A radiotelephone is a communications device that allows two or more people to talk using radio. There is disagreement about the definition of the term. There is a conflict between British English usage, American English usage, and historic use.


Radiotelephone versus mobile telephone, cellular

English dictionaries describe the term as a compound word formed from the words "radio" and "telephone", and used to describe a wireless telephone. [A survey of English dictionaries showed some common views. Some of these follow. "Oxford English Dictionary" and several editions of "Websters Dictionary" define the term as an analog telephone carried over radio signals. The word does not appear in "Newtons Telecom Dictionary", 10th edition.] There is no Radiotelephone entry in Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and no radiotelephone index entries appear or in the present-day Yellow Pages index of AT&T telephone directories.

In the US, "mobile telephone" was more commonly used to refer to a wireless, full duplex radio technology predating late 1980s cellular systems and used to place telephone calls. [One example is the title of a map, "Mobile Communications: Reaching the World by Mobile Telephone Service," (San Francisco: Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, March 1983. The map describes IMTS and MTS service in California.]

The connection between analog, older mobile telephone technologies and radiotelephone is described in the article Mobile radio telephone, which splits radiotelephone into two words. The term is used to describe the earliest generation of wireless mobile telephone technologies.

Since the advent of cellular telephones, similar technologies such as GSM and PCS are often referred to collectively by non-technical persons as "cell phones," regardless of the underlying technology. There is no cellular telephone entry in Standard Industry Codes (SIC) but two cellular index entries appear in the present-day Yellow Pages index of AT&T telephone directories.

Radiotelephone versus radiophone

A case for historic US usage of the similar word Radiophone exists in the 1960s. [Use noted in many cases including on escutcheons and silk-screened face plates on 1960s Motorola products including early HT-200 and Dispatcher-series mobile radios. One specific example is the title on a Special Products service manual, "Model T31BAT-3100B-SP3 'Dispatcher' Radiophone 25-54 MC 12 W RF Power 12VDC, State of California Radio Communications System," (Chicago: Motorola Communications Division, 1965). It was also seen on the faceplates of some 1960s Kaar Engineering mobile products. Later HT-200s had the word "Radiophone" replaced by "Handie Talkie FM Radio" on their escutcheon art. The "Oxford English Dictionary" conflicts with some uses, saying radiophone is interchangeable with "radiotelephone". The 10th edition of "Newton's Telecom Dictionary" says radiophone is an, "obsolete term."] This term is used to describe push-to-talk two-way radio systems and equipment.

There may be confusion between the similar words "radiophone" and "radiotelephone". A historic case of radiotelephone being used for two-way radio was not found. However, since the 1930s the Federal Communications Commission has issued various commercial "radiotelephone operator" licenses and permits to qualified applicants. These allow them to install, service, and maintain voice-only radio transmitter systems for use on ships and aircraft. (Until deregulation in the 1990s they were also required for commercial domestic radio and television broadcast systems. Because of treaty obligations they are still required for engineers of international shortwave broadcast stations.) The certificate currently issued is the General radiotelephone operator license.

Radiotelephone versus phone

The word "phone" has a long precedent beginning with early US wireless voice systems. The term means "analog voice" as opposed to early binary communications known as telegraph or Morse Code. This would include systems fitting into the category of two-way radio or one-way voice broadcasts such as coastal maritime weather. The term is still popular in the amateur radio community and in US Federal Communications Commission regulations.

As push-to talk

A simple handheld radiotelephone is sometimes called a "walkie-talkie". CB radio is also a very similar technology. While in recent years the cell phone has largely superseded radiotelephones for the average user, they are still widely used in many more specialist applications, for example police communications, emergency services, taxi services, and private mobile radio networks (PMR).

Modes of operation

A standard land line based telephone allows both users to talk and listen simultaneously; effectively there are two open channels between the two end-to-end users of the system. In a radiotelephone system, this form of working, known as full-duplex, is unusual. That's because it would require a radio system to simultaneously transmit and receive on two separate channels, which both wastes bandwidth and presents some technical challenges. It is, however, the most comfortable method of voice communication for users, and it is used in cell phones.

The most common method of working for radiotelephones is single- or dual-frequency simplex operation, which allows one person to talk and the other to listen alternately. If a single channel is used, both ends take turns to transmit on it. An eavesdropper would hear both sides of the conversation. Dual-frequency working splits the communication into two separate channels, but only one is used to transmit at a time. The end users have the same experience as single frequency simplex but an eavesdropper with one receiver would only hear one side of the conversation.

A halfway-house system called half-duplex allows one end to transmit and receive simultaneously, but the other to talk and listen alternately.

The user presses a special switch on the transmitter when they wish to talk—this is called the "press-to-talk" switch or PTT (colloquially, sometimes called "the tit"). It is usually fitted on the side of the microphone or other obvious position. Users may use a special code-word such as "over" to signal that they have finished transmitting, or it may follow from the conversation.


Radiotelephones may operate at any frequency where they are licensed to do so, though typically they are used in the various bands between 60 and 900 MHz. They may use simple modulation schemes such as AM or FM, or more complex techniques such as digital coding, spread spectrum, and so on. Licensing terms for a given band will usually specify the type of modulation to be used. For example, airband radiotelephones used for air to ground communication between pilots and controllers operates in the VHF band from 118.0 to 136.975 MHz, using amplitude modulation.

Radiotelephone receivers are usually designed to a very high standard, and are usually of the double-conversion superhet design. Likewise, transmitters are carefully designed to avoid unwanted interference and feature power outputs from a few tens of milliwatts to perhaps 50 watts for a mobile unit, up to a couple of hundred watts for a base station. Multiple channels are often provided using a frequency synthesiser.

Receivers usually features a squelch circuit to cut off the audio output from the receiver when there is no transmission to listen to. This is in contrast to broadcast receivers, which often dispense with this.

Privacy and selective calling

Often, on a small network system, there are many mobile units and one main base station. This would be typical for police or taxi services for example. To help direct messages to the correct recipients and avoid irrelevant traffic on the network's being a distraction to other units, a variety of means have been devised to create addressing systems.

The crudest and oldest of these is called CTCSS, or Continuous Tone-Controlled Squelch System. This consists of superimposing a precise very low frequency tone on the audio signal. Only the receiver tuned to this specific tone is able to receive the signal: this receiver shuts off the audio when the tone is not present or is a different frequency. By assigning a unique frequency to each mobile, private channels can be imposed on a public network. However this is only a convenience feature—it does not guarantee privacy.

A more commonly used system is called Selective Calling or Selcall. This also uses audio tones, but these are not restricted to subaudio tones and are sent as a short burst in sequence. The receiver will be programmed to respond only to a unique set of tones in a precise sequence, and only then will it open the audio circuits for open-channel conversation with the base station. This system is much more versatile than CTCSS, as relatively few tones yield a far greater number of "addresses". In addition, special features (such as broadcast modes and emergency overrides) can be designed in, using special addresses set aside for the purpose. A mobile unit can also broadcast a Selcall sequence with its unique address to the base, so the user can know before the call is picked up which unit is calling. In practice many selcall systems also have automatic transponding built in, which allows the base station to "interrogate" a mobile even if the operator is not present. Such transponding systems usually have a status code that the user can set to indicate what they are doing. Features like this, while very simple, are one reason why they are very popular with organisations that need to manage a large number of remote mobile units. Selcall is widely used, though is becoming superseded by much more sophisticated digital systems.


* — "Telegraph — A. G. Bell"
* — "Duplex Radio Communication and Signalling Appartus [sic] — G. H. Sweigert"
* Google Patent Search Link - 3,449,750 [,449,750&as_drrb_


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  • radiotelephone — ► NOUN ▪ a telephone using radio transmission. DERIVATIVES radiotelephony noun …   English terms dictionary

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