Two-Way Radios Product Guide
When vacationing or just hiking some local trails, cell phone users should be aware that there probably is no cellphone service inside the woods. Cell phones won't function at all where no service is available. Staying in touch in the woods is a snap with two-way radios. Providing each person in your party with a 2-Way Radio, you can keep in touch even if your miles apart. Some models offer more than communication. There are models that include an NOAA radio band. NOAA stands for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA radio service provides daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring so you know what to expect with possible weather changes. Whether you're with friends or family, this inexpensive little radio is indispensible when nature keeps you apart from modern conveniences. Get one for every person that's coming along.
Decades ago, these radios used to be called Walkie-Talkies and were mostly used for military and commercial applications. That name faded around the 1980's (sometimes emerging again). By the late 1990's these radios were called 2-Way Radio Transceivers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began to designate standards and frequencies with which these radios could be used. The two standards established by the FCC are FRS and GMRS.
A newer 2-Way radio frequency is emerging. EXRS (eXtreme Radio Service) is the new digital two-way radio service operating in the 900 MHz band. EXRS goes beyond FRS and GMRS. EXRS uses frequency hopping to make it possible to have private and secure communications. EXRS puts an end to annoying interference from other users on the same channel. Depending on the 2-Way radio model, you can access up to 10 billion different channels. EXRS radios constantly hop from one frequency to another, your conversation cannot be overheard on a scanner or another radio. In addition, eXRS radios, unlike FRS/GMRS radios are license free and are legal for all users of all ages and for personal and business purposes. EXRS is not compatible with FRS and GMRS.
There are some nice advantages with these 2-Way radios. They are pocket-sized and lightweight. There are no service contracts to deal with. There is absolutely no charge for airtime, no charges for how many calls you make. Most of all, they are simple to use and operate. You can use plain ordinary language when using FRS.
So whether you're family is on a giant cruise or hiking in the woods or playing around the corner, a 2-way radio is a practical way to keep in touch.
FRS / GMRS
Virtually all 2-Way Radios use a special set of frequencies standardized by the Federal Communications Commission. Most models have about 22 channels. Some channels require a license for use while others do not.
Family Radio Service (FRS)
It is one of the Citizens Band Radio Services (remember those CB car radios?). Family, friends and associates that need to communicate within a neighborhood and while on group outings can use it. It offers a communications range of less than one mile. You cannot make a telephone call with an FRS unit. You may use your FRS unit for business-related communications. No license is required. Most radios have several FRS channels to select from. You may operate your FRS unit within the territorial limits of the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, and the Caribbean and Pacific Insular areas ("U.S.").
If you operate a radio that has been approved exclusively under the rules that apply to FRS, you are not required to have a license. FRS radios have a maximum power of ½ watt (500 milliwatts) effective radiated power and built-in (often hidden) antennas.
There are up to 14 FRS radio bands using FCC frequencies in MHz. Operating distance is usually less than one mile. Actual range depends on terrain and structures in the area. They are:
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
Many manufacturers have received approval to market radios that are certified for use in both the Family Radio Service (FRS) and the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). The manual that comes with the radio, or the label placed on it by the manufacturer, should indicate the service the unit is certified for. If you cannot determine what service the unit may be used in, contact the manufacturer.
If you operate a radio under the rules that apply to GMRS, you must have a GMRS license, available from the FCC. The FCC grants five-year renewable licenses for GMRS Systems. The individual licensee is responsible for the proper operations of the licensed GMRS system at all times. FCC allows applications online from their Universal Licensing Service division at http://wireless.fcc.gov/uls/index.htm?job=home
GMRS radios generally transmit at higher power levels (1 to 5 watts is typical) and may have detachable antennas. GMRS is reported to have an effective range of up to 5 miles. That's in the best of circumstances. Generally, somewhere near the 2 mile range may be expected. There are, essentially, 8 duplex frequencies along the GMRS band (in MHz). So most 2-Way Radios will have up to 14 FRS and 8 GMRS for a total of 22 channels.
EXRS (also eXRS)
EXRS uses Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology and operates in the 900MHz ISM band. The advanced digital circuitry provides superior communications in a small package. The new eXRS 2-way radios offer clear communications without interference from other radios. These license free eXRS radios can be used anytime, anywhere and for any personal or business purpose. The eXRS system allows as many as 100,000 users within range of each other without interference of normal voice conversation.
When using eXRS radios in and around buildings or other obstructions, range can vary greatly depending on the particular conditions. Generally, there would be no problem covering a large one or two story building such as a warehouse or retail store. All UHF radios are effectively line-of-sight communications devices and under the same conditions, all portable UHF radios should perform about the same with respect to range, however that distance could range from a few blocks up to more than a hundred miles. eXRS radios will meet or exceed the usable range of other UHF portable radios (including FRS/GMRS) under the same conditions of use. If the GMRS (or FRS) gets 30 miles, so will the eXRS - if the GMRS (or FRS) gets only a few blocks, so will the eXRS. Realistically, under most conditions, typical range will be a few thousand feet to several miles, and possibly longer under more optimal line-of-sight conditions.
Realistically, under most conditions, typical range for all eXRS, FRS and GMRS radios will be a few thousand feet to several miles. EXRS radios have been independently tested head to head with the top of the line GMRS/FRS radios and up to five Watt commercial radios and the results demonstrate that they are all range equivalent.
EXRS radios are free from any Federal Communications Commission (FCC) user licenses, can be used at any age and for any purpose (personal or business), unlike GMRS radios.
VOX is Voice Activation. In the old days you need to press a button to speak on a 2-way radio. Now you can answer automatically, as if you were speaking through an ordinary phone.
There may be a lot of 2-Way radios in use within a particular area. This feature for the best possible channel for best communication
Automatically changes channel to best channel for everyone in your group
Some radios let you choose high power for longer range or low power to help extend battery life. This helps conserve power if you're using shorter-range transmissions
This is an excellent feature for families and amateur hiking groups. If someone in your group extends beyond the working range of your 2-way radio network, it signals an alert to other radios
When activated, provides key pad security eliminating accidental channel changes
Provides an indication of how much power use is left and when batteries need replacement. Most FRS and GMRS radios use AA or AAA batteries. It is recommended to carry extra batteries when going on a long excursion. Some models may use or allow use of rechargeable batteries.
Helps maintain privacy by converting channels into sub-channels to help prevent others from monitoring your conversations.
Unique Call Tones
Allows user to recognize who is calling from different ring tones
Silent or Audible Ring Alerts
Audible ring tones. Models may also allow selection of vibrating or illuminated rings
Speaker and Microphone
Most models have built-in speaker and microphone. Some have jacks for earphone use or for headset use (combining mic and speaker) for handsfree use.
Helps use radio at night or in dark areas
Cuts out weak signals that may interfere with your transmission or reception
Whether you call them Walkie-talkies or 2-Way Radios, these relatively inexpensive devices are very helpful for keeping in touch in small communities and in areas where phone service may be unavailable. FRS is simple to use and does not require a license. GMRS provides extra distance and requires a license from the FCC. Virtually all 2-Way radio models include both. Some even have a UHF band for even greater distances and also require a license. It's reliable communication during emergencies or when trying to have fun and avoid possible emergencies.
The 2-Way Radio can work where no cellular service is available. That's a distinct advantage over the use of cellular phones. When hiking or camping away from cell zones, FRS and GMRS offer greater reliability.
While most 2-way radios use FRS and GMRS frequencies, eXRS is emerging as a new alternative. All are feasible methods for communication in wilderness and rural areas. Keep in touch with a 2-way radio.
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