What the Heck is UHF Anyway?

Recently, I got into a twitter exchange about a UHF radio. It seems a ham was complaining that someone had advertised an 800 MHz radio, describing it as “UHF”. His issue was that in land mobile radio, UHF is commonly used to refer to radios in the 380 to 500-ish MHz range. I was using the ITU definition of UHF, which is any frequency between 300 MHz to 3 GHz.

This got me thinking about how we toss around these terms quite loosely, even though they have precise definitions. Let’s start with the basics, the ITU definitions of radio spectrum.

LF Low Frequency 30 to 300 kHz
MF Medium Frequency 300 kHz to 3 MHz
HF High Frequency 3 MHz to 30 MHz
VHF Very High Frequency 30 MHz to 300 MHz
UHF Ultra High Frequency 300 MHz to 3 GHz
SHF Super High Frequency 3 GHz to 30 GHz

You can see that the basic scheme divides up the spectrum into decades (factors of ten), aligned with frequencies that start with 3 (e.g., 3 MHz, 30 MHz, 300 MHz). If we map the amateur bands onto this system, we see that the bands from 80m (3.5 to 4.0 MHz) through 10m (28-29.7 MHz) fall into the HF range, as expected. Note that 10m almost qualifies as a VHF band, coming in just shy of the 30 MHz limit. That band does have some VHF tendencies. The 160m band (1.8 to 2.0 MHz) actually falls into the MF range even though many of us just think of it as HF.

amateur bands within HF, VHF, UHF

Amateur bands represented within HF, VHF, and UHF ranges. (Some omissions for legibility: 60m, 17m, 12m HF bands.)

There are three VHF bands: 6 m (50 to 54 MHz), 2 m (144 to 148 MHz) and 1.25 m (222 to 225 MHz). The UHF range includes the 70 cm (420 to 450 MHz), 33 cm (902 to 928 MHz), 23 cm (1240 to 1300 MHz) and 13 cm (2300 to 2450 MHz) bands.

The two most commonly used bands in the VHF/UHF region are 2 m and 70 cm. These bands are home for lots of FM repeaters, FM simplex, SSB simplex and plenty of other modes. Common dualband transceivers, both mobile and handheld, operate on the 2m and 70cm bands. These radios are so common that we often refer to them as VHF/UHF dualband radios. Accordingly, you will often hear hams refer to the 2m band as simply VHF and the 70 cm band as UHF, as if VHF means 2 meters and UHF means 70 cm. I know I’ve been guilty of saying “let’s switch over to VHF” when I really mean “let’s go to the 2m band.” The 2m band is certainly VHF but VHF does not always mean 2 meters. Similarly, we might say “I’ll call you on the UHF repeater” when it would be more precise to say “I’ll call you on 440 MHz.”

Many times being loose with terminology doesn’t matter but there are times when using the right words can make a difference. Think about this the next time you are referring to a particular frequency band.