last updated 15 Dec 2005

CB or 446?

I'll let Paul answer this (thanks!) first :

"...depends what you want to use it for. If you want to chat to complete strangers, CB is the better bet as it's more established and usually quite friendly. If you are intending keeping in touch with mates or family, then PMR is more ideal, because a CB-style community has not really devoloped on it yet. If you opt for CB, you will need a licence, and these are 15 per year. PMR is licence free, so you can just buy a radio and talk on it straight away.

A decent mid-range PMR radio can rival a CB handie equivalent with regards to distance. For example, a Motorola T6222 has a quoted range of 2-3 miles in open spaces. This is a very conservative estimate and I have often spoken to people on mine up to ten miles away from me and this is in a relatively built up area. Interference is not a problem on this frequency unless you have a P4 computer nearby. CTCSS codes help in some way to filter out other users, but don't believe some of the adverts that suggest you have 304 channels. There are only eight, but 38 CTCSS codes in theory should allow multiple conversations, though in practice, only two or three can really happen allowing for pauses for other users.

CB on the other hand is very prone to interference, and this can limit range. A hand-held CB should manage 5 miles on 4 watts (lucky to get 1 or 2 miles to another handheld in my experience - Euro446), but in reality, unless you have most electrical equipment switched off in the room you are operating in, you can expect to see reception range drop to just a few feet. A base unit and external (outdoor) aerial is much better though and in good conditions, you can expect anything from 10-25 miles on it. Another problem with CB is skip, and UK channels can often end up being flooded with transmissions from as far away as Russia, as well as sideband interference from countries that allow SSB. The CEPT channels fare better though, because hardly anyone over here uses them.

I use CB and PMR - but find PMR far more reliable, despite the absence of channels. Audio is clearer, and multipath interference isn't a problem. Electrical interference were you to experience it can simply be filtered out using a CTCSS code."

I think 446 is much better for closed-group handheld-to-handheld. Smaller radios, smaller antennas, less interference, tone squelch, better range etc. A CB handheld's antenna is very inefficient at 27MHz.

27MHz can be great for the 'community' of CBers, and fun for worldwide DX via skip. 446 is closer to the old 934 CB system where there was a much smaller community of enthusiasts, and shorter range DX via tropo.

Other ways to achieve comms include :

  • 27MHz CB which is pretty much pointless these days. Even with 80 channels now in the UK, the band is full of noise, with noisy sideband flooding in from who-knows-where and interference from the increasing amount of electronics and computers in our lives. Driving through a built up area is just a nightmare and you'll end up with the squelch up full or just switching off in disgust. Technically you need a licence (!) and handies have appalling range due to the wavelength/size ratio of the rubber duck antennas.
    Local potential : poor, too many idiots, noisy on standby.
    DX potential : there's some - but mind all the noise.
  • 49MHz handhelds/headsets (mainly, click HERE for a base station!). These are such low-range devices as to be little more than kiddies toys, or useful if you could see someone but not quite hear them. Wow. I saw one once that didn't even have a squelch - what were they thinking?!
    Local potential : yes, very local.
    DX potential : Connect a larger antenna and you'd be swamped by baby monitors!
  • Ham radio - big yawn. You can't talk to anyone unless they too have passed an exam about how to build their own rig - very likely. Throw in the need to use your callsign all the time and keep a log book and you've a good recipe for boredom. And they all talk funny. For ages. About boring things. And they spell out laughing as HI! (LOL!)
    Local potential : why not just phone them up?
    DX potential : great so long as you want to get bogged down with QSLs!
    Welcome eHam readers - please read my comment replies.
  • 2 Cordless phones connected to a private exchange! Sounds daft, but it allows full duplex conversation, calling etc, over a small area. Or between two small areas connected by a phone cable, with no subscriber line to be paid for. Just don't go adding a beam antenna to a base unit! Or with 1800MHz DECT don't go adding a dish...
  • Cellphones/paging No comment. This page is for FREE comms.
...and that's it.

It all comes down to WHO you want/need to talk to.
If you want to pass the time of day with strangers the internet has a lot to offer.
If you want to DX you'll just have to wait until the ham morse fiasco is cleared up.
As for going mobile, trying to get any useful range from a car can be nearly impossible depending on the lay of the land (I met her once, har di har).

How NOT to achieve comms ...

  • Marine band - handies just 140 pounds or less - you're not allowed to use these on land, but it wouldn't stand out as much as other methods...
    Also it may be possible to use USA channels which no other International set will hear. Coastguards who use those channels will though, and so will the scanner crowd.
  • Ham radio - they'll notice pretty soon - you'll get caught!
  • Ham radio expanded - you'll get caught! You might think that an "unused" channel in the 143-144 or 146-148 range would go unnoticed BUT there's a lot of scanners out there...
  • Imported - USA GMRS/FRS radios or their business "dot" radios (or MURS) at VHF/UHF. Australian UHF CB, German 149MHz handies, Euro 433MHz LPDs, etc. There are scanner folk listening for all these, not to mention the Radiocomms Agency. You'll get caught!
  • SRBR - 3 channel business handies (461MHz) - these were meant for business only, it was licensed, not allowed in some areas anyway, and has been phased out (well, they've tried!). You'll get caught!
  • Airband - with handies available to pilots for around 300 pounds. Might not be too risky if you know which channels are "spare" in your area, especially company channels. Not to be recommended though! And there's a lot of airband scanning going on. Still, some transceivers do VORs - they'll tell you your bearing from the beacon - mmm!
  • PMR surplus - you'll get caught!
  • 26-28MHz CB - you'll get caught!
  • FM broadcast band - using kits or whatever. You'll get caught!
  • Radiomics - with "extra" antennas and scanners, for full two-way comms - oh don't be silly! Or cordless headphones. Or modified cordless phones legal or otherwise, telemetry modules, model control transmitters, baby monitors, videosenders, 418MHz modules... silly!
  • 6.6MHz - known as "Echo Charlie band" for reasons unknown. You'll get caught! They are actively cracking down on this.
  • Old 934MHz CB rigs - you'll get caught!
  • Homebrew or cannibalized gear - you brainy git! But you'll get caught! don't need any of the above - and I'm not suggesting any of it or condoning it in any way. Just listing the possibilities for interest.
For long range base to base comms, you'd get caught sooner or later. Although a microwave link with dishes would be very hard to detect!
For mobile... just use PMR446!