What’s the difference between Family Radio Service (FRS) band or the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)? The world of two-way radios is full of acronyms and they can start to feel kind of overwhelming if you aren’t super familiar with the ins and outs of radio frequencies, citizen bands, and megahertz. So if you’re trying to choose between a GMRS or FRS Midland radio and feel stumped, don’t stress about it. We can break down the difference and help you decide which is the best type of radio for your needs.
GMRS or FRS Radio: How to Choose
What is FRS?
Family Radio Service (FRS) was developed for consumer use in no small part thanks to Radio Shack, who saw a need to define and preserve special radio frequencies for consumers that were separate from other bandwidths reserved for other types of communication. While walkie talkies had grown more popular with civilians since World War II, by the 1990s there was also increasing competition for radio frequencies.
In the 1970s, the popularity of CB radio meant there was more competition at lower frequencies with walkie talkies, which didn’t have as powerful a signal. That’s when the FCC moved walkie talkies up to 49 megahertz, to keep them from picking up conversations leaking from CB rigs.
That was all well and good until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when once again competition from other wireless devices like baby monitors started to squeeze those lower frequencies walkie talkies had been operating on. Radio Shack suggested that the FCC define frequencies between 462 and 467 MHz for recreational walkie talkie use, which they have operated on ever since.
That’s why when you use an FRS two-way radio you don’t have to worry about picking up your favorite classic rock station or cordless telephone conversations. You also don’t have to worry about the pitfall of the old push-to-talk feature on early cell phones, which was that they interfered with frequencies reserved for emergency personnel. Essentially, anyone with a two-way radio can freely use FRS channels. Any competition for bandwidth that comes from multiple parties with two-way radios trying to operate their devices in close proximity can be managed with the channel and privacy code features now offered on many walkie talkies.
For clarity, FRS features a lower wattage and includes handheld radios, such as these Midland radios. GMRS radios include Midland MicroMobile® radios, which act as a powerful base camp in your vehicle and can communicate with handhelds as long as they are on the same channel.
How FRS Differs From GMRS
GMRS radios, on the other hand, use specific frequencies within that same band designated for FRS radios: 462-467 MHz. The difference is that GMRS radios have designated channels within those frequencies that aren’t available to FRS radios. GMRS radios also require a license from the FCC to operate.
That’s in part because they are more powerful. FRS walkie talkies can’t be modified to amplify their signal to reach further distances. GMRS radios, however, can be modified to have a stronger, farther-ranging signal, at least up to 50 watts. That means that a GMRS radio can have all the same capabilities as an FRS radio in addition to special channels that FRS can’t access, and the option to extend the range of the product.
What Do FRS and GMRS Have In Common?
Both FRS and GMRS radios use FM rather than AM. Without getting too technical, FM radio is often used for music and broad regional coverage because it has less static. GMRS radios are going to sound a little louder and clearer than FRS radios. That’s not going to be an issue for most people, as a quality FRS radio will already have quality sound, thanks to being well-made and the FM input. That said, if you are a stickler for audio quality, the GMRS will provide you an additional crispness and clarity. That’s because GMRS has more power to put behind its modulating frequency, which means less interference.
When You Need FRS
Does that still seem a little unclear? Here’s how you can keep narrowing down your options. For those who plan to use two way radios only infrequently, in close range, or in outdoor scenarios that aren’t particularly technical, an FRS radio is just fine. FRS two way radios are powerful enough to have a range of a mile or two (depending on the terrain) and will keep you in touch with your party in case of emergency.
If you plan to use your two-way radio more frequently, over a broader area, or in areas with more competition for a signal, you might want the greater flexibility and power a GMRS radio provides. If you want the greatest number of options for how to use your radio and at what distance and with the most clarity, a GMRS will give you extra peace of mind. A casual or new two-way radio user, however, will do just fine with a quality FRS radio.