Ham Radio vs. CB Radio: Is a Ham Radio the Same as a CB Radio?

Ham Radio vs. CB Radio: Is a Ham Radio the Same as a CB Radio?

If you’ve only started to delve into the world of radio communication, chances are you’re mixing up these radios – ham and CB. Don’t worry; we’re here to help you figure out what makes them similar and also point out their differences.

Even though both of them can be used for establishing proper communication, there are some essential differences between them.

Let’s learn a little about them before looking at their differences.


Ham Radio

We often see these in the hands of characters in TV shows. People can use these radios to find each other and communicate.

Ham radios are commonly used by radio enthusiasts as a hobby to exchange messages to friends, family, strangers across borders and oceans without access to the internet or cell phones.


Citizens Band (CB)

Citizen’s band, which is usually referred to as CB, is a fast and easy way of communication between the general public.

It is open to all and can be operated by most people. CB gained popularity in the 70s and has been preferred by many because of its simplicity. Overall, there are a lot of benefits to getting a good CB radio.

Differences between Ham and CB

There are a number of differences between these two types of radio. If you’re in the market for a radio, we suggest you read on and then make an informed decision.


A major difference between ham and CB is the watt at which they transmit signals. You will be able to tell how far you are from the opertor on the other side, by observing this difference.

Ham radio has a power range of 1500 watts. This means you’ll be able to talk and send messages to all corners of the world. You could be sitting in front of your ham radio in your basement and send messages to the polar bears in Antarctica.

Although ham radios are allowed power levels of 1500 watts by the FCC (Federal Communication Commission), you’ll see most enthusiasts and hobbyists with ham radios that have the power of only 50 watts. Nonetheless, ham radio is powerful and can be used to communicate in longer distances because of its power range.

On the other hand, the power levels of CB is capped at 4 watts for AM and 12 watts for SSB. So, with CB, you’ll only be able to transmit within a few miles. Because of its short range, it is mostly used by truckers to get information on regional traffic, route closures, weather conditions, and local entertainment.

If you’ve played with radios in your childhood, chances are you were speaking over CB radios.


Because of its powerful capabilities, owning a ham radio will require you to pass an examination by the government and get a license. Ham radio is also ironically known as amateur radio even though the people who are allowed to use it, are somewhat experts.

It is known as amateur radio because those who are using it are merely just enthusiasts and have learned the technicalities of radio out of sheer personal interest with no intention of gaining anything financially.

CB used to require a license, but it doesn’t anymore unless you plan on running a radio station. You just have to make sure not to cross the upper limit on power. If you do take that risk, prepare to pay heavy fines to the FCC.


Ham antennas are only required to be 19.5 inches, and because they are smaller than CB antennas, you’ll get better performance out of them.

The antenna of CB radios needs to be at least 8.5 ft. (120 inches) to work well. If it’s any shorter than this, you’ll need an SWR meter to make your CB radio work properly.

Frequency Bands

Ham radios enjoy the perks of having a wider range of frequency bands, which will allow you to access many channels on your radio. It also means that ham radios can be used for TV, microwave, satellite communication, even high speed data access.


The frequency band of CB radio is limited to 27MHz, so it can only be used for mostly voice transmissions.


You already know ham radio is used mainly by radio enthusiasts. They are mostly used for long distance one-to-one communication, and sometimes also used for emergency situations.

Ham radios can be used for wireless experiments, personal messages, and recreation. However, commercial communication by ham radio is strictly illegal. Ham radios are also used for fun and educational purposes. For example, The International Space Station uses it to hold Q/A sessions with schools sometimes.

They have also been used in emergencies and natural calamities like hurricanes and floods to communicate when regular communication channels break down.

On the other hand, CB is mostly used for local communication. You’ll get weather updates and local news on your CB radio while you’re stuck in traffic. Also, you can take a set of CB radios on your next camping trip with your friends. It’ll be a fun addition to your hiking adventures.

Since CB is short range, truckers use it for traffic and weather updates, navigational information, and local entertainment of the area they’re driving through. You can also use it to listen to these truckers discussing their route plans while you’re on the road by using a CB radio.

And you might be thinking that all this information is available through the internet and navigational and weather apps on phones. But CB radios are able to give live updates about road blockage, detours, and delays, congestion, etc.


Ham radio has no channels. However, it does have frequency bands. With these frequency bands, you’ll be able to access as many channels as you want. If there are hundreds of channels in that particular band, you’ll have access to all of them. CB radios have 40 channels, and your choice is limited to those 40 channels.


Ham radios have access to multiple modulations such as AM, FM, SSB, RTTY, whereas CB only uses the AM and SSB modulation.


What is the main difference between Ham Radio and CB Radio?

The primary difference between Ham Radio and CB Radio lies in their frequency range, power output, and licensing requirements. Ham Radio has a broad frequency range with no channel limit, a higher power output, and requires a license to operate. On the other hand, CB Radio operates within a specific frequency range of 40 channels, has a power limit of 4 watts, and does not require a license.

What are the licensing requirements for Ham Radio and CB Radio?

CB Radio does not require a license for operation. However, Ham Radio requires an amateur license before operation. The licensing requirements vary by region, but generally, they involve passing a test that covers the operation, theory, and history of radio communication.

What are the benefits of getting a Ham Radio license?

Obtaining a Ham Radio license allows users to access a broader range of frequencies and use higher power outputs, enabling communication across continents. Additionally, licensed Ham Radio operators are encouraged to experiment with their radio equipment, which is not typically allowed in other personal radio services.

What is the power output limit for both Ham Radio and CB Radio?

CB Radio has a power output limit of 4 watts. In contrast, Ham Radios have a higher power output, ranging from 5 watts for handhelds to 25 watts for mobiles. Some Ham Radio setups can even enable communication across continents.

Can Ham Radio be used as a CB Radio?

Technically, some Ham Radios can be tuned to operate on CB frequencies. However, most ham and non-ham hobbyists opt to buy a specific CB Radio for this purpose due to its affordability and ease of use compared to some Ham Radios.

What is the frequency range for Ham Radio and CB Radio?

The CB Radio operates within a specific frequency range spanning 40 channels from 27MHz to 28MHz. In contrast, Ham Radio users have access to a broad frequency range with no channel limit, including bands within the HF, VHF, and UHF spectrums from 1.8 MHz/160m to 430MHz/70cm, among others.

Who typically uses Ham Radio and CB Radio?

CB Radio is often the choice for non-specialists or beginners due to its ease of use and operation without a license. It’s commonly used by truck drivers, farmers, 4×4 drivers, hobbyists, and some trade workers for local communications. Ham Radio, on the other hand, is for more advanced users who want to access a broader range of frequencies and conduct long-distance communications. It requires a level of technical expertise and a license to operate.


There you have it. Ham radios are definitely not the same as CB radios. While radio enthusiasts are using hams to send messages as a form of hobby, CB is being used for easy communication between general people.

Ham radios operate on higher power ranges, giving them access to longer distances, wider ranges, and more channels. CB’s short range makes it a perfect fit for those needing fast communication and live information without the hassle of a license.