VHF vs. UHF Two Way Radios – Which is Better for Your business?


One of the first steps to take before purchasing new radios is to determine which frequency band best fits your needs. UHF (Ultra High Frequency) and VHF (Very High Frequency) are the two most commonly used radio frequencies. While they do have some similarities, there are a few factors that set them apart from each other. Understanding these differences will help ensure that you choose the right radios for your needs.

Existing System

To ensure new two way radios are compatible with an existing radio system, you must stay within the same frequency band. In other words, if you are currently using VHF and want your new radios to be able to communicate with the ones you already have, the new radios must also be VHF.  Another important factor is whether your current system is digital or analog – most newer systems in the last five years will be digital, but it is important to confirm this. Also, a number of the newer radios can operate in either analog or digital mode, but its always important to confirm. However, keep in mind that even if you are adding a piece of digital equipment to an existing digital system, they may not be compatible. Similar to the old VHS vs. Beta scenario from the 1980’s on video records, two way radios have a similar consideration today. Motorola digital two way radios can’t work on an ICOM digital radio system, for example. Be sure to do research to ensure compatibility when adding new equipment to an existing system or talk to one of our experts here at Nova Communications, we provide UHF radios and VHF radios in Canada and would be happy to help you find the best radio solution for your needs.

Best Environment For Use

Both UHF and VHF are considered line-of-sight systems. This doesn’t mean that you must be close enough to actually see the person with whom you are communicating – all it means is that antennae are used for communication. You can increase the height of the antenna to increase the distance and quality of communication. For example: two people trying to talk on flat ground will be able to talk about one to two kilometres generally, but if those same two people are trying to talk, but one is on top of a mountain or hill, they will be able to communicate considerably further.

The spectrum of each frequency band has a significant impact on the quality of communication. The VHF spectrum is 136 to 174 MHz, while the UHF spectrum is 403 to 470 MHz in Canada.   Basically, the higher the frequency, the better the in-building penetration. Lower frequencies travel further in non-obstructed environments. VHF, when operating at 136-174 MHZ, has excellent distance on flat ground, but works very poorly in buildings. UHF, when operating at 403-470 MHZ, offers the best of both worlds. It has good distance and works well inside buildings. 900 MHZ is excellent for built-up indoor environments, but does not offer great distance.

Because UHF radios have a shorter wavelength, they penetrate materials more easily, which is why they’re suited for indoor use – things like steel and concrete aren’t obstacles for UHF radios, which are often used by schools, warehouses, and retail stores. The lower frequency of VHF radios means they have a longer wavelength: they naturally travel longer distances, but can’t penetrate solid materials very well. This makes them better suited for outdoor professions like forestry and oil drilling.

As a standard rule in Canada, about 85% of radios sold are either in the UHF, or higher frequencies like 700 MHz for public safety or 900 MHz.  Please feel free to contact us and we’d be pleased to help you select the right frequency range for your business.

Consider Your Needs

Now that you understand some of the primary differences between UHF and VHF radios, it is time to think about your specific needs. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have an existing system that needs to be compatible with new radios?
  • Will I be using my radios primarily indoors or outdoors?
  • How much range do I need?

No matter what band you choose, the most important thing is that you get a quality system. When it comes to radio communications, quality definitely matters. We’ll be happy to help you determine what kind of radio would best suit your needs, and point you toward resources and reviews so you can narrow the field and make an educated choice. Contact us for help getting started.

Please also try our FREE quick and easy radio selector below. By answering a few simple questions about your operation we can start to narrow down the right radio for you.

What Radio is right for your business? Our easy to use online radio selector will be able to narrow down your search based on your requirements.  Try it Now!

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  1. Ed Chernis

    I am looking for a walkeytalkey that can cover 6 to 8 miles . Is uhf better then vhf
    We are in a wooded area and in the mountains dose the no of watt important
    What would you recommend.
    Ed Chernis

    • nadinemansour

      Hi Ed,

      Thank you for these great questions. For outdoor and rural environments VHF is usually better. For example, most of the fire departments we sell to in rural areas use VHF radios, while hotel clients use UHF radios.

      As far as power, most commercial grade radios are 4 or 5 watts, which would be the maximum power in Canada for handheld radios. Another important factor in radios today is analog vs digital. Most new equipment is moving to a digital platform that performs 25-35% better than analog radios and has a much longer battery life.

      Thank you, Ed, we look forward to helping.

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