last updated 4 Oct 2004The American FRS Family Radio Service operates on a different band a bit higher in frequency from 446, on 14 channels approximately around 465 MHz. In fact, half of them are at 462 MHz, and the other half are at 467 MHz. The table below shows the channels used.
It inevitable that FRS radios will find their way over the Atlantic to these shores, that some dealers will sell them as they are often cheaper to import and appear to be PMR446 to the unwary, and that people will unwittingly (or even knowingly) buy them off Ebay, etc.
However, FRS radios CANNOT legally be used over here in the UK/Europe. The USA based system has only been approved in a few other countries such as neighbouring Canada and Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Taiwan.
FRS is only 500mW FM, just like PMR446, in 12.5kHz channels too, so there shouldn't be any advantage to this illegal use. Yes, quality differences between various brands and models may well mean that one given FRS radio may outperform another specific PMR446, but there should just as easily be a PMR446 radio available to outclass the FRS. In fact, the usual path loss formula suggests that FRS has a third of a decibel disadvantage compared to PMR446!
The only 'advantage' I could imagine (using FRS rather than PMR) would be the perceived value of having a clearer, more private, channel. This, however, is viewing things from totally the wrong angle - consider instead that you would be using channels that could be allocated to other groups or businesses, and you may be causing interference to them. How likely is this? To be honest, the range of an FRS or PMR is so small from many locations, unless you're quite high up on a hill, so the risk could well be slight to negligable. Having said that, you must bear in mind that the channels could be used as inputs to wide-area repeaters based on tall masts with a large coverage area. You could be picked up by a mast many miles away that will have no trouble receiving you (due to its height) and then rebroadcast you on another channel to all and sundry for miles around - and you'd have no way of telling. Until a van full of officials with expensive direction-finding equipment tracks you down and all hell descends upon you! This is a risk I wouldn't fancy taking, personally.
So, if you bought FRS radios on holiday, don't use them at home. PMR446 can be as 'cheap as chips' and a lot less of a drain on your wallet than a hefty fine. Put your FRS radios back in your suitcase for the next trip over there, or sell them online - to someone over there!
FRS shares its chunk of UHF with its big, older, brother GMRS, the General Mobile Radio Service. This is unique to the USA, although Canada has recently (Sept 2004) ended up allowing 2W handhelds (no repeaters) because they've realised that they can't easily fight the tide.
GMRS uses all the 12.5kHz-spaced 462 MHz channels, either singly or with repeaters, and only the 25kHz-spaced 467 MHz channels are used - for repeater inputs. This is a licensed system - a US citizen is free to spend a small fortune on their own private repeater using good up-to-spec radios running up to 50W, with few antenna restrictions. We obviously won't hear any of that from over here, and we're unlikely to find any repeaters set up in the UK, but as with FRS we do get small handheld radios being used here. The USA has a problem with so called 'bubblepack' radios (cheaply sold in blister packs without any licence checks or advice) that feature both FRS and GMRS channels - and with 2W or more of power.
The use of GMRS radios is just as illegal over here as FRS. Yes, there may be a power advantage, but 2W doesn't really go all that much further than 0.5W, despite what some people believe. 4 times the power goes 2 times as far IN OUTER SPACE with NOTHING IN THE WAY, but here on Earth it's just 6dB more signal that will rapidly get eaten up in hundreds of dB of loss over a typical distance. Any performance advantage is usually down to different quality circuitry or antennas. Yes, GMRS uses wider FM deviation than PMR446, but this is only a few dB of improvement of Signal-to-Noise and will only be apparent at the extremes of range when hiss is making things difficult. Most users would not notice any difference on good examples of each type of equipment.
462 / 467 in the UK - FRS/GMRS over here potentially interferes with Home Office systems used by the emergency services - which is about as serious as it gets! That's a good reason not to use the 462 MHz channels, which could see you appearing on 455 or 457 MHz without your knowledge. Best not to! Even if they're using a different CTCSS tone, you will still be clogging up their channel.
At 467 MHz, you could be causing a problem for Radio/TV outside broadcasts, programme/film makers on location, or any number of activities during 'Special Events' which could involve life-and-death matters such as motor sport safety. To make things worse, you may not be aware of their presence (even with any monitor button) whereas they'll certainly notice you! Also, if you're within range of the coast, be aware that the first few channels here at 467 MHz are also used on board ships, and again you could be being rebroadcast on 457 MHz.
PLEASE stick to PMR446!
This topic is also mentioned on the 'Naughty' page, where other sytems are listed too.