What are the Different Types of Handheld UHF Radio?

Mal Baxter

Ultra high frequency (UHF) radios are transceivers, or walkie-talkies, that emit shorter wavelengths and more powerful signals than very high frequency (VHF) radios or cell phones, which make them suitable for urban or dense environments. Radio types vary to provide useful service for commercial organizations, government agencies, high-end licensed enthusiasts, and even consumers on limited family radio service (FRS) bands. Understanding the different types of handheld UHF radio depends on the criteria of the user. They can vary by durability and toughness, range, power, antenna, channel capacity, and band coverage, as well as ergonomic design for waterproof, lightweight, or heavy-duty use.

Walkie talkies are one type of handheld UHF radio.
Walkie talkies are one type of handheld UHF radio.

Today's handheld UHF radio affords as much functionality as its more professional base station or mobile vehicle counterpart. Its range can vary depending on the terrain, and is affected by the antenna's radio frequency (RF) energy output, size, and design, as well as the radio's power. High-quality signals can transmit not only voice, but text messages, pictures, and video over frequencies once limited to television, but now occupied by bluetooth, wifi, global positioning systems (GPS), and other contemporary technologies.

Professional UHF radios, such as those used by police, have greater wattage than commercial radios.
Professional UHF radios, such as those used by police, have greater wattage than commercial radios.

Some types of handheld UHF radio are better suited for everyday family use; with limited single-watt output, shorter range, small packaging, and lower prices, these radios do not require licensing like other UHF radios. These family-type walkie-talkies still provide many distinct advantages over cell phones: they can broadcast to several units at once; they can extend their range through the use of “repeater” stations; they require no expensive service plans or contracts; and they often have better warranties with more reliable performance and lifespan.

More professional types of handheld UHF radio offer greater wattage and megahertz (MHz) for strong transmitter power. These radios often feature reinforced polycarbonate antennas or long “rubber duck” style rubberized antennas. Used by police, emergency responders, and high-end licensed enthusiasts, these durable radios exhibit shock-resistant properties, channel-scan functions, alarms, alerts, quiet modes, and dual or multiband receivers for monitoring multiple channels simultaneously. They might have more sensitive, reliable controls and room for extra antenna attachments. Additional capabilities may include automatic voice transmission, roger beeps, and automated access to UHF CB repeater stations for greatly extended range.

A low-cost, mass-produced handheld UHF radio might provide convenient two-way communication, but will not always deliver the high performance or capability required in rugged, outdoor or regular daily use. Most radios produced today feature digital readouts that display frequencies and modes; older crystal-based models may not. Backlit digital displays provide extra advantages for night use.

A typical handheld UHF radio might provide alerts, keypad tones, interference elimination, and noise reduction. Operating between 300 and 3,000 MHz, these transceivers offer greater clarity over short distances, even in crowded urban settings. Power reduction options can increase talk time. These two-way radios often come with extra accessories including carrying cases, ear pieces, and speaker microphones. Typical mid-range radios can scan 40 channels and lock in on transmitting signals.

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