By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The popular FRS category continues to evolve into new form factors, with this year yielding the rise of a new market niche: the portable base station.
Some portable base stations are basically battery-powered FRS units that can also plug into a wall jack to double as an intercom or "always on" FRS. Others are more powerful intercoms, offering more features, and are larger than FRS but still portable. Still other base stations are intended for stationary use only.
Leading the pack in this market niche is Unwired, with several new models, joined by Audiovox. RadioShack and Topaz3 are also offering stationary base stations.
Unwired, which introduced the first stationary base station product last year, said its UFR-BS10 continues to gain in day-to-day sales, indicating an expanding niche, according to president Larry Richenstein.
RadioShack, which debuted in November its first base station, the model 21-1845, said the unit's sales met expectations. Radio communication products buyer Wayne Wilson said, "We got off to a little bit of a late start and missed some of the fourth-quarter shoppers, but we are very satisfied with the results."
Currently, Unwired is extending the base station concept with the first true FRS units that also double as base stations.
The models UFR-650, 670 and 680 are similar in size to typical FRS and claim to operate as true FRS, but they accept an AC adapter, as well as rechargeable and alkaline batteries. With a range of up to two miles, the line includes the 14-channel UFR-650 and the step-up UFR-670 with 14 channels and 20 subcodes. The top-of-the-line UFR-680 has 14 channels with 38 subcodes, as well as voice-activated transmission (VOX) to allow for hands-free usage.
Shipping is expected this spring at suggested retail prices range from $59.99 to $99.99 a pair.
According to Richenstein, "When the units are plugged in with the adapter, not only is there continuous 'on' without battery drain, but the rechargeable batteries will be recharged without overcharging." He added that the units can be kept on actively in standby mode, even with alkaline batteries, without any battery drain.
Also new is the Unwired BS15, which because it is 30 percent larger than a typical FRS, is considered a semiportable model. This base station also allows both battery and AC operation and has a clip for a belt so it can be worn around the house as a baby monitor.
The BS15 operates with any brand of FRS radio, has 14 channels with 38 subcodes, and comes in metallic silver with talk buttons on the side and top, plus an LCD display. It has a range of up to two miles. Shipping in May, the suggested retail price is $79.99.
The main difference between the truly portable models and the BS15 is in size of the transformer, said Richenstein. "If you have a 600 connected to the AC power you can leave it on all the time, but if you want to speak with a person, you have to remove the AC adapter and let the unit go into battery mode, whereas on the BS15, you can talk while it's in AC mode."
Also new from Unwired is a stationary base station called the UFR-BS20, which can work with any FRS and has five memory positions, so the user can communicate with different people by pressing a single button. A car dealer, for example, can communicate with its salespeople when they are out on the lot. The AC/DC unit has 14 channels and 38 subcodes and a range of up to two miles. It is expected to ship this spring at a suggested retail price of $99.99.
Audiovox is launching two base stations this May, including the first GMRS unit, the GMRS-2000. A portable base station that accepts rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries, the GMRS-2000 also has an AC plug-in piece, five-mile range and built-in VOX (so it can be used as an intercom or baby monitor). The GMRS-2000 has seven FRS channels and eight GMRS channels, each with 38 subcodes. Suggested retail is expected to be approximately $100.
Also new is the FRS-1000, which accepts rechargeable batteries and comes with an AC plug so that it may be used both as a base station or portable FRS radio. It also has VOX for use as an intercom or baby monitor, as well as 10-channel NOAA weather reception and alert. The FRS-1000 has 14 channels with 38 subcodes and is expected to carry a suggested retail price of $70.
Topaz3 is shipping in June the TruTalk TK514 FRS Base Station with built-in NOAA weather receiver. The 14-channel unit has 38 subcodes, a two-mile range and receives 10 NOAA weather stations, including three international marine frequencies. It can also serve as an intercom when used with other TK514's.
Other features of the TruTalk TK514 include a choice of VOX or push-to-talk operation, a large backlit LCD, dual channel scan and monitoring, 10-channel memory and a function button to access extended features. Suggested retail price is 69.95.
RadioShack's AC-only base station, model 21-1845, is aimed primarily for family intercom use. "The stay-at-home parent can talk to the kid who walks to and from school every day," said Wilson. The unit has a suggested retail price of $59.99.
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