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Car-to-Car Communication - CB radios, walkie talkies and more

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  • Car-to-Car Communication - CB radios, walkie talkies and more

    The need for car-to-car communication devices is felt the most when you are driving with a group of friends and want to chat between cars. This also helps a lot during larger convoy drives, like the one we recently had during the HVK Monsoon Drive to Himachal. Years ago, when a group of my friends and I went to Ladakh for the first time in four Scorpios, we all bought walkie-talkies that had about 6 km range advertised. These worked fairly well for our drive as mobile networks are non-existent in that region. We were able to keep in touch from car to car, planning our stops and even warning cars following about oncoming traffic or obstacles on the road.

    Car-to-car communication devices such as CB radios are pretty common in the US. (CB Radio - Citizen's band radio works in the 26.957 MHz to 27.283 MHz spectrum frequency). They work well for communication between truckers and cars on the highways there. In India, CB radios have been allowed since 2010, and are slowly be accepted. Walkie-talkies, require a licence. Even those Chinese ones that can be bought online, are not fully legal, although they do fall in the category of toys and baby-monitors.

    So what's the best form of car-to-car communication? Having used the entire lot of them, let me try and put down my experience - and the pros and cons of these devices.

    CB Radios
    I recently installed and tried out a CB radio set from President CB Radios. The set in question is the Tommy model. It is an in-car system which operates on the AM band alone. It was hooked up to a magnetic external antenna, a Super Florida, which gives it a fairly decent range of 5-7 km on a good day. In the hills, it is about a couple of km at best depending on the terrain. This costs about Rs. 4,500 for the unit and another Rs. 4k odd for the antenna. You do get a better hand-held unit that is also car compatible called the Randy II. This device costs about Rs. 9,500 and operates almost like a walkie-talkie. RodeoSport supplies these in the NCR area. Karan vaid has one of these in his Scorpio too.
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    The microphone of the President Tommy CB radio
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    The Super Florida Antenna for the President Tommy CB radio mounted on the Scorpio's roof. It is 3 feet long. There are others that are over 5 feet.
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    The handheld Randy II CB Radio
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    Pros of the CB Radio:
    * CB Radios are free to use and do not require a licence.
    * CB Radio does not require any subscription or plan. It's a one-time purchase
    * 40 channels means there is enough spectrum free for specific groups to lock on to a single channel and all can communicate
    * In-Car fitment means little distraction to the driver, as operation is single-handed.
    * Can be used anywhere, not dependent on any networks

    Cons of the CB Radio:
    * Range is limited
    * External antenna has to be really huge for better coverage - it hits low hanging branches and cannot be used in basement parking garages
    * Not all CB radios are portable
    * Need to decide beforehand what channel everyone is going to use.

    UHF/VHF walkie talkies
    For the HVK drive, we were also carrying licenced walkie talkies that are really convenient for car-to-car instant communication, especially between convoys led by HVKumar. These are available from Rs. 4000 a pair onwards. However, these require a licence to operate. And licences are granted for specific purposes - like for an event, or for security communications in a factory or something. For a group travelling, licensing requirements are different.
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    The professional long-range UHF/VHF two-way radios. These are available on rent.
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    Pros of walkie talkies
    * Easy to carry, portable
    * Compact size
    * Decent range of within 10 km, some models can extend up to 20 km

    Cons of walkie talkies
    * Requires a licence for use in India
    * Range can fluctuate because of the terrain
    * Need to decide beforehand a certain channel for all to use.

    In-Car Bluetooth Mobile Telephony
    When there are no walkie-talkies or CB radios around, the good old mobile phone is the best means of communication, but only if paired with a handsfree Bluetooth communication system within the car. In areas where there is good mobile network, this works fine as you can drive normally, and yet keep communication open. However, it's not really easy to communicate instantly using this method.
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    Pros of mobile telephony
    * Easy to carry in and out of the car
    * No limitation to distance, can dial any number where network is available
    * Compatible with almost all handsfree Bluetooth car systems
    * One device for all purposes

    Cons of mobile telephony
    * Will not work where there is no cellular network or compatible roaming network available
    * Takes time to find and dial a contact, so instant communication is not possible
    * Requires a subscription plan and has high billing rates
    * Not legal to talk and drive even with a handsfree system

    So what other options do we have for car-to-car communication? And is it really needed? I think CB Radios are still the best way to go. One can simply advertise their channel number on the back of the car, so that other cars equipped with CB Radios can communicate with that particular car.
    Drink coffee and drive!

  • #2
    Great post Roshun. Clears quite a lot of the doubts that I had on these cb radio's.
    ​Would it be possible to shed some light on what would be the daily, weekly rental for these handheld cb radio's like if someone just wants to borrow them for a week or 10 days basis.


    • #3
      Originally posted by harjeev
      "Originally posted by harjeev"

      Great post Roshun. Clears quite a lot of the doubts that I had on these cb radio's.
      ​Would it be possible to shed some light on what would be the daily, weekly rental for these handheld cb radio's like if someone just wants to borrow them for a week or 10 days basis.
      For this HVK drive Karan vaid had rented 8 VHF sets for Rs. 250 a day. Similarly for CB Radios also RodeoSport (Akshay Luke Titus) charges about 300 per day. You can negotiate if you want them for a longer duration. For places like Ladakh, if you are taking VHF radios, you will need a copy of the licence - and it may still not be legal enough. No issues with CB Radios that way. So they would be a better bet.

      Drink coffee and drive!


      • #4
        Very much resourceful.
        Can you please throw some light about the the followings :
        • Mount of the setup (while i dont want any permanent setup in car) - from the picture what i can understand its being mounted on headrest. Let me know the procedure in details
        • Power source - is it working from 12V car charger ?