GMRS Explained: Not Quite Ham, Not Quite Public

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CommoFreq

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ALCON,

It's been a while since I dropped by, since I deleted my FB account and couldn't figure out how to get back into the forums. Well, I figured it out. I'm still around. Anyhow, now I can talk about GMRS for a little while.

Bad news first: You need a license to operate on GMRS frequencies. Well, legally, that is.
Good news: There's no test for you to take like with ham licenses. You simply pay your way in.

If you've seen some of my other posts, I've been starkly against making the Family Radio Service (FRS) your primary means of communication. It's way too popular, and very incapable. It should actually be a last resort.

Yes, have an FRS radio, for listening and gaining information. But use something else if you want to actually do some talking of your own when Doomsday comes. That's just my personal thing - I'm sure there are others who may disagree. And this sentiment of mine hasn't changed. Everyone has their own way of doing business.

Now, when I first heard of GMRS, I lumped it immediately into the same waste bin as FRS. Oh, how wrong I was about doing that!




GMRS hand-helds


What GMRS actually . . . is

You can think of GMRS as a "cheat code" into the ham radio world, and all things about it that gives you a huge advantage over "conventional" communications.

More specifically, the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is kinda weird. All of its channels fall within the 440 (70cm) ham band, and some of those channels are also FRS channels too. It's kind of a mix of ham and GMRS, with a sprinkle of FRS on top. So you're getting the advantage of using ham frequencies, without having to take a test for a ham license!

Let's take this from the top:

  • If you already have a ham license, then you don't need a GMRS license too. Or, maybe you do! A single GMRS license allows you, and all of your family members to use these frequencies as well. That is probably the most attractive part of a GMRS license.

  • The second thing that kept me from chunking it into the waste bin of useless communications modes, is that you are allowed far more power output than on FRS. For comparison, an FRS radio will transmit a maximum of 1/2 a watt. A GMRS repeater is allowed 50 watts. That is a huge difference.

  • You probably noticed that I said, "repeater". This is another item of interest that blows FRS right out of the water. I thought repeaters were only found on ham bands (for civilian use, that is), but things appear to be changing rapidly these days. If you don't know what a repeater is, well, it's a radio system that someone set up, that listens for your signal, and sends it back out again, but from much higher up, and at much higher power. It can double, triple, or quadruple your range. Probably more than that. It's not unusual to get 65 miles of range out of a repeater, with a clean signal.




Getting Licensed

All you need is $90 and to fill out two online forms. You can also print them out and mail them in via snail mail if you wish. First, you will need to "create an FCC account", like you would if you were signing up for Facebook. You can do that here:

http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home

You will be assigned an "FRN" number (this means "FCC Registration Number"). They ask for this when you fill out the two forms. Next, you will need to file FCC Form 159 and FCC Form 605. You can find those forms here:

https://www.fcc.gov/forms
I don't know how long it takes to get licensed, so if one of you decide to do this, please let the rest of us know. Given that the FCC has gone paperless (for the most part), it might even be instant if you pay with a credit card online.




Technical Info

The GMRS band has 23 channels. Limitations / restrictions depend on which channels you're using. Here's what the frequency / channel chart looks like:



You probably noticed that I said "23 channels", and yet, you only see 22 on the chart. Well, according to the FCC, there are 23. Noticeably absent from the list, is 467.550. I don't quite know what to make of this. . . if anyone has an explanation, please feel free to chime in. And, for reference, here is the FCC's explanation of GMRS, to include 23 channels:

https://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/general-mobile-radio-service-gmrs
Also, take heed - just because you have a GMRS radio that can transmit 5 watts on the FRS band, doesn't mean you are *allowed to*. You still need a license to do that, otherwise, you should use no more than 1/2 watt, even if it's on an FRS frequency. There are no legal loopholes here.

I hope that helps. Please post your comments and questions below.
 

DrHenley

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Thanks for the info. I've been wanting to get my Ham license, but I may just get a GMRS license instead.

One question...In the SHTF, who is going to be enforcing that?;)
 

CommoFreq

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Nobody.

I would say go ahead and get the ham equipment now, but don't transmit with it. There's always going to be a group of anal hams in your area that will find you, and report you to the FCC (and local police) almost immediately. Wait until the SHTF.
 

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And the gmrs covers your family as well . i.e. if dad gets the license then mom & the kids are covered also .
 

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Thanks for the very helpful information. I just purchased two sets of Midland GMRS two-way radios, 36 GMRS/FRS channels with NOAA Radio, Alert and Scan functions. I went to the FCC site to get info on the cost for licensing and went round and round without finding the info. No where did I find cost for application and license listed, so I Googled it. I found a quote of $85 - $90 and a passage that sounded to me like only one license would be required for the family. I decided that the forum here would be the best place to ask for clarification and that's when I found your post. My daughter and I purchased the radios today (I bought 2 sets and she got one) so the whole family would be able to communicate and coordinate in the case of emergency. We expect cell towers to go down and these radios with be our life lines. I did find on the FCC site that they may do away with the license fee but it is still pending since 2010. Do you know if they are still charging the $25 for a 5-year license? And is it included in the $90 that is paid with the application?
 

firewallsrus

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Good information, but I would add one item. If the radio is type accepted by the FCC for FRS operations (and this includes any GMRS/FRS radios) the antenna must be a rather useless permanently attached device with very limited efficiency. If you can find GMRS handhelds that do NOT cover the FRS bands, I would snap them up. They should be easy to spot because the antennas can be swapped out easily. The extra wattage of GMRS doesn't do as much as you might think. Most ham operators will tell you the antenna cost them as much or more than their radio and that should tell us something.

That said, I have been unable to find pure GMRS handhelds, so there are a pair of GMRS/FRS radios in my go kit alongside the ham radios.

Someone above made the obligatory comment about post SHTF. If that figures into your thinking, keep in mind that in addition to the ham 2 meter and 70 centimeter bands, the cheap Chinese dual-band handhelds will operate on the GMRS/FRS, MURS, commercial and municipal radio frequencies as well. If cheap Chinese ham radio handhelds are a standard in your group, then you have the possibility of adding to your coms after SHTF with found gear.
 

Gazrok

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Personally, I'd rather be well versed in using a HAM BEFORE I need it post SHTF....so I don't have an issue getting licensed. Thanks for all the info.

Getting the FRN number is easy, quick, and you get the number immediately.

Haven't done the next step yet, but will soon, and I'll let you know turn-around time.
 
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Clyde

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ALCON,

It's been a while since I dropped by since I deleted my FB account and couldn't figure out how to get back into the forums. Well, I figured it out. I'm still around. Anyhow, now I can talk about GMRS for a little while.

Bad news first: You need a license to operate on GMRS frequencies. Well, legally, that is.
Good news: There's no test for you to take like with ham licenses. You simply pay your way in.

If you've seen some of my other posts, I've been starkly against making the Family Radio Service (FRS) your primary means of communication. It's way too popular and very incapable. It should actually be a last resort.

Yes, have an FRS radio, for listening and gaining information. But use something else if you want to actually do some talking of your own when Doomsday comes. That's just my personal thing - I'm sure there are others who may disagree. And this sentiment of mine hasn't changed. Everyone has their own way of doing business.

Now, when I first heard of GMRS, I lumped it immediately into the same waste bin as FRS. Oh, how wrong I was about doing that!




GMRS handhelds


What GMRS actually . . . is

You can think of GMRS as a "cheat code" into the ham radio world, and all things about it that give you a huge advantage over "conventional" communications.

More specifically, the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is kinda weird. All of its channels fall within the 440 (70cm) ham band, and some of those channels are also FRS channels too. It's kind of a mix of ham and GMRS, with a sprinkle of FRS on top. So you're getting the advantage of using ham frequencies, without having to take a test for a ham license!

Let's take this from the top:

  • If you already have a ham license, then you don't need a GMRS license too. Or, maybe you do! A single GMRS license allows you, and all of your family members to use these frequencies as well. That is probably the most attractive part of a GMRS license.

  • The second thing that kept me from chunking it into the waste bin of useless communications modes is that you are allowed far more power output than on FRS. For comparison, an FRS radio will transmit a maximum of 1/2 a watt. A GMRS repeater is allowed 50 watts. That is a huge difference.

  • You probably noticed that I said, "repeater". This is another item of interest that blows FRS right out of the water. I thought repeaters were only found on ham bands (for civilian use, that is), but things appear to be changing rapidly these days. If you don't know what a repeater is, well, it's a radio system that someone set up, that listens for your signal, and sends it back out again, but from much higher up, and at much higher power. It can double, triple, or quadruple your range. Probably more than that. It's not unusual to get 65 miles of range out of a repeater, with a clean signal.




Getting Licensed

All you need is $90 and to fill out two online forms. You can also print them out and mail them in via snail mail if you wish. First, you will need to "create an FCC account", like you would if you were signing up for Facebook. You can do that here:

http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home

You will be assigned an "FRN" number (this means "FCC Registration Number"). They ask for this when you fill out the two forms. Next, you will need to file FCC Form 159 and FCC Form 605. You can find those forms here:

https://www.fcc.gov/forms
I don't know how long it takes to get licensed, so if one of you decide to do this, please let the rest of us know. Given that the FCC has gone paperless (for the most part), it might even be instant if you pay with a credit card online.




Technical Info

The GMRS band has 23 channels. Limitations / restrictions depend on which channels you're using. Here's what the frequency / channel chart looks like:



You probably noticed that I said "23 channels", and yet, you only see 22 on the chart. Well, according to the FCC, there are 23. Noticeably absent from the list, is 467.550. I don't quite know what to make of this. . . if anyone has an explanation, please feel free to chime in. And, for reference, here is the FCC's explanation of GMRS, to include 23 channels:

https://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/general-mobile-radio-service-gmrs
Also, take heed - just because you have a GMRS radio that can transmit 5 watts on the FRS band, doesn't mean you are *allowed to*. You still need a license to do that, otherwise, you should use no more than 1/2 watt, even if it's on an FRS frequency. There are no legal loopholes here.

I hope that helps. Please post your comments and questions below.
Great info! Thanks for the post!
If I am correct it is illegal to enter these frequencies into a standard Ham radio (Yaesu FT-60R, Baofeng UV-5RE, etc) on the FRS side of things due to the antenna and power
restrictions. However, and I am in no way advising anyone to break the law, I would imagine doing so would be extremely difficult for the FCC to catch, and your range would obviously be greatly enhanced. I believe the FRS/GMRS radios also have PL Tone that would need to be programmed in if you were to decide to go rogue and use a standard handheld that is made for 70cm..... Why stop there? you could input these frequencies into your mobile as well (Kenwood TM-D710G, Yaesu FT-M400DR, Icom ID-5100A).
 

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Personally, I'd rather be well versed in using a HAM BEFORE I need it post SHTF....so I don't have an issue getting licensed. Thanks for all the info.

Getting the FRN number is easy, quick, and you get the number immediately.

Haven't done the next step yet, but will soon, and I'll let you know turn-around time.
Do you have a time frame for taking the test?
I made this thread to help people study.... STUDY INFORMATION
 

firewallsrus

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This information is just my understanding is all and I stand ready to be corrected or corrupted as my fellow forum members choose.

I think you'll find that licensed hams are allowed to have whatever they want programmed into their radios. Keying the transmit function would be illegal, but simply having the radio programmed to allow it should not. This applies only to licensed hams as far as I know. For instance, if you have no ham license, the mere posession of a linear amplifier capable of operating on CB radio bands is illegal.

Clyde mentions the possibility of plugging GMRS frequencies into a Kenwood TM-D710G. Hopefully he means to receive because I don't think that is possible without the MARS mod. (I'm not totally sure it is possible with the mod, since my 710G isn't modded. Most top line ham radio base stations, mobiles, portables, and handhelds require a physical modification in order to transmit outside ham bands. Generally cutting or adding jumpers on the radio motherboard or de-soldering and removing components. Most of the cheap Chinese radios can be modified with simple software commands. Because my general HT use involves pre-programmed channels with alpha-numeric labels, all my Chinese HT radios are wide open, but my Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom and Alinco radios (HT, mobile, and base) have not had the MARS mod applied because I don't want to accidentally drift into forbidden territory.

On my Chinese HT radios, I have the MURS, Marine VHF, local business and municipal frequencies, GMRS, and FRS frequencies programmed as receive only. Some radios do not allow programming a memory channel without a transmit frequency, and on those, I use a frequency just outside the range where they will transmit which results in an error tone if the PTT is keyed accidentally. The image exists on my laptop to enable transmit on all these frequencies should the S ever happen to HTF.
 

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This information is just my understanding is all and I stand ready to be corrected or corrupted as my fellow forum members choose.

I think you'll find that licensed hams are allowed to have whatever they want programmed into their radios. Keying the transmit function would be illegal, but simply having the radio programmed to allow it should not. This applies only to licensed hams as far as I know. For instance, if you have no ham license, the mere posession of a linear amplifier capable of operating on CB radio bands is illegal.

Clyde mentions the possibility of plugging GMRS frequencies into a Kenwood TM-D710G. Hopefully he means to receive because I don't think that is possible without the MARS mod. (I'm not totally sure it is possible with the mod, since my 710G isn't modded. Most top line ham radio base stations, mobiles, portables, and handhelds require a physical modification in order to transmit outside ham bands. Generally cutting or adding jumpers on the radio motherboard or de-soldering and removing components. Most of the cheap Chinese radios can be modified with simple software commands. Because my general HT use involves pre-programmed channels with alpha-numeric labels, all my Chinese HT radios are wide open, but my Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom and Alinco radios (HT, mobile, and base) have not had the MARS mod applied because I don't want to accidentally drift into forbidden territory.

On my Chinese HT radios, I have the MURS, Marine VHF, local business and municipal frequencies, GMRS, and FRS frequencies programmed as receive only. Some radios do not allow programming a memory channel without a transmit frequency, and on those, I use a frequency just outside the range where they will transmit which results in an error tone if the PTT is keyed accidentally. The image exists on my laptop to enable transmit on all these frequencies should the S ever happen to HTF.
Good point about the MARS. I forgot about that. I know those frequencies is possible on a Baofeng UV-5RE+.
 

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The MARS/CAP mod.

Considering that almost every truck stop in America sells Galaxy 10-meter radios that were built intentionally with a long jumper wire across the circuit board, specifically for cutting to "unlock" the citizens band, I wouldn't worry about transmitting on certain frequencies with certain radios, or using fixed antennas on certain bands. I mean, even today, those "rules" are laughable and entirely unenforceable.
 

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The MARS/CAP mod.

Considering that almost every truck stop in America sells Galaxy 10-meter radios that were built intentionally with a long jumper wire on the circuit board, specifically for cutting to "unlock" the citizens band, I wouldn't worry about transmitting on certain frequencies with certain radios, or using fixed antennas on certain bands. I mean, even today, those "rules" are laughable and entirely unenforceable.
I have a Galaxy 88 from my truck driving days that I also used on 10 meters after getting my tech license. They are good radios, and that jumper wire makes life super easy for modifying to 11 meters (CB Band).

Most of the rules are enforced by other hams, kind of a self-policing system. My understanding is that the FCC really only goes after the radio stations these days.
 

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I have a Galaxy 88 from my truck driving days that I also used on 10 meters after getting my tech license. They are good radios, and that jumper wire makes life super easy for modifying to 11 meters (CB Band).

Most of the rules are enforced by other hams, kind of a self-policing system. My understanding is that the FCC really only goes after the radio stations these days.

That is correct. When you think about the FCC violations that are going on out there, it's pretty clear that they don't have the time, interest, or resources to do much about it. Hell, they even stopped issuing paper licenses to cut down on costs. Most truck drivers are using illegal amplifiers - some of them are pushing several KILOWATTS when the law allows just 4 watts. I saw one guy turn a red light green from RFI, then he laughed and said, "Hey, you want a free car wash?". As a courtesy to me and you, they tend to stay off of the 10-meter band, but you will find them on frequencies between 28MHz and Ch 40 (27.405MHz), most notoriously 27.555MHz, or "triple nickel" as they call it.

A few years back, I found myself passing through Commiefornia, and I heard some really foul language on a 2 meter repeater out there (as a vet, I couldn't care less, but it was interesting to hear), worse than on CB, actually. And they were flagrantly giving their call signs, completely care-free about the FCC. After switching to a different repeater and asking someone about it, one operator said, "Yeah, we've filed multiple reports to the FCC. We've been trying for years to get them all shut down."

So when I read comments from other hams such as, "Oh, no, you're not allowed to use a ham radio to talk on GMRS frequencies", or, "Oh, you can't use a Baofeng radio in the US because it's not FCC approved", I just have to laugh. To lose your license, you would REALLY have to piss them off. The only things that come to mind is screwing with an airport, or radio piracy.
 

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That is correct. When you think about the FCC violations that are going on out there, it's pretty clear that they don't have the time, interest, or resources to do much about it. Hell, they even stopped issuing paper licenses to cut down on costs.
as of september/october 2015 they. the FCC, doesn't charge for vanity call signs!

To lose your license, you would REALLY have to piss them off. The only things that come to mind is screwing with an airport, or radio piracy.
There was a "jammer" here in southern kalifornia who was incarcerated for interfearing with a Coast Guard rescue. Mind you this was after many letters, fine(s), and equipment confiscation.
 

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This might sound like a stupid question, but can a baofeng or any handheld work on pmr frequencys
Negative. PMR is in the 446MHz range, and GMRS is in the 462MHz range. To cut down on costs, this is why you see "PMR radios" and "GMRS radios" for sale, always listed separately. And, when you switch channels on these "specific" types of radios, it goes to the next frequency in the band, rather than allowing you to manually input a frequency of your choice. Bottom line, you get what you pay for.

The good news is, for a little extra money, yes, it is possible to have a radio that will operate on both PMR and GMRS bands (as well as LPD, if that's what you're into), as well as many other bands as well.

Take the Yaesu FT-60, for example: http://www.amazon.com/Yaesu-FT-60R-Handheld-Amateur-Transceiver/dp/B004P4PDAO



This radio allows you to store frequencies of your choice, into channels for fast selection. It's a pain in the ass at first, but it's a powerful radio. Just read the manual, and you'll be fine. Store all of your GMRS and PMR frequencies into channel numbers, and presto! Just be careful, because it also works on the ham bands, and puts out way more power than a PMR radio can. Stay off of frequencies that you need a license for, and you'll be fine.
 

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What I am amazed by on this and other forums is the continued desire to rely on the lowest common denominator for radios, and the mass effort instead of using frequencies which are most efficient to spend more time searching for loopholes in laws.

If people spent the same effort learning about radio instead of posting looking for people to reinforce what they bought they would be far better off.
 

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What I am amazed by on this and other forums is the continued desire to rely on the lowest common denominator for radios, and the mass effort instead of using frequencies which are most efficient to spend more time searching for loopholes in laws.

If people spent the same effort learning about radio instead of posting looking for people to reinforce what they bought they would be far better off.

Alright. Two things to consider:

1. GMRS is not a loophole in the law. It is the law. It was created by the FCC as a way to encourage more people to tinker with radios, who might be put off by license requirements for ham radio. In case you missed it, the number of amateur radio operators out there, is taking a 10,000 ft/sec downward spiral at the moment. The hope here is, that GMRS will be a pathway to ham, as marijuana is supposedly a pathway to heroin. Is it the best thing that ever happened to modern civilization? No. Is it better than zero radio communication capability? You bet 'cha.

2. These forums were made for doomsday preppers. It's not ARRL. I'm not looking to become an expert in food storage, for example, any more than others here are looking to become experts in radio communications. The members here are mostly beginners, and I'm not prepared to drop operating instructions for an FT DX 3000 in their laps along with the entire question pool for all 3 license examinations. Some of what I post here, is posted with the intent to give those who know absolutely nothing about radio communications "the lowest common denominator". Why?

The "lowest common denominator" is typically where beginners. . . begin, and, "the "lowest common denominator" is more than what they have before they come here, and is something that they can still feasibly do on their own. If they decide one day that they're interested in ham ("using frequencies which are most efficient"), there are forums here for that as well. If they are happy with the "lowest common denominator", well, that's not exactly a choice that I can make for them. I'm simply showing them what their choices are.

Are you still "amazed", or does that clear things up for you a bit?
 

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