Why is FRS/GMRS “suddenly” more interesting, especially in emergency preparedness?
Wrting this on 1/13/23 while the Russian River is in moderate flood stage; this week has well demonstrated the value of GMRS. The lower Russian River communities from Guerneville to Cazadero are exceptionally well prepared to utilize GMRS despite (and because of) their topographical challenges. A number of us working as SCRA’s Neighborhood Communications Committee have been in frequent contact with GMRS radio operators in places like Cazadero which had no power, cell or landlines. We were repeatedly thanked for listening-out for them.
Sonoma County Radio Amateurs (SCRA) has created a Neighborhood Communications Committee to reach out to the non-Ham community by developing and testing interfaces between ACS Ham radio operators and community groups utilizing General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Family Radio Service (FRS) is essentially a restricted version of GMRS. Hams engaged in GMRS communication links will need GMRS radios as well as an FCC license, which requires no exam, but does cost $35 for 10 years for the whole family. Detailed instructions to get a GMRS license from the FCC:
GMRS License Application Process
- Register for a FRN number with the FCC:
1.1. This is a personal ID number and required for all FCC interactions.
1.2. The FRN is issued immediately after successful submittal of your application.
- Complete FCC Main Form 605:
2.1. After clicking this link, scroll down to the GMRS link.
2.2. This is the application form that needs to be completed and signed, then uploaded and submitted with the online application on the ULS site.
- Apply for GMRS license using the FCC ULS and pay fee:
3.1. After clicking this link, click the ULS Online Filing link and log on using your FRN and follow the prompts.
3.2. You will need to upload your completed Main Form 605.
3.3. The GMRS License and callsign assignment should be a few hours to a day after successful submittal of your application.
3.4. The GMRS license fee is $35 and is valid for 10 years.
Comparing FRS and GMRS
FRS is now the low-power, unlicensed, channels 1 to 22 service; less cost, less power but sufficent in some applications. FRS and GMRS are completely interoperative on Simplex channels. FRS has no duplex repeater capability.
GMRS covers the same channels of 1 to 22, but offers high power options and repeater options on channels 15 to 22. While there is a fee, there is no test—a limitation that keeps many people out of amateur radio. In addition, the new rules allow a licensee to share his license with specified family members at no extra cost.
The overlapping channels allow an FRS operator to use a GMRS operators’ simplex repeater with permission. That can provide reliable service over a 2-mile-diameter zone using a $10, ½-watt, unlicensed radio. That can be effective “last mile” communications. There is one such FRS simplex “parrot” in West Santa Rosa.
The full-duplex GMRS repeaters allow reliable, many-mile communications for those willing to invest $40 to $200 for a 5-watt radio and $35 for a GMRS license. The setup for these radios is a bit more difficult.
Also, the eight channels (15 to 22) for GMRS repeaters are largely available. There is no formal coordinating agency (as there is for amateur radio), so users may “claim” a channel on mygmrs.com.
Amateur radio will likely out-perform FRS/GMRS technically in just about all circumstances, but the ease of access and low cost is making FRS/GMRS very attractive to many people today.
Mike Von der Porten, AD6YB WRJQ994
Bob Dozor, K3FUL WRJD829
comments, corrections, suggestions welcome!