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New to GMRS, looking for advice


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#1 WREJ796

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Posted 21 October 2019 - 02:03 PM

One of my friends gave me a UV5R to replace my trusty BellSouth 1010 FRS radio so we can stay in touch over longer distances during trail rides (mountain biking). I've been using FRS radios since the mid 90s whenever they first appeared and it seemed odd that this radio could get significantly better range within the constraints of FRS (500mW). Of course the first thing I did was research the radio itself which led me down various paths which I'm sure you're all familiar with (surprise it's not FRS! ham licensing? no, but not FCC certified, legality?), but to sum up I discovered that GMRS is a thing, which I was previously unaware of.

 

So initially during this crazy ride the info I found suggested the UV5R was legal to use as long as you had a GMRS license, so I ended up getting one (no exam, nice). I've read the FCC regulations myself and unless I'm reading them wrong (certainly possible) the UV5R is unquestionably illegal to use for FRS/GMRS. From what I've read here and elsewhere online it seems like there aren't many Part 95e certified radios for sale, everything is combo FRS/GMRS and most of them are not really GMRS, just FRS under the new FCC regs (8 more channels and up to 2W on some?). So that brings me to the advice part.

 

I primarily use FRS radios to communicate with friends/family while biking, hiking, boating, etc. Kids/wife all have cheap 500mW FRS radios and we get about 1/4 mile in our neighborhood, maybe 1/2 mile when hiking/biking in state parks, probably 1 mile when boating. If I could double each of those ranges I would be happy. With the new FRS it looks like they share 100% of the channels with GMRS, and now they can transmit up to 2W, so what's the advantage of GMRS? Most handheld "GMRS" radios from Midland are only 2W, so I'd be gaining nothing and have to use a callsign?

 

Should I just get some newer 2W FRS radios?



#2 marcspaz

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Posted 21 October 2019 - 03:13 PM

The advantage of GMRS is that radios have a 50 watt cap, not a 2 watt cap.  Also, you can legally use GMRS repeaters as a licensed user, which can extend your range to 60 or 70 miles, depending on your radio and location as well as the repeater and its location.

 

Also, getting more distance being your goal, more power and things like detachable/exchangeable high gain antennas is the trick.  FRS radios don't have removable antennas.  Therefore you can't even use antenna tech to your advantage. 

 

With regard to HT's, unless you get legacy UHF part 90 radio, you are going to max out at 2 watts on GMRS approved hardware. Some legacy part 90 HT's go to 8 watts.  Most are 5 watts.  And again, detachable antennas allowing for performance upgrades are standard on part 90 HT's.

 

There's more, but hopefully this is a helpful start.



#3 WREJ796

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Posted 22 October 2019 - 09:26 AM

Since I primarily use my radio on the move I won't be setting up a base station or mobile, so 2W is probably the limit. I assume that's a power/heat/size limitation or someone would have made higher-power handhelds by now. I'm not thrilled about the size of the UV5R but I guess that's required to support the higher wattage (it says 4W).
 
There is a open repeater in my area but I also read that most handhelds (Midland seems to be the only new-equipment game in town) don't support repeaters. It sounds like if I want to take advantage of increased range I'll have to look for a used Part 90 radio which will most likely be one of the old black "brick" radios with removable antenna.
 
Any idea how much a longer antenna (12 inches?) would help the signal over the standard? I usually have my radio clipped to my pack (I use a PTT headset), so a slightly longer antenna might not get in the way as long as the radio+antenna height is less than 18 inches.


#4 Logan5

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Posted 22 October 2019 - 01:07 PM

If you use your radio from your car or truck a lot, Get a mag mount antenna or a glass mount antenna, both can easily be moved from a truck to truck. Generally the stock antenna that comes with the radio is as good and in some cases better than the upgrade replacement antennas. However, some have had good luck with the 15" antenna sold on E-bay and "A" For boating you could consider installing a UHF marine antenna to connect to your HT wile onboard. I recommend installing SMA to BNC adapters to the tops of your radios and using common BNC antennas and connectors for your antenna connections. This makes it easy to change antennas on the fly.



#5 daradioman

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Posted 22 October 2019 - 05:40 PM

https://www.amazon.c...z/dp/B01LWOLZ8L

The Btech gmrs-v1 is a part 95 certified 5 watt radio, $55 on amazon. I don't have one yet but it looks like an interesting option.

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#6 WREJ796

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Posted 24 October 2019 - 11:32 AM

I ordered a BTECH GMRS-V1 since that seems to fit my requirements without breaking the bank. I've read more about BTECH et al. and it seems like the quality can be hit or miss, but honestly as long as I can talk to my group at the same or greater range that's probably enough for me. If the audio quality is poor Amazon has a great return policy :).

 

Thanks for the advice everyone!



#7 DeoVindice

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Posted 24 October 2019 - 06:55 PM

I'm not enamored with Baofeng quality control, but the GMRS-V1 is pretty well a plug-and-play solution. If you aren't inclined to try your hand at programming old Part 90/95 commercial/public safety HTs but want a repeater-capable unit, it's hard to do much better.


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#8 WREJ796

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Posted 25 October 2019 - 10:07 AM

I read about Baofeng quality and common complaints, but since I'm coming from a 20-year old FRS radio I think I'll be fine with it. I consider this an entry level radio to see if GMRS is a good fit, then I can upgrade later if it works out. Got the GMRS-V1 yesterday and it works out of the box with my FRS radios. Looks like the Low power setting transmits at 2W and High at 5W, so I'll have to try the range next time I'm out. I actually like the look and feel of the UV-5R better than the GMRS-V1; I can see why they're popular for a $20 radio.

 

I borrowed a programming cable from my friend and set my UV-5R to disable Tx on all bands, so it's essentially a VHF/UHF scanner now. I guess I can use it to test transmit range from my GMRS-V1.

 

Speaking of range, I went looking at high-gain antennas and I see the Nagoya NA-771 comes in two versions, the regular 771 and a 771R (retractable). I like the idea of a retractable antenna and it looks like performance is the same as the regular version, but I'm curious what your thoughts are on retractable/rigid antennas vs flexible ones. Any pros/cons I should be aware of before choosing one or the other? 



#9 WREJ796

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 01:14 PM

Well I went with the Nagoya NA-771R retractable antenna to make it easier to pack. I'm definitely getting clearer signals with less noise, and I'm picking up more chatter on other channels so I assume range is better too. I tried to set up a range test today and I got some puzzling results, so I was hoping someone here could help me make sense of what I'm seeing.

 

Point A and Point B are 2.95 miles apart according to Google Maps at similar elevations (+/- 50ft) with the terrain between them never exceeding either elevation. So it's not quite mountain top to mountain top but no more than a handful of buildings and/or trees obstructing line of sight. My friend was at Point A with his UV-5R (he also got a NA-771R antenna) and I was at Point B with my GMRS-V1 + NA-771R. Both radios were set to high power (4W for UV-5R and 5W for GMRS-V1).

 

When I transmitted from Point B he could hear me quite well, but when he transmitted from Point A I couldn't hear him at all. I tried moving around laterally and found one spot where I could barely get a choppy/noisy signal from him, but otherwise nothing. No matter where I was he could hear me loud and clear. The only difference I can see is the 1W difference in transmit power, but I was under the impression that output power above 2.5W wouldn't make much of a difference.

 

Is that 1W of transmit power making the difference between hearing me loud and clear and barely hearing him if at all?



#10 marcspaz

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 03:38 PM

You have to quadruple your power to impact a reciever by 1 S Unit. The one watt is not the issue. I would be more prone to think that your friend either didn't have a connector screwed on correctly, was near an object that adversely impacted his signal via absorption, or he was not on a 4 watt scale as believed.

Edit - forgot to mention, Baofeng radios are terrible. It could be that your receive or his transmit are simply not within proper spec.


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#11 WREJ796

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 04:09 PM

We're going to reverse the test tomorrow with me at Point A and him at Point B to see if the issue follows the radio or the location. We each had our old FRS radios tuned to the same channel as a sanity check and he could hear me clearly on his Cobra FRS, but I could not hear him on either of my radios. We also tried several different channels including wide band on the upper GMRS frequencies just in case, but no improvement.

 

I thought screwing on an antenna was pretty straightforward. Any special tricks other than twisting it in until it's snug?



#12 RCM

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 04:10 PM

The 1 watt makes no difference that you would be able to hear. The first thing I would check is that both radios are set to the same bandwidth, wide or narrow. Next thing is have your friend try a different antenna.


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#13 Logan5

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 04:11 PM

Yep from one BF radio to another they splatter, so the power registered may not be on freq. But side lobes that can be seen on a spectrum analyzer. Most have a nice tall peak on freq. but still have a 1/3rd to more than half the power on second and third peaks just a few clicks off. You get what you pay for, I use a few BF radios, they are what they are.



#14 RCM

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 04:12 PM

I think I doubled with you.

Could you hear his FRS radio?



#15 WREJ796

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 04:52 PM

Yep from one BF radio to another they splatter, so the power registered may not be on freq. But side lobes that can be seen on a spectrum analyzer. Most have a nice tall peak on freq. but still have a 1/3rd to more than half the power on second and third peaks just a few clicks off. You get what you pay for, I use a few BF radios, they are what they are.

So in this case you're saying his UV-5R may be spreading the 4W of transmit power so it's effectively much lower on frequency, like 1-2W? This would make sense since he could receive me (wouldn't happen with a poor antenna connection?) but I couldn't hear him. I also tried setting my GMRS-V1 to low power (2W) and he could still hear me on both his radios, but with some static noise in the background. I get the feeling the GMRS-V1 is slightly better quality, but I guess some Baofeng/BTech equipment might just "accidentally" end up being right on spec?

 

Could you hear his FRS radio?

He tried transmitting with both, but I couldn't hear either one. I wouldn't expect his 0.5W FRS radio to go 3 miles, but I was hoping his UV-5R would. I tried with my FRS radio too, but of course he couldn't hear me on either of his radios.



#16 marcspaz

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 05:04 PM

I thought screwing on an antenna was pretty straightforward. Any special tricks other than twisting it in until it's snug?

 

 

Its a reverse SMA, so, not really.  Just don't snug it so much that the rubber/plastic base of the antenna starts to mushroom or deform.  RCM has a good idea about trying another antenna, too.



#17 WREJ796

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Posted 06 November 2019 - 05:10 PM

Its a reverse SMA, so, not really.  Just don't snug it so much that the rubber/plastic base of the antenna starts to mushroom or deform.  RCM has a good idea about trying another antenna, too.

I guess if the problem follows the radio we can both bring our stock antennas and try it with all 4 configurations (stock<->stock, stock<->NA, NA<->NA, NA<->stock). If that indicates the antenna is the issue we can swap Nagoya antennas and see if the issue follows the antenna.


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#18 coldwave

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Posted 08 November 2019 - 11:32 PM

The NA-771 is tuned to amateur 70cm band around 430MHz. I use the NA-701c with my GMRSv-1 as it’s tuned for commercial bands as well as MURS and GMRS 450MHz. I’m wondering if the 771 is hampering your receiving efforts?

#19 WREJ796

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Posted Today, 09:53 AM

The NA-771 is tuned to amateur 70cm band around 430MHz. I use the NA-701c with my GMRSv-1 as it’s tuned for commercial bands as well as MURS and GMRS 450MHz. I’m wondering if the 771 is hampering your receiving efforts?

I'm getting better results with the NA-771R than the stock antenna, but now that I look at the specs I see what you mean about the optimal frequency. Weather and schedules haven't come together for another range test yet, so I'll see what the radio/antenna swap shows and see if a different antenna is needed.






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