Different radio frequency bands across the radio spectrum are used by different agencies and groups for communications.
While some radio frequency bands may be used for simple audio communications via satellite or telephone, other frequency bands are specifically organized for military research and other very specific functions.
Below you’ll find a guide of the major radio frequency bands and what each band is designated for. Knowing how these bands operate is an important part of learning how to operate a ham radio or other radio scanner.
Topics Covered - Index
- How Many Radio Frequency Bands Are There?
- How Do Radio Frequency Bands Work?
- What Is the Most Commonly Used Radio Frequency Band?
- What Are Military Radio Frequencies?
- What Are Spectrum Band Designations and Bandwidths?
- Types of Radio Frequency Bands
- How to Choose a Radio Frequency Band?
- What Are the Forbidden Radio Frequencies?
- Applications of Radio Frequency Bands
How Many Radio Frequency Bands Are There?
According to the International Telecommunication Union, there are twelve designated radio frequency bands that are used. They are,
- Extremely Low Frequency (ELF): 3 to 30 Hz
- Super Low Frequency (SLF): 30 to 300 Hz
- Ultra Low Frequency (ULF): 300 to 3000 Hz
- Very Low Frequency (VLF): 3 to 30 kHz
- Low Frequency (LF): 30 to 300 kHz
- Medium Frequency (MF): 300 to 3000 kHz
- High Frequency (HF): 3 to 30 MHz
- Very High Frequency (VHF): 30 to 300 MHz
- Ultra High Frequency (UHF): 300 to 3000 MHz
- Super High Frequency (SHF): 3 to 30 GHz
- Extremely High Frequency (EHF): 30 to 300 GHz
- Tremendously High Frequency (THF): 300 GHz to 3 THz
How Do Radio Frequency Bands Work?
Radio frequency bands work by transmitting and receiving electromagnetic waves within specific ranges of frequencies. These frequencies are divided into bands, each band has unique characteristics and uses.
Let’s have an in-depth look at how Frequency Bands Work.
Generating Radio Waves
Radio waves are generated by applying an alternating current to an antenna. The frequency of this current determines the frequency of the radio wave.
Radio Waves Transmission
The generated radio waves travel through space at the speed of light. The distance they can travel and their ability to penetrate obstacles depends on their frequency. Lower frequency waves can travel long distances and penetrate obstacles well, but they carry less data. Higher frequency waves can carry more data, but they travel shorter distances and are more easily blocked by obstacles.
When these waves reach a receiving antenna, they induce a current in it. This current is then converted back into the original signal (like a voice or data).
Different frequency bands are used for different purposes. For example, AM radio uses the MF band, FM radio and television broadcasts use the VHF and UHF bands, Wi-Fi uses the UHF and SHF bands, and satellite communication uses the SHF and EHF bands. The ITU regulates the use of these bands to prevent interference between different types of transmissions.
Radio frequency bands are defined by the number of cycles per second that are transmitted by a radio wave. When measuring radio frequencies, the unit of measurement is called a hertz. The range of radio frequency bands varies from 3 kilohertz to 3 terahertz.
What Is the Most Commonly Used Radio Frequency Band?
The most popular radio frequency band used around the world is 2.4 GHz, or 2400 gigahertz.
This radio frequency band, also commonly known as the ISM band, is used for many different kinds of devices
- Cordless phones
- Computer mice
- Garage door openers
Because 2.4 Ghz is the most commonly used radio frequency band, it tends to be very crowded with activity.
This overcrowding of the 2.4 GHz band can create tons of interference from conflicting devices unless robust radio-frequency mechanisms are put into place to decrease this interference.
What Are Military Radio Frequencies?
Military radio frequencies primarily operate in the UHF or VHF radio frequency bands.
The network of shortwave radio frequencies used by the military are referred to as the High Frequency Global Communications System (HFGCS).
The most common frequencies used by military communications are as follows:
- 5 MHz
- 6 MHz
- 8 MHz
- 11/12 MHz
The HFGCS military radio network is operated out of thirteen radio stations located around the world.
What Is the Most Common Military Radio Frequency?
The most common military radio frequency used is known as SINCGARS, or the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System. This network is used both by the United States and its allies for military telecommunications.
What Are Spectrum Band Designations and Bandwidths?
To understand radio frequency bands, it helps to understand the concepts involving radio communications.
What is Bandwidth?
Bandwidth is the amount or portion of the spectrum that is applicable in radio telecommunications.
For example, if a radio frequency band falls between 120 Megahertz and 200 Megahertz, the bandwidth of the radio frequency band is 80 Megahertz.
What Is a Radio Frequency Band?
A radio frequency band is designated by the wavelengths contained by it. A wavelength is the distance that a radio frequency repeats itself. Each of these repetitions is known as a cycle.
Types of Radio Frequency Bands
There are many different types of radio frequency bands that are used for amateur, commercial, government, and military uses.
Below you’ll find a rundown of the major radio frequency bands and their primary applications.
Some of these radio frequencies are closed channels that are heavily encrypted to prevent intercepted transmissions, while others are easily accessible by even amateur radio operators.
UHF (Ultra High Frequency)
Ultra High Frequency (UHF) is a radio frequency band that is also known as the decimetre band since it ranges from one meter to one-tenth of a meter. This radio frequency band is commonly used for the following applications:
- Television broadcasting
- Cell phone transmissions
- Satellite transmissions
- GPS signals
- Personal radios
- Bluetooth devices
- Cordless phones
- Satellite phones
The UHF radio band operates on line of sight and ranges from 300 Megahertz to 3 gigahertz.
Since this radio frequency is line of sight, this means that it is easily blocked by obstacles such as large buildings or hilly terrain. However, this radio band is useful for tracking stealth fighter planes due to its high frequency.
Because most telecommunications providers operate within the UHF radio band, it is easy for mobile devices like cell phones to connect to the Internet and public switched telephone networks.
A major advantage of UHF radio frequencies is that they are easily propagated on portable devices. This makes UHF frequencies the go-to frequencies for use with two-way radios and land-mobile radio systems.
EHF (Extremely High Frequency)
Extremely High Frequency (EHF) is a radio frequency band that is often used for research purposes dealing with remote sensing and high altitude radio astronomy.
An important trait of the EHF frequency band is that it has high atmospheric attenuation, or rain fade. This means that the band is easily dispersed by atmospheric interference.
Unlike some radio frequencies, EHF frequencies are not affected by obstacles like building walls, allowing them to be received indoors.
The EHF radio frequency band is commonly used in the following applications:
- Military fire-control radar
- Airport security scanners
- Short range wireless networks
- Scientific research
The EHF radio frequency band operates on line of sight and can be found in the range of 30 to 300 gigahertz.
ULF (Ultra Low Frequency)
Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) is a radio frequency band that is also known as the Alfven velocity. This band is almost exclusively used for communication in mines because of the ability of these low frequencies to penetrate the earth.
The ULF range is 300 hertz to 3 kilohertz. ULF frequencies are notable because they often precede earthquakes, and unusual ULF readings were discovered over Haiti a month before the country was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010.
Because of the correlation between ULF waves and earthquakes, there is increased interest in researching ULF frequencies as potential monitoring tools for earthquake early-warning systems.
C Band (IEEE)
The C band is a radio frequency band that is designated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).
This radio frequency band is most notable for being the first frequency band to be slated for commercial satellite telecommunications.
Along with their use in telecommunications, C band radio frequencies have also been used in particle accelerator and nuclear fusion research.
The C band ranges from 4.0 to 8.0 gigahertz, and is also used in conjunction with the following electronics systems:
- Cordless telephones
- Radar and weather systems
The C band is a radio frequency designation that overlaps with the IEEE band that is designated for radars.
K Band (IEEE)
The K band is another radio frequency that is designated by the IEEE, and this microwave band is known for having high atmospheric attenuation.
This radio frequency is used for the following applications:
- Satellite communications
- Direct broadcast satellite
- Police traffic-speed detectors
The K band includes three sub-bands: the Ku band, the K band (short range applications), and the Ka band.
The W band ranges from 75-110 gigahertz and has an overlap with the NATO-designated M band.
W band radio frequencies are utilized in many types of technology:
- Satellite communications
- Military radar targeting (tracking applications)
- Millimeter-wave radar research
- Some non-military research applications
- High-speed cameras used for concealed weapons detection
Currently, W wave frequencies are being studied by the military for their use in weapons-grade heat ray technology that can be used as a human deterrent and an active denial system.
The Y band is the radio frequency band that ranges from 325-500 gigahertz.
This radio frequency band is most often used for research into high gain antenna technology. (Source: Semantic Scholar)
VHF (Very High Frequency)
The Very High Frequency (VHF) is a band that ranges between 30 Megahertz and 299 Megahertz. This radio frequency band is also commonly referred to as the Victor band.
VHF radio communications are popular with government and military entities that operate in areas where other types of radio communications may be unstable or inconsistent.
This radio frequency band is also used for the following applications:
- Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB)
- Television broadcasting
- Two-way land mobile radio
- FM radio broadcasting
- Long-range data communications
- Marine communications
Like UHF frequencies, VHF frequencies do not often attain their maximum potential distance due to line of sight propagation. This means that they cannot adjust for the curvature of the Earth or other obstacles.
VLF (Very Low Frequency)
The Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio frequency band between 3-30 kilohertz is a stable and reliable frequency band useful for long-distance communication. This band is also known as the myriameter band.
VLF frequencies are used in the following applications:
- Radio navigation services
- Government time radio stations
- Secure military communication
Some interesting qualities of this radio frequency band are that it has very low path attenuation and limited bandwidth, which makes it impractical for audio transmission.
However, the long wavelengths of VLF frequencies can penetrate forty meters into saltwater, making them useful for military communication with submarines.
SLF (Super Low Frequency)
The Super Low Frequency (SLF) frequency band is not a common or popular radio frequency band due to engineering difficulties building transmitters that can transmit such long radio waves.
Like the VLF band, SLF frequencies can penetrate deep saltwater, making them useful for submarine communications.
The SLF band ranges from 30 hertz-300 hertz and can be received with simple amateur receivers. SLF frequencies are also used for AC power grids.
Shortwave radio includes all of the high frequency radio bands and were a very important part of early radio history. These frequencies are transmitted via skywave or skip propagation.
In WWII, shortwave radio was used as a propaganda tool, and is still popular today in war zones where other radio communications are impractical.
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The Ka band is part of the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and is primarily used in communications satellite uplinks.
This frequency band ranges from 26-40 gigahertz and is more susceptible to rain attenuation than the Ku band.
The Q band is recognized only by the International Organization for Standardization (IOS) and does not have consistently precise usage in radio communications.
This band ranges from 33-50 gigahertz.
The Q band is typically used for satellite communications, terrestrial microwave communications, and radio astronomy studies.
How to Choose a Radio Frequency Band?
The radio frequency band you select as a radio operator depends on several different factors. Here are some of the factors that you need to look at when choosing a radio frequency band:
- Type of radio system being operated: Since some radio frequency bands are designated specifically for government or military uses, amateur radio operators will need to avoid those frequencies for operation.
- Geographic terrain and range that is being covered: The type of geography and terrain being transmitted across with a radio signal plays a big part in determining which frequency band to use. For example, some frequency bands are better at transmitting around obstacles such as hilly terrain than others.
- Exclusive or non-exclusive frequency: Use of an exclusive frequency typically requires a specific radio license.
Depending on the type of radio frequency used, multiple receiver stations may be necessary to propagate the signal far enough to be properly received.
Keep in mind that different frequency bands have different advantages and disadvantages according to their use.
Some frequencies may have greater penetrating power than others, but at the cost of a decreased operating range.
What Are the Forbidden Radio Frequencies?
Some radio frequencies are illegal for amateur radio operators to use. It’s important to note that while transmitting on these frequencies is illegal, it is not illegal to listen to any radio transmission you have the ability to receive.
A few of these frequencies are illegal because they are in use by official organizations such as the FAA, while others are allocated by the government for specific purposes, such as law enforcement and emergency services.
Applications of Radio Frequency Bands
The wide range of different radio frequency bands makes them useful for many different applications from military research to telecommunications.
|Radio Frequency Band
|Extremely Low Frequency (ELF)
|Communication with submarines
|Super Low Frequency (SLF)
|Communication with submarines
|Ultra Low Frequency (ULF)
|Communication within mines
|Very Low Frequency (VLF)
|Navigation, time signals
|Low Frequency (LF)
|Navigation, time signals, AM radio
|Medium Frequency (MF)
|High Frequency (HF)
|Shortwave radio, amateur radio
|Very High Frequency (VHF)
|FM radio, television, aviation communications
|Ultra High Frequency (UHF)
|Television, mobile phones, Wi-Fi
|Super High Frequency (SHF)
|Satellite communication, Wi-Fi, radar
|Extremely High Frequency (EHF)
|Satellite communication, radar, millimeter wave scanners
|Tremendously High Frequency (THF)
|Experimental, potential future wireless data transmission
Knowing which radio frequency bands are used for which purposes can make it easier for amateur radio operators to find an appropriate frequency for operating their radio systems.