This is an update to the previously posted FRS/GMRS Radio Primer article by John Beaston.
In its May 2017 meeting, the FCC made significant changes to the FRS and GMRS services. These rule changes are basically good news for NETs. Here’s a summary of the changes:
With the stroke of the pen, most hand-held, walkie-talkie combo FRS/GMRS radios will be reclassified as FRS-only radios. This was accomplished by raising the FRS maximum power level regulation to 2 watts (which covers the HIGH power setting on many radios) and by expanding the allowed FRS channels to include all 22 channels. These regulatory changes fold most existing radios under the FRS umbrella. And since the FRS service has no license requirement, any NET will be able to use any of the 22 channels.
What happened to GMRS? Well, it’s still there for those wanting higher power levels, detachable antennas and/or repeater operation. The GMRS channels now overlap the FRS channels so the two services can inter-operate on all 22 channels. GMRS users can still use up to 50 watts, have detachable antennas, and operate repeaters. As previously, a no-exam, $65 license is required but the license term has been extended from 5 to 10 years. As before, a call sign is issued and transmissions must be identified every 15 minutes. Basically, the potential for unwanted interference is so much greater with 50 watts, repeaters, and the potential of larger, higher antennas, the FCC wanted to be able to identify a user if it became necessary.
Note that higher power combo radios (such as the Midland GXT1000) and radios supporting repeater operation (such as the Motorola MS350R) will be reclassified as GMRS. A GMRS license would be required to operate these radios.
Eventually there will be no more combo FRS/GMRS radios. Any particular radio will be classified for one service or the other. The new rules took effect at the end of Sept 2017. Some provisions for manufacturers are phased in over 18 month to two years. This allows manufacturers to clear inventory, adjust marketing and develop new products.
|Special Note on wide-coverage radios for NET
BaoFeng (and other wide-coverage walkie-talkie) radios are still not legal for transmitting on FRS or GMRS channels. The FCC ruling acknowledges that such radios exist however they explicitly deferred allowing their use on FRS or GMRS.
Written by John Beaston
Overlook NET ARO
Here’s the thing about radios: they might save your life. After a major earthquake, modern communication devices will likely fail us. Cell networks will be damaged or jammed, landlines will be down, and your internet won’t be functioning. So how will we communicate with one another? A technology that was first developed over 100 years ago… amateur radio!
WHAT IS AMATEUR RADIO?
Amateur Radio (ham radio) is a form of two-way radio communication. It is restricted to certain frequencies so that it won’t interfere with government, military, and commercial radio use. Amateur Radio Operators (aka: AROs or Hams) have basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles and must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC created this designation so there would be a pool of radio experts who could provide backup during emergencies, and Hams have indeed proved themselves useful in this way.
HOW HAMS HELP
Amateur radio operators often volunteer at community events such as races where important information (like injury alerts or route issues) must be passed quickly to multiple people over long distances and an FRS/GMRS radio (aka: walkie talkie) wouldn’t have enough power to do the job. This is a great way for Ham operators to practice their skills.
They can also help out in emergencies such as hurricanes and earthquakes. “For instance, the Amateur Radio Service kept New York City agencies in touch with each other after their command center was destroyed during the 9/11 tragedy. Ham radio also came to the rescue during Hurricane Katrina, where all other communications failed, and the devastating flooding in Colorado in 2013.” (ARRL.org)
AMATEUR RADIO VS. WALKIE TALKIE:
Many people have two-way radios that they’ve purchased for home use. Often called walkie talkies, these are either FRS or FRS/GMRS radios. FRS, or Family Radio Service, radios do not require a license to use. Like amateur radio, GMRS, or General Mobile Radio Service, radios do require a license to use. If you have a walkie talkie radio that includes both FRS and GMRS frequencies, you must be careful not to use the GMRS frequencies unless you have a license.
An FRS/GMRS radio can usually only reach a few miles – or a few city blocks if there are buildings, trees, etc. obstructing the signal. Depending on the strength of the power source and the use of radio relays, amateur radios can communicate across the globe. Clearly the amateur radio is a better option for use in urban areas. And if you aren’t already sold on it, these days an amateur radio often costs less than an FRS/GMRS radio. I got my handheld Baofeng UV-5R on Amazon for $25!
OKAY, SIGN ME UP!
If you’d like to become an amateur radio operator, the first step is to study for the FCC licensing test. There are three levels of licensing: Technician, General, and Extra. Technicians operate on a more limited range of frequencies than those with the General or Extra license, but it’s the most common type and sufficient for most people’s needs.
Some people can pass the test just by studying online materials or books, but the rest of us need to take a class.
Classes in Portland
- The Portland NET program often offers Ham classes. Once you’ve completed the NET Basic Training, you’ll have access to an array of advanced trainings, including amateur radio.
- The Piedmont Neighborhood Emergency Team is offering free Technician classes on April 30 and June 4, 2016. Register at http://pdxpiedmont.net.
Where to Take the Test
- If you take the amateur radio class through the NET program, testing will be done at the end of the class
- The National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) publishes a list of testing options by location
My next blog post will be about what to do once you’ve passed the test. There are tons of great resources in Portland for new Hams who want to get practice using their radios.
–Laura Hall, Arbor Lodge / Kenton NET Assistant Team Leader, firstname.lastname@example.org