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What is the difference between UHF and VHF two-way radios?

Learn about UHF and VHF radio frequencies and in which situations they are most common.

Woman at mine site holding radio

Choosing the right kind of communication equipment for your business is crucial to maintaining safe and efficient operations. In order to make the right decision, it is important to know your options and the pros and cons of each. In this article, we’ll walk through the differences between VHF and UHF radios so you can make an informed decision.

Understanding each radio type

These acronyms refer to the wave frequency band at which a radio transmits its communications:

VHF (Very High Frequency)

VHF vs UHF radio waves
VHF wavelengths are longer than UHF wavelengths

VHF frequencies range from 30 MHz to 300 MHz (though most professional two-way radios fall between 140 and 175 MHz). These frequencies have a much longer wavelength than UHF waves and are ideal for communication across wide, open spaces (think bodies of water, fields, hills, canyons, etc.). VHF is extremely common in the aviation, maritime, railroad, legacy Public Safety sectors, and can also be suitable for places like golf courses and other open outdoor spaces. VHF works best when radio operators are within a direct line of sight with each other, with no substantial obstructions in between. VHF does not work as well when the radios need to penetrate steel and concrete.

One caveat when it comes to VHF radios is an increased likelihood of interference from other radio waves in the vicinity caused by electronic devices. Modern electronics like laptops, monitors, fluorescent lights, cell phone chargers, and cable modems can cause signal interference in the VHF band. This interference can cause degraded range and audio quality. Additionally, there are significantly fewer available channels in the VHF spectrum.

UHF (Ultra High Frequency)

UHF frequencies range from 300-3,000 MHz (though most professional two-way radios fall between 400 and 512 MHz). They have a shorter wavelength than VHF waves, so they are able to travel through barriers more easily. This makes UHF radios a much better option for indoor use, as well as around concrete and steel structures. UHF also works well in outdoor areas with obstructions like trees or buildings, but works less well around hills compared to VHF.

UHF frequencies have less likelihood of interference from modern electronic devices than VHF and are generally more expensive than a VHF option. There are many more UHF frequencies available compared to VHF. This makes getting an FCC-licensed frequency less costly from an engineering and administrative perspective. Most new systems are made up of UHF frequencies.

Remember that whichever band you choose, you will need to obtain a license from the FCC to operate over that frequency. Air Comm can take care of this licensing as part of the radio implementation process. Learn more about the licensing process here.

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