FRS, GMRS, MURS AND CB
Last updated November 26, 2006
These services are of interest to scanner listeners for casual monitoring, and likely are to be of interest for two-way use as well. In fact, in some areas, particularly in the USA, there are city-wide GMRS frequencies dedicated to scanner listeners who wish to pass along happenings such as unusual reception or major events. This is less common or even unlikely, in Canada for the reasons I will make clear below.
This page is under construction in November 2006, and I anticipate that my comments will be written in this order: 1) FRS & GMRS, 2) MURS, and 3) CB. I will leave CB until the end as it generally is of less interest to the typical scanner listener. When you access this page, it therefore will be incomplete until I remove this paragraph.
Introduction: All of these services originated in the USA and in fact MURS is not in Canada, and there is no present indication that it will be anytime soon. Because scanning can cross the border, and because many of us read American publications or websites, I will write here in terms of both countries' services, which in the case of GMRS are much different. All of these services are open to non-commercial use with operators who do not require any technical or operational certification.
FRS = Family Radio Service
GMRS = General Mobile Radio Service
MURS = Multi-Use Radio Service
CB = Citizens Band Radio (in Canada the proper name is or was GRS = General Radio Service)
MURS is the newest of the personal radio services and as of 2006 it was not established at all in Canada. The frequencies set aside in the USA for MURS are in use in Canada by other services and it is not currently anticipated that there will be any change in the near future. As this website is by and large a regional one I will not go into any great detail on MURS, and just present the basics, and please keep in mind that these comments refer to the United States.
MURS was allocated five VHF frequencies that formerly were open only to business communications. In creating MURS, the FCC did not remove business users from the frequencies, and in fact both types of users can use the frequencies on an equal footing. It is up to the users to avoid interfering with each other. Insofar as individuals are concerned this service is essentially a VHF citizens band in that no licencing is required, there are few requirements placed on the users other than the standard profanity and emergency provisions. Communications are FM, so that signal quality will be excellent within the range of the equipment. No repeaters are allowed;; but the transmitters are allowed 2 watts which does, at VHF frequencies, allow good local ranges under ideal conditions ... generally better than the GMRS units that operate in the UHF part of the spectrum, watt for watt. In addition it is allowable to use an external antenna, meaning that even a handheld can be connected to a mobile or rooftop antenna for greater range. It would be expected that even in fair conditions one could have at least ten miles reliable intercommunications between two handheld radios with rooftop antennas. The drawback in MURS of course is that there are only five channels, and that in some areas there may be business users making constant use of one or more of the channels, and that some of those users may have grandfathered high-power permission.
By the way, it appears that a number of issues are not addressed in the American rules. There is for example no specific prohibition against transmitting music or page signals, but there is a prohibition on continuous transmissions. I am not sure how long any one transmission can be... for example could you transmit a complete song, and then let up on the key, and then start again. I am not sure about these fine points, but one can imagine that there are many many instances in the USA of people more or less broadcasting on these channels.
The five frequencies are:
As an aside for those of you in Canada, the latter two frequencies are very commonly used here for drive-thru communications at fast-food restaurants, and this alone would be problematic in any introduction of MURS to Canada. While I am not advocating in any way that a Canadian might obtain equipment in the US and use it in Canada illegally, it certainly is something to consider, that existing users would be in touch with Industry Canada if any interference is caused! In fact, there may not be much use in importing one of these radios, as the GMRS service at 460 MHz may be superior in a number of ways, particularly in penetration of buildings and availability of channels, but not however in getting over hills!
FRS & GMRS
These two services are so interwoven in Canada that they must be described together. Both services originated in the USA and were imported by Industry Canada, likely at the instigation of the equipment manufacturers.
These services are intended for purposeful personal communications, rather than as hobby services. The amateur radio service is essentially a hobby service in which casual conversation (within limits) is allowed but commercial use or specification is not. For example all hams know that you must keep any reference to businesses and money rather veiled, but on FRS and GMRS it is the opposite. The intent is to allow you to carry out your personal family business and even discuss your own actual business or company if you have one, and do it in plain language, but not to sit and chat or call CQ and see who answers. I should say that you are not supposed to be actually conducting a business on these channels.
Of course, the amateur service also has its major public service aspect as a valued and able backup to the official public services. FRS and GMRS can also function this way to a very limited extent, in the sense that an emergency situation can be broadcast on these channels, and in some areas someone might be listening, maybe a dedicated group, or maybe a scanner listener.
GMRS is by far the older of the two in the USA but it has only been present in Canada since 2004, which is approximately five years after FRS came to this country.
FRS or Family Radio Service is identical in the two countries. In the United States it was introduced some years ago as a low powered, short range, inexpensive personal communication system. This was the beginning of the mass-produced usable walkie talkie for everyone! Up until then there were CB walkie talkies but they had long antennas and were subject to long range interference, and hence unreliable short range use. There were also what I consider to be toy walkie talkies on approximately 49 MHz and limited to 100 mw, for which it was a feat to have communications even a few houses apart. FRS was established by creating channels on the frequencies lying between the already existing GMRS channels in the USA and in addition sharing seven GMRS channels. FRS is limited in both countries to 1/2 watt of power. It is interesting to note that although that is not much, it is five times as much as in the old "toy" type 49 MHz walkie-talkies. The radios are all handhelds with fixed antennas. YOu cannot, without much illegal tinkering, connect these radios to rooftop or cartop antennas. Even with 1/2 watt it might be possible to communicate for 15 miles or more if the two radios are line-of-sight, such as to and from a mountain top. In general however I would say that even a kilometre or a mile is pretty good going for these FRS radios.
Having said all that, I must say that there are very few FRS radios now on sale here in Canada, and also in the USA. That is because GMRS and FRS have merged to a great extent, and both services are on the same radios. Practically any radio you buy nowadays in Canada will be a joint FRS/GMRS radio. So now I better explain GMRS!
GMRS or General Mobile Radio Service is not identical in Canada and the United States. Yes it is true that a GMRS handheld you buy in K-Mart in the USA is the same as one you buy in Canada, but there are other aspects of GMRS available to Americans that are not allowed in Canada.
I will start with the American GMRS because ours was developed from it. GMRS has been around for a long time is the USA. It is a service that today has two aspects but it began as the first UHF-based citizens radio service. Essentially it is a service with the same intent as for FRS as described above, but with very major privileges. Not only is it possible to have handheld radios with five watts, it is also allowable to have base radios with up to 50 Watts! You are allowed to have antennas on rooftops, towers or other structures, and are allowed to have repeater stations. Some of the American channels are actually what I call repeater pairs, with an input frequency and an output frequency. Using such a repeater there can be reliable communications for up to 50 miles or 80 km. This aspect of the service requires a licence and call signs, and thus the payment of a fee to the FCC. The radios you buy in a department store in the USA do not have the capability of using repeaters and they are identical to Canadian GMRS radios. In order to use repeaters you must go to a communications store or company and purchase specially made or programmable radios capable of two-frequency operation, along with which normally comes the higher power that is also allowable in the US service.
The Canadian GMRS is simply the handheld low-power portion of the the American service, with a limit of two watts. The RF output of the available radios does vary. You no doubt have seen the various "kilometre range" claims on the bubble packs of GMRS radios. While this might pertain somewhat to the antenna, it is more an indication of the power output of the radios. I have seen these claims as high as 25 km or 15 miles. Like all such claims I take them with a big grain of salt, but there is no doubt they are much superior to the older FRS radios. GMRS in Canada does not include higher power radios, base stations, detachable and remote antennas, or repeaters. Consequently the Canadian GMRS is not licenced.
What this has led to is the demise of FRS as a separate viable service. All GMRS radios sold now in Canada are really hybrid radios. They are FRS and GMRS combined. With one of these hybrid radios in hand, I would say that anyone who thinks about it will normally select a GMRS channel, rather than an FRS one. The only reason a thinking person would choose the low power channels or settings is to conserve batteries or to help prevent communications being overheard.
Here are the frequencies for the combined FRS/GMRS as used in Canada, and with the identical handheld units sold in US department stores. When the two began to be put on one radio there was a difficulty in deciding how to designate the channels. There is a conventional way that has become pretty much standard, called the Motorola convention, and that is what is likely to be used in any hybrid radio you buy in Canada, and is used here.
|Channel # on most radios||Official (IC) Channel||Frequency||Comment||US note|
|1||FRS1/GMRS2||462.5625||FRS/GMRS shared. Low (1/2 w) or high power.||Same in Canada and USA|
|2||FRS2/GMRS4||462.5875||FRS/GMRS shared. Low (1/2 w) or high power.||Same in Canada and USA|
|3||FRS3/GMRS6||462.6125||FRS/GMRS shared. Low (1/2 w) or high power.||Same in Canada and USA|
|4||FRS4/GMRS8||462.6375||FRS/GMRS shared. Low (1/2 w) or high power.||Same in Canada and USA|
|5||FRS5/GMRS10||462.6625||FRS/GMRS shared. Low (1/2 w) or high power.||Same in Canada and USA|
|6||FRS6/GMRS12||462.6875||FRS/GMRS shared. Low (1/2 w) or high power.||Same in Canada and USA|
|7||FRS7/GMRS14||462.7125||FRS/GMRS shared. Low (1/2 w) or high power.||Same in Canada and USA|
|8||FRS8||467.5625||FRS only. Radios automatically limited to 1/2 watt||Same in Canada and USA|
|9||FRS9||467.5875||FRS only. Radios automatically limited to 1/2 watt||Same in Canada and USA|
|10||FRS10||467.6125||FRS only. Radios automatically limited to 1/2 watt||Same in Canada and USA|
|11||FRS11||467.6375||FRS only. Radios automatically limited to 1/2 watt||Same in Canada and USA|
|12||FRS12||467.6625||FRS only. Radios automatically limited to 1/2 watt||Same in Canada and USA|
|13||FRS13||467.6875||FRS only. Radios automatically limited to 1/2 watt||Same in Canada and USA|
|14||FRS14||467.7125||FRS only. Radios automatically limited to 1/2 watt||Same in Canada and USA|
|15||GMRS1||462.5500||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.||In the USA this can be a repeater channel, using an input frequency 5 MHz higher. Not on std US handheld radios.|
|16||GMRS3||462.5750||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.||In the USA this can be a repeater channel, using an input frequency 5 MHz higher. Not on std US handheld radios.|
|17||GMRS5||462.6000||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.||In the USA this can be a repeater channel, using an input frequency 5 MHz higher. Not on std US handheld radios.|
|18||GMRS7||462.6250||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.|
|19||GMRS9||462.6500||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.|
|20||GMRS11||462.6750||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.|
|21||GMRS13||462.7000||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.|
|22||GMRS15||462.7250||GMRS only. Power can be selected in most radios.|
|*||GMRS16||467.5500||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
|*||GMRS17||467.5750||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
|*||GMRS18||467.6000||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
|*||GMRS19||467.6250||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
|*||GMRS20||467.6500||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
|*||GMRS21||467.6750||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
|*||GMRS22||467.7000||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
|*||GMRS23||467.7250||NOT YET IN USE IN CANADA||US RPTR INPUT|
*In the United States, the frequencies in the 467 MHz range corresponding to the 462 MHz channels 15 to 22 are used for repeater inputs, with the outputs being on Channels 15 to 22. For example, Channel 15 rptr consists of input 467.5500 MHz and output 462.5500 MHz. Industry Canada states that these frequencies have also been set aside in Canada; however they have not yet been implemented but might be in the future.
In addition to the actual transmitting frequencies, most FRS and GMRS radios are also equipped with subaudible tones in order to cut down on interference between different users. For example if I use Channel 20 and someone else nearby also uses it, there is likely to be annoying interference. If I superimpose one of 38 available subaudible tones on my signal, and operate my system so that it responds only to other radios using that tone, I will not get any annoying conversations from other radios on the same frequency, unless those users also select the same tone. It still remains impossible for nearby stations on the same frequency to use it at the same time, even with different tones. Sometimes this feature is promoted as a way to increase security, as others are not so likely to overhear your transmissions. One must be cautious with this however, as any FRS or GMRS radio can be set to receive without tone discrimination and therefore will pick up any nearby transmissions. In addition any scanner can pick up these transmissions under the same conditions. By the way the 38 tones are the same tones used in regular commercial and amateur radio systems, ranging from 67.0 Hz to 250.3 Hz.
Here is a link to Industry Canada's discussion paper on the introduction of GMRS into Canada:
As I alluded to previously, in some areas of the US, groups of volunteer enthusiasts have banded together to purchase a repeater and individual base radios and operate a combination of a monitoring service for those in difficulty, and notification service to tell each other about radio or emergency events. It is said that a somewhat standard frequency or channel for these is Channel 20, in the repeater mode. Of course, here in Canada that is impossible as our service does not have the repeater option or the high powers possible in the US, but it might be possible for a scanner group within a fairly small area to use GMRS handhelds to communicate with each other.
Here are a couple of sites that describe in some detail the more complicated American GMRS.
I will at some point write a short comment on the CB band. I have not been particularly interested in it for many years, ever since I was like everyone else in the late 70's and joined the rush for a few months. I can't even remember my call sign.... something like XK633822 ... not likely to be accurate!