Posts Tagged ‘GMRS’
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.
Most automobiles don’t provide a lot of room for mounting ham radio transceivers. (Obviously, their design priorities are wrong!) Because of this, many ham transceivers have removable control panels that can be mounted on the dashboard and the main radio is installed somewhere else, such as under a seat.
Midland radio is doing some interesting things with micro-sized radios for the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). The MXT275 MicroMobile® Two-Way Radio puts all of the radio controls and the display in the handheld microphone.
This radio reminded me of an old Yaesu radio, the FT-8500, which had almost all of the controls crammed onto the microphone. (Someone named the microphone “Mr. Potatohead” which seems appropriate, but I did not name it.) This radio had the display on the radio body, which seems like a limitation. At any rate, this rig was not very popular. I do not know anyone that owned one.
So the FT-8500 was not a big hit but maybe it is time for another go at a microphone-centric transceiver. I am thinking a basic 2m/70 cm FM radio could use this approach to ease the mobile installation challenge.
Simplicity in Design
You may be thinking that a GMRS radio is fundamentally simpler than a typical VHF/UHF ham transceiver. This is true…a typical GMRS radio has 22 channels that might have options such as CTCSS tones and repeater offset. A typical ham transceiver has more frequencies, more features, and lots of settings required.
However, if you consider the typical FM transceiver setup and usage, most people set up the memories for the repeater and simplex channels they use, usually via programming software. After that, operating the radio is 99% just selecting the desired memory channel. This kind of usage lends itself to having a simpler set of controls that can be incorporated into the microphone. This approach will require a good understanding of user needs and some careful design work to create a radio that works well.
This type of radio design will probably not work for everyone. There will be hams that want every feature available all of the time. That’s just fine. However, the microphone-centric approach may be a good fit for installation in the “other car” that doesn’t get used quite so much. Or in the case where a family member objects to having a Real Radio cluttering up the dashboard.
Using this type of radio will be a lot like using a handheld transceiver, with the addition of a microphone cable, but no batteries or antenna cable drooping down. The Midland radio has the speaker in the radio unit but it may be better to put it in the microphone (with the option of plugging in an external speaker.)
I think this idea would well for some number of mobile radio installations. What do you think?
73 Bob K0NR
Lately, I’ve been talking with people in search of basic radio communications for their friends or family. They end up talking to me because someone steered them to ham radio as a solution and I teach ham radio license classes. Of course, I am happy to pull them into the wonderful ham radio world but sometimes the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) might be a better way of meeting their needs.
I have a GMRS license and have written about it. See GMRS: The Other UHF Band. GMRS is a good fit for local communications, perhaps just using simplex or with repeaters, if available in your area. FCC regulations (Part 95) require you to have a license (and pay a fee) to use GMRS. Unlike ham radio, the license does not require you to pass an exam and the license is valid for you and your family members.
GMRS works well for family communication “around town” or some local area. Depending on the type of equipment used, simplex range of 10 or 15 miles is achievable, maybe more. The use of repeaters can extend this a lot further. You might even decide to put a GMRS repeater on the air, which is not too difficult of a project.
Another common use of GMRS is when a group is traveling down the highway in multiple vehicles. Yes, you might be able to just use your mobile phone to stay in touch but a two-way radio may be a better solution (especially when mobile phone coverage is poor or non-existent). Many off-road vehicle clubs have discovered GMRS and use it for communicating during trail rides.
GMRS is also a great tool for outdoor activities such as camping, hunting, hiking and skiing. It is a handy way of staying in touch with your tribe, while not depending on the mobile phone network.
GMRS Is Not FRS
GMRS often gets confused with the Family Radio Service (FRS). They both include the use of inexpensive, low-power handheld radios and they share many of the same frequencies. When the FCC authorized FRS, GMRS was already an established radio service and it squeezed FRS into the same band. FRS radios were limited to lower output power, so many manufacturers decided to offer combination FRS/GMRS radios, which operated at higher power levels. The user was supposed to obtain a GMRS license to use this type of radio but most people didn’t bother with it. (Most people probably didn’t even know of the requirement.) The FCC also specified 2.5 kHz (half deviation) FM for the FRS radios on the same channels as the existing 5 kHz deviation GMRS radios. Intermingling an unlicensed radio service with a licensed service was probably not a wise move. In general, the FCC regulations caused a lot of confusion between the two services.
In 2017, the FCC adopted a major revision to the GMRS rules to clean up some of the problems with the service. In particular, the regulations now prohibit the sale of combination FRS/GMRS radios. A great idea but a bit too late in the game.
The GMRS rules are pretty easy to understand, so take a look here: FCC Part 95 – Personal Radio Services
There are basic handheld transceivers for GMRS. They look and act a lot like the FRS radios that are widely available, but GMRS can provide more capability. An advanced handheld radio will have support for using repeaters (transmit offset) and higher power (up to 5 watts).
To dramatically improve the radio range, you can use GMRS mobile and base stations that can run even more power, up to 50 watts. More importantly, you can use external antennas on your vehicle or your house. These can make a huge difference in performance. (FRS is limited to handheld transceivers and the permanently-attached rubber duck antenna.)
For radio amateurs, this should all sound pretty familiar. GMRS looks and acts a lot like an FM transceiver on the 440 MHz (70 cm) band. It is a great alternative for local radio communications for people not interested in a technical hobby such as amateur radio.
I’ve always had a liking for the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). It’s a licensed radio service but does not require a technical exam so it works great for basic personal communications. When our kids were young we made good use of GMRS communications. This was back in the Pre-Cellphone Era, shortly after the dinosaurs left the earth. I still have my GMRS license: KAF1068
GMRS uses frequencies in the general vicinity of 462 and 467 MHz. When the FCC created the Family Radio Service, they intermingled the FRS and GMRS channels, creating a real mess. See this page for a good explanation of how FRS and GMRS frequencies are arranged. Many of the low cost walkie-talkie radios sold in stores are combination FRS/GMRS radios.
I recently came across this really sweet little GMRS rig, the Midland MXT-100 Micro Mobile GMRS Radio. This thing is nice and small with an external mag-mount antenna for the roof of the car. It only has 5W of output power, which is not much more than a typical FRS/GMRS handheld radio but the external antenna should help a lot. (I’ve heard there are newer models on the way so stay tuned for that.)
I’ve encountered 4WD / Jeep clubs that use FRS radios for on the trail communications. This Midland radio would be a good upgrade for that kind of use, providing additional radio range. Some of these 4WD enthusiasts have gotten their ham ticket via our Technician license class. Ham radio provides a lot more capability but not everyone in their club is likely to get their ham license. GMRS is a great alternative…the other UHF band. It will work for other outdoor, community and club activities that involve “non radio” people.
FCC recently reduced the cost of the GMRS license to $65 for 5 years. I suspect that most people don’t bother with getting a license…but they should. For more detail on GMRS, see the FCC GMRS Page or for some good bedtime reading see the FCC Part 95 Rules.
73, Bob KØNR