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Why CB, and then which format is recommended?

This article by LightSpeed is in response to the discussions taking place on the forums. His intention is to define a prepper communications network, not just one for SUK, but for everyone. I will be, with his aid, defining my own communication strategy but will be participating in a prepper wide network if it is viable.

CB has several advantages over Ham equipment. It is very low cost, readiliy available, and runs from widely available 12v power sources. It is completely license free provided government published parameters are adhered to. It is simple to use in that it is channelized and that those channelized frequencies are standardized. Overall the equipment is less complex to operate than ham gear. This reduction in complexity is paid for by a loss in flexibility.

To demonstrate the complexity point, the instruction booklet for my Albrect AE485s (The most complex of the CB style rigs evaluated here) is just 10 pages long. Whereas the handbook for my little Yaesu VX-3r (which looks identical to the Boafeng UV3r and transmits on exactly the same bands) is more than 250 pages long. The Yaesu is almost impossible for me to operate using all of its functionality without constant reference to its manual. For an untrained and inexperienced operator, a modern Ham radio is a hugely difficult machine to operate, operating skill only comes after long periods of practical hands-on training, unless we all become hams we will not be able to enjoy that practice without attracting the attention of the Authorities.

For groundwave communications (that is communications to the horizon from any given point) 27 Mhz CB is approximately as good as any of the Ham frequencies, especially if efficient antennas are used. Difference in performance against Ham frequencies is mostly down to the quality and complexity of the radios and antennas used by Hams, and not the transmission frequency itself.

Well positioned CB stations with efficient antennas can expect average transmission radius of 5 to 20 miles using FM and reliably 10 to 30 miles using SSB. SSB will, in addition, enhance the ability to send and receive signals bounced of the various layers of the atmosphere, giving “single skip” range of 400 to 1000 miles, but the gap between the edge of groundwave capability (say 30 miles) and the nearest skip distance (say 400 miles) will remain un-reachable.

Efficient antennas are really not too complex: one choc block connector and two lengths of 2.25 meter lengths of wire will create a very dipole efficient antenna for both transmission and reception. A single 5.5 meter length of wire can be thrown into a tree, hidden in a plastic gutter etc, with very similar results. There are also some very discreet telescopic Ham antennas that can be use to very good effect at these frequencies.

Equipment options:

The UK CB27/81 standard 40 channel set is a UK only product. It is readily available at low cost on the second hand market. Equipment is very simple to operate and fairly robust. Transmission mode is FM which is fairly resistant to background noise interference, but the channel frequencies are not compatible with non-UK CB channel allocations. Good quality branded rigs have proven to have good long term reliability.

The UK CB27/81 standard is a good basic standard for us to us as a purely UK Comms network standard.

It is up to individuals if they wish to invest in more complex equipment. We should plan to build the primary network based on the basic CB27/81 standard so that a maximul number of SUK members can participate.

Additional channels may be more of a barrier than an asset as they will permit and encourage a layer of communications that will be completely hidden from the users of basic CB27/81 sets. However those extra channels will allow maximum opportunity for interoperability with other non SUK network stations.

SSB operations will also be hidden from basic UK27/81 set users, but will provide improvements over the basic network equipment. Capability to operate in SSB mode is desirable, both in anticipation of legalization of SSB in the UK, and also in anticipation of an unregulated environment post SHTF.

Equipment exists that supplements the standard CB 27/81 in various ways

  1. UK 27/81 Plus an additional 40 channels (=80ch) The last 40 channels are compatible with EU CB equipment. Transmission mode remains FM only.
  2. UK27/81 Plus Eu multi standard. I’m not sure but I think this provides another 40 channels (=120 Ch) and can be switched to allow compatibility with all EU Standards. Mostly FM, but some have AM capability. Note that non UK channels and AM are illegal to use in UK.
  3. Hybrid Ham 10 metre / Freeband rigs. Generally multi-standard and can be made to function on or almost on frequency with UK27/81 standard. Capable of most international channel frequencies and also of operating in the Ham allocated bands. Usually support FM, AM, SSB and sometimes CW transmission modes. Only legal to operate in UK by licensed amateurs and then only on compliance with band allocations and license parameters.

What’s available and at what cost?

Old UK CB27/81 standard FM Available second hand: cost in region of GBP 20.00 – 60.00
UK 80 channel Standard FM (inc CB 27/81) Available new or used cost GBP 40 – 80.00
European multi standard inc UK CB/81. Available new or used: cost in region of GBP 50.00 – 120.00
Eu Multi standard inc CB/81 FM,AM, SSB. CW Avail new or used: cost in region of GBP 100.00 – 250.00
Note 12Watts is the probable standard that will be allowed in UK
Old AM CBs1 Available second hand: cost in region of GBP 10.00 – GBP 30.00
Old AM /FM/SSB CB2 Available second hand: cost in region of GBP 40.00 – GBP 120.00

1 Do not have CB 27/81 channels. These are currently illegal to use in UK and will probably remain illegal even if the UK adopts the new EU recommendation for 12w SSB usage.

2 Interoperable only with other AM and SSB rigs, specifically these will not be able to communicate with the UK CB 27/81 standard.

2 comments to Why CB, and then which format is recommended?

  • Northern Raider

    One of the best and most easily understood articles I have read on this subject, and I’ve read many from numerous forums over the last ten years, I hope this info is freely taken up by other groups and forums.

    I ordered a new Intek H520 yesterday because it not only has the UK 80, but those also used by the various European states as well, AND at the snit of a wire it will also go up from 26 – 28 mhz to now do 26 – 30 mhz as well ( but no side band ?)

    I ordered a vicle aerial mount kit at the same time with a magmounted 1.5 meter aerial but after reading LS’s article I have now also ordered a much longer after market rubber duck aerial to get the most from the hand set.

    I appreciate the time and effort SD and LS have taken and look forward to more stuff on radio comms

  • MikeB

    A few small comments on a good article.

    Whether you use FM, which is what all current UK-legal CB radios use, or SSB (which may well become legal in the UK with time) has little bearing on the practical use of CB in a survival situation. We can probably ignore SSB for the moment.

    CB can be relied to work over only modest distances whether FM or SSB – 10-30 miles typically as the original article says. At times special atmospheric conditions occur which makes it possible to communicate over thousands of miles but these are unpredictable and for survival situations probably more a nuisance (local conversations suddenly inundated with foreign-language conversations between Russian taxi drivers for example) than a help.

    CB uses a radio frequency which requires moderately large antennas to get the best distance performance and with some effort 30 miles should be achievable between fixed stations. From vehicle to vehicle, using realistic sized antennas you may be down to 3-5 miles, vehicle to base station maybe 10 or more depending a bit on terrain (a mountain or big hill between you and the other person will probably wipe out any chance). There is no cast-iron way of predicting this, it’s all down to transmitter power (a bit), antenna quality (a lot, especially the location of the antenna and its height above ground), and terrain (quite a bit). A vehicle parked on a mountain top will do better than a ground station in a valley. Here I’m talking about RELIABLE communications, not the longer distances that you might get if you are lucky.

    Because of antenna issues, hand-held CB radios are not of great general use – I know, I have one, though for short range, say a mile or two, may be adequate. Because they are crap they are also rare and hard to find.

    Probably the best compromise between efficiency of antenna, transmitter power and reliable short/medium distance communications is achieved around the Amateur (Ham) 2m and Marine radio bands. You need a licence to legally use either of those. Lots of cheap (GBP 100 or so) and simple equipment exists for both, especially simple for marine band, though legally that’s reserved for things that float. With decent antennas (say on a chimney), hams would expect 100% reliable comms over 50 miles or more using only quite low power transmitters. Vehicle to vehicle or base station performance will be very similar to CB but without the likelihood of the foreign interference. Hand-held radios are entirely practical either for person-to-person or especially person-to-fixed-station and available for as little as GBP 40 new.

    There is no good simple solution for reliable comms over 50 miles or so unless you get quite technical. You would want to have got some practice in before needing to do this and to do that legally would want an Amateur radio licence. A UK ‘foundation’ licence can be got after a few weekends of study, it’s not terribly difficult and involves a simple multiple-choice exam but is nonetheless a challenge. That permits you to use short-wave frequencies as well as the 2m band mentioned above and you will need some basic skill in erecting a long-wire antenna and operating the radio equipment. During the daytime you would probably use the 40m or 80m band and drop down to the 80m/160m band during darkness; this would usually give you 95% reliable communications over a range of something like 200 miles or more. Equipment costs will be fairly high, around GBP 500 for new equipment at each station. Most gear will work off 12v car batteries though for the longer distances will be taking about 200W of power when transmitting so they are fairly thirsty. This type of equipment will also give less reliable coverage over substantially longer distances if necessary – using such a set-up I can almost always talk from central UK to a friend in the Channel Islands at any time of day. You do become subject to summer/winter variations due to atmospheric conditions and have to be prepared to switch bands as necessary and there is always the risk that you may not be able to get through if conditions are exceptionally bad.

    The relatively easy-to-obtain foundation amateur licence has a power restriction of 10 watts if it’s used legally. That will allow you to practice the necessary skills. I am assuming that in a survival situation, the breach of the law entailed in exceeding the power limits will be given appropriate thought. You can take further courses and exams to reach a full licence, allowing the use of 400W transmitters if you want to, though using extra power does not necessarily translate to much greater reliable distance. It’s remarkable what can be done within the 10W limit.

    Finally – there are also hand-held radios available very cheaply (GBP 60 for a pair say) using what’s known as the PMR 446 band. You see these in use a lot at public events by security staff. No licence is required, you can’t legally use anything other than the built-in antennas and they will give wildly varying range. Mountain-top to mountain-top you might get 20 miles, in a city centre you might struggle to get half a mile out of them. In open country a couple of miles should be reliable where they can be extremely useful coordinating hunting parties or similar activities. These are pretty useful devices all considered.

    Radio communications are not secure. Anyone with a suitable receiver could be listening to your conversations so don’t give anything away that you don’t want an adversary to hear.

    Sorry, a longer item than I intended to write, hopefully adding something of use.

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