Navigating Tricky Radio Communication Waters without an FCC License

December 14th, 2015
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Do you want to use two-way radios without having to go through the paperwork and expense of obtaining an FCC license? You absolutely can! Take a few minutes to learn how, and save both money and time. We’ll also explain the status of the different frequency bands, what’s allowed, what isn’t and what the future will likely be for non-licensed radio bands.

To understand changing FCC regulations regarding radio bands that require licenses (VHF, UHF, GMRS) and those that don’t (CB, MURS and FRS), it is helpful to look at the licensing history of the Citizens Band (CB) Radio Service. When CB radios came on the scene, they were only used by “ham operators.” The FCC decided to open up the band to the general public since it wasn’t being widely used. They began charging fees for licenses, then switched to free licenses and eventually, when it became impossible to enforce, it became completely unlicensed.

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is headed in that same direction. GMRS is designed for short distance, two-way communication, and uses channels around 462 MHz and 467 MHz. As it stands now, an FCC license is required to communicate on a GMRS frequency, and a single license is only valid for the licensee and their immediate family. However, FRS/GMRS combination radios are gaining in popularity. Those who purchase these radios are told that they can only legally use the FRS frequencies without a license and must be licensed for GMRS use, but many users ignore these rules. Though one can never be absolutely certain, it is highly unlikely that you will be fined for using GMRS on your FRS/GMRS radio. In 2010, it was proposed by the FCC to remove licensing requirements for GMRS, but this decision is still pending.

Following are the radio bands that do not require a license to operate.

Citizens Band Service (CB)
CB radio service comprises 40 channels between 26.965 MHz and 27.405 MHz. This began as a radio band that required a license. However, it is now “licensed by rule,” which means that you do not have to purchase a license to operate a CB radio station. However, other rules do apply, which are outlined in the FCC’s CB Service information. CB radios, available as base, mobile and handheld units, provide local and long distance range. When they were first introduced, they were highly susceptible to interference, but as other license-free bands became popular, they are becoming less popular for casual use and therefore don’t have as much interference issues as they once did.

Family Radio Service (FRS)
The Family Radio Service (FRS) is, as its name suggests, intended for use by families to communicate with walkie-talkies. They’re great in shopping malls, theme parks, campgrounds and flea markets, to keep track of family members. FRS units are inexpensive and won’t run down batteries, but they are low power, which means they will only offer coverage over a short distance. If you’re going hiking or hunting in the deep woods, you will likely want a two-way radio with more power, such as a combination FRS/GMRS radio.

Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)
The MURS radio service uses 5 channels between 151 MHz and 154 MHz, and is used for two-way communications over a short distance for either business or personal use. Since it operates in the VHF band, MURS radios have become popular with outdoor enthusiasts and travelers. VHF frequencies have the farthest range when they do not have any obstructions in the way, such as in open or hilly locations. It does not require an FCC license to operate and there is no age restriction. MURS has a greater signal range than FRS, which makes it preferred by hikers, campers and hunters. It can also be used by base camps with antennas to maintain contact with hikers, campers and emergency workers. One important restriction is that MURS can only transmit up to 2 watts of power. Other restrictions, such as maximum antenna height, are discussed in the FCC guidelines.

In short, you can definitely enjoy two-way radio communications with friends and family without the need of an FCC license, so long as you understand the rules of the game!

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