One Radio To Rule Them All (Ham, GMRS, FRS, MURS)?
From time to time, the question is raised about using radio equipment in multiple radio services. One common example is a licensed radio amateur that wants one radio to cover the Family Radio Service (FRS), General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), and the 2m/70cm ham bands. Some people also want the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)…or maybe even marine VHF or aircraft VHF. The thinking goes that if one radio can transmit and receive on all these frequencies and that person is authorized to use those frequencies, then one radio can do it all.
This seems like a reasonable objective but the problem is that the FCC has a few rules and regulations that come into play. This leads to an important note: I am writing about the FCC rules and regs here…you may choose to ignore them but that’s on you.
Part 97: Amateur Radio Service
First, the good news. The Amateur Radio Service, governed by FCC Part 97, has very few restrictions on the type of equipment you can use. Heck, you can build a transceiver from parts and put it on the air. So the ham rules are not going to be a major limitation.
Part 95: FRS, GMRS and MURS
FRS, GMRS, and MURS radios are governed by FCC Part 95. Section 95.591 says this about FRS radios:
§ 95.591 Sales of FRS combination radios prohibited.
Effective September 30, 2019, no person shall sell or offer for sale hand-held portable radio equipment capable of operating under this subpart (FRS) and under any other licensed or licensed-by-rule radio services in this chapter (devices may be authorized under this subpart with part 15 unlicensed equipment authorizations).
Section 95.1761 says this about GMRS transmitters:
(c) No GMRS transmitter will be certified for use in the GMRS if it is equipped with a frequency capability not listed in § 95.1763, unless such transmitter is also certified for use in another radio service for which the frequency is authorized and for which certification is also required. No GMRS transmitter will be certified for use in the GMRS if it is equipped with the capabilities to operate in services that do not require equipment certification, such as the Amateur Radio Service. All frequency determining circuitry (including crystals) and programming controls in each GMRS transmitter must be internal to the transmitter and must not be accessible from the exterior of the transmitter operating panel or from the exterior of the transmitter enclosure.
(d) Effective December 27, 2017, the Commission will no longer issue a grant of equipment authorization for hand-held portable unit transmitter types under both this subpart (GMRS) and subpart B of this part (FRS).
Similarly, MURS radios have this restriction (Part 95.2761):
(c) A grant of equipment certification will not be issued for MURS transmitters capable of operating under both this subpart (MURS) and under any other subparts of this chapter (except part 15).
The FCC is saying (requiring) that FRS, GMRS and MURS radios must work on their designated frequencies and nothing else. At one time, it was legal to sell a combination FRS/GMRS radio but the FCC has specifically removed that option. Part 95.1761 seems to leave an opening for a GMRS radio that is also certified for use in another radio service, but that is a very thin opening and it specifically excludes the Amateur Radio Service.
Now, why would the FCC put these restrictions in the regulations? The answer is pretty simple: these radio services are intended to be used by everyday, non-technical folks. The radios need to be simple to use and not include the capability to wander off onto any old frequency. Hence, the rules lock down the frequencies that the radios can use.
(As a side note, this regulatory approach is good for amateur radio. Imagine if FRS radios had Channel 30 set up to transmit on 146.52 MHz, with a note in the manual that says “only use this channel if you have an amateur radio license.” We would have a crapton of unlicensed operating on 2 meters.)
Part 90: Private Land Mobile Radio Services
Part 90 regulates a broad range of land mobile radio, including public service, police/fire, search and rescue, forestry, utilities, and businesses. Licensing is very specific under Part 90. A radio license will specify a particular set of frequencies allowed, specific power levels and emission types, and even the allowed operating location of the radios.
Radios designed for Part 90 are usually programmed by a radio tech to operate only those specific frequencies that a licensee is authorized to use. This results in a relatively simple operating set up with the user just selecting from the preset channels on the radio. Part 90 radios normally cover a wide range of frequencies so that the manufacturer and the radio shop can sell one radio model to any licensed user.
In many cases, these Part 90 radios cover the adjacent amateur bands, such as 2m and 70cm. (For example, the Anytone AT-D878UV is Part 90 certified and covers 140-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz.) So this does open up the possibility of using a Part 90 radio under a Part 90 license and using it on the ham bands. A typical scenario is when a Search and Rescue member has a Part 90 radio set up to use the S&R frequency as well as the 2m/70cm amateur bands. The key to this is starting with a radio that is Part 90 certified and then programming it for the amateur band. Of course, you need to be authorized to use the Part 90 frequency and have an amateur radio license.
Getting Creative on Radio Configuration
A few years ago, Anytone Tech tried to market the TERMN-8R VHF/UHF radio as legal for the ham bands, GMRS, MURS and Part 90 use. An early review of this radio is here on the PD0AC blog. Basically, the radio had three distinct operating modes: GMRS, MURS, and Commercial/Normal. Initially, the FCC approved the radio but later took a closer look and canceled the authorization. The TERMN-8R is still available but without the three modes. It is marketed as a Part 90 radio that also does the amateur bands.
I recently became aware of the Anytone AT-779UV which is sold in the USA as a Part 95 GMRS radio. However, using the programming software, the radio can be configured to cover the 2m and 70cm amateur bands or a much broader range of frequencies (136-174 & 400-470 MHz). If you change the radio configuration to operate on the ham bands (or wider), the radio is no longer Part 95 certified. The configuration via software takes some knowledge and effort so it is not a mode that you can easily switch back and forth. It is really no different than other software-programmable radios.
Wrap It Up
So there you go, your dream of One Radio To Rule Them All (FRS, GMRS, MURS, and the 2m/70cm ham bands) is not going to happen. At least not legally. You can configure a radio to do this…but it will not meet FCC regulations. However, you can configure a Part 90 radio to operate legally on Part 90 frequencies and on the amateur bands.
The post One Radio To Rule Them All (Ham, GMRS, FRS, MURS)? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.
I don’t know, but suspect that what the FCC wants to stop is another situation like the CB craze in the ’70s. At the time licenses were required for the equipment and that rule was completed ignored as millions of people bought radios, frequently running them far over their legal limits and ranges. Keeping a tight lid on equipment might avoid…well, lids. Another question might be whether there is a reason to still separate MURS, FRS and GMRS, but that is a different issue.