Understanding the difference between VHF or very-high frequency and UHF or ultra-high frequency can help you choose the right two-way radio for your needs. Not only does the difference between UHF and VHF determine the type of radio you use, it also influences where the radio can be used.
Because of these determining factors, certain professions are going to have a preference of one or the other. Allocating frequencies to UHF and VHF is regulated by the FCC or Federal Communication Commission.
Every wireless communications technology like two-way radios and cell phones use frequencies controlled by the FCC. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself on UHF and VHF. Keep reading to learn all about UHF and VHF.
We will be covering:
- What do UHF and VHF mean?
- What is the difference between UHF and VHF? Similarities?
- UHF vs VHF Frequency Band Chart
- Which is better? UHF or VHF
- Who uses UHF and VHF?
- How can I improve my signal strength on my VHF or UHF two-way radio?
- Is my two-way radio compatible with existing radio systems?
What Do UHF and VHF Mean?
UHF stands for “Ultra High Frequency” while VHF stands for “Very High Frequency.”
UHF can range from low band (378-512 MHz) to high band (764-870 MHz). UHF has shorter frequency waves and can penetrate close distance obstacles. Therefore, it is great for indoor applications.
VHF on the other hand ranges from low band (49-108 MHz) to high band (169-216 MHz). MHz stands for Megahertz and measures the speed of electronic devices. VHF frequency waves do not bend much with the earth's curvature making the frequencies easily interrupted by buildings and mountains.
What is the Difference Between UHF and VHF?
The main difference between UHF and VHF is range. UHF radio waves are smaller than VHF. This means that UHF frequencies have smaller waves that produce a wider reception. While VHF has longer wave lengths. UHF are more likely to pass barriers like trees and building walls easier.
VHF range is reduced due to signal degradation with barriers such as trees or hills. Together they both reach a good distance. Moreover, UHF has a bigger bandwidth than VHF because of the smaller waves.
Another difference between UHF and VHF is their battery life. UHF uses a lot of its battery due to the higher frequency. The last difference between the two radios is that UHF does come at a higher cost than VHF.
UHF vs VHF Frequency Range Band Chart
0.003 MHz- 0.03 MHz
Very Low Frequency (VLF)
.03 MHz – 0.3 MHz
Low Frequency (LF)
0.3 MHz – 3 MHz
Medium Frequency (MF)
3 MHz – 30 MHz
High Frequency (HF)
30 MHz – 300 MHz
Very High Frequency (VHF)
300 MHz – 3,000 MHz
Ultra-High Frequency (UHF)
3,000 MHz – 30,000 MHz
Super High Frequency (SHF)
30,000 MHz – 300,000 MHz
Extra High Frequency (EHF)
Which is Better VHF or UHF?
Choosing between a VHF frequency or UHF frequency depends on what you are going to use them for. VHF is mostly for outdoor use where you are free from obstructions. The frequencies of VHF travel further if they are not disrupted by barriers.
The only time you will want to use VHF is if you are outside in a wide-open space like a field. VHF has smaller frequencies which means interference with other radios is common.
UHF, on the other hand, is an all-around better signal for long distance communication. UHF is better when using radios for indoor use like buildings or around cities. A plus to using UHF is you are less likely to be interfered by other two-way radios.
The reason why UHF is better for inside use opposed to VHF is, UHF signal does a better job at reaching through wood, steel and concrete, therefore, can reach further into the building. Overall, one is not necessarily better than the other; it is solely dependent on your communication tool's application that determines if UHF or VHF is better.
Who Uses UHF and VHF?
UHF is typically used by public safety officials like fire, police, and EMS with tv channels of 77-80. UHF is used for common purposes like phones, televisions, and ham radio operators. Casinos, security officials, warehouses, construction, manufacturing, and health care also use UHF radios to communicate to others across the building and through departments. Agencies like TSA and CAL FIRE (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) use VHF for their two-way radio communications.
A public safety official uses MHz frequencies between 849 and 869 and a 13 cm ham radio band has an MHz of 2300 to 1310.
VHF is commonly used for communication on boats and marine personnel (Woodward). It’s a very important accessory to have on board because you can contact nearby boaters if certain emergencies arise. Channel 16 is used when needing to make an emergency call and certain protocol should be followed.
If you are planning to use your radio in a closed in area where there are a lot of walls, buildings, trees, etc. then a radio that is UHF compatible is right for you. On the other hand, if you are planning to use your radio out in the open on a boat or maybe in a large field, then VHF will work great.
Another reference for what industry will work best with UHF or VHF is below:
How Can I Improve my Signal Strength on my VHF or UHF Two-Way Radio?
One way to improve the range on a two-way radio is by improving the antenna. The length of your antenna determines the length of the radio waves. The wavelengths of UHF (ultra-high frequency) are short so antennas for UHF two-way radios are typically small and stubby in size (Personal Radio Services). VHF requires a slightly larger antenna to improve its range and how far it will travel. VHF antennas can receive channels 2 through 13 while UHF antennas can receive channels 14 through 83 (Very High Frequency).
Since VHF often gets interfered with other frequencies, the best ways to ensure you don’t get interrupted is to locate where the interference is coming from. On a boat, there are a lot of places the noise can come from. Listen to the receiver and note any changes in noise level.
Another way to help with interruptions is bonding. This ensures that the notice goes away to the ground instead of radiated. All motors and such should be constructed in the ground.
An issue that can occur with signals is frequency overlapping. This means that if two radios are using the same frequency then the radio waves interrupt each other, and the transmissions overlap. This will most likely happen when they are in the range of each other or are in the same coverage area.
You won’t have any issues with a single transmitter but if you want to cover a large area with multiple transmitters that’s when it becomes difficult because you don’t want them to interrupt each other.
Is my Two-Way Radio Compatible with Existing Radio Systems?
- Stay within the same frequency band
- Make sure the current systems are correct (Digital vs Analog)
In order to ensure your radio is compatible with existing radio systems make sure you are staying within the same frequency band. If you are using a UHF radio now, your new radio needs to have a UHF operating mode if you want them to communicate.
Another way to ensure your radios are compatible is make sure the current systems are correct. The newer models should be digital, but other models may still be using analog.
Lastly, you need to keep in mind that if your radios meet the certain requirements mentioned above, they still may not be compatible. If you are unsure at any time that your two radios are compatible give our partners at First Source Wireless a call and they would be happy to assist in selecting the correct two-way radio.
About First Source Wireless:
First Source Wireless is a certified dealer of 3M Peltor and Pulse Larsen antennas. First Source provides antennas and NMO mounts for vehicles and two-way radios. Shop today for your two-way radio antennas now.