UHF and VHF radios are both forms of two-way radio communication. Their abbreviations refer to the types of frequencies these radios transmit. Both types of radios have advantages and are widely used in a variety of fields. Understanding the difference between the frequencies of these radios will help a consumer decide which radio is best for them.
Differences between VHF vs. UHF Frequencies
The primary difference between UHF and VHF radios is their frequency. UHF radios have a wider range of frequencies and work well indoors, VHF radios have smaller frequency so it allows them to reach long distances but also means they can be interrupted by other radios. Here are the major differences between the UHF vs VHF.
|Frequency Range||30 MHz to 300 MHz||300 MHz to 3 GHz|
|Wavelength||10 meters to 1 meter||1 meter to 10 centimeters|
|Propagation||Ground wave||Line of sight|
|Penetration||Less able to penetrate through buildings and dense foliage||Better at penetrating through walls, buildings, and foliage|
|Range||Typically longer range in open areas||Shorter range, but more consistent in urban settings|
|Antenna Size||Generally larger||Smaller|
|Channels Available||Fewer channels||More channels available|
|Usage||FM radio, TV (channels 2-13), marine and aviation communications||TV (channels 14 and up), cell phones, Wi-Fi, walkie-talkies|
|Susceptibility to Interference||Less susceptible to electrical interference||More susceptible to interference from electronic devices|
While not as sophisticated as more modern wireless technology, two-way radios are very useful in the right contexts.
It is important to learn about the two-way communication device you are planning to use and how to understand its frequency bands to ensure that you are able to use your device safely and appropriately.
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Important Terminology to Know
Before learning about VHF Radios and UHF radios, it is a good idea to explore the various terms that are used for operation. Two-way radio operators use many terms that can be difficult to understand without some background. These terms include:
- Two-way radio: A radio that can transmit and receive radio waves, therefore allowing two-way communication.
- MHz: This stands for Megahertz, the unit by which two-way radio frequencies are measured.
- Frequency bands: Radio frequencies are organized into ranges called frequency bands. There are low frequency bands and high frequency bands.
What are VHF Radio Frequencies?
VHF is an abbreviation for “Very High Frequency”. VHF radio frequencies range from 30 MHz and 300 MHz. These radios are best used in an open space, to limit the possibility of interruption from obstacles like walls or buildings. Their small frequency, however, allows VHF radios to communicate across long distances. Some examples of situations best suited for a VHF radio are:
- Large outdoor events
- FM radio
How to Use a VHF Radio for Boating?
VHF radios are most frequently used by boaters. Having a VHF radio aboard your boat is important to be able to communicate with other boaters and is required by the U.S. Coast Guard. VHF radios provide a way for boaters to reach out in the case of an emergency. The steps to use a VHF radio are relatively simple and include:
- Turn the device on: When you turn the knob, you’ll know the VHF unit is ready to use when the static stops.
- Channel 16: All boaters should use channel 16 because it is monitored by the Coast Guard which will ensure that you are able to reach them in case of an emergency.
- Radio Check: Use an open channel (not channel 16) to perform a radio check. This means communicating the name of your boat and your location after stating “radio check” three times.
- Switch back: Switch the radio back to channel 16 after confirmation that your radio is working and use the radio to communicate location, change of direction, mechanical issues, and emergencies.
What are UHF Radio Frequencies?
UHF is an abbreviation for “Ultra High Frequency”. These radios use a higher frequency than VHF radios which allows UHF to communicate through obstacles. UHF radio frequencies range from 300 MHz and 3 GHz. They are also the best two-way device for indoor communication. UHF radios use a shorter antenna making them compact and portable. Some examples of situations best suited for UHF radios are:
- Public safety
- Health care
UHF or VHF, Which Radio is better?
There are benefits to both UHF and VHF radios. Understanding the differences between the two radios will help you decide which is the better choice for you. There is not one radio that is considered higher quality than the other. Some things to consider when choosing a high frequency radio are:
- Battery life: UHF radios deplete batteries quickly because of their high frequency.
- Cost: UHF radios have a considerably higher cost than VHF radios.
- Size: Using a VHF radio in a crowded space would be difficult because they require a long antenna. UHF radios, however, have shorter antennas.
- Location: VHF radios should be used exclusively outdoors and UHF radios can penetrate obstacles.
- Regulation: VHF radios are required by the U.S. Coast Guard on all boats.
Common Issues and Solutions
New operators of two-way communication devices will face a number of difficulties with the operation and clarity of their radio. It can be difficult to navigate new equipment, and it is important for a new user to plan for troubleshooting before operating a new device. Some common issues that users might experience include:
- Range: The range of high-frequency radios varies by device. Their range can be improved by changing the length of the antenna. Longer antennas allow for a long-range.
- Overlapping: VHF radios, specifically, will commonly overlap with nearby radio communications. Isolate the source and either create distance between the source or switch between the two available channels.
- Obstructions: Be aware of your surroundings. Materials such as concrete and metal are sometimes more difficult for radio waves to penetrate.
High Bands vs. Low Bands
Radio frequencies are grouped into high bands and low bands. These bands are used differently for each kind of radio and are used for different applications. Services are grouped into bands to eliminate the occurrence of overlap and interference. The bands include:
- VHF low band: 49-108 MHz
- VHF high band: 169-216 MHz
- UHF low band: 450-806 MHz
- UHF high band: 900-952 MHz
Where to Buy UHF and VHF Radios?
Two-way radios range in size and price, with UHF radios often being more expensive. You can purchase two-way radios in sporting goods stores and online. When you decide to purchase a two-way radio, you will want to know the range you require and the type of radio typically used for your specific project.
- Compact VHF Radio: The Standard Horizon VHF radio is waterproof and includes a strobe light, making it a great choice for boating.
- Military Grade UHF Radio: Though it has a higher price tag, the Motorola rugged two-way radio is hands free and meets military specifications for range.
- Group Communication: Those looking for a set of two-way radios that are light, compact, and able to be used in fields such as construction or restaurant work should consider the Motorola Professional 6-pack.
- Dual Band Radio: If you need a versatile radio, it is possible to find dual band radios that work for both UHF and VHF frequencies like the Baofeng dual band radio.
- Amateur Two-way Radio: The AnyTone Transceiver is also a two-way radio, but it is designed for use in vehicles and is great for those new to the field of two-way communication.
Understanding Radio Band Regulation
Using radio frequency bands in the United States is monitored and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC designates certain radio frequency bands for certain uses and regulates the equipment that can be used. Some aspects that are regulated include:
- Available channels
- Transmitter power
- Maximum deviation
- Spurious emissions
Manufacturers of radio frequency devices are required to obtain a license from the FCC to develop products. The FCC also regulates who has priority. Priority is given to commercial communication services and licensed broadcasting agencies. Anyone hoping to operate a two-way radio should study the local and federal regulations for their specific device.