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GMRS/FRS as a CB replacement.

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  • GMRS/FRS as a CB replacement.

    Pretty much anyone who uses CB's off road know what a pain they can be. Most aren't set up right so only a few people can hear and be heard. A lot of people don't even own one. I can't remember the last time we did a run where everyone could hear everyone well and that can lead to trouble.

    Thus began a research mission to come up with an alternative. Ham has been discussed but I wouldn't expect everyone to get licensed and we try to stay legal so that isn't practical. GMRS holds a similar issue but the license is much easier, just an application not an exam, still you need to pay $65 for a 5 year license and fill out their forms. For anyone who wants comms for long trips in a convoy a decent GMRS mobile unit will give you plenty of range, more channel options than CB and clearer comms.

    That leaves us with FRS. The FRS band is open to anyone as long as your radio is limited to low power and consequently low range. I've used them on the trail before and never really ran out of range but they only sell handheld radios and until recently only with AAA batteries. Newer radios have charging stands and lithium batteries making them much more practical and give a little higher wattage but having a mounted radio makes life in a rig much easier.

    Midland has has recently released a mobile version GMRS/FRS which I hope will solve all of our problems. You can choose to get a GMRS license but for our use I don't think it will be necessary. Maybe for trips up to Moab or Big Bear but on the trail and local drives we should do fine in the FRS mode. They also sell handheld radios that cover GMRS and FRS so if you want a cheaper option or the ability communicate outside your rig (like spotting) there are plenty of options.

    I will be testing the middle of the line model from Midland MicroMobile the MXT115. It has a max GMRS range of 50 miles but that is basically over flat water. It estimates a practical range of 10 miles with obstructions which is still pretty good. A hand held FRS has a practical range of 1-2 miles which is plenty on the trail but I'm hoping with an antenna on top of my wind shield I can do even better.

    Amazon had a note that they usually ship 1 to 2 months so I ordered one from Walmart. Cost was around $160 and I could pick it up in 2 days. There is a $100 model at 5 watts so less long range than the 15 watt MXT115 but mostly the same features. They also have $250 model with 40 watts but it comes without an antenna or weather channels. There are also many other Chinese radios, some with multiple bands including HAM so depending on what you want out of the radio you have options. A big selling point for me was the MicroMobile line is really a small radio so it will fit the already packed JK cab.

    Here is everything unpacked.

    It comes with a radio, mount bracket, power cable with cig lighter adapter, magnetic antenna with long cable, screws and Velcro for mounting, mic and directions.

    I did a quick test with some handhelds, two new GMRS/FRS and one FRS that I've had like 22 years. Just plugged the cig adapter in, stuck the antenna over the windshield and set all the channels the same. I had them communicating in like 2 minutes.

    With everything working I went ahead and mounted it. Since it's so small you have a ton of mounting options. You could also keep it fairly temporary to swap between vehicles. I like it on the side of the trans tunnel next to my right leg. It's out of the way but keep the speaker close and I can read the screen.

    I'll hide cables and hard wire it once I know that's were it will stay. It also has a USB outlet on the front and like five backlight color options.

    Hopefully we will get a good idea on the next few runs how well they will work for us. Updates to come.
    Last edited by Skirmish; 07-14-2017, 10:37 PM.
    2012 JK

  • #2
    Just applied for my GMRS license. It was pretty easy and quick but the total fee was $70. You can search FCC ULS or follow this link.

    If you don't have an online account with the FCC you need to register as a new user to get your FCC registration number (FRN). Pretty easy, fill in some boxes with name/address/etc and make up your password. You will be assigned an FRN.

    Next you you go to online filing and click Log In. Enter your FRN and password and click submit. Under My Licenses choose 2. Apply for new licenses. GMRS is the last selection initials ZA. Continue and fill out the application. Same info basically and a few yes or no questions that should be no. Next is payment and once you pay you are done. Now we just wait for them to accept and give you a call sign. Took about 5 minutes.
    2012 JK


    • #3
      Had the new radios on the trail today and started learning what works. The mobile radios have a detachable antenna which is not allowed for FRS only channels 8-14 so consequently they don't exist on a mobile radio. They do have channels 1-7 which are shared GMRS/FRS frequencies but they are limited to 5w. That is fine for most handheld which tend to only run around 2 watts to save batteries but my radio is capable of 15 watts which are only allowed on channels 15-22.

      Range on the lower channel range at 7 seemed pretty good for our general purpose. I think if we can get most people licensed and on mobile or at least running GMRS channels 15-22 we would have better comms in places like Logandale where some might show up later or the group might split to run different trails. I'm pretty confident at 15 watts we could cover the whole park.

      I had no problems hearing with my mobile mounted by my knee but the guys with the handhelds said they needed to have them close when it was louder in the cab. Sabotage70 was able to connect his headphone jack to the aux port on his stereo and said it worked very well. It was mono through the left speaker but solved the issue of volume. A simple earbud or any headset would work. Add a push to talk mic and you are ready to spot as well.

      One of the greatest features of a GMRS radio is that they are setup out of the box. It seems with CB we have two extremes and neither works well. Either the system isn't set up or tune correctly and it transmits and receives weak or the CB is tweaked to transmit at the limits of legal and it blows out any radio within line of sight. Great for lond distance trucking but crap on a trail. The GMRS radios seem great right out of the box saving time and cash.

      $100 for a cheap mobile plus $70 for a license seems pricey but it's a 5 year license so really $14 a year. A cheap CB is $50 plus $35 for a cable and antenna, spend a couple hours on install and tuning or spend more money to get it tuned then 6 months later you can't communicate with halve the group. I think the GMRS wins.
      2012 JK


      • #4
        I will attempt to explain my findings and why I chose GMRS as our possible new form of communication. I will go deep into nerd stuff and try to be as thorough as possible.

        First of all its important to understand we will be talking about radio frequency or RF. There are other ways to communicate but most are not convenient for multiple reasons like phones not having reception or bluetooth not having enough capacity. Radio frequency is any of the electromagnetic wave frequencies that lie in the range extending from around 3 kHz to 300 ghz. For the most part, 2 way communication is done in the HF (3-30mhz) VHF (30-300mhz) and UHF (300mhz-3ghz). The difference being the measurement of the wavelength. A CB works on a long wavelength where WiFi uses very short wave. The FCC controls what frequencies are used for US applications. Some are open to public use with limitations so you aren't setting up a giant antenna and blasting your signal all over the region. Some require a license and have certain restrictions and most are unavailable to the general public as they are used for everything from emergency communications to FM radio broadcast.

        The HF range includes Citizens Band or CB which operates in the 27 mhz or 11 meter wavelength. We are legally limited to 4 watts at the connection to the antenna. Some people will push their radio past that and the limitation isn't enforced other than an extreme situation. CB's are popular because they operate for free up to 4 watts with a fixed or detachable antenna. Family Band or FRS is also license free but legally the antenna must be fixed and they are limited to .5 watts meaning CB's can run 8 times the power but not necessarily 8 times the range. Your range is highly dependent on your antenna and cable. If the impedance between the two is different you will get standing waves that reduce your ability to transmit. This needs to be measured with an SWR meter and corrected by shortening or lengthening the antenna.

        Most off road groups use CB because you can buy everything you need off the shelf and you don't need a license to operate it legally. They are very finicky and if not setup correctly your transmit range will be greatly reduced. A common problem is not having a good ground on the antenna or grounding the feed line of the antenna. Another limitation is it only has 40 channels. In a busy area that can fill up fast and we used to have to change channels sometimes multiple times to be clear of other traffic. We have been running channel 13 because it is fairly unused but we still hear others from time to time. Like most 2 way communications CB is simplex not full duplex meaning if someone is transmitting no one else can transmit. Only one person can't talk at at time. Another limitation is that CB is AM broadcast so the sound quality isn't that great.

        HAM is also HF at 7-28 mhz. It is very popular with hobbyists who can be fiercely strict about operators following the rules. That includes taking an exam to receive a license and pay a $15 fee for the exam. Everyone who uses HAM needs to be licensed to use it legally meaning if you have one in your rig or carry a handheld, your passenger cannot legally talk on it without passing the exam and need to be 18 years old. The limits of power for an amateur license I believe are 1.5 kw in the US which is very strong. Some popular mobile units are in the 50 watt range and handhelds are usually around 5 watts simply because it would be dangerous to have anything higher that close to your head. There is a large network of repeaters allowing users the possibility to transmit globally.

        The VHF range includes MURS or Multi-Use Radio Service in the 151 and 154 mhz range. MURS is intended to be a more modern version of CB in that you are allowed to use it without a license however only 2 watts is legal transmitting power and only 7 channels but also 38 codes within each channel so effectively 190 channels. You can mount an antenna up to 60' off the ground and they use FM so you can get a decent range with good voice quality. I considered testing MURS but the more research I did the less appealing it became.

        The UHF range includes FRS and GMRS or General Mobile Radio Service. Both operate in the 462 to 467 mhz range. FRS became very popular a few years ago as a cheap portable short range communication. They are license free but only allow .5 watt and require a fixed antenna. This really limits practical use to outside of a vehicle and within about 1 mile. Both use FM so sound quality is very good. GMRS requires a license but you just need to fill out an application and pay $70 to the FCC for a 5 year license. There is a proposal to remove the license restriction and I'm hoping with the new attention the service is getting it will pass soon. GMRS is limited to 50 watts and allows a detachable antenna. This puts its range within that of CB but there are differences in how HF and UHF react to the environment. GMRS operates on 15 channels but shares 7 with FRS. A GMRS radio operating on shared FRS channels is only allowed 5 watts and many handheld will also have the other FRS exclusive channels at .5 watts max. That leaves 8 GMRS only channels with 38 codes each for a total of 304 options to broadcast. GMRS allows the use of repeaters for very long range transmission.

        One of the reasons CB is great for truckers over distance is the ability of HF bands to bend over hills. UHF will bend but not as well. What UHF does better with is bouncing off objects. HF (CB) tends to get absorbed by buildings, trees, rocks where UHF (GMRS) bounces off and continues on. This should mean that in a canyon, forest or city a GMRS radio would have better range but on a highway with long rolling hills a CB is better suited. Hopefully for us it holds true as we would be more concerned with a cluttered environment.

        What really pushed me towards GMRS over HAM, MURS is the availability of radios. There are a few Chinese companies selling "multi band" radios that operate over HF, VHF and UHF and some even claim CB. The CB models are intended for monitoring only. They do not legally transmit CB. Usually the frequencies are programmable by computer and aren't necessarily legal to operate in the US. For instance, you could program a channel to 467.5625 mhz and start blasting 50 watts. That frequency is designated for FRS and using a detachable antenna at over .5 watts is illegal. Legal radios will have preprogrammed channels that follow the laws. For instance, my GMRS mobile radio has 15 watts of power but is limited to 5 watts on the shared FRS channels and does not have the FRS only range because it would be illegal without a fixed antenna. Motorola recently began to produce GMRS mobile radios and a few companies including Motorola and Cobra make handheld GMRS/FRS that you can buy at walmart, best buy, frys or all over online. I'm hoping with the increased market for these radios the proposal to drop the license requirement will pass removing the last con for the GMRS argument.

        The brave souls who are interested in other comms like HAM or MURS can buy a multi band radio online and enjoy the best of all the options however we cannot condone the use of frequencies you are not legally allowed to use. Most of the ranges available to a programmable radio are not available at all to the general public and you could face substantial penalties if you are caught broadcasting on them. It is also possible to interfere with emergency, aircraft or government communication without knowing it which could be dangerous. If you do decide to go that route I would be very cautious with which frequencies you program.

        Ideally everyone would get a mobile GMRS radio in their rig and obtain a GMRS license. I realize it is a lot to ask but a bonus to GMRS is that the license covers everyone in your extended family so your wife, kids or inlaws running with you are permitted to use a radio under your license. This makes it practical to swap the radio into cars for convoy trips or to use the mobile as a base when camping and handing out handhelds to your family when they leave the site. It's basically FRS on steroids.

        We are still testing the service so it isn't required by the club for any runs yet but I'm seeing the benefits over CB making GMRS a winner. We have had so many problems with CB that the simplicity of installing and operating GMRS is enough of a reason alone to make me switch. We did have issues with volume and didn't have tremendous range but that was using the handheld. My mobile sounded great and with the antenna mounted above my windshield and 15 watts of power I think all the issues would have been solved. Until more people are willing to get a mobile radio it is have to prove though.
        2012 JK


        • #5
          Great write-up...thanks!

          Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-N910A using Tapatalk

          \'93 YJ


          • #6
            Found some new info from the FCC. They adopted a bunch of proposals related to GMRS and FRS but I can't find when they take affect.

            The license will become active for ten years instead of 5. This is pretty cool as it basically cuts the cost in half for the long term, $7 a year is cheap.

            There will no longer be hybrid FRS/GMRS classified radios. FRS will be allowed up to 2 watts instead of .5 watts and share all of the GMRS channels. GMRS will still be allowed 50 watts on channels above 14 and 5 watts below 8 but now will also be allowed to operate at 5 watts on what was FRS only channels 8-14. This means that when this change goes into effect we can run 2 watt FRS radios on the same frequencies that we run up to 50 watt GMRS at the high range and 7 channels will be added to GMRS that were FRS exclusive. Currently we are limited to either running GMRS channels at high power and not being able to use unlicensed FRS radios at the same time or using channels available to both but at low GRMS power.

            In a nutshell, they simply combined all of the first 22 channels to work with FRS and GMRS, boosted FRS x4 and doubled the length of GMRS license. All good news for GMRS. I will keep searching and will update when all the changes take effect.
            Last edited by Skirmish; 07-17-2017, 02:48 AM.
            2012 JK


            • #7
              I received my GMRS license already. Really only took one business day. I now have my call sign and can legally transmit on the GMRS channels.

              In other news, I've been looking into different radios and have read good and bad things about the programmable ones. First of all I don't believe any of them are FCC compliant because of the ability to program frequencies that individuals cannot legally broadcast on as well as frequencies you can but not at higher wattages. That said, as long as you program it properly and only use channels you are allowed to transmit on (or channels less likely to be monitored) you will probably get away with it. Keep in mind though that the penalties can be as high as $10,000 for illegally transmitting.

              Another issue I've read about with these programmable radios is that the software that comes with them can be useless. Some people have been able to figure out how to work around it from YouTube videos or directly programming the radio without a computer but don't expect it to be plug and play like an American made radio.

              I also wouldn't suggest buying a legal radio just yet. With the new changes I'm sure Midland will be reprogramming their radios to the newly approved frequencies once the laws go into effect. It isn't a big change but you will have access to 8 more frequencies on a GMRS license. Having a future FRS radio at 2 watts will also make the current .5 watt obsolete.

              Basically what I'm saying is if you are technically inclined enough to handle programming and are willing to use a non FCC certified radio there are a few Chinese models that would be great for comms. If you want a simple plug and play or cheap handheld I would wait for the new generation coming soon.
              Last edited by Skirmish; 07-18-2017, 01:25 AM.
              2012 JK