Although pretty much everyone (even plenty of children) has a smartphone these days, there may still come a time when you’re happy you have an old-school walkie-talkie. Maybe you want to go against the grain a little and limit your child’s screen time, or maybe you want something that will still work if you’re up in the mountains with no cell phone reception. Or maybe you just prefer them. No matter what you’re reasoning, it’s a good idea to learn a little more about two-way radios if you plan on buying a pair.
If you’ve already started some research, then you’ve probably come across the terms FRS and GMRS. Of course, you might not actually understand the difference between these two types of radios, but that’s what we’re here for. We’re going to break everything down in easy-to-understand terms so that you can learn the differences between FRS and GMRS radios, the pros and cons of the two radios, and which one is best for you.
Keep reading for our full breakdown of FRS radios and GMRS radios.
Replace Image below with Amazon SiteStripe Image
Replace Image below with Amazon SiteStripe Image
Which Radio Has Better Range?
In our first matchup, the GMRS radio is the clear winner. GMRS (which stands for General Mobile Radio Service) radios are the champions of long-range radios. For an entry-level general mobile radio service device, you can expect to get a range of about 10-15 miles. Of course, if you splurge for a high-end GMRS radio, that number can get as high as 35 miles! Nobody is getting lost on that hike or camping trip if you have a pair of these.
For comparison, the average FRS (Family Radio Service radio) has a range of just a mile or two. That will definitely be enough in certain situations, but it’s pretty restrictive. If you want to make sure you never worry about running out of real estate, then a GMRS radio is just the only option for you. With a good GMRS radio, the world is your oyster, and you’ll always be able to clearly communicate with your partner.
Which Has Better Security?
This time around, it’s FRS radios that take the crown. Family Radio Service radios, which are a variant of the land-based mobile FM UHF radio service, earned their name because they enable you to have secure conversations with your family. Since FRS radios operate on a much shorter range of frequencies than GMRS radios, they’re much more secure, and you can be sure that nobody is overhearing your private information.
The short range of FRS radios also serves as an advantage here. It’s pretty unlikely that somebody is going to pick up a transmission that can only extend for about a mile or two. Of course, if the range is what’s important to you, you’ll still probably prefer GMRS. But if you appreciate your privacy and want to keep your secrets, well, secret, then the family radio service is exactly what you’re looking for. These walkie-talkies are the most secure option out there.
Which Has More Features?
GMRS radios have more features than FRS radios, and it’s not particularly close. FRS radios serve one pretty straightforward purpose – they let you talk with someone over radio waves. But GMRS radios let you do much more. They let you send SMS messages for those quick messages that just don’t need to be a full conversation, and they actually allow you to talk simultaneously. So, the flow of conversation on GMRS radios is much closer to real, in-person conversation than it is with FRS radios.
Perhaps most important of all, GMRS radios allow you to ping your location to a friend. The practical benefits of this are obvious and endless. No more vaguely describing your surroundings for a meeting point or playing a game of hot-or-cold if someone gets lost. All you have to do is send your location over, get comfortable, and wait. I don’t think I need to explain how useful this could be on hiking or camping trips. If you want the extra bells and whistles, then a GMRS unit is the obvious choice for you.
Which Is Cheaper?
While FRS radios are cheaper than their GMRS counterparts, there are obviously exceptions. The most expensive FRS radio might be more expensive than a cheaper GRMS unit. It’s also important to remember that the honest truth is that both FRS and GMRS radios are very affordable, and it’s unlikely that the difference in price will be a real difference-maker for you, unless you’re on a very tight budget. Of course, if every penny matters for you, then you should definitely start your search with FRS radios. But if you absolutely need some of the features that only GMRS walkie-talkies can offer, don’t worry. I’m sure you can find a good GMRS unit that fits within your budget.
Do I Need a License for an FRS or GMRS Radio?
FRS radios are completely license-free, and there’s no paperwork required before you can use them. Just buy a pair, open the box, and you’re good to go.
While GMRS radios do require a license, the good news is that the process is incredibly simple. There’s no written test or practical exam or anything of that sort. All you need to do is submit some basic information online with your application, and pick up your license when it’s ready.
Of course, if you’re on a tight schedule and you want your radios for a specific day or event, then you might have to settle for an FRS radio unit. If you’re willing to wait a little and you want the best option possible, then it’s definitely worthwhile to get a GMRS license.
Will My Signal Get Interrupted?
The unfortunate reality is that, just as with any long-distance form of communication, you’ll sometimes experience a shoddy signal and unclear reception. That being said, these issues are much more apparent in FRS radios, which have been known to suffer from poor reception just from basic obstacles like buildings or trees. This means that you may not want to rely on FRS radios for any nature outings or cross-town communication. They may be best used as an intercom system within your home.
GMRS radios, on the other hand, will not experience the same issues. While nobody can promise perfect reception all of the time, these products are fairly reliable, and you can be sure that they’ll be able to deal with some trees or tall buildings. If you want a radio that’s reliable for outdoor use, then go ahead and get your GMRS license.
There you have it. We’ve told you everything there is to know about both FRS and GMRS radios, and now it’s time to do something with that information. The real point of any comparison is to walk away with an actual conclusion or decision, so now it’s time to wrap things up and decide which type of radio is best for you. Keep reading to find out which two-way radio system is best for you based on your specific needs.
If you want the best value for your money, pick a GMRS unit.
FRS and GMRS radios are close enough in price that getting the best deal will mean “splurging” for the best product, which is definitely the General Mobile Radio Service. In terms of both extra features and actual performance, it’s really no contest. That 15-mile radius tells the whole story. If you want the best deal, get a GMRS radio.
If you need any special features, pick GMRS.
For a lot of customers, those extra features are the difference-maker, and they’re probably the biggest differentiator between GMRS and FRS. FRS walkie-talkies will let you communicate with someone else over a radio signal, but that’s all they’ll do. GMRS walkie-talkies will let both of you talk simultaneously with duplex mode, send quick text messages, and send your exact location to each other. GMRS radios really do it all, and they’re the king of the hill when it comes to handheld radios.
If you want to keep the spending cheap, pick FRS.
As we mentioned earlier, the price of our two different radio devices is probably close enough that money shouldn’t be a huge factor in your decision, but sometimes you just need to save. If you need to keep spending cheap, then FRS is almost always the way to go. Of course, FRS is also a good choice if it’s time that you need to save and not money. If you need to streamline the logistics, then FRS is definitely the radio service for you.
You’ve hopefully decided between our two radio services by now, and all that’s left is for you to find the actual radio you want. Whether you want an FRS radio or a GMRS walkie-talkie, there are plenty of options out there for you. Think about which feature is most important to you, and how much you’re willing to pay. There are certainly plenty of guides online to help you with the next phase of your research.
That’s all for now. Whether it be FRS or GMRS, we hope you find the perfect radio that has everything you’re looking for!