VHF and UHF Explained

VHF-UHF-Frequencies-Explained

This may qualify under the heading of “more than you need to know”, but if you’re curious to understand the nuances of radio communications, you may find this helpful.

When it comes to choosing the right radio, one of the most difficult decisions to make is which bandwidth to utilize. The two major wavelengths used in vehicle to vehicle, or vehicle to base communications are VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency). The differences between these bands may not seem that important, but when you have an incident that requires emergency communication, the last thing you need to worry about is your radio’s range.

Wavelength OnlyOne difference between the two bands is of course the frequency. Radio waves are a form of light, therefore all radio waves travel at the same speed. This matters because the different radio waves aren’t measured by their speed, they must be measured by their “waves”. Imagine radio waves as water waves. The distance between the tops of the waves is of course the “wavelength”, and the amount of waves that pass a certain point over 1 second is called the “frequency” (measured as Hertz). When something has higher hertz, it means its “wavelength” must be shorter. This is because while the light always travels the same speed the only way to fit more waves in a period of time is to have smaller waves.

 

VHF

VHF’s frequency range is from 30 MHz to 300 MHz. Compared to UHF’s range, which is 300 MHz to 3000 MHz, it’s clear that VHF has sometimes 10 times longer wavelengths. This means that since the waves are longer with VHF, it’s harder to disrupt the wave, therefore it travels further. Imagine a large wave hitting a rock as opposed to a small one. The larger wave is still able to make it over or around the rock, while the smaller wave is drastically deflected leaving less water to go around the rock. UHF has a higher frequency so it has smaller waves, making it easier for the waves to degrade over distance.

UHF VHF Wavelenghts

UHF

So you may be wondering, why even use UHF?? When you’re in an area with lots of small obstacles, such as a circle track or stadium race where there’s lots of people, you’re going to need a signal that can travel in between gaps of those obstacles to the receiver you’re talking with. This is where UHF signal will provide a greater range because of the smaller waves. Now when you’re among large boulders, like during off-road recreation or racing, you’re going to need a larger wave to work its way around the rocks. UHF waves are smaller and will simply be deflected by the boulders, therefore, VHF will be your best choice because of the wider wavelength. This is also true among larger obstacles like hills or ravines; the VHF has a larger wavelength that will travel over the obstructions. The only problem is the quality will be largely degraded due to the lack of a line of sight. Typically VHF is the preferred band to use by off-roaders based on its longer signal range.

As you can see, both bandwidths have distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on the application. Although VHF is by far the most common and preferred radio band for offroading, neither one is “better”, but you should consider the environment to make a confident and safe decision.

Looking for UHF or VHF Radios ? Follow these links for product information and details:

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Handheld Radios

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Car-to-Car Kits

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Mobile Radios

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Base Camp/Chase Kits

 

30 comments on “VHF and UHF Explained
  1. Jason says:

    I have recently bought an old 23 channel realistic Navajo trc30 all crystal base station, do I need a license to operate this radio?

  2. Santiago Gonzalez JR says:

    I have a cb right now in my semi truck and a few buddies of mine want to talk over long distances. Right now were averaging about 12 miles. What would be a good fit for us?

    • Rugged says:

      12 miles on a CB is pretty impressive. In this case, I would suggest our 60-Watt Radio package. This particular unit is VHF and not compatible with CB’s so you would need to be sure both parties are using a VHF radio to transmit and receive each other. The 60-watts of power packs a range up to 30 miles which is a big improvement. The fundamental operations are the same as a CB, meaning multiple channel selections, squelch control, hand mic, etc. so it’s intuitively easy to operate.

      We offer the kit with a standard NMO antenna mount or it’s also available with a magnetic mount antenna to give you some flexibility in moving the unit from vehicle to vehicle.

      There’s plenty of features listed on both items, so definitely take a look and give us a call with any questions so we can help you out!

  3. Ed Chernis says:

    What would be the best in the country where there is mountains and trees vhf or uhf
    Looking for about 6 to 10 miles
    Ed Chernis
    es.

    • Rugged says:

      Ed, thank you for the question. For the 6-10 mile range, I would have suggested the RM-25R, hands down. It’s the best radio in a compact size for that kind of distance. The variable, though, is the terrain you mentioned. Although it’s possible the RM-25R may do the job, the hills and mountains may require more power which would be something like our 60-Watt radio. Keep in mind, terrain will be a factor no matter which radio you settle on, but the 60-Watt at a comparable price may be worth doing for peace of mind and optimal performance in a mixed terrain environment.

  4. Dustin Morrison says:

    I just recently received my FCC GROL licence and I’m still a little lost here. While I be able to use a BAOFENG UV-5RTP transceiver? Also any idea how I would find a list of frequencies for this?

    • Rugged says:

      I’m not familiar with the specific details of that radio, so I can’t answer that. Our handheld radio may look similar to a Baofeng, but it is not made by them or utilizing similar manufacturing details. I can tell you we offer our frequency lists on our website under the help menu in the top right corner if that helps.

  5. Keith says:

    So I am a beginner with vhf and have recently purchased a radio from you. I am not licensed, will I need a license to actually operate the radio? I’m about to hit some trails in Utah and were hoping just to have this as a precaution in case we have a problem.

    • Rugged says:

      I’m going to copy/paste a reply I sent to someone else recently. I think this may be helpful. The short story is yes, you do. When we talk about licensing, there are often two areas of this that get muddled together, so let me help clarify. HAM radio operators go through a very specific study and FCC testing. When complete, they are assigned a specific “call sign” such as (random example: KNUC12) that they use to identify themselves during transmission.
      Rugged Radios offers radios that work in the commercial band and as a result, they do not require testing as they fall outside the range of a HAM radio.

      However, a licensing and filing fee should be done with the FCC for our radios. For the frequency range we deal with, you would need to file for a PLMR (Private Land Mobile Radio) license. There’s a couple steps involved and the fee is nominal. You can do some research online for additional details, but these two links may be a great place to start your process…

      https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/bureau-divisions/mobility-division/private-land-mobile-radio-services

      https://www.fcc.gov/help/applying-new-license-universal-licensing-system-uls

  6. Robert Taylor says:

    I want to know do you have to have a licence for VHF and UHF

    • Rugged says:

      Hi Robert,

      The short story is yes, you do. When we talk about licensing, there are often two areas of this that get muddled together, so let me help clarify. HAM radio operators go through a very specific study and FCC testing. When complete, they are assigned a specific “call sign” such as (random example: KNUC12) that they use to identify themselves during transmission.

      Rugged Radios offers radios that work in the commercial band and as a result, they do not require testing as they fall outside the range of a HAM radio.

      However, a licensing and filing fee should be done with the FCC for our radios. For the frequency range we deal with, you would need to file for a PLMR (Private Land Mobile Radio) license. There’s a couple steps involved and the fee is nominal. You can do some research online for additional details, but these two links may be a great place to start your process…

      https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/bureau-divisions/mobility-division/private-land-mobile-radio-services

      https://www.fcc.gov/help/applying-new-license-universal-licensing-system-uls

  7. Mike says:

    Interesting topic, but there is a gap that is not being explained. Licensed HAM operators are restricted to a range of frequencies. For example, the 2 Meter band for a HAM operator 144 – 148 MHZ for transmitting. The FCC has grouped certain frequency ranges and allocates them for different and specific organizations and use, like the Fire Department and Police which the general public and licensed HAM operators are prohibited from transmitting on. So to the point, Rugged (Robert) is setting up communication packages within a specific frequency range for the offroaders to use. Hope this helps, the posts make it sound simple and complicating at the same time. It is easy if you understand the “what and why’s”, if not, let the pros set you up.

  8. Russell Reese says:

    Robert is on the right track. At no time does Rugged Radios give the frequencies transmitted or received, leaving us in the dark as to what is going on. That’s OK, for, Rugged is putting out a functional system, and are entitled to make a profit;there is “no need to know.” for the general public.But we licensed ham radio operaors know that rugged radios do not transmit and receive the entire 135-175 band. It’s basically a GMRS/FRS system, avoiding transmitting on the 2 meter 144-146 MHZ band and the 70cm 420-450 MHZ bands. These frequencies require a ham radio license.

    • Rugged says:

      If it helps for those wanting to compare, we do actually have our frequency lists available for those interested. You simply need to give us a call and we’ll give you online access to our frequency lists. Toll Free (888) 541-7223

      • Russell Reese says:

        Thanks Rugged. At this time I can’t afford your system for installation in my XP1000, but eventually I will. So, I have a cheapee Boafeng radio now, and am searching for Rugged radio frequencies for riding with the FATCO tour group who have Rugged Radios. I’m finding that the Chirp software program is not working.

        • Rugged says:

          Russell, as for your kit — we’re here when you’re ready, so let us know. As for the Boafeng, we DO have our frequency list available on our website under the HELP menu in the top right. Just give us a call for the password. I don’t have an answer for the Chirp software as trying to diagnose that via a blog post can be tricky. I would suggest giving us a call and asking for our tech department with tech related issues.

  9. Robert says:

    Without getting the password to look at the frequency lists my guess is that the twenty that are preprogrammed are GMRS/FRS frequencies. These radios are over powered for FRS. Plus the removable antennas make them non type compliant for FRS. The GMRS freq’s require a license easy enough to get by going the FCC website and only $70 for 5 years. Hopefully soon to be free.

    These radios can also use the MURS freq’s. No license needed for those. But only 5 frequencies to use and max height limits for fixed antennas.

    Any other frequencies put in would require a specific FCC license.

  10. Michael says:

    To answer the question about Ham Radio, or Amateur Radio; with a Ham Radio license you can use the same frequency ranges, and more in the VHF/UHF bands, and more bands for better distance. You also have the ability to transmit data. You could theoretically transmit vehicle diagnostics and such to a base station. With a ham radio license you will also have the ability to use the full 50w of power in the radio. With a simple filing for a GMRS license you can’t use all of that power legally as far as I know, maybe a commercial license is different. You are also limited to certain frequencies within those bands. If you’re looking for a good radio I’d recommend a TYT TH-9800. It would be cool if Rugged adopted this radio as well. It covers the frequencies their radios already cover, and it offers many more features than the ones I see advertised. As my group and I get more advanced in the coming years we will be looking at pairing Rugged’s intercom system with the TYT TH-9800 radio, and ham licenses for a more complete radio communications ability. Also, a side note, you can study for a ham radio license for free on hamstudy.org and taking the test to be certified and receive a call sign is usually around $15 or so. I think it’s a much better investment than a commercial license if you’d like to get technical with radio waves.

  11. Troy says:

    Can the UHF/VHF Rugged Radio be used to communicate with someone using a regular CB? What are the effects on the performance of the RR radio as compared to speaking with another RR ?

    • Rugged says:

      Unfortunately, no. CB’s operate in the 27Mhz range and our UHF/VHF radios operate well outside that range. As for “effects”, I’m not sure I understand. Radios programmed with the same frequencies (as all of ours are) can connect to each other. You could have a handheld, a mobile radio, our radio, or another — but as long as they have the same frequency programmed, they will all communicate with each other. Does that help?

  12. Lanny says:

    Great response.

    Thanks

  13. Lanny says:

    OK. But I’m still confused. A dual band HAM radio has both UHF and VHF. Yes I know that you need a HAM license to use a HAM radio (I have one). What I do not understand is the differences between HAM and Rugged Radios.

    Example: If I have a HAM radio, why would I want to purchase another radio like a Rugged Radio?

    Maybe I’m just slow!!!

    • Rugged says:

      That’s a great question and here’s a couple things to consider when deciding if it makes sense to step up to a commercial band radio:

      • If you’re using a 5-watt HAM handheld, we provide radios up to 50-Watts for more range and distance. Obviously, a 50-watt radio is 10x more powerful.
      • As we don’t specialize in HAM radios, I can’t answer this, but something to consider is frequency range. Most offroad enthusiasts and race teams typically use the VHF range somewhere between 134-174Mhz.
      • In commercial band radios, it’s easier for end users to get started as all it requires is an FCC licensing filing fee. HAM radio operators do some serious studying and FCC testing before they’re up and running.
      • HAM radios may be the perfect solution if you’re speaking with others on the same frequency. But, as virtually all offroading uses the VHF range mentioned above, compatibility is another factor to consider and should be researched before making a commitment.
      • Most VHF commercial band radios (like we offer) connect easily to our intercom systems with the use of jumper cables. This connectivity helps our communications as a whole function as intended. It’s possible that HAM radios will not adapt to our intercoms systems as readily.

      You’re not slow, and it’s a legitimate question. It really boils down to wattage (for distance), compatibility to other friends and the frequencies they use, and integration into our communication systems.

      I hope that gives some additional perspective.

      • Mike says:

        Can you provided some additional clarification on the statement ” Most offroad enthusiasts and race teams typically use the VHF range somewhere between 134-174Mhz.” The FCC links above for the Private Land Mobile Service license only covers 150-174Mhz. What is needed to operate in the lower Race frequencies from 134-149Mhz or is this some how included?
        Thanks

        • Rugged says:

          Hi Mike,

          Many off-road enthusiasts have followed the lead of desert racers which have historically used VHF “Business Band” frequencies. Below 150MHz is Amateur and a few other band allocations. All of which require FCC licensing. It’s important to note that 150-174 also requires FCC licensing except for a few low-power MURS frequencies. If you’re trying to decide which is your best option, in our opinion, Amateur radio is the best way to communicate “off-the-grid” as it gives the users a network of radio enthusiasts that can provide support and possibly even emergency help. For more info on this, I suggest starting here: http://www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio.

    • Devin says:

      Lanny-

      Rugged Radios use frequencies that are right next to HAM frequencies in the 2m and 70cm bands. Therefore, they will have very similar qualities. For those who would rather spend $70 for 5 years instead of studying and paying $10 for 10 years, this is a simple way of getting reliable long-distance 2-way communication.

      There are some advantages to getting a HAM radio license. Mainly you get access to a repeater network that expands your coverage substantially. No radio can transmit through a mountain, but a HAM radio can transmit to a repeater to the top of the mountain, which will re-transmit to the other side of the mountain.

      With HAM, you also have the option of using other bands, with even longer ranges. There is also a broad radio selection. Definitely worth some research.

      Good luck!

  14. Bill says:

    Does the radio include procedures for getting your license? I noticed some of them in the car to car category was 50 watts I thought these frequencies were limited to 5 watts?

    • Rugged says:

      Technically, yes, the FCC requires a filing. I can’t offer too much information because I personally have not gone through the process. I think that needs to be a blog post soon! As I understand it, it’s about $70 and you can file online. I should point out that this is not the same as a Ham Radio license. That level of radio operation requires schooling, additional fees, and a designated call sign. This link is a good place to start for further filing information.

      • JB says:

        That is not correct. Amateur Radio does not require additional fees it’s $10 for a ten year license. There is a required exam which will require studying. Most local radio clubs will be able to assist you in locating a test session and any requirements.

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