There is a trend in the prepper community toward the use of Amateur "Ham" radios that require a license over the use citizens band radios and other
unlicensed radios. After researching two way communications systems and making practical comparisons, I've come to the following conclusions.
Ham radios and Amateur licenses.
Admittedly there are advantages in having one of the three grades of Amateur radio operator licenses issued by the F.C.C. that allow the legal use of
a range of frequencies and output power. With the F.C.C.'s mid-level "general" license, an Amateur radio operator can legally talk over many
frequency bands that have different characteristics and uses. The clarity and greater range of radios that operate on different frequencies with
higher output power offer a variety of uses that a survivalist or prepper would find more appealing than the unlicensed radios.
Today, the license exam is fairly simple, inexpensive and easier to pass than in the past. Generally, because of the time and expense of acquiring a
license, the Amateur radio operators you will hear on the ham frequencies are more knowledgeable, polite, better behaved and quite serious about their
use of two communications when compared to the average unlicensed radio operator. There are also many groups and organizations that support the ham
radio community, but nothing except a few loose associations on the unlicensed bands.
All the perks of licensed ham radio operation seem really great when compared to CBs and other unlicensed radios, but every system has it's drawbacks
for any particular purpose. In my opinion licensed operation is not only a more expensive and involved past time, but it is unnecessary for most
survival prepping. Besides, there is no law that prevents anyone from monitoring the licensed bands without a license, so you can still hear what is
being said on the regulated frequencies.
My main concern about getting a Ham radio "ticket" (license) and communicating on the licensed frequencies is that in a crisis the official licensed
networks will be too busy to give anyone much personal attention. Whereas the unlicensed frequencies are perfect for dealing with personal issues
outside of licensed operators and government authorities. Some of the advantages of using the unlicensed frequencies are as follows.
The main advantage with unlicensed CB, FRS, MURS, and WiFi frequencies is that you don't need a F.C.C. license for there use.
The unlicensed radios are good for local communications when keeping track of your personal situation in an emergency or crisis.
Being Incense free makes it accessible to everyone.
Added costs, a license costs time and money. The exam costs $15 to $20 to complete, you will need to study and may want to take classes to prepare for
License free radio operations make sure your private information does not end up on the F.C.C. list of operator licenses.
The F.C.C. does little to regulate the unlicensed frequencies compared to the licensed ones and most licensed operators are "radio snitches" ready
to turn you in for the most minor offenses on the licensed frequencies.
Another consideration is that CBs and unlicensed radios are more available and in a lower price range than HAM radios. A new mobile CB with antenna
ranges from the lowest prices of around $70 to $200 and are available online as well as in brick and mortar stores like Best Buy. The lowest priced
Ham mobile radios cost around $250 new or used, without an antenna, and are mostly only available online that include additional shipping costs. The
price of Ham antennas and other necessary equipment is also higher and an added cost to the basic setup.
In reality it is not necessary to have high cost Ham equipment and a license to communicate with the local licensed Amateur radio operators. Many Hams
still talk on the CB when there is no action on the amateur bands so using a CB (esp. single side band units) can include you with an established
local Ham network.
From what I have heard monitoring the different frequencies is that there are still many people using CBs in the U.S. as well as in many other
countries. Although it is true that CBs are not as popular as they were back in the 1970s, today there are undoubtedly more CBers on the air in the
U.S. than there are Ham radio operators. When traveling on the roads, you are far less likely to hear reports from other drivers on the Amateur
frequencies compared to those on the CB.
Some disadvantages of CBs and other unlicensed radios.
Limited communications range is a problem on the unlicensed frequencies, but a network could relay messages at least 25 miles or more at a time. Not
only that but the atmospheric conditions known as "skip" will allow CB communications all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico with Europe and the Pacific
not out of the question when conditions are just right. It should be noted here that communicating on the CB for more than the allowed 155 mile range,
or to other countries outside the U.S., is against F.C.C. regulations.
AM broadcasts on the citizens band are subject to more interference and not as clear FM broadcasts on higher frequencies. However, these limitations
can be over come with different antenna setups combined with the use of higher frequency FM bands on the FRS and MURS radios.
Licensed Amateur radio operations include services not allowed on the citizens band. Such services include encrypted transmissions including digital
data and the use of Morse code. Repeater stations that increase transmit range and radio to phone connections are also only allowed with a license.
However, the MURS VHF frequencies allows digital encryption and Morse code not to mention that a phone connection does no good if the phone lines are
down. If the WiFi frequencies are considered, a "meshnet" wireless network can be created and serve the purpose of transmitting digital encryption
as well as serve as an internet phone service. The WiFi frequencies are allowed only one watt output and so each unit in the network could only hope
to have a two mile range with the best equipment and a directional antenna. This is not a problem considering that the network's range is out to the
farthest unit that acts like a small repeater station.
In my opinion, with the low cost availability of CB equipment, both new and used, a CB network will undoubtedly arise from all the old units in
storage when other common forms of communication have a blackout. Even with no communications problems, there are still enough truck drivers and other
people using the CB to be useful right now on a road trip, so there is a loose network already. Also, there are enough old units gathering dust,
repair parts should be available from defunct radios to make servicing possible even when the supply chain is disrupted.
Finally, there is the political aspect that "If you don't use it, you lose it". It is (apparent to me at least) that the wireless digital
communication corporations, cell phones companies and government interests in air wave uses, have pushed the general public off the air in many other
countries. So if we don't use the unlicensed frequencies and let our government know we want to keep using them, there use could become outlawed here
like they have been in other countries where they were once legal to use.
For more information on creating an unlicensed two way network please visit the MCBRN website.
Michigan CB Radio Network