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FRS/GMRS changes

posted May 8, 2017, 10:09 AM by Charles Boling   [ updated May 8, 2017, 10:10 AM ]
The FCC is finally addressing the embarrassment known as FRS/GMRS.  They acknowledge that "many" (uh, well over 95%?) of people who purchase the FRS/GMRS combo "walkie talkies" from consumer stores operate them illegally in GMRS mode (I used to be only one of two people in my ZIP code to actually have a GMRS license; now our numbers have doubled!), and that that horse is already out of the barn and miles down the road.  The FCC further states that it really hasn't caused any problems to licensed GMRS users -- at least not that have been reported.  (I doubt many people have bothered to report interference whose source is not consistent enough to track down.)

The FCC has issued a 114-page "Report and Order" revising many Part 95 (Personal Radio Service) sub-services. The most significant changes, however, pertain to FRS/GMRS.

3 months from whenever the changes are officially released, these changes (and others) will take effect:
  • FRS users may use all 22 FRS/GMRS channels at up to 2 Watts*
  • "Real" GMRS users can also use all 22 of the same channels (no more FRS-only freqs), as well as continuing to use the existing 8 repeater channels.*
  • No combo radios may be sold. Today's combo radios are more restrictive than tomorrow's FRS-only radios will be, with the exception that you might find a rare combo unit that can output 5 Watts.

* Actually, the 7 467 MHz interstitial channels that were previously FRS-only are still limited to 0.5 Watts

The only truly new capability this opens up is 4x the power for unlicensed operation.  The additional channels for FRS users will be nice to them, esp. in urban areas where the spectrum is more crowded, but in rural areas the power increase is definitely the important thing, both to increase range when talking to other FRS users, and to better balance the power when talking to a GMRS base station.*

* I do not believe that the rules have ever contained any prohibition of FRS/GMRS inter-service operation, though I could have missed something.  It does not make a lot of sense to me to prohibit such use on shared frequencies.

This makes FRS a slightly more attractive option for neighborhood EmComm.  With the addition of a licensed GMRS base station operated by the neighborhood communications coordinator, its utility is greatly increased; even with the rugged terrain around my house, I can talk to hand-held users a mile away reliably.

A copy of the FCC's R&O draft can be found at https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-344617A1.pdf