An introduction: FRS and GMRS radios

November 30, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Imagine the scene, you're the unfortunate victim of a storm, a winter white out, or a tropical hurricane that affects you at the local or maybe regional level. Your power is out, you have no cell service and of course, you need to contact someone ... check on a loved one, or worse, you need the assistance of the emergency services. What do you do?

You can always pop round to your neighbor ... but do they have power, maybe a generator? Is their cell service provider still up and running? Maybe they are one of the few who still have a landline telephone? If the answer is no to these questions, what are you going to do?

It's a grim scenario I know but it can be a frequent one depending where you live. To so many, this scene is never thought of, let alone discussed or planned for. Thankfully, all hope is not lost. Enter Midland USA and their line of FRS and GMRS two-way radios.

This is 2020 and mobile communications are nothing new. They have been around in various forms for decades but have recently grown in popularity due to the improvement in battery technology, providing more reliable and more powerful communication options. Aimed predominantly at the recreational market, FRS (Family Radio Service) & GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios are relatively inexpensive and portable. They are most commonly used for short distance two-way communication using small hand held radios that appear similar to walkie-talkies. It is important to note that the equipment used for FRS is low power (0.5 watt) and therefore has a short transmit & receive range which can also be affected by the terrain around you.

Unlike Amateur radio, transmitting on FRS equipment does NOT require the user to have a license. On the other hand, transmitting on GMRS equipment will require the user to be licensed. There is no test to obtain a GMRS license, it is good for 10 years and allows all family members to use the licensee's equipment. Detailed information on FRS/GMRS networks and licensing is available on the FCC website. Click Here

Just like FRS, GMRS radios are relatively inexpensive and portable, used for short distance two-way communication using small hand held radios but are more powerful with hand held units (5 watt) and mobile vehicular type units (15-40 watt) that can utilize repeater stations for increased range. Battery life is generally very good obviously usage-dependent but can be maximized if transmission time is reduced and channel scanning is the major use. Most radios come supplied with rechargeable batteries but they can also be powered by regular AAA batteries. The radios can also be charged while on the go via the supplied USB cable in your vehicle or by an alternative portable power source.

These radios are very popular and in demand because of their reliability and proven performance. Campers, trekkers and overland enthusiasts have embraced FRS and GMRS. Jeep have adopted these systems for their hugely popular Jeep Jamborees, a series of off-road adventure weekends across the United States that bring together the outdoors, down-to-earth people and their Jeep 4x4 vehicles. These off-road treks have been a long tradition dating back to 1953! 

Don't dismiss these two-way radios as just for recreation though. Due to their size, cost and ease of use, FRS & GMRS two-way radios have found their way into many other worlds where instant and mobile communication is needed ... location photography, local event management/security, retail stores, factories and many others implement and utilize the commercial uses and benefits that the FRS/GMRS network offers.

As this blog series addresses Emergency Preparedness in a suburban environment, we feel that having a local FRS/GMRS radio community network can prove incredibly vital in an emergency situation. Initially the short range coverage may seem a negative point but setting up a local network of survivors and rescuers that have access to a handy communication tool would be invaluable in any crisis or emergency situation.

We received examples of The X-Talker, GXT-Pro and MicroMobile two-way radios from Midland USA for review and evaluation. The products tested are currently available from Midland USA and we will look in more detail at the features and performance of these radios in our next Emergency Preparedness blog.



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