Two-Way Radio Charging Tips

Two-way radio technology is critically important to businesses, organizations, and schools. But to make 2-way radios function, you must have battery power. That’s why battery life is incredibly important for keeping your two-way radios functioning on a day-to-day basis. Battery power keeps communication moving and when communication moves, productivity and safety increase.

A Quick Look at Battery Technology

The four most common types of rechargeable batteries include Nickel-Cadmium (NiCad), Nickel Metal Hydride battery (NiMH), Lithium-Ion battery (Li-ion), and Lithium-Ion Polymer battery (LiPo). To better understand how batteries work, let’s take a quick look at these common battery types.

1. Nickel-Cadmium

For many years, Nickel-Cadmium batteries were almost the exclusive battery for 2-way radios. The reason was that they are very robust batteries and, in some cases, provided up to 60 percent higher capacity than other batteries. These batteries are also very rugged and work well in harsh environments, like super-hot or super cold locations. On the downside, they have a charging problem called the “memory effect” which means that unless the battery is full discharged before being recharged, it will only remember the previous energy delivered, and will not give more. Also, Cadmium is toxic, and cannot be disposed of in landfills. Because NiCd batteries need to be replaced often, the cost of keeping your charging capacity at full level can be more expensive that the original price of the walkie-talkie.

2. Nickel Metal Hydride

NiMH batteries can provide 30-40 percent high capacity than Nicad batteries, and they are less susceptible to “memory effect”. In addition, the NiMH batteries are more environmentally friendly and not subject to storage or regulatory controls. However, the NiMH batteries are harder to charge, much heavier, and have one of the highest self-discharge rates of any other battery type. NiMH batteries have become one of the most popular batteries for consumers, with manufacturers as Rayovac, Duracell, and Panasonic. Because NiMH batteries need to be replaced often, the cost of keeping your charging capacity at full level can be more expensive that the original price of the walkie-talkie.

3. Lithium-Ion

Lithium-Ion batteries have enormous energy density, typically twice that of the common nickel-cadmium battery. They are also an incredibly low maintenance battery; a trait other battery cannot make. Li-Ion batteries also do not have the memory effect that NiCad batteries do, and they their self-discharge is less than half that of nickel-based batteries. Finally, Li-Ion batteries are environmentally safer to dispose of, and they can handle heavy input and output voltage, making it ideal for use in two-way radios. Unfortunately, Li-Ion batteries are more expensive – typically more than 40 percent pricier that NiCad and NiMH batteries.

4. Lithium-Ion Polymer

Lithium-Ion Polymer batteries are considered a “next generation” battery technology because they use a dry, solid polymer electrolyte instead of a liquid electrolyte. Lithium-Ion Polymer batteries provide higher specific energy than other lithium battery types and are lighter in weight. Lithium-Ion Polymer batteries can provide up to 24 hours of battery life per charge in a typical charging cycle. Unfortunately, the dry lithium-polymer has poor conductivity. Because the internal resistance is so high, they cannot deliver the current bursts needed to power modern devices or spin up the hard drives of mobile computing equipment. You can heat the cell up to 140 degrees or higher, and they will conduct electricity, however this heat is not suitable for portable two-way radios. Constant improvements are being made to the Lithium-Ion Polymer battery technology, and many micro-technology devices are using them, like credit card batteries for example.

Nickel-Cadmium Two-Way Radio Batteries (NiCd)
  • Robust
  • High Charging Capacity
  • Works Well in Super Cold and/or Super-Hot Environments
  • Affordable
  • Memory Effect
  • Cadmium is Toxic
  • Impossible to Discard in Normal Ways
  • Need to be Constantly Replaced
Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries (NiMH)
  • Provides 30-40% Higher Charging Capacity than NiCd
  • Less Susceptible to Memory Effect
  • More Environmentally Friendly
  • Not Subject to Storage Controls
  • More difficult to charge than NiCd Batteries
  • Much Heavier
  • High Self-Discharge Rage
  • Need to be Regularly Replaced
Lithium-Ion Batteries
  • Super Energy Density
  • Highly Reliable
  • No Memory Effect
  • Environmentally Safe
  • Longer Charging Capacity
  • More Expensive to Manufacture
  • Subject to Aging – Even When Not Being Used
  • Transportation Restrictions for Large Quantities
Lithium-Ion Polymer Batteries
  • Very Low Profile (thickness of Credit Card is Possible)
  • Extremely Lightweight
  • Flexible Form Factor
  • Lower Energy Density Compared to (Li-Ion) Batteries
  • Expensive to Manufacture
  • No Standard Form Design

Discount Two-Way Radio almost exclusively uses Lithium-ion batteries that charge quickly, maintain their charge, and have as slim a profile as possible. In addition to the excellent energy-to-weight ratio, Lithium-Ion offers the major advantage of not suffering from the memory effect, so even after months of use, they can still last for significantly longer periods of use.

For example the RCA B4335LI battery is a super charger, able to last up to 25-plus hours!!

Or the RCA B4530LI battery that has an ultra-high capacity, a one year warranty, and up to 22 hours of charging power.

Types of Two-Way Radio Battery Charging Methods

To keep two-way radios charged, there are several methods that be used including a microUSB port, single unit charger, and multi-unit charger.

MicroUSB Cable

The RCA1520 DMR radios have a MicroUSB port that enable the radio to be charged through a USB cable connected to the AC power adapter that comes with the radio. USB charging is slow, so allow at least six hours to fully charge the radio battery.

Single-Unit Charger

Nearly all RCA portable two-way radios use a single-unit cup charger. The cup allows the radio to sit inside and connect the electrical contacts of the radio with those inside the cup charger. The charger is powered by an AC power adapter that plugs into a 110 AC outlet. Single-unit chargers provide rapid charging and can fully charge the battery in as little as three hours. The charger will provide a full charge for the first 85% of the charge, and then provide a slow “trickle” charge for the remaining 15%. This prevents overcharging the battery, which will shorten the life of the battery.

Multi-Unit Charger

Multi-unit chargers, also called “bank chargers”, work the same way as single-unit chargers, and can simultaneously charge up to six radios. Six bank chargers work well when you want to interchange two or more fleets of radios over the course of a working week. Employ the fully charged radios at the beginning of the day and place another fleet of radios in the charging bank for charging throughout the day. The next day, simply repeat the process and you will always have fully charged batteries.

Tips for Extending the Life of Your Two-Way Batteries

There are many ways you can help your batteries last longer. Here are five simple tips you can use to improve the life of your 2-way radio batteries.

  • Initialize Your Batteries: When charging your battery for the first time, make sure you leave it in the charger for up to 12 hours. This is known as “initializing” your battery and it will help you get the longest life from your battery.
  • Keep Contact Points Clean and Dry: Keep the contacts clean and dry on both the radio and the chargers. This will make sure your battery will not short out and will also improve the speed of the charging process. Try some paper towels with a little rubbing alcohol.
  • Avoid Extreme Temperatures: Always protect your battery from heat including direct sunlight or flames. Batteries should be kept and charged in a cool, dry environment. Similarly, try to keep your batteries away from extreme cold temperatures like inside of a car in the winter.
  • Don’t Overcharge Your Batteries: Overcharging your radio can also reduce battery life. Charge only when necessary to maximize the life of your batteries. A charge is recommended once the battery is down to 10% or 20% of its capacity. When the radio begins to beep, this is often an alert that the battery needs charging. Once completed, remove your batteries from the charger. Also, using the charging station as a battery stand will ultimately shorten the life cycle of your batteries.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Conversation: One of the simplest ways to extend the battery life during a work shift is to limit the amount of time your speak into a radio and try to communication only when necessary.

Chargers can be tricky to use for new two-way radio users. In this video, we educate you on what the lights mean, how to correctly charger your radio, and inform you about the proper charging techniques.

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