Cell phones have become our primary communication devices because of their versatility, portability and ease of use. However, the problem... View ArticleView Article
License free, low cost, two-way communication. What’s not to love about MURS? MURS stands for Multi User Radio Service, and is one of the best kept secrets in personal and family radio communications.
Formerly available only for business communications, the FCC has kept five MURS frequencies license-free and open for public use since 2000. Handheld radios broadcasting on MURS frequencies can experience a range of two miles to eight miles depending on terrain and obstructions, while MURS Base Stations can reach up to 20 miles.
The stipulations for MURS use provided by the FCC restrict any transmitter in excess of two watts, but any type of antenna is allowed as long as the tower height (with antenna) is no greater than 60 feet high. All communications must also yield to any emergency communication on the same channel.
The five MURS frequencies are listed below, The 154 MHz channels can be operated on the standard 25 kHz wide band or narrow band mode. The 151 MHz channels can only be operated in narrow band mode.
- 151.820 MHz
- 151.880 MHz
- 151.940 MHz
- 154.570 MHz
- 154.600 MHz
Each of the five frequencies can not only transmit voice, but also data. The best example of this are the driveway alarms which transmit a signal via MURS when the IR sensor is tripped.
Can you hear me now?
Another hidden benefit of MURS frequencies are the PL codes (Private Line codes) or CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) which are sub-audible tones that allow users to operate on the same channel without hearing chatter directed to other users.
There are 38 PL codes available to each of the five MURS frequencies, which makes for a combination of 190 different MURS channels. While this is not encryption, anyone not operating with the same PL code won’t hear your conversation.
How MURS stacks up
Most everyone has seen the small hand-held walkie-talkies that operate on the FRS (Family Radio Service), the best example of this are the small Motorola Talkabout Radios marketed towards family communication.
Here are some great comparisons courtesy of PRSG.
Compared with FRS (Family Radio Service) at 460 MHz:
- MURS (at 150 MHz) permits four times more power (2 Watts TPO instead the 0.500 Watts ERP limit for FRS).
- At MURS frequencies, signals bend over hills better, but FRS signals are better at bouncing off of surfaces and penetrating into/escaping out of buildings.
- You may connect a MURS radio to an external or exterior antenna. FRS radios must employ a non-detachable antenna. For vehicle-to-vehicle operation with external (roof-mount) antennas, MURS should provide three to ten (or more) times the range possible with FRS radios.
Compared with GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) at 460 MHz:
- GMRS handheld radios have typically two to five watts transmitter power. GMRS vehicular units transmit typically with ten to 50 watts. There is no limit on the ERP of GMRS stations operating on the primary channels. GMRS stations may transmit with no more the 5 Watts ERP on the seven “interstitial” frequencies (those shared with the FRS).
- GMRS operation requires an FCC license.
- At MURS frequencies, signals bend over hills better, but GMRS signals are better at bouncing off of surfaces and penetrating into/escaping out of buildings.
- For vehicle-to-vehicle operation with external (roof-mount) antennas, MURS should provide one-and-a-half to four times the range possible with GMRS handheld radios also connected to roof-mount antennas. Depending on the surrounding terrain, MURS units connected to roof-mounted antennas might even outperform full-power (50 watt) GMRS mobile units, although the GMRS units should have a greater range in open terrain.
- Many GMRS radios can communicate through repeater stations for extended range (typically up to twenty miles or more, sometimes much more). The new FCC Rules will prohibit repeaters in MURS.
Compared with CB (Citizens Band Radio) at 27 MHz:
- CB radios may transmit with more power than MURS units may, but communications range is highly dependent on channel congestion and atmospheric conditions. CB communications can also be significantly degraded by noise from vehicle ignition systems and from other man-made sources.
- CB signals bend over hills and around obstacles much better than MURS (at 150 MHz) or FRS/GMRS (at 460 MHz) signals.
- Vehicle-to-vehicle MURS communications will probably be comparable and possibly quite superior to that available in the CB service.
- MURS communications will not suffer from the kind of long-range “skip” interference frequently encountered on CB radio at 27 MHz.
Keep in mind on all these comparisons that MURS has it’s benefits, but GMRS requires an FCC license to operate on.
Where to buy?
MURS radios can now be commonly found online at retailers such as Amazon.com and are starting to increase in popularity as more people find out what they’re missing. The great thing about MURS frequencies is that they can be programmed (with or without PL codes) into existing radios which can be a backup to licensed communication. A dedicated MURS radio also makes a good backup radio if your primary means of communication go down.
PRSG has a wonderful FAQ section where you can obtain more information pertaining to MURS.
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The comments made by Paul can be a catch-22. The FRS/GMRS radios have different power levels and they are legal to own, just do not use the higher power w/o the $80.00 license fee. One can own a power amp for CB radios (11meter) if one has a amateur radio license. We are talking about survival here not giving "Uncle Charlie" something to do!
and of course as one "Good Old Boy" put it, it's about saving our collective asses not being one. Rigid by the book people who were, ah, what am i trying to say, oh they got fragged!
Thank you for the time
Why would I take advice from this site when they either do not know or do not care that it is illegal under Title 47 Part 95.649 to use MURS frequencies on a radio that is switchable to a higher power setting than the maximum power for MURS of 2 watts. The Vertex 410 is switchable to 5 watts and is therefore ineligible for MURS frequencies. They should be paying me 14¢ a day.
I have lot's of experience with MURS. Use LMR 400 coax with yagis cut and spaced to your freq. I've gotten 10 miles on 150 milliwatts. Used this with one way signals for data and telemetry. Worked perfect. That's 1/15th of a watt. And I used a spectrum analyzer to align the antennas...
I have lot's of experience with MURS. Use LMR 400 coax with yagis cut and spaced to your freq. I've gotten 10 miles on 150 milliwatts.
Used this with one way signals for data and telemetry. Worked perfect. That's 1/15th of a watt. And I used a spectrum analyzer to align the antennas...
The best radios to use are the old tube radios made before 1970. Of course these are not portable radios, but the old Hammarlund, Hallicrafters, Drake, Collins and other ham radios will all be operating after EMP fries every silicon based system not protected by a extremely well grounded Faraday shield. These are still widely available through most Ham radio clubs and online collectors groups. So purchase an old tube tester lay in an inventory or old RCA and GE tubes, or new Russian made tubes, and start building your communications center based around "antique" radios. Of course it would also help to gain some competency, get licensed just so you can be proficient with radio gear that needs to be actually operated and tuned rather than turned off and on and PTT. In fact there is an emergency operating Contest every year held nationwide. The only radio stations on the air will have been built before 1970. I've a 5kw station all tubes!
With few exceptions, most users buy the more common murs radios (and even some of the more expensive ones out there apply to this too) and we've done research on it. I live in a very busy, large metroplex and stood on the roof of a car, a house roof, on the ground, out a window and in various locations around the neighborhood. I could not get a single reply from anyone including the bored people working with me that day, and I never heard a single word from anyone (unless they were practically standing right in front of me). I don't think I need to tell most ham operators how that compares to a simple, under $250. (which can also work on a battery pack) 2/.70m dual band mobile (most of which can receive whatever if anything, that would be heard on murs in that given location). If you're that worried, buy both. Here's why: First, in significant emergencies you'll get information from a decent ham radio and such users are often directly involved in the emergency help process. Well informed 2 meter users will hear what's happening on MURS (but they will be more involved probably with their ham radio for good reasons). Secondly, such a ham radio (get a license) gives FAR greater transmit abiities to the user when needed (and it may very well be needed) that's why they call them EMERGENCIES !
Hi. I know this posting is from several years ago, but I am wondering if you do any work on MURS radios. My boss is looking for looking for an electronics specialist capable of building/custom modifying MURS radios for a small project. He will pay $50 an hour. Thank you.
The ARRL dropped the code requirement for the HAM license. YEA!
Has anyone compared costs of MURS vs HAM equipment? What about the ability to communicate readily with local repeaters and managed nets? When SHTF, there are several HAM operators that will man the repeaters and do whatever it takes to keep them running. Can't say that for cell or regular POTS service.
The ARRL dropped the code requirement for the HAM license. YEA! Has anyone compared costs of MURS vs HAM equipment? What about the ability to communicate readily with local repeaters and managed nets? When SHTF, there are several HAM operators that will man the repeaters and do whatever it takes to keep them running. Can't say that for cell or regular POTS service.
To prog a Vertex, yes buy the cable and software. It is not hard but a one time exercise. Vertex also sells scrambler modules if you want more privacy. Good luck!
I was looking to pick up a MURS radio(s) for me and my family, as a just in case way of communication, reading through this is while informative a lot to digest, my question is this, I was looking a Vertex-231-a to program it requires a computer and a programing cable as per the article. So is it a cable that must be bought separately, and once said cable is acquired how does one use a computer to program it? I'm knew to the whole MURS so I hope I don't sound to new, I'm just used to using a MIL radio but since I can't just take one home this is the next best thing
I have been an avid MURS user since the service was first developed. It is THE perfect service for my family and friends particular use. We are in a very hilly and forested region. GMRS radios are just awful around here even with repeaters. All of the law enforcement and fire departments in my area use VHF high band (150-160) at around 50 watts tpo (I know this as I am involved in Fire/Rescue). The only agency nearby that uses UHF is a school. They run 25 Watts on a tower 1400 feet up and their performance is about the same as or maybe a bit inferior to when the fire guys run simplex mode. I don't know about you, but I cannot afford to rent a 1400-foot tower for my communications needs and my 60-foot tower wouldn't nearly perform well enough in GMRS mode to justify the repeater expense. So, I stick with MURS. Now I am limited to 2 Watts TPO, but no restrictions on antenna gain or type. It just cannot exceed 60 feet on my tower or 20 feet above a structure. Here is the deal. I can go about 1/2 the range I was able to when I was a talking simplex mode on my 35 watt mobile VHF public safety. I know it sounds crazy...2 watts being equal to 1/2 the range of a 35 watt radio, but let me explain it is almost ALL in your antenna!!! On the handhelds (MURS is 2 Watt, Public Safety was 5 Watts) I have noticed little to no difference in range. On both radio's I recommend putting a good after market antenna if it comes with a stubby. That alone will make a noticeable difference in range. On the Mobiles, I am getting about half the range, perhaps even a little further. For the base station I have nothing to compare it to, as we did not have a base station only a repeater dispatch on a much bigger tower than my 60 footer. Mobile to Mobile I am getting about 10-20 miles. I just put up the base station so I will get back with you on that. Now as far as how it compares to CB. Mobile-to-Mobile I was only able to get about 5-15 miles consistently. This of coarse was in AM mode with a quality CB (I was always partial to Cobra 29 and 148) with a properly tuned and grounded 102 stainless steel whip antenna. The thing you will find out about CB is that its range is highly dependant upon channel congestion and atmospheric conditions. MURS is not affected by the atmosphere nearly as much. MURS also does not have to contend with the solar cycles in the way that CB does. Now for portable handhelds CB is a joke. I have several and they will not even talk to each other more than about 1/4 a mile unless you buy telescoping whips (which tend to break) even then they are minimal at best. Even a 1-watt MURS portable handheld (half the full power ones) can easily outperform their CB counterpart. I used to be an avid CBer, but times have changed. I got sick of all the foul-mouthed language on the CB channels. I was also sick of trying to compete with all of the overpowered, over modulated splatter. Folks do not realize that their 300-watt linear amp going through their RG-58 coax and cheap mag mount untuned antenna sounds like garbage. They have their radio's butchered by so-called "techs" who "tweak and peak" their radio for supposed increase in swing and modulation. While this MAY increase ones range, the quality of the signal is poor. Unfortunately that poor quality tends to bleed over 6 other channels as well. I prefer clean and clear local communications to barely readable long range skip signals. Also it should be noted that CB is much more likely to receive interference from RF sources such as your ignition. ALL radios should be properly installed for peak performance. Now that I have explained why CB (AM) is not so good, I will name CBs good qualities. If you have everything set up right and use the single side bands (SSB) you can get increased performance. As much as I like MURS, I must admit that CB on the SSB has MURS beat in range. You will need to learn a few things though, like how to use your clarifier. CB is also cheaper to get into, accessories are easier to find and you will make many more contacts. A CB can be a valuable tool for when you are on the road. I personally do not want my children exposed to the language that all to often is heard on CB. MURS has its downside too. First, you have got to know what you are doing. If you do not tune your antenna on CB, it still should work for a couple of miles. If you do not tune your antenna for MURS you might as well have an FRS walkie-talkie. Also, some businesses think that they "OWN" the MURS channels and if they do not have a ctcss activated and hear you they might tell you to "Get off OUR channel". This is not true. Before 2000 the MURS frequencies were part of the business LMR service. Businesses using these frequencies were either to move to another frequency or share with MURS users. The only benefit they have over us is that they may operate under their old business license rules. This might include running 5 watts instead of two or sending continuous data and the like. They have no more right the channel than you or I. Neither they or us is allowed to intentionally interfere with each other though as in "walk on" or talk over each other. In conclusion from my experience, where I am located (Hilly, forested terrain) MURS has slightly better range than CB (AM) and much better range than FRS and GMRS. If you lived in open flatlands such as Kansas, then I am sure GMRS would be a better option as a repeater would be invaluable.
Our portable 2-way radio fundamentals course, developed for use with CERT, Neighborhood Watch and other Citizens Corps groups is available for download at the Federal Communications Commission's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Clearing House. See the URL:
Part 1 of the training is oriented towards use of the Family Radio service for the simple fact that most CERT team members are not going to be licensed radio amateurs but still need to know how to use their FRS radios effectively for communications within their team. It includes a simple exercise using single channel, direct simplex communications in a free net, as is common during smaller Type IV incidents which don't require a formal Incident Action Plan. Topics include operating charactertics and limitations of FRS radio, radio features and controls, use of standard procedural words and phonetics.
Part II of the training goes into more detail on operating procedures used in directed nets, resource tracking, maintain the radio log and message handling. Emphasis is on multiple-channel communications and the development of Communications Plans as used in Type III or more complex incidents. Additional topics discussed include the use of GMRS and Amateur repeaters as a way of tying CERT teams back to their Incident Command Post, Public Safety Answering Point, or Emertency Operations Center. Having your volunteer civilian communications auxiliary provide this training to Citizens Corps groups is a great way to encourage those who are interested in communications to become proficient and encourage them to become licensed. Licensed team members can function as the designated "Communications Operator" to relay resource requests, task completions, or changes in incident status back to the command post using either amateur or GMRS radio and repeaters.
The files available for download include Powerpoint presentations for elements 1 and 2, instructor guides, student handouts, example exercises and a radio forms pack.
"There are 38 PL codes available to each of the five MURS frequencies, which makes for a combination of 190 different MURS channels. While this is not encryption, anyone not operating with the same PL code will hear “Mickey Mouse” when trying to listen in to your conversation."
PL or DPL tones are subaudible and have no effect on the voice quality. ANYONE, and I mean ANYONE with a scanner or another radio that uses carrier squelch can hear you plain as day even tho you use PL/DPL.
Also, even tho GMRS radios can transmit more power, their tranmitted signals are subject to attenuation. Atmosperic, and folige attenuation. Atmospheric attenuation is loss of signal due to particles (air, dust, moisture). Folige attenuation is just that, leaves that physicly aproximate a wave length or an even division of a wave length (1/2, 1/4) of the transmitted freq will absorb the signal, thus weakening the received signal. For GMRS this is in the range of 3"-12".
This is also true of CB class B, CB as we know it. With a much lower freq, the wave length is much longer, 100"-400". Trees and buildings absord most of the ground wave signal of CB tranmissions. As well, CB are AM modulated and MURS is FM modulated. Most electrial interference is AM modulated. This effects the CB receiver but not the FM receiver.
High Band VHF freqs (100-300 mhz)have the advantage of wave lengths that are typicly longer then most foliage, yet shorter then most trees and buildings. There is virtually no atmospheric skip like on CB freqs and far less atmospheric attenualtion as on GMRS freqs. All this adds up to MURS haveing the best range per watt of transmitted power then any available frequency to the average person.
Hope this clears things up.
Genral Amature license
FCC GROLE license with Radar endorsment
Tony, excellent comment! We'll follow up shortly on your feedback and be back with a more detailed response.
A very nice and informative write-up! I do have few disagreements about your comparison to CB radios, and being something of a fan of them would like to discuss them. :)
"CB communications can also be significantly degraded by noise from vehicle ignition systems"
Err, sure, if you install the radio poorly. But then again, this is not in any way limited to CB radios - any vehicle installed electronic device is going to suffer from the same electric noise if you install it poorly. Thus, I feel that is hardly a valid comparison.
A very basic rule whenever installing any two-way radio into a vehicle is to run the power wires straight to the battery - both the positive and negative wire. (Fuses on both wires, as close to the battery as possible, of course.) I think you'll find that following that basic rule should take care of most electric noise from almost any vehicle. This is not CB specific but applies to ALL two-way radio installations, no matter what the frequency range used.
I also find your claim of a superior communication range from a technology that uses a higher frequency and lower power a bit difficult to believe. Just seems to fly against the rules of physics. (Lower frequencies have more range, stronger signals have more range.) This is of course assuming a level playing field, once more. Compare a good MURS radio to an incorrectly wired CB installation with a possibly untuned and probably way too short antenna and sure, the MURS might indeed seem superior.
Not sure about the law in US, but in most parts of Europe on CB frequencies Single Sideband modulation is legal to use - this can be a nifty thing for extending range, assuming the other end has the same functionality. If you synchronize gear with your "team", ensuring compatibility, this should not be a problem. A lot of cheaper CB radios lack this feature making SSB less used, and scanning for SSB signals is a bit trickier than with AM or FM, so there you have your "security by obscurity" á la privacy codes too. ;) We do also have CB radios that have CTCSS. Personally though, I feel it is pretty much a gimmick as if you use something like CTCSS or DCS (often available in at least PMR446 radios here), all it takes is someone else with a radio with the same technology to crack your "encryption". You can set radios to scan all "subchannels" (CTCSS etc. codes) after all... So the end result seems to me to be pretty much the same as not using them at all. Any and all confidential information MUST be kept off the air (or at least code phrases used) if you want it to remain confidential, there is no other way.
I also do not personally see skip as an inherently negative issue. Sure, sometimes it can get in the way - but other times it enables one to make *very* long range communications. In a situation where your immediate area seems chaotic, this might help one to get information from outside the affected area, for example. Radio weather conditions do play a role in the range of all HF radios, but like I said, in my opinion it can't be considered as strictly a negative issue since the right conditions can give you more range than anything using higher frequencies has.
One benefit that higher frequencies do have over CB radios is that antenna sizes for good, useable antennas are much smaller. But I feel that the issue is more one of worrying about "style" than a real issue - lots of people don't want to mount large antennas because that might "look funny". (If you're worried about stealth, there's no law saying you can't use more than one antenna, a magnetically mounted antenna, etc.) A quite large antenna can be mounted to most vehicles if you take the time to think about how to do it. And there is always the option of a simple home-made wire antenna for more range when stopped, or a fancier expedition antenna setup if you're so inclined.
All this is not to say that MURS sounds like a bad idea. It certainly seems to compare favorably to other license free radio technologies listed in the article - I just somewhat disagree on the comparison to CB. And options can be a nice thing to have. :) If I were situated in the US, I would certainly be interested in MURS - but more as a person-to-person communication method. I'd still keep the CB as my primary vehicle-to-vehicle communication method. (This would keep my pool of possible receiving stations larger too - which could come in handy if you're not deliberately trying to limit communication to "your team" alone. From mayday calls to asking for information from people with functioning Internet access, the situations where one might have to do so are numerous.)
I am also trying to point out that CB radios are not quite as bad as a lot of people seem to think. Things like poor range are more often due to poor choice of equipment (short antenna) and possibly poor installation (not tuning the antenna, not wiring the radio straight to the battery) than what people seem to be inclined to believe. (It's all in the antenna, folks. Choose it well and mount it well.) They see one CB radio that gets poor range and think that they are all like that. Not so.
(Sorry for being so long-winded. Guess I got a little carried away...)
very informative ITS ill have to play around with this and see if this can benefit me with work or with SHTF. Another great article looking forward to the next one! Thanks!
anyone with comm experience...I'm very interested in your experience with MURS or any of these systems. Doing some research for a grad school project on use of comm systems during critical incident responses by multiple agency-responders.
Great write up ITS! Thanks!
@Paul Pure speculation on my part troop but this recommendation is about saving our collective asses not being one.
@thedigitaltexan Um, your math is off. It's closer to 1/7th of a Watt. :-)
Tony, thanks again for the excellent comments.
Great tip on running the radio/CB power wires directly to the battery. As far as the communication range of MURS vs. CB I agree that for the person who had the skill, time and desire to make the modifications you've listed to CB it could in fact function better than MURS, but for the average joe MURS will most likely function better "out of the box."
I'd never heard of Single Sideband Modulation and will definitely have to look into that. I agree that anyone with the functionality to scan privacy codes / CTCSS has the potential of picking up on the signal which is why, as you've already mentioned, that unless you're on an encrypted network, code phrases or pro words must be used for security.
Antenna size between MURS and CB is a "mission drives the gear" thing and if you have the ability to use a large antenna in a vehicle, then yes by all means do it, but for individually carried comms, a large antenna is a no go unless you have a foldable antenna like the MBITR.
You nailed the benefits of vehicle CB vs. vehicle MURS nicely.
Thanks again for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment,