PHILLIP J. BOUCHER
Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service
On April 1, 2000, the Government of Canada authorized a new two-way radio service called Family Radio Devices. Modeled on the same service in existence in the United States, called Family Radio Service (FRS), this new radiocommunications service used small, inexpensive, UHF handheld radios to provide efficient, licence-free, short-range radio communications for a variety of activities. On September 7, 2004, Industry Canada launched the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), also modeled on our southern neighbours. GMRS is the same type of service as FRS, with radios that have a higher transmit power and more channels, thus being more attractive to business users. Essentially, both services were merged into one.
Initially conceived to provide communications for families and friends during recreational activities, the features of FRS/GMRS radios combined with the few rules and regulations that control the service open up the potential for FRS/GMRS to expand beyond the "family service" parameter.
Potential users for the service include: commercial establishments and businesses/corporations; manufacturing; government ministries and agencies; military; insurance companies; private investigators; security firms; organizations; and a host of others. FRS/GMRS can be used on job sites, traffic control, event coordination, intelligence, surveillance, and delivery services. Some of the applications for the service are: equipment coordination; personnel direction; safety and security; municipal or utility work crews; special events; fairs; carnivals; parades; small-area delivery; personal security, and much more.
FRS FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the distance I can talk? All FRS radios are limited to 0.5 watts of output power from the antenna. You can expect a relative maximum of about 2 miles, or 3.2 kilometres, over open water. The more material there is between radios, the shorter the distance the signals will travel. For car-to-car use, or in the downtown core of a city, you can expect a maximum range of about two to three city blocks. GMRS radios in Canada will be limited to a maximum of 2 watts of output power from the antenna, allowing a relative maximum range of about 8 miles, or 13 kilometres over open water. This allows a signal that is stronger and able to travel further.
How big are the radios? Most FRS/GMRS radios are no bigger than your hand, and even with the small antenna, can easily fit in your pocket or purse. They weigh very little and are totally portable. You can wear an FRS/GMRS radio on your belt and it will feel like it's not there.
What frequencies do FRS and GMRS operate on? FRS radios use assigned frequencies in the 462/467 MHz UHF bands, and are channelized as follows:
GMRS radios will be assigned the following frequencies. Most GMRS radios incorporate the FRS frequencies as well.
What services do you actually provide in regard to FRS/GMRS? We provide consulting services in relation to clients who wish to purchase and use FRS and/or GMRS radios for personal or non-personal activities. We gather information, make recommendations, and assist clients as to the most suitable radios for the intended use, putting those radios into use, and actually using the equipment. For family/group use, we recommend and help select radio equipment. For businesses, corporations, organizations, community groups, and government clients, we also provide extended services such as training, and the creation of system user manuals, charts, and forms.
What features do FRS/GMRS radios have? Tone and/or vibration paging, multiple scan options, voice encryption, weather and/or GPS reception, and voice operated transmit are just some of the features that an FRS/GMRS radio can have.
Is FRS/GMRS like CB? Yes and no. They are in the sense that they are short-range communications systems for the general public. However, unlike CB, the signals are on UHF, have a shorter range, and better quality of signal. FRS/GMRS is not the "social" system that CB is. You can't simply just talk to anyone on FRS/GMRS, like you can on CB.
Do I need a licence to operate an FRS or GMRS radio? No, you do not need a licence to purchase or operate FRS/GMRS. They are licence exempt services. There also are no other fees to pay to use the services.
Are there any restrictions on FRS/GMRS? You may not put an external antenna on the radio. You may not use an active repeater system to retransmit the signal. You may not connect the radio up to the phone lines. You can't swear, whistle, play music, or use your FRS/GMRS radio for any illegal purpose or to assist you in any illegal activity. You must operate your radio in accordance with all aspects of the Radiocommunications Act. Other than these restrictions (which on whole are rather little and mostly common sense) you can use FRS/GMRS for whatever you want.
How many radios do I need? To use the Family Radio and General Mobile Radio services you need at least two radios.
Are FRS/GMRS radios toys? Absolutely not! These radios are sophisticated communications devices. Unlike CB and those 49 MHz walkie talkies, FRS radios are actual commercial-grade radiocommunications devices.
What do voice privacy, scrambled, and encrypted mean? Basically, these terms signify the way the radio makes your voice unintelligible to the casual listener. Privacy Tones, or CTCSS, are sub-audible tones that are transmitted along with your signal and will only open up the audio circuit of receiving radios that are set for the same tone.
How many batteries does an FRS/GMRS radio use? Most FRS radios use two to four AA or AAA batteries, and some even come with their own battery packs.
I own a pizza parlour. Can I use FRS/GMRS for delivery dispatching? If you are only dispatching within a two to four block radius, then FRS/GMRS may work for you. However, any further distance than that and you may need to go to a licenced system.
I work in a warehouse and we are constantly on the phone to several areas and offices throughout the building. Would FRS/GMRS work for us? More than likely, depending on the design of the building. We would first do a Radio Frequency Pattern map to see where, if any, dead spots are, and then work on eliminating them. Depending on circumstances, FRS/GMRS could replace several phones, or all of them, saving you time and money.
How much do FRS/GMRS radios cost? In Canada, you can find FRS/GMRS radios retailing from about $20 to $200 depending on features and retailers.
Are there airtime or other monthly fees for FRS/GMRS? No. Once you buy the radio, the only additional costs are the batteries. There are no airtime or licencing fees for the service or the radios.
How long do the batteries last in FRS/GMRS radios? You can expect around twenty-four hours worth of use from regular alkaline batteries, and more from nickel-metal hydride batteries or battery packs. This time varies between radio models and the addition and use of battery-saving circuitry.
Do I have to buy two of the same brand and model of radio, or can I use two or three different makes? Are they compatible? All FRS/GMRS radios are exactly the same in their basic design of operation. However, to be compatible for general use, all radios must be able to operate on the same frequency. Some features of one make or model of radio may only be compatible with other radios of the same make or model.
Do you have a question in regard to the Family Radio Service or General Mobile Radio Service? If so, just click here to send an email and I will endeavour to answer your question on this page.