Car-To-Car Communication: CB Radios vs VHF Handsets

The best way to communicate during a group bike ride or road trip in a convoy. CB Radios and VHF Radios compared.

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Tech News
4 min read
CB radios are not as popular as VHF handsets in India. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

Picture this, you and a bunch of friends are on a road trip in a group of three or four cars. Or maybe on a long bike ride with a group of fellow riders. How do you communicate with each other?

It’s not always convenient to whip out a cellphone and dial the person in the car ahead. It’s quite likely that you may find yourself in a poor network zone or even a no network zone (like Ladakh, which, by the way, is in season for road trips right now). There may be the need for spontaneity, like warning the convoy or riders behind you of oncoming traffic or a road block. Or just forewarning to the rest of the group that you are stopping for a loo break.

What is the most efficient form of communication in such cases? CB (Citizen’s Band) radios, VHF (Very High Frequency) walkie-talkie radios, or the good old Bluetooth communication and the cellphone. Here’s a ready reckoner.

Citizen’s Band or CB Radios

A fixed in-car CB radio installation. (Photo: Pixabay)
A fixed in-car CB radio installation. (Photo: Pixabay)

CB radios do not require a licence to operate, and therefore, are perfectly legal to use in India as well. CB radios operate in a narrow frequency band between 26.957 MHz to 27.283 MHz which is delicensed and meant for open communication between regular citizens.

Pros of CB radios:

CB radios are easily available and do not require licensing. Most CB radios have a range of about 1-2 km within the city, going up to about 5 km on highways. They do not require any network coverage or connectivity, and work on AM/FM radio frequencies in the above mentioned band. Groups of people can decide on a specific channel number (most CB radios have up to 40 channels within that spectrum band) and communicate with each other.

Cons of CB radios:

The President Randy II is a hand-held CB Radio that can also be used with an external car antenna. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
The President Randy II is a hand-held CB Radio that can also be used with an external car antenna. (Photo: The Quint)

CB radios can only talk to CB radios – they cannot communicate with other handheld devices. Most CB radios are clunky and big, and need to be mounted in a vehicle with an exceptionally long antenna for a better range (between 3 to 6 feet high). However, some, like President Randy II, are handheld devices, which can be used within shorter ranges. To expand the range of a handheld device, it needs to be connected to a large CB radio antenna. Unlike VHF radios, CB radios need large antennas, while VHFs are easily portable. There is a lot of radio signal interference in the 27 MHz band.

VHF Radios or Walkie-Talkies

Two-way radios or Walkie-Talkies are easily available, but are not fully legal. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Two-way radios or Walkie-Talkies are easily available, but are not fully legal. (Photo: The Quint)

Two-way radios are quite commonly used. These VHF/UHF radios come in two varieties – one that look like toys, but are actually quite powerful. And the professional lot that have a much longer range and are professionally used.

Pros of Two-Way VHF Radios

Two-way radios are sleeker and far less cumbersome to handle than CB Radios. As they are more powerful, they do not require large antennas. They operate in the 72-76 MHz band and also in the 450-470 MHz band. The range of professional two-way radios can vary from as low as 2 km to 25 km in range. Conversations over two-way radios, in general, is generally slightly better than CB Radio, as there is less interference and because of the small form factor, they are easy to carry. You can even get low-powered ones (classified as baby monitors) for close range communication within a limited area.

Cons of Two-Way VHF Radios

VHF radios require a licence to operate. (Photo: Pixabay)
VHF radios require a licence to operate. (Photo: Pixabay)

Two-way Radios can interfere with police communication bands as it’s pretty close in frequency. Police radio operates in 76 MHz to 86 MHz frequency in India. All long-range two-way radios (other than toys classified as baby monitors) need licences to operate. However, there are many units that are easily available in the market, and not many are aware that these require a licence to operate from the Department of Telecommunications. Such licences are given for a fixed area of operation, and hence, they cannot be used by travel groups, unless specifically permitted.

The third option is to use a cellphone with a Bluetooth headset or hands-free car system. While these are perfectly legal, such systems will only work within areas that have a cellular network. Plus, communication is not instantaneous as you need to dial the person you wish to communicate with. It’s not a one-to-many instant communication system like CB Radios or VHF handsets.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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