Will digital radios replace analog radios?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure

0 voters

I’ve been thinking about having this discussion for awhile, and we finally got around to addressing it. We speculate on whether or not digital will ultimately replace analog two way radios completely at some point. There are arguments for and against this scenario, but we could see it happening in at least one niche, and possibly sooner rather than later. It’s an interesting discussion, and we welcome everyone to chime in.

TWRS-142 - Will Digital Replace the Analog Radio?

You can find the show notes here. You can leave comments here, and if we read yours on the next episode, we’ll send you a Two Way Radio Show T-shirt or some swag!

Yes…you can’t type accept a Part 90 radio that outputs more than 2W and isn’t 6.25 kHz equivalent.

Which means, over time everyone’s radios will be replace by digital capable anyway. At that point, going digital sometimes offers more benefits than you loose staying with analog.

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Digital has a lot going for it, but often times when something goes that route, those with money and clout will find ways to introduce proprietary and locked-down functionality that ultimately they control and can take away once they feel they need even more money.

I appreciate analog simplicity and interoperability, even if it falls short on some levels (certainly not all). However, I see digital encroaching more and more in the future. I just don’t think I am on board.

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That’s an interesting observation about proprietary lock-down of digital systems. While it’s not exclusive to digital, it is something to consider. Attempts have also been made to keep users on a brand or model in analog, such as the way Motorola uses companding, but it isn’t as easy to introduce or control proprietary features in analog as it is with a digital system.

The reason I say no is spouse there is ether a large electromagnetic pulse or a very large solar storm, likes of that have never been seen or recorded. We will be back in the early 1960’s. Cell phones, computer’s, digital tv’s, radios and the digital tv/radio transmitters will be dead. We will be back to the old analog vacuum tube tv’s and radios. The old analog vacuum tube stuff will be the only stuff still working. Unless the digital radios, cell phones and computer’s are stored in a faraday cage. I am from the old school. When I was working on 2 way radios, tv’s and early vcr’s there was still tube checkers in the grocery store, and back then I made house calls to fix tv’s and so on. And I had a big box full of vacuum tubes. I still have my old portable vacuum tube tester, and I still have a vacuum tube powered rf gen, am broadcast band to 10 meters. They both still work. I also have an old stile telephone dial type lineman’s handset. Well that’s where I come from.


I remember the tube tester kiosks at the local 7-Elevens when I was a kid, and I had to replace a few tubes in our TV back in the day. I thought it was pretty cool tech at the time, but it was intimidating because of the high voltage and the heat they generated. Ah, those were the days.

Professionally I refused to touch any radio with tubes or channel elements…fun times.

Digital and analog both have their places. Digital offers better audio as the signals get weaker especially since most users can handle bit error here and there as they approach the proverbial cliff. Analog offers higher fidelity audio if we are talking about being constrained to a 12.5 kHz channel but as it degrades it gets noisier and noisier. Some (such as myself) have been spoiled by the noise free audio of digital and simply can’t stand the analog noise.

Last week I had a chance to sit down with my R2670 service monitor and a Motorola APX1500 I had laying around and really do a good audio test. The radio was still setup exactly as it was the last time I loaned it out to a small PD…mixed mode, narrowband, conventional operation. I found that the 12 dB SINAD point was higher (in terms of signal level) of the point which the radio hit 5% BER for P25 operation. At the 12 dB SINAD point there was noise, the occasional pop, and voice. At that same point there was just clean audio on the digital side. In that particular configuration, it was very interesting to see that the digital audio became so garbled and unrecognizable at the same point the tone squelch circuit on the radio just squelched the radio entirely.

Digital is here now, and gradually analogue will simply fade away. TV went digital a long while back, and nobody even knows they’re using digital. Phones, recording equipment, cameras - digital is just so much more user friendly in terms of what you can do with it. We can argue about quality and other things, but it’s just more efficient in practically every case. As for the sunspot cycle, electromagnetic storms and EMP, they cause havoc with all comms, analogue and digital so we just get different kinds of interference. Here on the UK coast, each summer dutch TV would romp in and wipe out our local TV - we’d get patterning first, then it would break up and sometimes the dutch pictures would win. Now, the error rate creeps up and the picture freezes and then blanks. That’s it. We get perfect pictures until we don’t.

interesting to note that many purists are reverting to vinyl as they do not like the over crisp reproduction of digital for music

Yes, but these people are a tiny majority prepared to pay for it for to be frank, a rather dubious reason. They cite sound quality but then if or clicks, pops, fragility and infrastructure costs. An mp3 download is very cheap and does the job. Same with radios. Enthusiasts may like analogue but we’re the tiny proportion again. So many radio users didn’t even notice they went digital!

No, digital will not -replace- analog. It will supliment analog.

■■■■ no
Digital scanners are overly priced
Abd digital tv signals suck
Digital is a very unstable thing
Not worth anything

Why would you consider digital “not worth anything”? As a ham myself, I can understand the value of analog, but I also see the value of both a copper landline telephone system and a wireless cell phone. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. There are certainly a lot of benefits to going digital from a consumer standpoint, at least. I wouldn’t call digital worthless, just a different mode.

Digital cost too much money
Besides it is a very unstable a electrical storm can disrupt it

To be fair, the prices of digital radios have decreased dramatically over the last couple of years. Some of them are now quite affordable. Also, an electrical storm can disrupt any type of communications, even analog, so I’m not sure what you mean.

Here the police department went digital blahs, but I heard you get a digital dongle for your analog scanner
Most of the tv digital singal get depixilate

The users of digital radios are waking up to the fact that it takes a tick in a box in the software to encrypt communications. Emergency services world wide are waking up to the fact that private comms is better, and even taxi firms and delivery companies are realising people listening in are not all just hobbiests!

As for storms - analogue radio is VERY difficult to listen to when being interfered with. Digital is a go/no go system. On FM, a skilled operator can stand on one leg, raise the radio to arms length and shout to eke out every last ounce of distance, and with a good ear, pick out words from noise. I’ve not noticed any digital users getting grief - everyone has a digital phone, and they seem to work fine, don’t they?

There will always be need for some analog radio and equipment. Aside from certain immunities they can entail, certain uses (notably critical MGM usage) depends on analogue because SSB, RTTY (and other FSK modes) and CW still functions better in being resolvable by human and machine under extremes which render pure digital modes unresolvable - under such conditions, about the only pure digital modes which survive such conditions (at a ridiculously and and diabolically low transfer rate, but with solid error correction will eventually complete the send) are packet modes, pure FSK RTTY (SVCF type) TOR and CW.

Most resistant LEP (long earth path) modes are digital encapsulated in an analog transmission mode. Often it’s an analog mode FSK basis.

So yes, analog can and will survive until totally superceded in all aspects and circumstances and we’re way feet deep into toddler steps as far as navigation of that ideal goes.

Just look at Moon bounce communication, which as close as you’ll get to interplanetary distance long path communication at present, that demonstrates why technically that pure digital modes and interception of super weak and phase and Doppler shifting signals are very much something that favours digital over analog over pure digital.

In fact, even the whole space program activity across the world relies on having an analog fallback at the very least even in the era of wide satellite networking and backbone subnets.

But I guess most LMR people wouldn’t know those factors ever existed let alone were a factor to what survives in radio.

Bottom line, if people are prepared to use a so-called redundant form of radio, legit or otherwise, it’s survived by default and whilst it survives in some regular and scheduled use, it never really got superceded or replaced and stands a very low probability of dieing a persistent permanent death.

The only radio transmission mode that truly died was (telegraphic) spark gap transmission, and even then unofficially not entirely because you can technically make an emergency beacon literally using the spark-gap nature of a piezoelectric lighter, which modified appropriately could actually save your life in an earthquake when buried/trapped.

But I guess I live in a very diverse world and window of perception of radio.

As far as comparison goes, favouring digital because cellular phones are digital and have highly stable performance qualities goes -

Cellular phones don’t have to do simplex or half duplex over anything like the distance of electromagnet LOS or beyond that simplex/half-duplex and duplex LMR and ham kit was to under (I include maritime stuff as LMR equivalence on VHF), because they have a huge repeater and backbone transfer and interlink structure which means that unless you’re literally calling from a covered area from the ■■■ end of a radio black hole, you’ll get some kind of usable communication on a relatively short first hop.

In the radio world where direct point to point communication or simple repeater connection goes, things require a lot more consideration of what’s necessary and where the bottom line falls when something becomes fundamentally not fit for purpose and a new mode is employed.

However, I do fear that the locked down garden-walled nature than DC and D data modes can support will either become plagued by proprietary system variants or wholesale brand specific unique non interoperability based sub modes.

Whilst the commercial equiv of DSTAR is supported by at least two manufacturers so their customers can share the benefits, YSF (despite having some great LMR qualities and overall good quality communication) in C4FM and P25 ( which is essentially comparable to DN mode YSF and similar Group/user closed grouping communication capability), it also represents what could easily become a nightmare scenario if such garden walled digital mode radio becomes the norm.

I like C4FM as much as DMR, but I’d say that if DMR became the lost standard in a diverse mess of proprietary and garden walled systems, the DVD radio world will have lost it’s killer benchmark that’s as easy to demo as it’s cheaply accessible.

So despite my love of digital as an additional potentially future long face of two way regular communication, concurrent use of analog and digital where each is used where it’s qualities best work, is where we need to be, especially if things go to ■■■■ in short order and anything complex in design becomes a paperweight.

I think you make a great point about interoperability based issues (or non-interoperability). That’s always been one of my chief complaints about Yaesu’s System Fusion…it uses C4FM…just like NXDN does and just like P25 Phase 1 does. Unfortunately vendor locked standards are becoming a bigger and bigger issue especially in amateur radio but not limited to amateur radio.

Take this into account, there is very little in terms of intersystem interoperability between DMR vendors (at the infrastructure level). The vendor pretty much does whatever they like…you simply can’t take MotoTRBO repeater and get it to work with a Simoco Xd repeater because their is not a defined transport standard (they both transport data over IP…but Simoco’s networking protocols follow SIP standards (which means you can take advantage of paging groups, multicast paging, and even digital/analog interoperability so you can mix digial and analog repeater) where Motorola’s essentially throw UDP packets at the network interfaces signaling what and when to transmit. The closest standard interface (aside from OTA) DMR has is the AIS gateway which allows systems of different vendors to interoperate or as it is more commonly used as, a console interface.

When it comes down NXDN…the only thing that is standard is the OTA protocol. An iDAS radio can operate on a NextEdge system and a NextEdge radio can operate on a iDAS system (but only in narrow mode). No intersystem sub interface (and for the most part NextEdge is being absorbed into Karios which also has an AIS gateway).

Now my personal favorite digital protocol…P25. OTA interoperability, check (though vendor’s still have some proprietary extras), intersystem interface, check (known as the Inter Sub-System Interface or ISSI) and there is even a standard to let infrastructure of different vendors directly communicate (called the Digital Fixed Station Interface, DFSI). As some practical examples, occasionally in mountains locations you see Codan (who specializes in off-grid P25 sites) sites interoperate with Motorola systems (using the ISSI). Other companies (RF Technology, Kenwood/EF Johnson, Etherstack) have taken that to a entirely different level where you can have a trunking site with a Etherstack/Atlas/RFT trunking controller you can mix and match any repeater manufacturer (or console vendor) that supports the DFSI which includes RFT, Icom, Kenwood/EFJ, Simoco, Codan, Tait, Midland (I know, I just learned about their P25 repeater) assuming Harris, and even Motorola (through the use of the RIC-M).

I digress.