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Are You Required to Have an FCC License for Your 2-Way Radio?

Are You Required to Have an FCC License for Your 2-Way Radio?
by   |    April 14, 2021

For more than two decades, Discount Two-Way Radio has helped nearly 200,000 customers perfect their communications needs by providing them find professional level two-way radio equipment. In all those years, one of the most commonly asked questions has been, “Do I need a Federal Communications Commission’s License?” In the following four-part series on FCC licensing, Discount Two-Way Radio will unravel the mystery and confusion of answering this question and others.

Do You Need an FCC License?

Well, to answer this you should know that there is some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that unfortunately, the requirements, laws, and subsequent penalties surrounding two-way radio use in the United States is one of the most confusing and misunderstood areas of radio communications. For example, most people don’t realize that FCC licenses are issued based on the usage and purpose of the two-way radio equipment rather than the number of radios possessed. So for example, whether it’s three radios in question or three hundred, the number of radios used is irrelevant for FCC licensing application and approval. The key to whether a FCC License is required is based on HOW the radio will be used. It doesn't matter if the radios will be used for a camping trip, a personal hobby, or professional use, the purpose and use of the radio is the overriding factor when determining whether a FCC License is required.

So a good place to start when asking whether an FCC License will be necessary is to first understand exactly what types of businesses are mandated to apply for an FCC License.

While the following list is not exhaustive by any means, it will provide a general framework for anyone who is confused about whether they fall within the FCC Licensing requirements or not.

Emergency Services, Public Safety Operations

  • Sheriff
  • City and State Police Departments
  • Fire and Emergency Medical Services
  • Ambulance Companies
  • City Operations

Private Building Management or Company Operations

  • Plant Management
  • Facilities Management
  • Security
  • Warehouse Operations
  • Transportation
  • Hazardous Material Handling
  • Construction & Contracting
  • Site Management
  • Hospitals
  • In-house Security

Schools (Public and Private) Communications & Operations

  • On campus and in classroom communications.
  • Maintenance and custodial
  • Transportation & busing of students

Hospital Management

  • Facilities Maintenance
  • Patient Care
  • Security

Private Day Care Facilities

  • Summer Camps
  • After care Facilities

Janitorial

  • Custodial Maintenance
  • Cleaning Companies
  • Remediation Firms

Transportation Companies

  • Taxi Service
  • Private Delivery Services
  • Private Bus Companies
  • Limousine Companies
  • Airport Shuttle

If I have a fleet of ten 2-way radios, do I need an FCC license for each radio?

No. When it comes to FCC licensing, the Federal Government is only interested in what geographical region will the radio(s) be used and more importantly, what is the purpose of the equipment. The number of radios you are using is not insignificant to the FCC.

Specific Types of Radios and FCC Requirements

When it comes to FCC laws, the federal government assigns very specific frequencies and bands to all two-way radio users, and depending on what the radios are used for, that specific frequency will determine if an FCC License is required.

For example, below is a quick overview of what type radios require and don’t require an FCC License:

LMR (Land Mobile Radio for Industrial, Business, and Vehicle Pool)

Anyone who is using a LMR is required to get an FCC License. LMR is specifically used in business, government agencies, and not-for-profit institutions like private and public schools, religious organizations, hospitals etc. Most radios approved for LMR usage operate on either VHF (150-174 MHz), or UHF (421-512 MHz) frequencies.

Within the LMR world, there are a couple different types of licenses that can be issued by the FCC.

The 3 most common are:

  • Simplex License - Licenses a set of frequencies within a radius of a specified location.
  • Duplex License - When using a repeater this license includes a frequency pair, spaced for repeater use.
  • Itinerant License - Allows the use of radios at temporary locations within a state, set of states, or nation-wide.

MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service)

MURS is an unlicensed service that operates on frequencies that are available for everyone. Typically, MURS equipment operates on only five channels with pre-set frequencies 151MHz -154 MHz in VHF. These radios are also limited to 2 watts or less and have a very limited coverage area. In addition, the lack of privacy for MURS is only topped by the occurrence of constant channel interference. Still, MURS can be a good option for some businesses such as small sites or temporary job sites.

Ham Radio (Amateur Radio)

Ham Radio users are required to obtain an FCC License to exclusively on the “Ham Bands.” Amateur radio usage has been a popular hobby for tens of thousands radio users from coast-to-coast and around the world. In addition to hobby users, Ham Radios are also used by volunteers during emergency situations or an organized group of users.Please note that anyone applying for a Ham Radio FCC License must pass an test that demonstrates basic knowledge of radios and electronics. Once you have a license you can operate on many frequencies that are not available to other users.

CB (Citizens Band)

Anyone who uses a CB radio does not need to have an FCC License. Interestingly, CB’s can be used for either commercial or personal communications. CB equipment uses pre-programmed frequencies on just 40 channels. CB radios can operate on up to 4 watts of power and only in AM modulation. Like its Ham Radio cousin, CB radios are open to anyone, thereby increasing the combination of poor privacy and channel interference

GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service)

The GMRS is oe of the most popular uses for two-way radios among families, and does require an FCC License. In fact, the FCC specifically spells out why this type of radio requires a license. To wit: “to facilitate the activities of licensees and their immediate family members.” The GMRS uses channels around 462 MHz & 467 MHz. Most GMRS channels are for short-distance, two-way voice communications using hand-held radios, mobile radios and repeater systems. Also as a side note, the FCC expanded GMRS to also apply short data messaging applications including text messaging and GPS location information.

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