Monday, February 1, 2010

UHF Versus VHF

There are two major formats for two-way radios. They are Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio and Very High Frequency (VHF) radio. Neither frequency band is inherently better than the other. They each have their pluses and minuses. Both formats are effective ways to communicate with another person. But how do you decide which one will fit your needs? Let's go over the key components of both frequencies to help you decide.

UHF Radio

UHF equipment operates between the frequencies of 300 MHz and 3000 MHz. Until recently, it wasn't widely used. Now, the UHF radio frequency is used for GPS, Bluetooth, cordless phones, and WiFi.

There are more available channels with UHF so in more populated areas UHF may be less likely to have interference from other systems. If you are in an area where population is thin, VHF should work fine for you. If you are in an area where interference from other radios may be an issue, UHF transmitters and receivers could be your best choice. UHF is better at penetrating physical barriers like walls, buildings, and rugged landscape. Anything that obstructs a radio wave, will weaken a radio signal. UHF lessens that effect. Though it may not travel as far, UHF radio waves will penetrate obstacles better than VHF.

To highlight the differences in indoor range, below is an excerpt from a brochure of a leading two-way radio maker on the predicted range of one of their lines of handheld VHF and UHF two-way radios:

"Coverage estimates: At full power, line-of-sight, no obstructions the range is approximately 4+ miles. Indoor coverage at VHF is approximately 270,000 sq ft and 300,000 sq ft at UHF. Expect about 20 floors vertical coverage at VHF and up to 30 floors at UHF. Note: Range and coverage are estimates and are not guaranteed."

VHF waves are not very good at penetrating walls, buildings and rugged landscape. Therefore range will be significantly reduced for VHF radios in these environments. That may not necessarily be a problem if the range needed is only a few hundred feet. You can also add an external antenna to an indoor VHF base station that will reduce or eliminate this problem.

UHF equipment is usually more expensive. The components need to be finely tuned and are more expensive to construct. This does not mean it's necessarily better, just more expensive.

One advantage of UHF transmission is the physically short wave that is produced by the high frequency. That means the antenna on the radio can be shorter than an equivalent VHF radio.

VHF Radio

VHF equipment operates between the frequencies of 30 MHz and 300 MHz. FM radio, two-way radios, and television broadcasts operate in this range.

Both UHF and VHF radios are prone to line of sight factors, but VHF a little more so. The waves make it through trees and rugged landscapes, but not as well as UHF frequencies do. However, if a VHF wave and a UHF wave were transmitted over an area without barriers, the VHF wave would travel almost twice as far. This makes VHF easier to broadcast over a long range. If you are working mostly outdoors, a VHF radio is probably the best choice, especially if you are using a base station radio indoors and you add the external antenna.

Since VHF has been around longer and isn't as complicated to make, equipment is usually cheaper when compared to similar UHF equipment. One disadvantage to this equipment can be its size. Since the frequency waves are bigger, an antenna must be bigger.

VHF radios also have a smaller number of available frequencies. Interference with other radios could be more likely to be a problem. However, the FCC recently made this less of a problem when they opened up the MURS frequencies. The 150 MHz frequency is a Citizens Band radio spectrum that is called the MURS service. MURS stands for Multi-Use Radio Service. This service is for use in the United States and Canada. It is a low power, short range service in the VHF 150 MHz Citizens Band radio spectrum. There are 5 channels in the MURS frequencies with 38 privacy codes under each one that enable you to only pick up conversations on your code. The FCC does not require users of products for MURS to be licensed.

With MURS you can add a larger or external antenna to improve range. If you want to put an antenna on top of your house or business, you can do it with MURS. Some antenna manufacturers claim an external antenna can increase the effective radiated power of a transmitter by a factor of 4. These MURS intercoms can transmit up to four miles, and perhaps more with an external antenna depending on the terrain.

One benefit of VHF wireless radios is that battery life is almost always better than for similar UHF units. For handheld radios this is a plus.

VHF equipment is usually lower cost for those on a budget. Equipment can be more economical than similar UHF products.

In summary, if you are planning on using your two-way radios mainly inside buildings, then UHF is likely the best solution for you. If you are mainly using your two-way radios for communication outside, then VHF would be a good choice. Either radio technology can work for you if you don't really have a long range to cover. In that case you may want to choose VHF for it's lower cost.

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