GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios are a convenient middle-of-the-road option between FRS (Family Radio Service) and ham radios. GMRS radios are typically available as handheld “walkie-talkies,” although other models, such as mobile stations, can be mounted in a vehicle.
GMRS radios are particularly popular for recreational activities and certain types of worksites, as they offer enough power for effective communication while remaining easy to operate. Here are 10 reasons why obtaining a GMRS license is a great idea!
Licensing Process is Simple
Before operating a GMRS radio, you will need to receive a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The GMRS licensing process is significantly simpler than what it takes to operate a ham radio, which requires the operator to pass an exam to receive the most basic operating license – and two more exams for higher licensing levels.
Here are the main steps you will need to follow to get a GMRS license:
Step 1: Create an account with the FCC. Here is the new user registration page.
Step 2: Sign up for an FCC registration number (FRN) through CORES (Commission Registration System). Here is the CORES login page. You should be directed to this next step when you go to verify your new FCC account through your email.
Step 3: Apply for a new license through the FCC Universal Licensing System (ULS) by filling out FCC Form 605. There will be a $35 license fee. Note that Form 605 is used for a number of other applications, so be sure to follow the instructions specific to GMRS licensing.
One License Covers Your Family
A ham license only applies to one individual, while a GMRS radio license actually covers all immediate family members. The licensee is responsible for proper use of the radio, but their license covers their “spouse, children, grandchildren, stepchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and in-laws” per 47 CFR § 95.1705. Other people may only use the GMRS radio in an emergency situation.
While the licensee must be at least 18 years old, family members of the licensee may be under 18 and still use the GMRS radio – making a GMRS license a convenient option for families with young children.
Licensing Adds Security
The fact that GMRS radios require licensing adds a level of security to your communications. Anyone can access CB frequencies, for example, but GMRS frequencies are only accessible by licensed users who are approved by the FCC. The higher frequencies of GMRS are also theoretically less likely to be intercepted than low-frequency CB channels.
GMRS is Easy to Operate
GMRS radios are very simple to operate, as they don’t require programming. Ease of use makes these radios ideal for children or adults who don’t want the inconvenience of a more complicated device. Unless you intend to modify your device with additional radio equipment (such as an antenna), your handheld GMRS radio will likely be ready to go out of the box.
Just remember there is still radio etiquette that applies to GMRS users. For example, you must identify yourself using your call sign after any message, and every 15 minutes for lengthy transmissions. You can find a list of permissible uses and non-permissible uses of GMRS radios in 47 CFR § 95.
Most GMRS radio models are portable, and they’re also typically wearable. This advanced walkie-talkie is a convenient choice for activities where your hands are occupied, and some GMRS radio models even include jacks for head-mounted mics and earpieces. Not only does ease of use allow for communication during outdoor activities, it’s also a safety consideration in group settings where children will need to keep their radio with them.
Achieve Better Range than FRS
Handheld FRS radios are common types of walkie-talkies that don’t require an FCC license – so why bother with GMRS? FRS is handy for very short distances, but the added power of GMRS radios is more likely to give you the communication range you’re looking for. In the right conditions, GMRS radios can reach between 5-10 miles, compared to the 1-2 miles of an FRS radio.
These are the power limitations of FRS radios compared to GMRS radios based on channel selection:
- Channels 1 – 7: FRS Power 2 Watts, GMRS Power 5 Watts
- Channels 8 –14: FRS Power 0.5 Watts, GMRS Power 0.5 Watts (low power)
- Channels 9 – 22: FRS Power 2 Watts, GMRS Power 50 Watts
- Repeaters 1 – 8, (No FRS access), GMRS Power 50 Watts
Get Access to Repeater Channels
GMRS radios have access to eight repeater channels, significantly maximizing the potential transmission range of your radio. Repeaters are radios that are set up to receive and retransmit everything they hear. This capability is not available for FRS radios but is an important feature for GMRS radios, whose range would otherwise be limited by line of sight.
For example, if two groups of hikers are located on opposite sides of a mountain, you can place a repeater on the mountaintop to allow radio communication from one side to the other.
Talk to Other GMRS and FRS Users
GMRS and FRS radios share the same 22 channels in the 462 to 467 frequency range (70cm band). This means you can use your GMRS radio to communicate with users of both devices. Shared channels are particularly helpful in group settings where not everyone has the same type of radio.
What counts as a “walkie-talkie”?
Walkie-talkies may sound like toys since they are available in cheap, easy-to-use models often given to kids. But the term “walkie-talkie” refers to any portable two-way radio communication device, regardless of its complexity or quality.
Enjoy Good Sound Quality
Even though FRS and GMRS channels are the same, GMRS radios provide much better sound quality than an FRS radio, the lowest-powered amateur radio on the market. And while GMRS radios don’t get the range advantage of an AM radio – such as a traditional CB radio – using FM over shorter distances accomplishes a much better sound.
Many GMRS radios also come with a feature called “privacy codes.” Privacy codes do not keep your messages from being heard by other users, but they allow you to tune out unwanted messages from users outside of your group.
Experiment with Versatile Antenna Options
You can customize your GMRS radio with a variety of antenna options, especially when using bigger models than the handheld walkie-talkie. Put a large antenna on a repeater radio for maximum reception, or mount GMRS radios in off-road or street-legal vehicles connected to larger antennas. In recent years, GMRS radios have even been allowed to tie into cell phones via apps for location services and text messages.
GMRS Works in Recreational and Professional Settings
GMRS handheld radios are great for recreational activities such as hiking, mountain biking, or climbing. Their ease of use and group licensing work well for adults and minors alike, offering a safe, reliable form of communication with significantly better range and sound quality than a standard FRS walkie-talkie.
Since GMRS radios use Ultra High Frequencies (UHF), they can penetrate objects (such as buildings) better than VHF radios, even if the signals don’t travel as far. GMRS radios can be a good choice for above-ground work settings like construction sites, lumber yards, or farms. Professional use of GMRS radios should be limited to site-based operations that may have barriers but don’t span large distances.
However, keep in mind that signals are easily degraded by rock – especially rocks with a high metal content – as well as dense, wet conditions like forests and swamps. If you anticipate being in those kinds of challenging environments, you will want to consider using a high-quality ham radio instead of a simpler GMRS radio that relies on line-of-sight voice communication.
Is a GMRS Radio the Best Option?
The type of radio that will be best for you depends entirely on how you will use it. GMRS radios are convenient, simple radios with minimal licensing requirements – and they’re definitely a step up from a basic FRS walkie-talkie in terms of range and quality. But if you’re looking for a high-powered radio that can achieve long-distance communications, you should consider getting your ham radio license instead.
Ham radios are popular among hobbyists who enjoy more complex radio operations and are crucial pieces of equipment for disaster relief efforts. Learn more about the differences between GMRS and Ham radios to decide the right fit for you.