In today’s world of the Internet and ubiquitous smartphones, radios seem obsolete. They hear terms like “ham radio” and CB radio” and think that they’re all one and the same.
But amateur radio users still use radios to listen to broadcasts, to communicate with others, and maybe even transmit broadcasts themselves. They have a choice between using ham radio and CB radio, and they’re not the same at all.
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Ham Radio vs. CB Radio
So how is ham radio different from a CB radio? Here are some of the crucial differences.
You can use a CB radio anytime, simply by buying one. You don’t have to get a license to operate a CB radio.
On the other hand, a ham radio does need a license to operate. You get your ham radio license after passing an official test, mainly about your knowledge regarding important telecommunication concepts and your technical expertise.
There are 3 classes of licenses for ham radio, each with a different set of allowed bands and frequencies.
With ham radios, you’re not allowed to do any commercial broadcasts and communications. You can only communicate with individuals or sometimes in groups.
With CB radio, the main restriction is with power. The FFC limits CB radio power to just 4 watts, which works well enough for short-distance communication.
You’re also not allowed to modify your hardware to boost your signal transmission distances. Still, quite a few people break this rule, but it causes serious interference beyond the citizen’s band.
We already know that CB radio is limited to 4 watts when using the AM band. The limit us 12 watts for the SSB band. That’s true even for hard-wired CB radios.
But cheap handheld ham radios also operate under 4 to 5 watts of power. Some of the more expensive ones go with 8 to 10 watts.
With hardwired ham radios, you get 50 watts of power.
The FCC actually limits ham radio to 1,500 watts of power, which you can do with when you have a station-based ham radio.
Since CB radio is mostly for shorter distances, ham radio typically covers longer distances:
|Type||CB Radio||Ham Radio|
|Handheld||3 to 5 miles||1 to 20 miles|
|Mobile (such as in a truck)||7 to 10 miles||5 to 1,200 miles|
|Station-based||10 to 50 miles||50 to 2,500 miles|
|Basic Coverage Area||Only within the country||Worldwide|
The range of CB radio is limited because it uses AM (amplitude modulation), while ham radio uses FM (frequency modulation).
You don’t have to be an expert to realize that because it uses FM, ham radio is much clearer and more efficient.
You can check out an AM/FM radio for yourself, if you’re young enough not to have it used before. You can then find out just how clearer FM radio stations are, compared to their AM radio station counterparts.
This is also why CB antennas have to be at least 102 inches (8.5 feet) long to get adequate performance. You may still have to fiddle with it to get a clear signal.
In contrast, ham radio antennas should be at least 19.5 inches. The ideal length is about 38 inches for more gain or signal amplification.
Ham radios right out of the box don’t need tuning, and they’re easier to mount due to the shorter length.
Also read: CB Radio Basics: What You Need to Know!
So CB Radio or Ham Radio?
One of these types will serve you better than the other, depending on your needs and preferences.
Go with CB Radio If:
You Don’t Want to Bother with a License
This is actually one of the main reasons why some people don’t bother with ham radio. It’s just too much trouble to get a license.
You can just get a CB radio, learn how to use it, and then get to use it right away.
You’re On The Road
If you’re a trucker, it’s almost mandatory to have a CB radio. You can blame the movies for that, but truckers themselves know how useful a CB radio can be.
A trucker can exchange information with others over the CB radio. They can then spread (and learn about) news regarding closed roads, accidents, and maybe even speed traps. In fact, a trucker can just ask directions over the CB radio if ever they’re lost or want to go to a place they haven’t been to before.
Even if you’re just driving a car, you can listen to the truckers talk about closed roads and traffic situations, especially when you’re driving cross-country.
If you’re driving with a bunch of friends across great distances or off-road, then you can also communicate with one another using CB radio.
Go with Ham Radio If:
You Don’t Mind Getting a License
It’s a bit like getting a driver’s license. It’s bothersome at first, but you do enjoy privileges afterwards.
Besides, it’s no longer required for you to learn about Morse code. That was actually required knowledge until 2005.
You Want a Backup for Emergency Communications
The Ham radio is terrific for listening in to emergency broadcasts, if the power is down and you can’t use your TV or the Internet.
You may also be able to use your ham radio to communicate with emergency services. That’s certainly helpful when you’re trapped somewhere during a storm or blizzard.
Why Get a Ham or CB Radio?
Whether you go with a ham radio or a CB radio setup is up to you. But whichever you choose, it’s still a better option than not getting one at all.
That’s because in some cases, phone and cellular networks can go down. When that happens during an emergency situation, you want a backup to make sure you can still communicate with others.
You also save smartphone power when communicating with these handheld radios, so you can then reserve your smartphone charge for going online.
Finally, using ham radio and CB radio systems is just a lot of fun. There are hundreds of thousands of users of these systems, and they’re still not bored with it!