In terms of hardware, there are some differences you need to consider before choosing between CB Radio or Ham Radio. CB radio is limited by law to transmit at 5 watts, while Ham radio can transmit up to 1.5kw legally. Ham radios have much more options of frequency bands compared to CB radios which are limited to the 27MHz band.
People friendly with radio communications and hobbyists who communicate with such services have a lot of interest in finding what’s better: ham radio (or the amateur radio service) or the CB radio (the citizens’ band radio service).
Well, both are appropriate for different kinds of things, but surely, you can only invest all your time in one of those. Which one is it going to be? That’s what we will be figuring out in this piece.
Before we proceed:
Which is better vs. how are they different
You might be trying to find out which one is better between the two. But trust me, the technical details that will be involved in a discussion of that nature will puzzle you more than explaining things.
And in the end, there won’t be any different because the current people the ham radio service are very different from those who use the CB. Not in a physiological way, but depending on what kind of usage of radio communication they do.
Now, a far better way to go about it is to learn how are two services different. You see, ham radios are for different kinds of people and CB radios for different.
Learning the distinction between the two kinds of usage will allow you to better understand what do you need rather than trying to figure out which one is technically better in random aspects.
The basic differences between the two
The ham radio service is for people who wish to communicate long distances, be part of round table on-air discussions, communicate during times of emergency, and so on. It’s simply a reliable and effective way for an individual to individual communication.
Note that you cannot use it for commercial purposes. Also, you can’t even make your local news station using ham radio because that’s still individual to the general public, making it almost commercial. It is strictly for conversations and communication between individuals.
On the other hand, the CB radio service is for people who want to have a hobby in radio communication without requiring a license. CB is usually short-range and mobile.
Truckers use it extensively for critical traffic information, directional information, and quite a good deal of vulgar talk in between. People also use CB radio for low-end communication needs like information talks, semi-commercial use, and keeping in touch with family members in the same region or when going on an excursion like hiking.
The ham radio service, once functionally set up, allows you to use a larger number of equipment that is high-power, allowing you to cover a larger distance, direct the RF energy in a particular direction, utilize more frequency as the ham radio frequency range is the widest, and so on.
It might be called amateur radio, but it needs a ton of technical knowledge and is more organized. Whenever people who use ham radio extensively (called hams) talk, there is bound to be a high degree of technical jargon.
The CB radio service once set up is usually a moving source of transmitting and receiving. A lot of people set up a CB radio when they are going on road trips (a no kids situation only, otherwise there are going to be times when your child listens to a lot of awful stuff).
This helps them listen to truckers. No need to converse, you can just keep listening too – and now and then you will hear some critical regional, directional, or traffic information.
Intended uses of the two services
Why do people use ham radio?
- To communicate long distances.
- When there’s a need for powerful communication that requires a broad frequency range.
- Listening to emergency broadcasts, communicating with emergency services, and overall emergency needs.
- It’s easy to use, learn, and repair. Modifications and setting up are also easier.
Why do people use CB radio?
- Users who are on a hiking trip or excursion of some sort use CB radio to keep in touch with members who might be far away. Lack of reliable cellphone reception or the internet are the reasons.
- Truckers extensively use CB radio to relay critical information about directions, traffic, route closures, etc. as well as do all other kinds of chatting.
- CB radio is also used by people on road trips who listen to truckers speak about traffic and give valuable directional information.
- Off-roading clubs utilize CB radio sometimes. Any group related to driving, adventure, or adventure driving can utilize CB radio to communicate and keep in touch when in action.
Ham radios require a license to operate. This license usually means passing an exam that tests your technical knowledge, understanding of the key telecommunication concepts, etc.
CB radio, in contrast, needs no license to operate. You just can’t exceed the upper limit on power.
Operational limits, illegal uses, and restrictions
The amateur radio service is more powerful, and helps you utilize higher performance equipment and also allows you to utilize more frequencies as the band is wider (widest, actually, in spectrum allotment to radio services).
- Doing commercial communication over ham radios is illegal. There are barely any restrictions when it comes to the contents of the communication exchange. Communication on amateur radio needs to be strictly individual to individual (or groups).
The CB radio service is feebler in comparison and only meant for short-distance communication.
- Using hardware modifications to send your CB radio signals further away is illegal. A lot of CB radio users do this, in fact, and it causes serious interference with equipment outside of the citizens’ band.
- CB radios use the AM or amplitude modulation. Although tweaking is possible to boost CB radio efficiency, it’s often hard and almost impractical. Amateur radio uses FM, or frequency modulation, which is more efficient.
- CB works on the longer wavelengths (long wavelengths go further than short wavelengths). This means you need longer antennas for CB. Ham radios use VHF/UHF.
- The power limit for CB is 4 watts. This is powerful enough for short distance. Going higher than that is illegal.
Ham VS CB Radio Comparison
CB has 40 channels and 80 more if you count SSB in 11 meter band. Ham has frequencies across many bands ranging from 160 meters thru gigahertz bands. CB is limited to 5 watts of power. Ham radios have CW, FM, SSB, AM, some digital modes and TV they can use.