GMRS vs. CB: What’s the Difference Between Them?

Updated on

Citizens band or CB is a well-known form of two-way communication, but some people might not know about General Mobile Radio Service or GMRS. They are the same, with a few tweaks that might change things like range and signal power. So what is the difference between GMRS and CB?

GMRS and CB communications can be hard to understand for the uninitiated or hobbyists. However, knowing a few things about the differences between each gives you a leg up on the game and could provide the communications platform you have been looking for. So read on and learn what the difference between GMRS and CB is.

The Differences Between GMRS and CB

While some people who know the ins and outs of Ham radio could easily rattle off the differences between the two bands, it can be challenging to pin down the critical differences for those who aren’t that familiar with comms. Nevertheless, you can begin to sort out facts from myths by learning a bit about the two types.

General Mobile Radio Service is a Licensed Radio Band

GMRS is one of the bands that you must be required to have a license for. It works like a public radio for distress beacons and other information services. No permit is needed for emergencies; most people transmitting on these frequencies will live during significant disasters and weather events.

A few facts about the GMRS that you should know are:

  • Mash-Up of Stations – One of the cool things about GMRS is that it is a system of other types of repeater stations that broadcast a signal. This means there’s a more potent and precise signal than with a handheld radio or CB. In addition, they will have a much more extensive coverage due to the different stations and transceivers.
  • Data Types – Certain stations must transmit on GMRS.GMRS can communicate with data or voice. For example, you could send full message text over a shaky voice. Another big pro is that you can text stream GPS data that allows people to find you.
  • Communication Ranges – The ranges for the two types of radio are much different. You can expect to get between one and twenty miles with a GMRS radio. The overlapping repeaters make it more powerful and able to transmit a signal over a larger area. Range could be the difference between death and safety; choose wisely when venturing out.
  • 462Mhz – 467Mhz – The GMRS will inhabit the 462 – 467 range on the dial. You will use a GMRS just like the radio in your car. You will dial a station until you hear a response or make a call until someone talks back. Between these ranges are the specified areas the FCC has mandated for GMRS programs and alerts.
  • For Individuals – Getting a license for GMRS is set up so that individuals can operate a radio, but companies have a hard time getting the licenses. This restriction makes it easier to communicate person-to-person without interference from a stronger signal.

The differences between the two types are similar, which is another reason people could be confused. You should understand that GMRS is much more powerful and will enable you to communicate in a large area but will drown out other signals. This is why large companies are often passed over for licenses in favor of individuals.

Citizens Band Radio is Very Common and Easy to Use

Chances are you have seen or used a CB radio before. They are a part of Americana that reminds us of our constantly growing roots and the blue-collar base on which the country is built. Citizens band is for the people to communicate, and you can use it anywhere the FCC regulates.

Some things about Citizens Band you need to know are:

  • Free to Use – The Citizens Band is intended for free communication between its users. The only rub is that you must have a radio. However, the radios are cheap, and older ones can still get comms out to others no matter how they look.
  • Height Restrictions – There are some height restrictions for the antenna and its placement on your property. The antenna must not be taller than 60 feet on the ground and can only be 20 feet high on the roof. However, the antenna on your truck can be as long as you want it to be.
  • No Power Increases – There can be no alterations to the power of your radio. They are intended to be small person-to-person comms systems that don’t interfere with other radios. If you increase the power of the CB, there will be sanctions if the FCC ever locates your radio.
  • Handle – One of the coolest and most endearing things about CB is handle usage. A handle is a name that you use while broadcasting. For instance, if your name is Radio User, that is how everyone will call out to you when searching on the channels. CB handles are things of legend and serious fun for beginners.
  • Emergency Calls – Another hard and fast rule with the FCC is that you cannot interrupt their calls if someone is calling out for an emergency. This means you can’t broadcast over the calls with your message if you need to speak with emergency services; they can always be contacted on channel nine.

The CB is an excellent idea for your camping vehicle or farm truck. It allows you to transmit on the move so that if you don’t have a signal on channel 14 at this location, you can drive until channel 14 lights up with activity. GMRS can hit signals at a higher frequency and more extensive range. Each has its pros and cons.

GMRS vs. CB: Head to Head

Now that you know what each is capable of, it is time to show a few things about them that make them similar. They have lots of things in common that make them great ways to communicate with your friends or make a call for help.

The Size of the Radios is Something to be Compared

Regarding the size of the radios, there’s a bit of difference between them. You can tell the difference between the radios because the GMRS will be a smaller radio that houses more intricate electronics. By looking at the boxes of the radios, you can get a good idea about what each one is capable of.

A few things about the size that allow you to tell the radios apart are:

  • GMRS is Small – The sophisticated technology that goes into a GMRS radio allows it to be smaller than a bulky CB radio. They use circuit boards in GMRS radios and more tube-like cylinders for Citizens Band. The larger electronics need a bigger space than the circuit boards.
  • More Power – Another big thing to differentiate between the two is the power that is allowed by the FCC. Four Watts is the max power for CB radios because anything more than that could begin to mess with utilities like cable and power. For GMRS, there is a 50-watt limit, and the radios often come in intervals below the rating.
  • Radio Range – Radio range is the next big similarity between the two. A CB will have a range of around four to five miles. There are ways to make your signal refract back into the atmosphere and over the horizon, but conditions in the sky and weather must be right for a shooting skip to occur. GMRS has a range of about 10 – 15 miles.
  • Accessories – Accessories between the two types is a great way to tell the difference. The prices of accessories for GMRS will be more expensive because they are backed with high-grade electronics that require smaller and more compact pieces. On the other hand, CB radio can be cheap, under $100 for a setup, and finding parts will be easy.

The size of the radios and the things that go with them are dead giveaways for the type of radio you are using. The smaller parts of the GMRS units will also be much more expensive. The CB is a larger and cheaper choice which makes beginners always find their footing on Citizens Band before moving on to Ham radio.

Frequency Ranges are Another Way to Discern Between the Radios

Each of the radios will have its frequency range. Often people won’t understand that the frequencies are not interlinking and cover two separate parts of the radio wavelength. The frequencies won’t interact, and you should be able to use both radios to communicate with different parties.

The frequency ranges for CB and GMRS are:

  • CB Radio – The frequencies that Citizens Band operates on is 29.9650MHz and 27.4050. The stations in between sectioned in .025 increments will allow you to search for other signals and broadcast back to them.
  • GMRS – The General Mobile Radio Service operates on much higher frequencies, 462.5625 MHz through 467.7250MHz. These allow for a much clearer connection that travels over a larger area.

The frequencies accessed with the two types of radios are far apart on the wavelength scale. That means that one will have much more power over the other. You should pay attention to your surroundings and recognize that higher-powered radios often work better in dense environments and CBs better in open areas with a line of sight to the receiver.

Each Radio has its Uses and Shortcomings

When using GMRS and CB, there will be things you like about each. Some things will make you notice something about them that comes up short. Comparing them gives a clear picture of what they can do and how they will benefit you.

A few good things about GMRS are:

  • Range – You can really reach out and touch people with a GMRS radio. The range is much better than CB, and the signal is also more robust. By choosing GMRS, you can also get a call out in heavily wooded areas or amid mountains.
  • Power – A GMRS gets a better range because it has more power than a CB. The extra power translates to several different things beyond range, like the clarity of signal and its ability to permeate obstacles.

CB radio works to help people communicate and warn others on the road about possible hazards. However, when using Citizens Band, you see that there are reasons to choose the weaker signaled radio for effects that some might not understand.

A few reasons to choose CB over GMRS are:

  • Emergencies – In the event of an emergency or disaster, people will use CB as a way to make calls for help. The CB will have several channels open, some filled with information that could allow you to find help or to get someone the support they need in your area.
  • Portability – Having a CB allows you to go out into the wild and find other people. In addition, you can mount one in any vehicle with a power source. This means you can load up your UTV, head into areas ravaged by storms, and send out calls for aid.

When it comes to radios, they often work just as advertised. However, there will be issues with range and power no matter which one you choose, and learning the bad parts can allow you time to formulate a backup plan.

Some bad things you can always count on when using GMRS or CB are:

  • Antenna – The antenna for either type of radio could have problems that will make it non-functional. Knowing the antenna problems beforehand, you can prepare by bringing extras or finding a way to boost the signal without them.
  • Power – A power source to run a radio, like GMRS and CB, could be a tall order in an emergency. The power sources used for both could be wired to a vehicle or so small that using them would drain the battery within hours.

Knowing the capabilities of your radios can allow you a tactical advantage when there’s a disaster. By having backups, you place yourself in a position to get out of a rough patch and possibly save your family’s lives.

Final Thoughts

When it comes down to it, the GMRS and CB bands have several things in common. First, both are two-way communication options that allow the user to broadcast and receive calls from other radios on their frequency and in their area.

Planning for the shortcoming of both styles of radio could be an excellent way to avoid the brunt of a disaster and protect your home and property. By knowing the differences between GMRS and CB, you can make a plan that will save the day.