Ham Radio vs. CB Radio

Ham Radio vs. CB Radio: What Makes the Difference Between Them?

​​​​​The first thing that comes to mind whenever one hears the word “radio” are those laid-back lazy afternoons of our teenage years. Remember drinking cool aids while soaking the sun and hearing Bryan Adam’s summer of 69’ on different radio stations on full blast?

Nostalgic, right?

Well, life was a lot simpler back then, and all it took one to become cool among the gang was knowing the full lyrics of the latest hit or the grooves of a Michael Jackson number.

But in this article, we are not really talking about those wistful broadcast radios with AM/FM functionalities that enabled users to connect and “just listen” to the world through frequencies and amplitudes.

Rather, we are going into the technicalities of the more advanced format of radio communication aka the two-way radio transmissions.

Is A Two-Way Radio Device Any Different from A Broadcast Receiver?

Well, it’s different from a broadcast receiver in that sense not only it can receive signals, but it can send them as well.

We have often seen them being used in movies by cops to communicate with each other.

One might get the impression that they are only used by cops or law enforcement agencies. But they would be wrong.

That’s because two-way radio is not only restricted to usage by only police, military, navy, or air force personnel only. Rather these devices can be used on a regular basis by people every day all around the globe.

Why Should I Buy A Two-Way Radio? 

Although with the emergence of mobile and smartphone technologies the need of using a two-way radio transmitter may seem like a thing of the past for an average person like you and me.

Yet it is exactly the simple nature of this device that is free from reliance on a cellular network (which is not available everywhere especially when you leave the city roads and move to more rural grounds) which makes it more lucrative a communiqué.

But how? The answer to that is road trips with buddies, holidaying in exotic locations, camping escapades, hiking/trekking through treacherous regions, or the modest reason of arranging a group tour with friends, families, or mere acquaintances.

Any of these places can prove to be cellular network obsolete at one point or another, thereby highlighting the need to own one of these devices.

Then there are the more sophisticated applications where CB/Ham radios come in handy for building a flawless and efficient communication network between work personnel during event management programs such as conferences, concerts, seminars, VIP meeting, etc.

As long as anyone is within the specified range, there can come absolutely no hindrance to relay of messages across your desired station/person.

How Do I Know Which Two-Way Radio Is the Best Fit for Me?

Don’t worry that is exactly what we are here to help you with! As the title of the article suggests, we will without any more delay go onto lay out the differences between the types of two-way radios found in the market so that you can decide for yourself what best suits your needs.

Operating on the principle of frequency and wattage-which means how much power the device consumes and vice versa transmits, two-way radios are seen to come in four forms known as the CB radio, Ham radio, GMRS, MURS.

However, in this article, we will only focus on the first two types and give you a detail description as to what makes them unique to one another.

CB Radios

CB radio is the acronym for “Citizens band radio.” The origin of this branch of radio service can be trailed back to the country of the United States of America.

During that time, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) played in the forefront of this growing form of communication. They shaped, controlled, and implemented the rules and regulations of the broadcasting nature of the citizen's band radio.

In the year 1945, this technology was finally sanctioned by the government (and FCC) to be used by the general public.  

The end of the Second World War saw the rapid growth of technological advances. Consequently, their acceptance and accessibility were seen to spread among the masses.

The popularity of the CB radios increased throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During the timeframe, this form of radios was dynamically used by carpentry, electronics, plumbing, and similar other small-scale business organizations.

Also, the radio was prominently used in vehicles such as truck, car and other transports.

How Did CB Radios Become So Popular? 

Here are the reasons why CB radios have become so popular.

1. Hollywood

The answer to that lies within the magic of Hollywood.

As many movies and television series featured the device in their reels, and icons like Chuck Norris were seen to be using them in box office hits such as Breaker, it was only natural for the general public to follow suit.

Unexpectedly still, this “trend” did not die out as how most pop-culture induced fashions are alleged to do. Rather CB radios survived the passage of time and are still in thriving existence.

2. Inexpensive and Requires No License

There are two reasons as to why this radio service continues to flourish even today. The former being its budget friendly price policy, while the later attributing to its “no-license requirement” impositions by FCC.

So, if you have budget constraints, then CB radios can be your answer.

Also, there are next to no legal requirements that are needed for operating a CB radio. However according to FCC rules, no foreign governments can use CB radio, and people with an “FCC cease and desist order” will automatically be disabled from using the said device.

In short, overseas communications is not allowed with a CB radio.

3. A Huge Number of Supplementary Channels

CB radio services, in general, transmit 40 channels that can be used in both AM mode and single sideband mode (SSB). This SSB mode can further be divided into two segments: the upper sideband mode (USB) and the lower sideband mode (LSB).

This ultimately allows users to select from a wide range of supplementary channels.

Although SSB CB radios are costlier when compared to AM CB radios, the important aspect to consider here is the fact that SSB CB radios have much extended range radius which certifies them to become a reliability assurance in case of adverse weather conditions.

Citizens Band Radios are very powerful both-way radio transmitters that operate on 27 MHz HF (shortwave) band.

Retaining a 1-15 miles range reserve, CB radios are designated to function on 4 watts of power on the AM band and 12 watts on the sideband (at peak time) according to FCC guidelines.

Extremely range-sensitive conversations held across CBs can easily overlap one another if two or more devices came to operate within close ranks.

HAM Radio 

The origin of this radio form is sketched back towards the end of the 19th century. Although the ham radios that are in application nowadays are believed to have their initiation in the first quarter of the 20th century.

“Ham Radio” is known in professional circles as the Amateur Radio. It is the most widely recognized and accessed form of both-way radio service. This thing allows you to communicate with other operators all across the world.  

Why Is It Known as Amateur Radio?

Amusingly, the word “amateur” used in the name formation has nothing to do with the expertise level of the consumer. Rather, the word amateur indicates “un-commercialized” or “non-profit.”

At this point, if you are wondering how the word “ham radio” came to be a replacement term for amateur radio, then here is the fun story.

It all began during the 19th century.

During that time, in the professional circles of wired telegraphy, executives with insufficient operative skills in sending “Morse code” were mockingly called out as “ham-fisted” by their peer and colleagues alike.

Needless to say, this judgmental term from then has remained active in human tongues, thus claiming its place among modern day slangs.

Even today in army, navy, air force or any other professional field where the use of radio or wireless technology is required, the jesting term is still used to indicate an inefficient operator who lacks the expertise expected of the job.

Amazingly, by the mid-20th century, the community of the amateur radio circle reclaimed the “ham/amateur” terminology as one of their own.

They worked together and succeeded in taking out the element of a negative quip from the word and began to widely use it with pride and a transformed meaning altogether.

Now then let’s move on to the dynamics of the device. That is what makes ham radios different. Right?

What Made Ham Radio So Popular? 

Here are two reasons why ham radios have become so popular.

1. Power

Ham radio is one of the most powerful both-way radio transmitters currently found in the market. Handheld ham radio operates with only 5 watts or even less power, whereas mobile optioned ham radios can use from 10 to 100 watts of power. Again, station-based ham radios can effortlessly reach up to 200 watts of power.

The wattage of ham radios can be further amplified by 1000 times over by connecting it with amplifiers. Also, linking the antennas with the radio system would only expand the range vicinity.

2. Versatility

A ham radio can be connected with computers and tablets enabling the user to send over messages in the form of data, texts, images, Morse codes, etc.

This incorporated adaptability of the ham radio relays a new breadth to the two-way radio service industry that was previously only seen to be capable of transmitting audio messages only.

Do You Need License to Use Ham Radio?

Because of the essential skills required to efficiently control a ham radio (so as not to cause any network interferences), the FCC requires Ham radio operators to be licensed.

This sometimes proves to be a negative point when considering buying options.

The FCC provides three classes of licenses that involves a written test of 35 to 50 questions that covers radio theory, regulations, and operating practice related paraphernalia.

It is important to note that each class of license is limited in the sense that per license will only allow up to a certain usage of bands, frequencies, modes, and wattage numbers. Thus, it loosely controls the range in which you can communicate.

According to ARRL.org, “there are 600,000 ham radio amateurs in the USA and over 2 million worldwide”.

Therefore, if you are interested in taking the test and joining this huge user-hub, then the first step would be to contact your local club of ham-radio hobbyists. They will be able to help you with practical know-hows in the regard.

Differences Between Ham and CB Radio

The overall differences between Ham Radio and CB Radio should be clear by this point of the writing. However, for convenience's sake, here is a short cheat-sheet detailing the differences between the two:

CB Radio

Ham Radio

For general public use.

Mostly for amateur radio communication use.

The individual requires no prior knowledge for operating the device.

The individual requires to learn some basic know-hows before operating the device.

No license is required.

The license is mandatory.

Watts/Power required: maximum 12 watts (SSB band); 4W watts (AM band).

Watts/Power required: 5 watts or lower (handheld); 10-100 watts (mobile type); minimum 100 but can easily reach 1500 watts with amplifiers (station based).

Band: AM and SBB.

Band: HF, UHF, VHR.

Channel availability: On average it has 40 channels.

6.Channel availability: User specific.

For general public use.

Mostly for amateur radio communication use.

Range proximity: 

  • 3-5 miles (handheld)
  • 7-10 miles (mobile type)
  • 10-50 miles (station based)

Range proximity: 

  • 1-20 miles (handheld)
  • 5-1200 miles (mobile type)
  • 50-2500 miles (station based)

Frequency is limited to 27 MHz bands.

Frequency bands higher than 27 MHz can be used.

Area coverage: Only with in the country.

Area coverage: Worldwide.

Overall Word

With the entire world being connected and observed with Wi-Fi technology and smart phone advancements, the need for two-way radio communication must feel like a thing of the past to the tech-users of this generation.

However, I can guarantee you that when those phone lines and cellular networks go down, or when you encounter a massive power outage due to a natural disaster, it will be technologies like Ham and CB radios that will rise up to assist and overcome these unforeseen situations.

even for the simple purpose of establishing a reliable network system for group travelling, or for hobby purposes two-way radios are a great investment choice in the long run.

As for which one to buy, that depends on your requirements and your preferences regarding the features.

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