The compact PMR446 “free use” portable transceivers are used in many situations in sports, leisure, work and in vehicle communication. However, not everyone knows that, until a few months ago, their use was not exactly “free” in Italy, because it was subject to the payment of an annual fee and a bureaucratic obligation. Finally, thanks to the Simplification Decree, these requirements have been eliminated: the PMR446 radios (and also the CB ones) can be used immediately after purchase without any charge. We summarize the situation with a brief overview of these products.
WHAT ARE PMR446S AND HOW THEY WORK
PMR446 walkie talkies are used in many contexts: skiing, hiking, cycling, hang gliding, camping, installers, construction sites, hotels, fairs, theaters, discos, sports centers, bathing establishments, etc. They operate in UHF at 446 MHz, a frequency band high enough to be efficiently radiated even very short antennas, with benefits on the radio range. Their small size makes them look like radio toys, but they have far superior performance in terms of radio range, functionality, communication quality and battery life. But why in some cases can the use of transceivers be preferred over cell phones? Here are some advantages:
- They communicate directly with each other and therefore do not require any radio infrastructures (cells, repeaters, etc.). Therefore in many areas (woods, open countryside, closed and shielded places, etc.) PMR446s continue to communicate in their range while cell phones may stop working.
- Their use is completely free, just because the infrastructures of any network operator are not used.
- They can make group communications: when you press the transmit button (PTT – Push To Talk), your voice message is heard simultaneously by all members of your group tuned to the same channel.
Their radio range varies according to the environment of use, the type/quantity of obstacles to overcome and local disturbances: in the worst conditions (e.g. in a hollow in the middle of dense woods or in city streets) they can be covered at least 300-500 meters, while in more open areas and in privileged positions (e.g. on top of a hill free from obstacles) it is not uncommon to exceed 2-3 km.
PREVIOUS OBLIGATIONS (Italian Style)
Until recently, it was not possible to use the PMR446 without having first performed the following requirements :
- Payment of an annual fee of € 12 (regardless of the number of radios used).
- A “declaration of beginning of activity” to be sent to the MiSE (Ministry of economic development).
Italy was the only country that required the said obligations and, from various reports, it seems that they were observed almost only by professional users. The latter, having to use the PMR446 for work, usually buy it from a specialized dealer who supports him in carrying out the required procedures.
On the other hand, those who buy a pair of PMR446 for 25 Euros for occasional use at home or in undemanding environments, are hardly willing to pay another 12 per year and waste time with bureaucracy, which is additionally complicated by slightly different methods. by region. But it’s not all: any generic store has less time dedicated to the buyer and, you know, the latter reads little of the documentation.
FREE USE… FROM NOW YES!
Probably, in addition to reduce sales, the situation that has arisen has always constituted more of a management burden for the State than a real contribution revenue, therefore they have recently been eliminated, making the use of PMR446 (and CB) totally free. Law 120 of 11 September 2020 has in fact repealed paragraphs 3 and 4 of article 145 which defined the obligation to submit the declaration to the Ministry, as well as article 36 and paragraph 2 of article 37 – annex n . 25 of the legislative decree 1 August 2003, n. 259 (Communications Code), which defined the contributions for PMR446.
Today anyone can freely use these walkie-talkies in Italy and throughout Europe (except for a few limitations) as the legislation governing their use is “harmonized” by the EU through the RED 2014/53 / EU directive. Therefore the devices must be equipped with the Declaration of Conformity with the latter and the manuals in Italian.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PMR446 AND CB
CB transceivers, also liberalized with the aforementioned decree, are more powerful than PMR446 (4W output versus 0.5W radiated by the built-in antenna which is not removable) and in general can communicate at a greater distance. However, they work on much lower frequencies (HF – 27 MHz) which, in order to be transmitted with an acceptable yield, require antennas at least 1.5-2 meters long. The latter can be installed on the roof of a building or on a car, but certainly cannot be integrated into a walkie talkie. In fact, CB handhelds, to mitigate the problem, usually adopt further shortened antennas which for this reason often make the radio range insufficient. They are also normally used with amplitude modulation (AM), with an audio quality and battery life much lower than that of the PMR446s, which instead employ the clearer and most efficient frequency modulation (FM).
But there’s more: a few years ago new frequencies were added to the PMR446, extending the 8 channels previously available to 16. In addition, some of them also boast the new digital protocols dPMR or DMR. This, in addition to doubling the number of channels (32), brings other advantages: less sensitive communications to disturbances, greater confidentiality (encrypted communications), better audio quality, less sensitive receivers to disturbances, cancellation of ambient noise picked up by the microphone and new features. The devices that use the DMR cost a little more, but thanks to their TDMA technology they also boast a reduction in transmission consumption and therefore longer battery life.
In portable use, the PMR446 are the best free-to-use solution for compactness, radio range, quality of communications, flexibility of use, functionality and battery life.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR MODEL
The more “consumer” PMR446 radios that cost around 25-30 euros per pair are more suitable for less demanding use. To obtain greater performance, it’s better to focus on higher-end products sold individually, ranging from 50-100 euros up to 150-200 euros and beyond. The latter are usually more resistant to shocks and vibrations (some meet the MIL STD-810G standards) and/or featuring waterproof capability to dust, humidity and atmospheric agents (many meet international IP certification like some mobile phones).
Usually, the more expensive and robust transceivers have a better receiver which means a greater range (the transmission power is the same for all). In many cases, a large and complete display can be useful to monitor the main parameters of the radio (battery charge, reception field strenght, etc.) making it more intuitive to use. The type and capacity of the batteries supplied and the battery charger (preferably desktop) are also fundamental, because the use with “disposable” alkaline batteries becomes uneconomical.
A point in favor can also be the optional accessories that extend its versatility (eg external microphones and earphones or headsets with built-in microphone for hands-free use). The available functions must also be checked, including the CTCSS tones / DCS codes with which it is possible to restrict listening to communications only to the radios of your partner/group.
THE MARKET IN BRIEF
PMR446 radios can be purchased from different commercial channels: specialized retailers (sports, hunting, fishing, transceivers in general, etc.), consumer electronics points of sale, large distribution and e-commerce. We mention the best known brands:
- Advantec distributes products for many applications in Italy (professional, nautical, amateur radio, etc.). Among them stand out Hytera and Icom with three models each of medium and high range.
- K2M distributes PolMar and Alinco, as well as other brands covering the marine, amateur radio and CB sectors.
- Midland is a well known name in the field of CB transceivers. In addition to these, it offers a varied offer of nautical, amateur radio and PMR446 equipment.
- Motorola solutions is a leader in professional PMR transceivers and systems and also boasts its experience in PMR446s with well-targeted bands based on users.
Other well-known brands are the Japanese Kenwood, as well as many Chinese, among which the most popular are Baofeng, Retevis, Radioddity and Wouxin.
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