GMRS vs. FRS: What’s the Difference Between Both?

Updated on

General Mobile Radio Service is a type of two-way communication a step below Ham radio. Family Radio Service, or FRS, is one of the most common radios found in homes around the country. Each can save your biscuits in a fire, but they have many differences that some might not know. So what is the difference between GMRS and FRS?

Learning about radio communications and how they work is an intricate and science-based world that can knock some people for a loop. However, the radios are similar and have some of the same benefits. So read on and learn all there is to know about the differences between GMRS and FRS radio.

The Differences Between GMRS and FRS

There was a time when there were radios on the market that would allow you to access both channels. In the 1990s, Radio Shack pushed the government to make a section of the radio band for family use of walkie-talkies that didn’t eavesdrop on radio stations or cordless phone calls. With a bit of work, they acquired 462MHz and 472MHz for FRS radio.

GMRS is an FCC Licensed Means of Communication

One of the biggest things about the two is that one is for hobbyists and the other is means to talk while working or another outdoor activity. There are some significant differences between the two, and by learning about GMRS and how it operates, you will begin to understand its uses and which one fits your purpose.

We also have an article comparing GMRS to CB here.

Some things about GMRS that differentiate it from FRS are:

  • Range – The range on a GMRS radio will be the same as an FRS. However, the GMRS unit can run on repeaters and increase their range. The range allows users to hike into the hills or climb up the mountains and still have a strong enough signal to call for help if needed.
  • Power – One of the main reasons that GMRS radios get better range is their power. They have a much stronger signal and battery than an FRS radio. They will also be bulkier and more solid because the electronics inside are larger to handle the extra power.
  • Frequency – GMRS can reach many more frequencies than the FRS counterpart. They might not have the same limits as a Ham radio, but GMRS can communicate outside the 462 – 467MHz range, which is home to the FRS band. The radios can connect with so many other frequencies that they are handy for several industries.
  • License – Having a GMRS radio in operation means you have paid the license fee of $70. There is no testing for this limit, but by getting the license, you and your family have the ability to broadcast on the radio without interference from the FCC. This licensing lasts for a decade and is a great stepping stone for Ham radio.
  • Availability – Some stores could carry a GMRS radio in their sporting goods section, but more than likely, you will have to find a hobby shop or go online. Their licensing scares some people, making them an exotic item that most store owners will not stock.
  • Signal Security – On a GMRS radio, the signal you are operating on is much harder to discern by others. With an FRS walkie, all the channels are open, and anyone browsing can stop and listen to your broadcast. Signal security is imperative if you are in a fleeing or hiding situation.

GMRS radios are just a beefier version of the FRS walkie-talkie you see in the sporting goods aisle. They can connect over longer ranges with a repeater and have more power to cut through obstructions. They are also more complicated to operate. As you will see, the FRS radio was made for fun and the occasional disaster.

FRS is an Easy to Use Means of Communication

As the walkie-talkie became more prevalent on television and in the toy aisle, the people at Radio Shack knew a storm was brewing. They began to see the units fly off the shelves and realized that the tiny radios would cause interference up and down the band if someone didn’t intervene.

When the CB craze of the 70s took hold Radio Shack began to understand what needed to be done. So finally, in the 90s, they chatted with the FCC and had them start to think about making part of the band, 462MHz – 467MHz, available only to walkie traffic. But, of course, this opened the floodgates for the Spider-Man and CoCo Melon handhelds in the toy sections.

Some significant differences between an FRS and GMRS radio are:

  • No License – The FRS radio does not require any training or license to use. They have their section of the radio band and cannot interfere with any other electronics. Their simplicity makes them easy to use for kids and could influence their love for radio communications.
  • Power – FRS radio only operates at a fraction of GMRS power. They have around one watt of power, whereas a GMRS radio has around fifty. This lack of power is a good reason people shouldn’t trust them as a means of safe communication in an emergency. Also, their range can be limited to line of sight if you are in the city.
  • Range – The range for an FRS radio could be less than a mile, depending on your location and terrain. If you are in the city, you can expect buildings and structures to cut down the range of your FRS walkie. Often it is best to get a line of sight communications before venturing outside in an emergency.
  • Frequency – FRS suffers from having only a few frequencies it can broadcast. The critical thing to remember is the available frequencies and keeping them clear of traffic unless necessary. Crowding a freq can make comms impossible and render your walkie-talkies unavailable.
  • Availability – The significant upside of an FRS radio is that they are everywhere. FRS radio has its footing in several parts of the retail market, from kid’s toys to expensive hiking models. What they do best is make radios that broadcast a signal, sometimes clearly, to the other paired radio.
  • Push to Talk – One of the biggest standouts between the two is that most FRS are push-to-talk radios. With a push of a button, you connect to the other radio, set it on the same channel or frequency, and talk. They are effortless to operate and are much easier to communicate with than a GMRS radio.

FRS radios are great fun. They can give children hours of enjoyment playing in the woods or inside their apartment buildings. While they aren’t powerful, some can produce a signal that is clear and could be the last resort in an emergency.

There are Areas Where the Bands Could Overlap

One of the most popular questions is can an FRS radio connect with a GMRS radio, and the answer is yes. There are ways for the two to get comms, which is easier than you might think. Some channels will be reserved for specific types of traffic and should only be used in an emergency or as a last resort.

A few areas where the FRS and GMRS band could overlap are:

  • Channels 1 – 7 – One of the similarities between the two bands is that they can both hit the same channels within their given frequencies. On channels 1 – 7, you can connect with GMRS radios as the FCC allowed them to set up shop on those intermingling channels.
  • Channel 9 – Channel 9 is often the frequency needed to report emergencies. In a disaster, the FCC allows anyone in need to transmit on this frequency in any way possible. However, during the event, you could see a lack of usability in your GMRS and the need to broadcast on a less powerful signal.

The overlap of the two does another thing that people don’t expect. It opens the world of communications up to those who might not know what is out there. This could inspire something in children that nudges them towards engineering or science careers.

The Radio Bands and What They Do

GMRS and FRS are only a tiny part of the radio band. Nevertheless, Ham radio is one of the most well-known types of radio besides the one in your car. This is because GMRS and FRS are lower-powered versions of Ham radio and operate on the same principles while occupying the lowest end of the radio band.

Ham Radio is the Prepper’s Chosen Comms Unit

For preppers, knowing how to use Ham radio is critical knowledge. It gives you options that regular walkie-talkies don’t and teaches you things about the band that might not be evident to you. For example, it allows you to scan all the traffic on the band and learn how they operate with call signs and which ones are used only for emergencies.

Some things you learn about Ham radio as you use it are:

  • Frequencies – The most crucial thing that Ham radio can do is reach any frequency on the radio dial. Regular GMRS and FRS radios only move .250 stations or more per shift. The Ham radio will move .025. The smaller increments allow you to reach places that other radios cannot.
  • Testing – To operate a Ham radio, you must have tested and pay fees upwards of $300. The tests are carried out by instructors who often walk you through the certification process and could become valuable information sources after you pass the test. This testing occurs for GMRS as a fee but not for FRS.
  • Traffic – There are all kinds of traffic on Ham channels. Using GMRS and FRS means you get the occasional message, but with Ham, you can find channels constantly streaming information and signals. The traffic is overwhelming on some channels and could be computer static on others.

Ham radio is excellent for people looking to bounce a signal off the moon or communicate with someone beyond the horizon. What Ham does for preppers is provide a way to keep communications with the outside world and signal for help if there are any worsening problems or disasters.

GMRS and FRS are for Hobbyists and Weekend Warriors

The General Mobile Radio Service is a step down from Ham radio. It requires a fee to broadcast, and you will have to search out a GMRS radio as they are not often found in stores. However, they produce a strong signal with a range of over a mile and can be run on repeaters to reach even farther.

FRS is a walkie-talkie. It is push to talk with only a few reachable channels or frequencies. The critical thing to remember about FRS is that it was made for family recreational use and could be useless in some emergencies or disasters. Family Radio Service is accessible to everyone and should only be used in emergencies as a last resort.

A few things that GMRS/FRS are good for are:

  • Emergency Signaling – The most apparent use of radios is to signal for help in an emergency. A GMRS provides a long-range and clear signal that will enhance your chances of reaching others. FRS radios work well in short ranges and open areas. It is best to keep them charged and in line of sight of the target.
  • Heavy Industry – If you work in an industry like mining or logging, having a GMRS radio might be the best way to communicate with the rest of your coworkers. Being separated to roam open areas requires a radio connection transmitting even in large concentrations of trees and rocks.

GMRS and FRS radios can be helpful to people in several different situations but could be hazardous in a disaster. You should take the time to learn about all the radio bands as you could be forced to use them in a life-or-death situation.

Final Thoughts

GMRS and FRS radio share many things in common. They are both ways of radio communication used by industry and military groups for years and exciting science experiments for young children. However, GMRS is a step below Ham radio, and FRS are the walkie-talkies we know from childhood and our weekends hiking by the lake.

FRS was grooved out of the spectrum by the FCC in 1997 when walkies sold by companies began to interfere with everyday communications like wireless phones and radios. Radio Shack helped the FCC determine a lower band for family usage, and the Family Radio Service was begun.