By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Now that long-range GMRS radios have almost completely replaced the 1-to 2-mile FRS, suppliers are looking to extend the operable range of their radios even further.
Some are hoping to release 10-mile radios next year, and others are planning 8-mile models.
Most agree that, despite attempts to add FM, GPS or other features to basic FRS or GMRS radios, the foremost must-have feature for which consumers are willing to pay is simply longer range. And in a category where average selling prices (for low-end radios) have dropped by 50 percent recently, selling up the customer is paramount. Audiovox is investigating a four-watt GMRS with a 10-mile range for 2004, said Ralph Etna, VP/consumer goods. Uniden and US Electronics (under the Bell South and XACT brands) expect to offer 8- and 7-mile units, respectively. Cobra says it is looking into 10-mile units, and Motorola said it did not want to comment on new products at this time.
But there are problems inherent in increasing range.
"I'm very concerned that our industry is heading down the path of the old days of audio, with the 1,000 watt system. We really need some of our own regulation," said Cobra senior VP Tony Mirabelli. "In audio, if the stereo wasn't a true 1,000 watts, nobody knew. But if you buy a 10-mile radio and its gets 2 mile coverage and dies, that's very noticeable."
GMRS radios are able to transmit at a maximum of five watts, but suppliers confront battery life issues at that level of power, Mirabelli said. However, suppliers say they are hoping to expand range through antenna design and circuitry. Mirabelli says range can be improved by better matching the antenna and the RF output stages of the radio for less radiated losses inside the radio.
In addition to range, US Electronics says the wristwatch is catching on as a new format for GMRS/FRS. The company says it has sold several hundred thousand units to date. It introduced this month two new XACT models in a "futuristic" watch style, which offer 1- to 2-mile range. The X3X has 22 channels and the X33X adds 38 subcodes. Distribution will be limited initially with prices at $29.95 and $39.95, respectively.
Overall, suppliers say unit sales in GMRS remain flat to slightly ahead of last year, however most claim their numbers are up. Uniden project management director Rex Holloway said the company "almost tripled our market share from 2002 to 2003." He claims Uniden's share is now 20 percent, in the No. 2 spot behind Motorola, up from a 6 percent share in 2002.
Audiovox says its sales are up 15 percent to 20 percent in units. Midland and Topaz 3 effectively joined forces this summer in what is termed "a mutual coming together," said a spokesman, explaining, "It's not a buyout and not a merger." The company is called Midland, and it now sells the Maxon, Legacy, TruTalk and ComStar brands that Topaz 3 marketed. The Topaz 3 brand has been discontinued. The new company is consolidated into Midland's headquarters in North Kansas City, Mo.
The companies joined forces, as Topaz 3 was strong in the commercial markets, and Midland in consumer sales, said the spokesman.
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