By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
WASHINGTON, D.C. -The FCC has approved a new 2-watt, FRS-related service, called Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS), which could have a big impact on the FRS market.
MURS is a five-channel, 2-watt service in the VHF 150MHz band, which does not require a special license, despite its high power and long range of up to 5 miles.
FRS suppliers believe the new service will greatly expand the FRS market, and many are racing to prepare new MURS products for display at CES.
The key selling points of MURS are the 5-mile range without the need for a license and that the service is less subject to interference from the steel in buildings or concrete than FRS, suppliers said. Still another advantage is that it can be used with external antennas to further its range.
Its key drawback is that it has only five channels.
MURS was approved by the FCC on Oct. 13 and slated to go into effect next week (30 days from approval). The FCC reassigned five channels from the "business band" to be offered as license-free channels for MURS.
MURS is similar to GMRS in power output and range, but GMRS requires a license to operate. This is considered the chief drawback to GMRS, in addition to is higher price tag. GMRS retains several advantages over MURS, however, in that the service has more channels, provides repeater capability to extend its range, and is less subject to interference than MURS, suppliers said.
Some suppliers are concerned that MURS will quash their GMRS sales, just after many had released their first GMRS models. Others said the market will accommodate all types of radios, and will possibly move to a good, better, best scale in price and performance-with FRS at the low end, MURS in the midrange and GMRS at the high end.
"As FRS becomes more popular it leads to the natural question of 'how can I get more range,' which leads to GMRS," said Maxon director of sales Steve Koch. "But now I have GMRS radios that still require licensing, and MURS comes along, so I put my eggs in which basket?"
Nonetheless, Koch added, "license-free is really the key marketing point of this venture [MURS] and our plans are to do a full-blown introduction at CES."
Said Ralph Etna, Audiovox VP consumer goods group, "Whether MURS will cut into GMRS is the big question, but my take on it is that it won't. There's going to be a significant cost differential at retail, and there's a big enough market out there. We make GMRS with FRS, and people will still want FRS with GRMS."
Although Kenwood product manager Joe Watts said MURS will cut into some of the GMRS market, he also said the new service "won't really take off until manufacturers come out with some small, compact, low-priced units, just like FRS."
"Eventually, it will be a shot in the arm for personal radios," Watts said. "You can use it for business or family use, and it doesn't require a license-which is the first classification like that, ever." But he also expressed the concern that "with only five channels, it can get crowded real quick if a lot of people are using it in one area."
Audiovox, Maxon and Midland are already jumping on the MURS bandwagon, with plans to show new products at CES. Kenwood and Unwired are also planning MURS units, most likely to debut at CES, they said. Also, RadioShack will offer a unit, at a time to be announced.
Audiovox has already announced a model and price for a new MURS to ship in the second quarter.
Planned to receive a CES debut is the MURS 100XD, a top-of-the line, 2-watt, five-channel unit with 38 CTCSS privacy codes. It has 83DCS (digital coding), NOAA weather alert, digital compass, and vibration alert, as well as voice scrambling, clock, stop watch, high/low power, channel memory, channel scan and dual watch-which allows users to talk on one channel and monitor another simultaneously.
The MURS 100XD uses double-AA batteries and will ship with rechargeable batteries and a wall charger at a suggested retail price of $129.99.
Maxon is looking at three models in a good, better, best assortment starting at $199. "We have three GMRS models now," said Koch. "We'll keep them in the line for the knowledgeable consumers who know about GMRS and its repeater capabilities. With repeater towers, it can go beyond the 5-mile range."
Unwired president Larry Richenstein said his company has held off on introducing a GMRS radio until now and will focus heavily on MURS instead. "GMRS is a little more invasive and can travel through buildings better than MURS, but for general applications and the average consumer, I think MURS will far outsell GMRS."
Suppliers are also continuing to launch GMRS models, including the first model with built-in GPS from Audiovox. Called the GMR GPS, it was originally announced last CES but will now ship in the second quarter with some minor changes.
The new model has 30 channels (15 FRS and 15 GMRS) and 38 privacy codes. It comes with a rapid desktop charger, carrying case and ear mic at a suggested retail price of approximately $249.99.
Midland is introducing its first GMRS models, as well as a "business band" UHF model called the Power Max P20.
The two new GMRS models include what Midland calls the "world's smallest and lightest weight model," the G30. It has 15 channels (eight GMRS, seven FRS) and 38 subcodes, with a 2-watt output (for up to a 5-mile range).
The G30 is water resistant, and it comes with NiMH batteries and a 90-minute rapid desk charger. Suggested retail price is $149.95, and shipping (along with all the new Midland models) is expected late in the fourth quarter.
Also new is a rugged GMRS Model 75-440. It is similar to the G30 but has 23 channels (16 GMRS, seven FRS) and 154 subchannels. It meets military specs for shock, vibration and water resistance, Midland said, and it also uses NiMH batteries and comes with a desk charger. Suggested retail price is $199.
These are joined by a new FRS model called the F20, with 14 channels and 38 privacy codes. It comes with built-in voice activation in a silver-and-black finish with a suggested retail price of $99.95 per pair and an expected street price between $80 and $90 per pair.
Midland's new business-band radio is a 1-watt model (which requires a license similar to GMRS). It operates on the UHF band and has a range of up to four miles. The Power Max P20 has eight frequencies and 121 subcodes, with built-in voice activation. Suggested retail price for the P20 is $149.95.
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