can go out and buy a legal PMR446 radio and use it straight out of the box. 

The “446” part refers to the frequency in megahertz (446MHz) in which sits in the Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) band. It is also known as 70CMs (As in the unit of measurement) because of the wavelength size of the frequency. 

There are regulations outlined by Ofcom that state what is required to be considered a legal PMR446 radio: 

  1. The radio must not have an output power that exceeds 0.5 watts (500mW).
  2. The antenna can be removable (As of January 2018). However, it must not exceed the ERP (Effective Radiated Power) of 0.5 watts (500mW).
  3. It has 8 to 16 channels on the 446.00625MHz to 446.19375MHz spectrum. 
  4. It has to be a handheld radio.
  5. The channel bandwidth can not be any more than 12.5kHz.

If it violates any one of those five rules, it’s not a legal PMR446 radio (Source: Ofcom). Although it seems Ofcom seems to be relaxing these rules more and more, now and then, so this can change since writing this article.

Please be advised, however: Do not be tempted to take your radio on holiday with you outside of Europe. Other countries might not have the same regulations, and places like the United States have 446 allocated to amateur bands. 

What are the uses for PMR446 radios?

Well, aside from the fact that you can have relatively short-to-mid range communications without spending mobile phone credit or contract minutes (it’s completely free to use)? 

You can use these radios for personal reasons or business use. However, it has to be a voice that is transmitted and not music. You also can’t advertise products through it for commercial reasons as far as I am aware, either; although I don’t believe there is any kind of enforcement. 

Some of the things that a PMR446 radio can be useful for are as follows:

  • Parents who wish to keep in contact with their children who are out playing, without giving them often expensive mobile phones. 
  • To establish communications within your paintball team, which could also add a kind of “Roleplaying” element to your games. 
  • To be used by passengers within a convoy to maintain open conversations with everyone in that convoy. 
  • Construction workers. 
  • Keeping communications open for events, say between the managers and staff members. 
  • Leisure use such as orienteering, hiking, camping, cycling, fishing, etc. 
  • Hotel and tourist attraction operators can use them to keep open communication with their staff. 
  • Factory workers can use it to better coordinate. 
  • Neighbourhood watch schemes could deploy the usage of these radios to contact all neighbours at the same time. 
  • Radios either used by staff or the residents in an elderly care home.

Things to look out when purchasing

When buying a radio from an online store, there are several things you need to know. Anything that has a power output or an “ERP” of more than 500mW (milliwatts) or “0.5w” are not legal PMR446 radios. If they say that they’re 1 watt (1W), that’s twice over the power limit and therefore is not permissible. You wouldn’t want a more powerful radio, anyway, as this will drain batteries quicker. 

The American’s have a version of licence-free walkie-talkies, called FRS/GMRS. Legally – you absolutely cannot and must not use these in the UK. You can identify these by the words “FRS/GMRS” as well as the fact that quite a lot of them have 14/22 channels. They use a section of the 462MHz frequencies and 467MHz frequencies. Sellers on eBay may even advertise it as such. 

Australian Licence-Free radios sometimes end up on auction sites. These are typically called UHF-CB. I think these have around 77 channels on the frequency range of 476MHz-477MHz. Again; you cannot and must not use these in the United Kingdom. They would be illegal also. 

You would be looking specifically for “PMR446”, nothing else. 

Personally speaking, I would buy a branded radio like “Uniden”, “Motorola” or “Binatone” from an actual UK store, like Argos or something. A brand from a well-established store is less likely to be a fake, low-quality and illegal. It should also have some form of warranty as well. Although yes, it is probably going to be more expensive; however, if you’re still worried after reading this, this would be your best bet. I’d do it for the quality and warranty alone.

You may also want to look for radios that come with rechargeable batteries and a charging cradle, so you can dump the radio into the cradle overnight and let it recharge for the next day. But this doesn’t make a difference to the legality of the radios. But as always – never recharge non-rechargeable batteries.

Marketing Nonsense

When looking for a radio, you may notice that there are several claims made that seem almost fantastical. The saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” should come to mind. Quite often they want to sell these radios and usually take the best-case scenario to make that sale.

Unrealistic Range Claims

“The range is 2KM, 3KM, 5KM, 8KM, 10KM, 15KM” and so on. I mean; technically, this is true. Technically. If you’re in the middle of nowhere and elevated several hundred feet in the air from ground level, able to see for miles around you, then absolutely. I’ve heard of people doing insane distances with these radios under the right conditions. It’s quite interesting when you think about it. 

Realistically, however, you’re not at all that likely to get more than one kilometre out of them in a built-up area. On a farm you might get a fair bit for your buck though, assuming it’s flat land. 

I think all PMR446 radios are going to perform similarly as they all have the same output power, and near enough, the same type of antenna. This is why I am slightly perplexed why the same brand of radios sold in some stores that get more and more expensive is advertised as having larger ranges. In theory, if it is running the same power, the same frequencies and the same antenna, it shouldn’t make too much of a difference, if any. Although some might have better quality/better-optimised receivers built into them, the difference that this would make is minuscule.

Privacy Channels/Privacy Codes

“This radio has privacy channels!” Absolute lies. There is no such thing as a private channel. What they are talking about here is a Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) and Digitally-Coded Squelch (DCS). CTCSS and DCS add tones to your transmissions that cannot be heard by you but is heard by the radio. 

Picture it like this; you program your radios to use CTCSS code 6 (82.5Hz). Your two (or more) radios will happily work with each other, relaying the voice you put through the microphone so that the other plays it out of the speaker. Another radio comes in that isn’t on the same CTCSS code and starts talking. Your radios will ignore them, and won’t relay their audio. 

The problem here, however, lies in the fact that this doesn’t work the other way around. If this other radio doesn’t have CTCSS turned on at all, it will listen to all of those with CTCSS on or off. You can see now why this shouldn’t be called “Privacy”.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that they could just start going through CTCSS tones in a ‘brute force’ approach to find the one that your radios are talking on, and start talking to you on it. It’s not a problem as such; it’s just the nature of it because CTCSS isn’t supposed to be used for privacy reasons, that’s not what it’s used for. 

What CTCSS is used for is to reduce the irritation of listening to other people who may be on the same channel as you.

An absurd number of channels/subchannels

“It has 968 channels!” Yeah, right. I can understand how they came to this number. But it is an absolute lie. They may also say that it has a large number of subchannels.

They have counted all the channel and CTCSS/DCS combinations to come up with a number higher than 8 or 16. Analogue PMR446 radios only have 8 to 16 channels. Digital PMR (dPMR) could have up to 32 channels because they don’t need as much frequency bandwidth. See the channel plan for more information.

Like I said before, by the way – do not buy radios that aren’t marketed as PMR446, aren’t on the 446 frequency, and have any channel number that is different from 8, 16 or in the case of dPMR – 32.

“Encryption”

“Encrypted” Encryption of any form over a PMR446 radio is extremely unlikely. A lot of these companies will try to conflate CTCSS and DCS as being encryption; as I have explained already, CTCSS/DCS is not encryption. That is not to say that encryption on PMR446 radios is impossible. What I could find on Ofcom’s regulations seems to indicate that it’s not illegal to use encryption on PMR446. But I could be wrong here. 

For analogue, the closest thing you’re going to get to encryption is something called a voice scrambler, which would be marketed as such as having a “Voice Scrambler”. This isn’t encryption per se but it does obfuscate what is said. It may also demand a significant premium. Like £100s per radio. 

For digital (dPMR), you might see something called “Basic Privacy” or “Enhanced Privacy” which is digital encryption. 

Basic Privacy can arguably be broken by brute force. I’ve heard that it’s a number between 0 and 254, but – from what I have experienced with a full DMR – it could also be a series of 4 hexadecimal (0-9, A-F) characters. 

Enhanced Privacy would be much harder to break, to my knowledge. Because anyone trying to listen in would be required to know all 32 characters of the key in hexadecimal, in that order. 

Technical note: It’s not impossible to break either basic or enhanced privacy, because it uses a weak cipher called RC4. Advanced Privacy would theoretically be even harder to break because it uses the AES256 cipher. But I doubt very highly you will find this on a dPMR446 radio, at least not currently. But if it was, I doubt that radio would be cheap, you’d probably be looking at spending over £300 per radio, or requiring some kind of licence/key to run it. So this isn’t a viable option, but I figured I’d mention it in case there is an outlier out there that does do this, or it is implemented in the future.

Dispelling the Myths and Misinformation

There are several myths and plenty of misinformation regarding PMR446. 

“You’re an adult coming through a child’s walkie-talkie. What kind of pervert are you?” Oh boy! That’s certainly not in the least bit an inflammatory thing to say… 

But believe it or not, this is a common misconception because of radios targeted towards children (often called “Kiddie” radios). These Kiddie radios usually come in child marketed vivid colours and so on. The natural assumption for someone who doesn’t know any better is that the adult is using the same radio. PMR446 radios come in all shapes and sizes, from child-like to professional looking. Just in the same way that you might have an Android phone, yet someone who calls and texts you may have an iOS phone, for example.

You cannot assume that all radios look alike. 

“This is a private channel!” No, I’m afraid it’s not. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve had this argument with people on air over the years. I know I’m not the only one.

There is no such thing as a “Private Channel” on PMR446. What’s to blame for this is the marketing of these radios, which uses something along the lines of “Privacy Codes”. That; and you can blame it on a sense and feeling of entitlement depending on the situation. 

And on the other meaning of “Private Channel”: that things you say over the radio are private. It isn’t. I would advise being careful about the things you say over the radio. 

“Only the Police and other emergency services can use radios!” Utterly false. Your mobile phone is a radio. Your WiFi is a radio. If you have a cordless telephone – that’s a radio too. All these radios use different areas of the frequency spectrum. Further to this, why would anyone sell radios marketed to children if that were the case?

The Police have their very-own specially designed radio system. “You can contact the Police on those radios!” Only if a legitimate on-duty police officer is listening, which is unlikely. You cannot get into police radios with PMR446 radios. An off-duty police officer who happens to like PMR446 radios could indeed be using them, nothing is stopping them at all.

Use of PMR446 radios by children

Whether you’re a parent who wants to keep in contact with your children, or you’re just buying them for your children to play with amongst each other, there are several things that you need to be aware of, and there are certainly several things that you need to teach your child(ren). 

I’d say that these radios are inappropriate to children without adult supervision, by monitoring with another radio. As a parent, this is something you’re going to have to use and apply your best judgement on.

Here are some tips and recommendations to keep your children safe:

  • Arrange, with them face to face, a code word of the day/week that means “Come back home, immediately.”, similarly to how schools often have a ‘password’ if you send someone else to collect your child. Explain to them that this means to come back home, no ifs, and, or buts. This could be something like “Jabberwocky”.
  • Instruct your children to either not respond – or outright ignore – any other voice on the radio (Stranger Danger).
  • Do not use real names, if possible, try to make up some code names. Example: Blue Sparrow, Black Wolf, Warm Cookie, etc. 
  • You and your children don’t need to end every transmission with “Over”. Chances are your radios beep at the end. It is what’s called a roger beep.
  • Never state addresses over the radio. 
  • I am assuming that children have boundaries when they’re playing outside. So one should use codewords for current location information; something both you and your children should already know ahead of time.

PMR446 Channel Plan

There are three different channel plans to PMR446. You have your eight-channel plan, your sixteen-channel plan and your thirty-two-channel plan (dPMR).

8 Channels

ChannelFrequencyBandwidth and Notes
1 446.00625 MHz12.5 kHz
2 446.01875 MHz12.5 kHz
3 446.03125 MHz12.5 kHz
4 446.04375 MHz12.5 kHz
5 446.05625 MHz12.5 kHz
6 446.06875 MHz12.5 kHz
7 446.08125 MHz12.5 kHz
8 446.09375 MHz12.5 kHz (DX and Calling Channel)

16 Channels

ChannelFrequencyBandwidth and Notes
1 446.00625 MHz 12.5 kHz
2 446.01875 MHz 12.5 kHz
3 446.03125 MHz 12.5 kHz
4 446.04375 MHz 12.5 kHz
5 446.05625 MHz 12.5 kHz
6 446.06875 MHz 12.5 kHz
7 446.08125 MHz 12.5 kHz
8 446.09375 MHz 12.5 kHz (DX and Calling Channel)
9 446.10625 MHz 12.5 kHz (Digital Calling Channel – CC1 TG99)
10 446.11875 MHz 12.5 kHz
11 446.13125 MHz 12.5 kHz
12 446.14375 MHz 12.5 kHz
13 446.15625 MHz 12.5 kHz
14 446.16875 MHz 12.5 kHz
15 446.18125 MHz 12.5 kHz
16 446.19375 MHz 12.5 kHz

32 Channels

Applies only to dPMR which uses 32 digital voice channels separated by a 6.25kHz bandwidth from each other at around 3.6kbit/s.

ChannelFrequencyBandwidth and Notes
1 446.003125 MHz 6.25 kHz
2 446.009375 MHz 6.25 kHz
3 446.015625 MHz 6.25 kHz
4 446.021875 MHz 6.25 kHz
5 446.028125 MHz 6.25 kHz
6 446.034375 MHz 6.25 kHz
7 446.040625 MHz 6.25 kHz
8 446.046875 MHz 6.25 kHz
9 446.053125 MHz 6.25 kHz
10 446.059375 MHz 6.25 kHz
11 446.065625 MHz 6.25 kHz
12 446.071875 MHz 6.25 kHz
13 446.078125 MHz 6.25 kHz
14 446.084375 MHz 6.25 kHz
15 446.090625 MHz 6.25 kHz
16 446.096875 MHz 6.25 kHz
17 446.103125 MHz 6.25 kHz
18 446.109375 MHz 6.25 kHz
19 446.115625 MHz 6.25 kHz (dPMR Calling Channel – CC1 TG99)
20 446.121875 MHz 6.25 kHz
21 446.128125 MHz 6.25 kHz
22 446.134375 MHz 6.25 kHz
23 446.140625 MHz 6.25 kHz
24 446.146875 MHz 6.25 kHz
25 446.153125 MHz 6.25 kHz
26 446.159375 MHz 6.25 kHz
27 446.165625 MHz 6.25 kHz
28 446.171875 MHz 6.25 kHz
29 446.178125 MHz 6.25 kHz
30 446.184375 MHz 6.25 kHz
31 446.190625 MHz 6.25 kHz
32 446.196875 MHz 6.25 kHz
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Special Note: Thank you Wes (G0LUM) and John (G1JGT) for some of the suggestions and help during the research of the illegal types of radios sold on popular sites like eBay as well as other nuggets of information such as the channel notes.

2 thoughts on “Legal PMR446 Radios”

  1. Osvaldo Balford

    I savor, cause I found exactly what I was having a look for. You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

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