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The 2-Meter Two-Step: Hints for Two-way Communications

Updated on January 7, 2015
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Neil got interested in amateur (ham) radio in high school. He currently holds a General Class license.

Something as simple as a wire wrapped around the base of the antenna of one of these tiny transceivers can make a huge difference in how well the two people using them can communicate.
Something as simple as a wire wrapped around the base of the antenna of one of these tiny transceivers can make a huge difference in how well the two people using them can communicate.

The secret to the 2 meter two step is the wavelength of the radio waves. In general the wavelength is calculated with the following formula.

Wavelength (in feet) = 936 / frequency in Megahertz.

So for 2 meters (average 146 Megahertz) the wavelength would be just under six and a half feet (3 to 4 steps for the average person). This means that two steps will in many cases move the operator from a place where the signal is non existent to a place where the signal is at it’s peak.

For cell phones (that operate somewhere around 800 Megahertz) the distance is even shorter, just over a foot, making the distance needed only a few inches.

There are, of course other factors, (like the environment and obstacles) but if there is a signal available, this can help.

‘Take two steps to the right’. Sounds like a dance move, right? It can also be the key to communicating in tight (remote) places by way of 2 meter (or many other two-way forms, including cell phones) radio. Early in my amateur radio career I was on a camp-out in a narrow canyon, showing some cub scouts how amateur radio worked. I was standing on one side of the equipment van and was getting into the local repeater (in amateur radio a repeater re-broadcasts small signals to a wider area. Cell towers perform a similar function) with my tiny hand-held radio. Later in the evening I stood on the other side of the van (two big steps to the right) and I could barely hear the repeater and was unable to make an auto-patch call (an auto-patch allows amateurs to access a phone line), which was the whole reason I’d turned the radio on again. Many hams will refer to these places where they can communicate as hot spots, but whatever you call them, they can appear and disappear in a few as two steps (sometimes even less).

The 2 meter two step is not just for hand-held radios. The difference between being able to communicate through a repeater and not can also be as little as one or two car lengths. At a yearly marathon that I help provide communications for, I was parked at a certain place in a narrow canyon where I knew I could get into the local repeater. In years past I had even been able to get into that repeater with a hand-held using my mobile antenna. A fellow radio operator had come down from one of the stations where all of the runners had already passed and parked in front of me. Even at full power they were unable to get into the repeater at all. The length of a car made all of the difference.

There are others ways of improving the signal from a hand-held radio transceiver. Most involve improvements to the antenna (since there are limits to how much power a hand-held can put out, even with an external power source). The easiest (and least expensive) is to simply put a piece of wire around the base of the stock antenna, often referred to as a rubber duck antenna. For an SMS (screw on) connection, this is simply a matter of loosening the antenna and sliding the wire into the gap, then re-tightening the antenna. For a BNC connection, it’s a matter of wrapping the wire around the metal part of the connection. In either case the wire that hangs off the antenna should be about 19 inches (for 2 meters, other frequencies will do better with other lengths of wire). The next step up would be a completely different antenna, but that is another story.

While this article focuses on amateur radio, it can also be used for the computerized radios we call cell phones, blue-tooth radios, FRS (Family Radio Service) or CB radios and even GPS navigation systems. While the frequencies used are usually higher, hams (amateur radio operators) have privileges on near-by bands, and the principles are the same. The main difference being, as the frequency goes up, the distance between communicating and not goes down. So when coverage on 2 meters (or whatever radio band you’re operating on, even if it is a cell phone) is spotty, try the 2 meter two step.



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      Casimiro 4 years ago

      Nice tips Neil. I like how you extended them to other UHF devices.