About licence-free (PMR446) radios

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Radio transmitters, including two way radios, and the VHF or UHF frequencies they operate on, are governed, licensed and co-ordinated by Ofcom in the UK. Two way radios can operate on either licensed or licence-free (PMR446) frequencies. Here we explain more about licence-free radios.

  • Licence-free radios are generally lower powered, handheld radios with a maximum power output of 0.5 watts, resulting in a shorter range.
  • Depending on the surrounding terrain, the range can vary from a few hundred metres in a built up area to a few kilometres in open ground.
  • Use licence-free radios for business or personal use on any of eight UHF frequencies, both in the UK and across the European Union.
  • PMR stands for Personal Mobile Radio
  • 446 refers to the UHF frequency range 446MHz on which licence-free radios are permitted to operate.
  • In the USA and Canada the closest equivalent to PMR446 is FRS or GMRS

Licence-free two way radios are manufactured with the frequencies already programmed in. Power sources can vary, from basic models which use AA cells to more advanced models which use Li-ion rechargeable packs.

Benefits of a licence-free radio

  • Less expensive than licenced radios
  • Easy to use
  • Pre-programmed radio frequencies
  • No call charges
  • No contracts
  • Rechargeable versions give good operating time
  • New digital technology has improved voice quality and performance
  • No licence required!
  • Operate throughout the UK and in most EU countries

Disadvantages of licence-free radios

  • Lower power, so their range is shorter (approximately 3km maximum)
  • Their popularity means the channels can often be congested
  • Not suitable for emergency use as channel usage is on a first-come-first served basis
  • If users are too far apart they may suffer interference from other two-way radios within range

Who might use them?

There is a huge range of possibilities for the use of licence-free radios, for example:

  • Construction workers
  • Event managers
  • Hotel and tourist attraction operators
  • Neighbourhood watch co-ordinators
  • Factory workers
  • Farm and country estate workers
  • Leisure use (hiking, cycling, camping, orienteering, shoots etc.)

What are the PMR 446 frequency bands?

Until January 2018 there were just eight frequencies for licence-free radios in the UK, ranging from 446.00625MHz to 446.09375MHz. After that, the frequency spectrum was expanded in line with Harmonised European Standards to create greater capacity across Europe.  The extended frequencies now range from 446.0 to 446.2MHz, with a channel plan based on 6.25 kHz (for digital equipment) and 12.5 kHz (for analogue equipment) spacing. 

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