GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) is a service using radios of low
to fairly high power transceivers that are used for hobby, personal, or business use.
The General Mobile Radio Service can be
confused with FRS Radio (Family Radio Service). The difference is that
GMRS Radio is permitted a higher output to reach further distances, and has more channels
(however, within the General Mobile Radio Service frequencies, FRS does share some channels).
FRS on the other hand, is very limited in power output. GMRS walkie-talkies are
available with outputs anywhere from 1 watt to around 4 watts, and mobile/base units are permitted
by regulation of up to 50 watts output on certain channels. FRS handie-talkies however, are limited to their
14 frequencies (channels) and to 500 mW (half a watt), and are not permitted in mobile or base
form. Some of the FRS channels are also used as GMRS Frequencies. Also, FRS is restricted by a
fixed antenna; you can't add an external antenna (which will greatly increase your range) as you can with
the General Mobile Radio Service. However, there is no license required for FRS use. It
is entirely license free! That alone can save you $85, the fee for a General Mobile Radio Service license. For more information on this
License from the FCC, go to the GMRS License page.
Although the General Mobile Radio Service is officially available only in the U.S. and Canada,
although other countries do have their own variations thereof. PMR446 is a radio service available in many European
countries which features 8 fixed channels in the UHF spectrum at 446 MHz, but it restricts users to 500 mW output,
so it is closer to FRS than the General Mobile Radio Service. And the channels are not the same as North
America uses for General Mobile Radio Service frequencies, so the two radios are not interchangeable with each
other; using a PMR446 radio in North America will land you in a heap of trouble as you will be transmitting on
someone's assigned frequencies; same thing would happen if you tried to use a North American General Mobile Radio
Service radio in Europe.
The most popular and least expensive type of GMRS 2-way radio is the walkie-talkie, also known
as handie-talkie (see below). There are also mobile units available, which offer much more flexibility
along with higher power and repeater capability, but the vast majority of radios on the market today are the
bubble-pack walkie-talkies. These are available in the absolute widest variety and at the best
prices from Amazon. You can find these in big box department stores as well, but selection will be
poor. Also, the professional GMRS Radios, which have longer
range, higher output and more features, will not be found at all in retail stores but
are available online at Amazon: Icom, Motorola and others (see right sidebar) offer higher power and have
GMRS repeater capabilities. Most all of these professional UHF radios
will have quite a frequency spread however, so it's important to make sure you operate only on
the designated GMRS frequencies and when on FRS channels, reduce power output to 500 mW.
There are changes coming from the FCC with the General Mobile Radio Service which
will probably result in lower power output and the elimation of repeaters, but it is not cast in stone nor will any
changes be in the short term. See History and Future of GMRS
for some more information.
FRS channels and GMRS channels
are shared between the two services and in fact many GMRS radios will operate on both frequencies; however
when using the less expensive walkie-talkies, output power is automatically reduced when on the FRS
frequencies. Click here for the GMRS Frequencies List to see
how GMRS and FRS are related.
900 MHz Radios
There are some fairly new radios on the market which use the 900 MHz band and are license
free! So far, only two manufacturers, TriSquare (which unfortunately,
appears to be discontinued) and Motorola manufacture walkie-talkies
on 900 MHz frequencies. TriSquare handies are priced comparable to higher-end GMRS radios and are very
reasonably priced, but the Motorolas are priced much higher, as they are marketed as "business" radios with a ton
of features found on the best quality radios.
Amateur Radio, aka HAM Radio
If you're seeking to expand your radio horizons, aka: bitten by the radio bug,
you want to look into HAM radio, officially known
as Amateur Radio. I put together a page showing
some excellent study guides and top quality radios for beginners
all the way to us old-timers!