UHF Vs. VHF Radios
- It's very important to get this right the first time.
What is the difference between UHF and VHF radios?
Business walkie-talkies aren't toys and they aren't cheap, which is why it's important to order the right radio the first time. Whether you're reviewing a set of 4 radios for your deli or a fleet of 40 for your distribution center, you'll want to spend wisely to avoid having to live with a costly mistake. A critical point in choosing the right two-way radio is knowing the difference between a UHF and a VHF radio. In most circumstances, a UHF walkie-talkie is going to be your best bet. However, because UHF radios and VHF radios can't communicate with one another, it's important to take their differences into consideration when making a purchase. If you already have radios and are looking to add units to your set, be sure to select the same band so that they can work with one another.
UHF radios (Ultra High Frequency) operate on frequencies ranging from 400-512 Megahertz (MHz). UHF radios work best for most two-way radio users because the waves are shorter and can get around or penetrate areas of interference, like those found in buildings, thickly wooded or hilly areas, and urban outdoor settings. UHF walkie-talkies with a good-sized antenna and enough power will reach further into a building and push through and around steel, concrete, wood and earth, allowing you to communicate with your entire team, even if you're on different floors. If your two-way radios are going to be used exclusively indoors or if they'll need to go indoors and outdoors, UHF is hands down your best choice. A good, general-purpose UHF model would be the Motorola RMU2040 UHF radio. It's also termed a "brick" radio due to the lack of digital displays and rugged exterior. This can tend to help out with durability since there are fewer parts. And, as the term implies, it's pretty darn durable. If you need more power or more channels, just shop the UHF radio section for more options.
VHF radios (Very High Frequency) operate between 136-174 MHz. The advantage to a VHF walkie-talkie is that it can cover more distance with less power because VHF waves are longer and remain closer to the ground. Two-way VHF radios work best when there's a clear line-of-sight between the sender and the receiver with little obstruction. VHF radios are used exclusively in aviation and marine communications where signals are sent across open bodies of water or between the sky and the ground where there are no obstructions. VHF band walkie-talkies are also great for open fields, golf courses, landscaping and for outdoor security situations with few obstacles. A good, basic VHF walkie-talkie would be the Motorola RMV2080 VHF radio. This is a good, basic, durable radio with 2-watts and 8 channels. It will give plenty of power for outdoor use under a mile or so (typically more based on conditions). And, the eight channels will support eight groups of people talking separately.
Typically, VHF antennas are longer than those built into UHF radios because they need to facilitate transmission over longer distances and accommodate the VHF frequency range. Another benefit of VHF waves is that they will penetrate trees and foliage better than UHF radios. However, you will be better served with UHF radios, if you have any plans to use the radios indoors or indoors to outdoors. This is clear from any reading of the professional two-way radio reviews that are available.
Can't decide between a UHF and a VHF radio? Digital radios might be just the thing for you. Digital radios are a new breed of radio. The major difference with these radios comes from their name - they are "Digital" instead of analog (like UHF or VHF). So, the signals are transmitted in a more intricate manner, making communications clearer and easier to understand. Plus, these types of two-way radios don't require an FCC license, which can be a big money-saver for individuals.
What are the advantages of digital radios?
- The signals can be very clear because analog static is no longer an issue.
- Individual people, or small groups may be called on the radios due to the digital nature of the signals.
- More privacy may be obtained due to the encryption-like transmission of the signals.
- NO FCC license is currently required for these digital radios.
Digital radios or digital walkie-talkies use a 900MHz spectrum and may communicate with individuals, small groups, and more. Here is some more information on Digital Two-Way Radios. Or, if you'd like to go straight to the radio itself, here is a great example of a durable, powerful model that would be great for most applications - the Motorola DTR410 Digital Radio.
THINKING ABOUT FRS/GMRS INSTEAD OF UHF OR VHF?
FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS radio are covered below in detail. However, you will want to make one important decision early on: if you are purchasing radios for a business, definitely buy business radios. Motorola FRS/GMRS radios are basically one step above toys. They're built for occasional, recreational family use and do a great job for what they're intended, but they're not built to endure the hardships inherent to business usage. FRS/GMRS radios used on a regular basis for business-type purposes will typically break within a relatively short time. Business Radios, on the other hand, will generally last years because they're simply built better.
Bottom line? Over a 5-year period, you'll spend less on quality business radios versus what you'd spend replacing lower cost, but less durable family radios. Also, use of family radios for business purposes voids their warranty. Amateur 2-way radios are also more limited in terms of scalability, so if your business grows your radio system may not be able to keep up.
WHAT IS A REAL-WORLD RANGE FOR A TWO-WAY RADIO?
Some two-way radio manufacturers boast a coverage range of 25 miles or more on their packaging. They can legally claim that because that's the best possible range attainable under the best possible conditions: a clear day with an unobstructed line of sight. But really, will you be broadcasting from the top of a mountain down an obstacle free line of sight to your kids or employees in a valley? Didn't think so.
Outside of optimal test conditions, realistic ranges for handheld Business Radios vary from 1-4 miles depending on the power capabilities of the unit, weather conditions, and obstructions along the way. In a nutshell, the more power (wattage) the radio puts out, the stronger the signal for the two-way radio. Reviews indicate that the stronger the signal, the more reliable the reception at greater distances and with more obstacles. Businesses or municipalities in need of longer-range communications can boost their signal with repeaters or work using a trunking system. Repeaters and trunking systems significantly increase the cost of radio setup versus handheld-to-handheld communication; however, they are necessary for large scale, emergency communication operations such as fire and police departments.