What’s the difference between Family Radio Service (FRS) band or the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)? The world of two-way radios is full of acronyms and they can start to feel kind of overwhelming if you aren’t super familiar with the ins and outs of radio frequencies, citizen bands, and megahertz. So if you’re trying to choose between a GMRS or FRS Midland radio and feel stumped, don’t stress about it. We can break down the difference and help you decide which is the best type of radio for your needs.
Family Radio Service (FRS) was developed for consumer use in no small part thanks to Radio Shack, who saw a need to define and preserve special radio frequencies for consumers that were separate from other bandwidths reserved for other types of communication. While walkie talkies had grown more popular with civilians since World War II, by the 1990s there was also increasing competition for radio frequencies.
In the 1970s, the popularity of CB radio meant there was more competition at lower frequencies with walkie talkies, which didn’t have as powerful a signal. That’s when the FCC moved walkie talkies up to 49 megahertz, to keep them from picking up conversations leaking from CB rigs.
That was all well and good until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when once again competition from other wireless devices like baby monitors started to squeeze those lower frequencies walkie talkies had been operating on. Radio Shack suggested that the FCC define frequencies between 462 and 467 MHz for recreational walkie talkie use, which they have operated on ever since.
That’s why when you use an FRS two-way radio you don’t have to worry about picking up your favorite classic rock station or cordless telephone conversations. You also don’t have to worry about the pitfall of the old push-to-talk feature on early cell phones, which was that they interfered with frequencies reserved for emergency personnel. Essentially, anyone with a two-way radio can freely use FRS channels. Any competition for bandwidth that comes from multiple parties with two-way radios trying to operate their devices in close proximity can be managed with the channel and privacy code features now offered on many walkie talkies.
The general public is most familiar with radios utilizing FRS, as they are the ones you most often come across in big box stores and online retailers like Amazon. They come ready to operate right out of the box and are typically utilized for outdoor leisure activities, i.e. hunting, hiking, mountain sports, etc. These are usually small walkie talkies that do not offer much in the way of customization, if any.
If you are going to be using your walkie talkies for close range, within 1-2 miles depending on terrain, the Family Radio Service will work great for you. The FRS has limitations for how powerful your radios can be in order to use it, 2 watts max output capacity, making it great for most amateur uses but due to the limited power output, the range of the radios you use are set.
The FCC also does not allow for users of the FRS to use repeaters or signal boosters that could amplify a radio's range. If you find yourself in need of more range or are in a dense area that is impeding your signal, you will have to consider upgrading to a more powerful two way radio that utilized the GMRS.
GMRS radios, on the other hand, use specific frequencies within that same band designated for FRS radios: 462-467 MHz. The difference is that GMRS radios have designated channels within those frequencies that aren’t available to FRS radios. GMRS radios also require a license from the FCC to operate.
That’s in part because they are more powerful. FRS walkie talkies can’t be modified to amplify their signal to reach further distances. GMRS radios, however, can be modified to have a stronger, farther-ranging signal, at least up to 50 watts. That means that a GMRS radio can have all the same capabilities as an FRS radio in addition to special channels that FRS can’t access, and the option to extend the range of the product. If you're looking for power and range with GMRS, check out retevis's best two way radios.
Individuals and small businesses who require a radio with a little more power than FRS, but don't quite need the services offered by LMR devices should gravitate towards the GMRS. The General Mobile Radio Service provides many pros for its sector with virtually the only con being that the FCC requires its users to acquire a license for use.
Due to the higher power output of GMRS walkie talkies, they tend to have louder transmissions as well as clearer signals. The stronger signal can penetrate through interfering terrain much more easily than a signal under 2W. Also, with GMRS, users are able to utilize mobile two way radios and signal repeaters that can greatly enhance the power and range of your radios. Your typical handheld GMRS radios will be between 1-5W power output and mobile two way radios are usually 30-50W.
The difference in wattage across devices provides another plus to consumers utilizing the GMRS: customizability to individual use cases. Plus with the addition of mobile radios and repeaters, your entire communication network can be tailored to your needs.
GMRS radios are more customizable frankly because they are more expensive units than those on the FRS. As with most products, as prices are raised, so increases the features one can expect to see. The higher-powered GMRS devices, as well as manufacturer specific features let this sector of two way radios stand above FRS walkie talkies.
The GMRS class of radios also offers much better security than walkie talkies that can operate on the FRS. While FRS radio companies use codes on each channel to help filter out other signals from FRS users, this is by far a system with cracks letting interference occur from time to time. With devices in the GMRS, you are given greater message security because you have been licensed to use a private frequency by the FCC. This provides inherent privacy not available in the FRS. LMR radios offer higher quality security measures such as encrypted security keys, and digital “packing” of your sensitive information.
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