FRS / GMRS Radio Range

One of the most frequent questions that we get is regarding the range of our consumer (FRS/GMRS) two way radios. Manufacturers make claims that their radios are capable of communicating over 5, 10, 12 and 18 miles or even more, and consumers are right to be skeptical! The fact is, with typical use these published “maximum” ranges are not even close to being achievable. The “ideal” situation where the maximum range would theoretically possible is when one radio is high on a mountain and the other is on an adjacent mountain or has “line of sight” from a valley below. Hardly a typical situation!

When purchasing a higher powered consumer radio, such as the Motorola SX700R or a Midland GXT600VP4, you can typically expect between one and two miles of actual range. You may get more or even less range than this depending on the terrain or the number of obstructions in the area. In a flat, open area you may get three miles and even more is achievable over open water.

When choosing a two way radio, it is more important to look at the output power (watts) of the radio than the advertised range. A 1/2 watt radio will usually provide 1/4 to 1/2 miles of range. A two watt radio will usually provide the one to two miles stated above.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors that can effect the range of a radio. If you are shopping for a radio and are wondering what would be best for your situation, either post your question here or call us at 800-584-1445 and we will help find the product that will work best for you.


I am very curious as to why some of the Mfg’s / models diplayed do not list the output watts ? Based on the statement “should never expect to match the miles listed…” but one should pay attention to the watts output - how do I know ??
I am concerned now as I literally just purchased 2 Motorola T8500R - stating up to 18 mile coverage - yet no listing of watts ? I assume this unit is only providing 2 watts vs. the other model I was considering that listed/advertised 5 watts!!! I hope I will not regret my purchase today or have to hassle with returning the purchase.
Please define for me - the GMRS vs. UHF frequency benefits. If I am not mistaken the GMRS provides longer range - but yet when I hear “expect 1-2 mile maximum…” is that via UHF or GMRS ???
Jcarcha - Cleveland OH


Manufacturers of GMRS/FRS radios are moving away from publishing the wattage of their radios. I think this is very unfortunate, and I’m not exactly sure why they’re doing it. Most likely, they don’t want their products to appear inferior to their competitors. Most consumer radios max out at 2 or 2.5 watts, so an average consumer would consider this far inferior to a 5 watt model even though this isn’t necessarily true. For this reason, I can understand why only the 5 watt models actively advertise the wattage.

What I don’t understand is what appears to be a trend to actually hide the radio’s power. Within the last couple of years, the wattage has actually disappeared from the specifications section in product manuals and for a few manufacturers it is not readily available to their call center reps. We try to track down and publish the wattage on our web site, but sometimes this can be time consuming. This is why it is not yet available for the new Motorola products, like the T8500R you purchased. I am fairly confident that the T8500 is a two watt radio, but we have not yet been able to confirm this.

Keep in mind that antenna size plays an important role in radio range in addition to wattage. The T8500R has a slightly longer antenna than the previous series from Motorola. In our tests, we compared a two watt Motorola SX700R to a five watt Midland GXT600VP4, and found the Midland to have a 1/4 mile advantage (2 miles compared to 1 3/4). We haven’t yet tested any of the new models, but because of the antenna difference I would expect it to get closer if not match the Midland. We have also found that the Motorola’s have exceptional voice clarity, better than what the Midland radios provide, so I think you will be happy with your choice.

If you would like to cancel or change your order, that is not a problem. Just contact us and let us know how you would like to proceed.

Regarding GMRS vs. UHF frequencies, they are the same. When talking about two way radios, “UHF” generally refers to frequencies within the 430Mhz-480Mhz range. GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) is a set of frequencies that the FCC set aside for use by consumer radios, and they all fall within the UHF range. We usually tell customers to expect 1-2 miles of range with a GMRS radio.

Hope this was helpful.


Thank you Danny for the prompt & informative response to my blog inquiry. Regarding your gracious & professional offer to advise you of my intent to either return the Motorolas I have purchased or cancel my order - I take my hat off to you. At this point based on the additional information you offered comparing the specific Midland model I was referencing (5 watts as advertised) and the Motorola’s I have purchased highlighting the antenna factor, voice clarity/performance as well as my receiving confirmation today that my order has been shipped - ALL IS GOOD. I will keep my order in tact and look forward to utilizing the radios on my upcoming European trip.
** FYI we are a family of 4 travelling with my 72 year old mother and we purchased the radios as a measure of “security” in an effort to have some form of communication while in the various Ports. We are visiting Venice, Athens, Rome, Barcelona, Istanbul + more over a 2 week period!!
Thank you again for your prompt & honest attention.
Perhaps more to come in the future…


Please come back and let us know how the radios performed during your trip!


I have discovered wattage claims to be grossly in error. While further research is required, it appears the power output claims made by manufacturers is based on Input power to the transmit stages, rather than the power actaully emitted by the antenna.

In FRS/GMRS, power output is measured in Effective Radiated Power (ERP). This is how much power is actually sent “over the air”. The reason for this is that on these FRS/GMRS combo units, removeable antennas are prohibited.

In commercial and amateur equipment, power output is expressed in TPO, transmitter power output. This is power transmitted from the output to the antenna, before antenna loss. Based on what antenna is used, ERP could be greater or lesser, factoring in gain or loss.

Why do most manufactures produce FRS units as combination FRS/GMRS in hand held units only for the most part?

From a consumers standpoint this makes little sense.

If the consumer needs only the range of the FRS service and the convince of not needing a license then why pay the extra for the GMRS part that they are restricted from using. What percentage of those non radio knowledgable folks would NEVER employ the GMRS power and channels?

If the consumer needs the additional range that the GMRS offers and does apply with the FCC why then must that user be forced to pay extra for the FRS part of the unit that will never be employed and be limited to the stock antenna along with some meaningless power rating and range limitations?

FRS power is rated as Effective Radiated Power do to the fact that the antenna must not be removable and hence it has no connection in order to connect a R.F. power watt meter in order to make a true transmitter output reading.

On the other hand GMRS does not have this restriction and therefore all hand held units could be manufactured with a removable antenna and a connection that would not only allow for a more conventional method of specifying and measuring R.F. output power but would also in addition allow for external antenna system changes in order to increase the overall range of the unit.

If the antenna height is tripled then you have the potential to double your range at no additional cost. Employing a FRS/GMRS combination unit this way could result in falling off of a roof do to a lack of a simple external antenna connection.

If any manufacture offers a low cost GMRS hand held radio in the same price ranges as the FRS combination featured units, please inform me.

Manufacturers believe “more is better” and make these 22 channel combo units. Most folks disregard the licensing requirements, or conveniently “didn’t know” even though the licensing requirements are posted in the manual. There used to be frs-only radios, and even a few GMRS only radios with detachable antennas. Now, mostly, these are all gone. “Serious” GMRS users buy commercial equipment (most is part 95 approved) and use them in all sorts of configurations.

Thank you jwilkers for the informative reply.

It is a shame that they manufacture only features and not cost effective radios for the GMRS service. I believe if only one manufacture test case made only one model for the higher range lower cost niche, they would sell based on only what we see so far on this board on the “need more range issue”.

Everyone is exempted from having any type of a F.C.C. license, provided no harmful interferences. I won a case the FCC took me into federal court in the mid 70’s on that very issue. “operating a radio station without a license” and I was exempted from all FCC rules by a federal judge at that time.

It took me three months in court to get that exemption and I risked spending 5 years imprisonment in doing so, as a result of that I do not recommend this alternative to anyone not knowledgable of emissions and assigned spectrum usages, but that is another story for a latter time.