Best cheap mobile radio? A question about BaoFeng and PMR 446mhz

Hi there,
I am completely new to this forum but not completely new to radios. (Still have a bit to learn).

Here’s my question as you may have guessed from the title. I would like some advice on which mobile radio to choose. I am replacing my old radio for a number of reasons with a very specific usage scenario in mind. Here are the requirements.

Should be cheap. (€/$20-40 max)

HAS to recieve PMR 446mhz transmissions, or else its no use to me. Rx and Tx would be nice.

It MUST be able to at least hear two separate frequencies at the same time. BaoFengs AB button is ideal. One for everyone and one only for the vehicles which will stray further apart. More on this when i explain my scenario.

It definitely needs long range, that is where my old cheap radio struggles at. The Pmr446 will be no further than 5km away from me. Usually I will have the high ground but trees will obstruct it. No buildings, no metal structures.

It needs to Rx AND Tx (on a separate channel) at least 15 km. Transmission should be legible.

Should be multiband. The other band ideal is Vhf

Will be used in a remote rural area and therefore ctcss isnt required and there is no risk of interfering with anyone.

I am not sure if all the above are an unreasonable expectation from a cheap radio. I researched them and Bao fengs seem to be the solution to my problem. I dont care about a huge antenna if I can buy a decent whip antenna to increase range. I seen the following options: baofeng Uv5r. Can be unlocked to pmr 446, there is an 8w version, an M5r, a UV5M, and I was considering getting the UV5RH or pro /max versions but I believe they are blocked and wont Rx/tx pmr 446.

Now in case you were curios, my scenario involves a group of horses and riders who communicate with each other using PMR446. I mean its decent for the job, cheap and they dont stray too far from eachother. Now for the problem. There is TWO separate convoys of vehicles following the horses and riders. The horses and riders take shortcuts and can and will go offroad, jump ditches etc. The vehicles are limited to country roads, 4x4 paths and lanes. The convoy is not allowed pass through some of the fields the horses go in so they are forced to take the longer route, losing line of sight.

Now you may be asking, why dont I use a dedicated pmr 446mhz radio and perhaps a separate vhf radio for the convoy? Range is the problem. My vehicle will lose the other convoy and the horses and riders. I have a cheap pmr 446mhz radio which after only a few hundred meters will still recive but illegible. It is needed as there is usually very poor mobile coverage in the area and radio is the only means of communication between the convoys and the riders. There is two convoys because one is for the organizers who need to set up the route, check for hazards etc, and I am in the convoy for the camera operator who needs to receive the information from the others in order to try get in front to find the place where there is jumps set up to photograph the horses while jumping.

This is my radio. Pmr 446mhz. I bought it at a car boot sale once for small money. It isnt great. The audio Rx and Tx is horrible and the range is useless. You can barely understand someone talking.

I know I went off on a bit of a tangent there. Sorry if I bore anyone. Your help will be appreciated.

So much either mangled or mis-explained here - plus some very unrealistic expectations.

Let’s do power and distance. You are on a calm sea, or totally flat desert - the horizon is not that far away. remember radio is line of sight. The horizon is just under 5Km - so if somebody the other side is also 5km away, your signal, just grazing the horizon puts maximum range at under 10Km. Topography helps or hinders. If you are on a hill and so are they with a valley between - range expands greatly. If the horizon is a raise in the ground, range shrinks greatly. Obstacles like houses and trees reduce it further. High antennas increase it. Power takes you up to the line. Lack of power means that you might not reach the horizon in the first place. Real PMR446 radios of the blister pack variety MUST be low power. Other radios tuned to PMR446 frequencies can have more power bit are illegal. Nobody seems too bothered, but that doesn’t make it right. Power can get you through absorbing obstacles - like trees. You might lose 50% of the signal, but 50% of high power is better than 50% of low power.

Very few radios can hear two channels at the same time - and not the cheaper ones. They can switch between channels - either with knobs, A/B buttons or flip-flopping between them as in a scan - but listening to two? Not common on normal radios.

The simple antenna, held above your head may well work better than the so called gainier antennas - they need keeping upright, can be awkward to use and sometimes can snap off antenna connectors. The problem with them is that they can give your available power a boost, allowing the obstacles to not be so much of a problem - but the horizon is still in the same place. The other thing is that when NOT in use, clipped to a belt, in a pocket, or laying on a surface - theyre pretty rubbish so you won’t hear people calling you, but if you pick them up - they work. This is why the shorter antennas are often more sensible. If you are in mobile phone good signal areas - then a radio that uses a sim card can be MUCH more reliable, because they work anywhere there is phone signal. With things like zello, they work like a walkie talkie - you set up a group and everyone hears everything - or you have sub groups. No use where phones don’t work though. You say your locations are poor for cellular, so that’s out I guess. If you pre-plan, you could park a vehicle on something very high - hills etc - and with a 6m mast could slap a repeater up? Not PMR446 of course, but low power UHF just doesn;t work that well. High power, repeater and OFCOM licence is doable - but the cost considerable. I don;t know any low cost solution - and if your budget struggles with a Baofeng, your options are limited.

Do you remember years back when Anneka Rice was doing treasure hunt? They had to use a helicopter with a repeater in it because line-of-sight rarely has any real range.

CTCSS allows you not to hear things, not the other way around. No CTCSS isn’t an issue.

I have a customer at the moment who has three locations on a river and runs events. the one in the middle can talk and hear everyone, but the two furthest from each other cannot talk direct. I’ve looked at the map and I’m not convinced, so I am loaning them some 10W handhelds to test, but I suspect they won’t be useable - The Norfolk Broads is flat - a few trees and reed beds and that’s it, yet 8km end to end is something they’re struggling with. I’m putting a repeater in the centre for them to try.

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Thanks, I seen some long range advertized PMR 446, but what you are saying about the trees and horizon line makes sense. Probably fake advertising on chinese websites. Using the AB button is not critical. Just a nice feature to have multiple frequencies. Anyway please can you recceomend a good handheld,and how much should I expect to pay? We have no repeaters that I am aware of. I checked a map in my area. Cellular coverage is usually very poor so radios with sim cards are out of the question, unless there is one which can switch from cellular to radio.

There really is no solution here. Not the radios at ANY price - just what you expect is unreasonable. two vehicles with a handheld in flattish countryside? Maybe 2 miles or so reliably. With an antenna on the roof maybe double that? I didn’t expect you to have a repeater - but the point was that larger area coverage reliably needs something to assist you. The folk I’m going to on the broads need the range for their safety boats, and I can easily provide them with cheap radios that will work, but they will have to spend a lot of money on repeater, antenna, cabling, filters and find a way to power it. A cheap Baofeng would work fine - but no such thing as a cheap repeater. Licences in the UK are not too badly priced, but trying to create a comms plan for random large areas is just very tough.

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What specific model of baofeng, radtel, quansheng or similar can hear the pmr 446mhz transmissions? I should hear various brands of motorola, ken wood and lots of unbranded chinese radios. Can I programme it with a PC?

Pretty much all the Baofengs and others available in the UK are not locked, as the USA FCC require - so you can program them from the keyboards on the usual culprits, or via software as is your choice, If you buy Motorola NON - PMR446 units they will need programming and the software is available, but not easy to get - as long as you have the UHF versions - obviously VHF is no good. Kenwood’s need software too, but it’s easier to get than Motorola. Rachel and Quansheng - the usual aliexpress radios work fine, on higher power than legal ones - that said, it makes little difference to the effective range. Even the Baofeng UV5s don’t do a bad job on PMR446.

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I think, for short money, you could experiment with a couple of Baofeng PMR radios which - I believe - can still listen to 2m and 70cm frequencies. The radios you’ve tried are probably using miliwatts and the 4-5W might make all the difference. If it’s close, you could then upgrade the antennas, again, at minimal expense.

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For what you’re planning to do, most if not all VHF/UHF are out of the question unless you go extra ‘miles’ with additional equipment (portable repeater, etc). However the 27 MHZ CB radio may fit the bill for what you want to do since transmission is over the horizon and not line of sight. Today’s CB radios are smaller (they also have walkie-talkie 4 watts…)and offer FM modulation less prone to interference.

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