Radio spectrum

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The radio spectrum is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum from 3 Hz to 3000 GHz (3 THz) allocated to some 40 Radiocommunication services in line to the Radio Regulations (RR) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).[1] The transmission, emission and/or reception of radio waves for specific telecommunication purposes of radio waves is strictly regulated by the national administration.[2]

Different parts of the radio spectrum are allocated for different radio transmission technologies and applications. In some cases, parts of the radio spectrum is sold or licensed to operators of private radio transmission services (for example, cellular telephone operators or broadcast television stations). Ranges of allocated frequencies are often referred to by their provisioned use (for example, cellular spectrum or television spectrum).[3]

By frequency[edit]

A band is a small section of the spectrum of radio communication frequencies, in which channels are usually used or set aside for the same purpose.

Above 300 GHz, the absorption of electromagnetic radiation by Earth's atmosphere is so great that the atmosphere is effectively opaque, until it becomes transparent again in the near-infrared and optical window frequency ranges.

To prevent interference and allow for efficient use of the radio spectrum, similar services are allocated in bands. For example, broadcasting, mobile radio, or navigation devices, will be allocated in non-overlapping ranges of frequencies.

Each of these bands has a basic bandplan which dictates how it is to be used and shared, to avoid interference and to set protocol for the compatibility of transmitters and receivers. See detail of bands:

As a matter of convention, bands are divided at wavelengths of 10n metres, or frequencies of 3×10n hertz. For example, 30 MHz or 10 m divides shortwave (lower and longer) from VHF (shorter and higher). These are the parts of the radio spectrum, and not its frequency allocation.

Band name Abbreviation ITU band Frequency
wavelength in air
Example uses
Extremely low frequency ELF 1 3–30 Hz
100,000 km – 10,000 km
Communication with submarines
Super low frequency SLF 2 30–300 Hz
10,000 km – 1000 km
Communication with submarines
Ultra low frequency ULF 3 300–3000 Hz
1000 km – 100 km
Submarine communication, communication within mines
Very low frequency VLF 4 3–30 kHz
100 km – 10 km
Navigation, time signals, submarine communication, wireless heart rate monitors, geophysics
Low frequency LF 5 30–300 kHz
10 km – 1 km
Navigation, clock time signals, AM longwave broadcasting (Europe and parts of Asia), RFID, amateur radio
Medium frequency MF 6 300–3000 kHz
1 km – 100 m
AM (medium-wave) broadcasts, amateur radio, avalanche beacons
High frequency HF 7 3–30 MHz
100 m – 10 m
Shortwave broadcasts, citizens' band radio, amateur radio and over-the-horizon aviation communications, RFID, over-the-horizon radar, automatic link establishment (ALE) / near-vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) radio communications, marine and mobile radio telephony
Very high frequency VHF 8 30–300 MHz
10 m – 1 m
FM, television broadcasts and line-of-sight ground-to-aircraft and aircraft-to-aircraft communications, land mobile and maritime mobile communications, amateur radio, weather radio
Ultra high frequency UHF 9 300–3000 MHz
1 m – 100 mm
Television broadcasts, microwave oven, microwave devices/communications, radio astronomy, mobile phones, wireless LAN, Bluetooth, ZigBee, GPS and two-way radios such as land mobile, FRS and GMRS radios, amateur radio
Super high frequency SHF 10 3–30 GHz
100 mm – 10 mm
Radio astronomy, microwave devices/communications, wireless LAN, most modern radars, communications satellites, cable and satellite television broadcasting, DBS, amateur radio
Extremely high frequency EHF 11 30–300 GHz
10 mm – 1 mm
Radio astronomy, high-frequency microwave radio relay, microwave remote sensing, amateur radio, directed-energy weapon, millimeter wave scanner
Terahertz or Tremendously high frequency THz or THF 12 300–3000 GHz
1 mm – 100 μm
Terahertz imaging – a potential replacement for X-rays in some medical applications, ultrafast molecular dynamics, condensed-matter physics, terahertz time-domain spectroscopy, terahertz computing/communications, sub-mm remote sensing, amateur radio


The ITU radio bands are designations defined in the ITU Radio Regulations. Article 2, provision No. 2.1 states that "the radio spectrum shall be subdivided into nine frequency bands, which shall be designated by progressive whole numbers in accordance with the following table[4]".

The table originated with a recommendation of the IVth CCIR meeting, held in Bucharest in 1937, and was approved by the International Radio Conference held at Atlantic City in 1947. The idea to give each band a number, in which the number is the logarithm of the approximate geometric mean of the upper and lower band limits in Hz, originated with B.C. Fleming-Williams, who suggested it in a letter to the editor of Wireless Engineer in 1942. (For example, the approximate geometric mean of Band 7 is 10 MHz, or 107 Hz.)[5]

Table of ITU Radio Bands
Band Number Symbols Frequency Range Wavelength Range
4 VLF 3 to 30 kHz 10 to 100 km
5 LF 30 to 300 kHz 1 to 10 km
6 MF 300 to 3000 kHz 100 to 1000 m
7 HF 3 to 30 MHz 10 to 100 m
8 VHF 30 to 300 MHz 1 to 10 m
9 UHF 300 to 3000 MHz 10 to 100 cm
10 SHF 3 to 30 GHz 1 to 10 cm
11 EHF 30 to 300 GHz 1 to 10 mm
12 THF 300 to 3000 GHz 0.1 to 1 mm

† This column does not form part of the table in Provision No. 2.1 of the Radio Regulations


Radar-frequency bands according to IEEE standard[6]
Frequency range
[citation needed]
HF 0.003 to 0.03 GHz High Frequency[7]
VHF 0.03 to 0.3 GHz Very High Frequency[7]
UHF 0.3 to 1 GHz Ultra High Frequency[7]
L 1 to 2 GHz Long wave
S 2 to 4 GHz Short wave
C 4 to 8 GHz Compromise between S and X
X 8 to 12 GHz Used in WW II for fire control, X for cross (as in crosshair). Exotic.[8]
Ku 12 to 18 GHz Kurz-under
K 18 to 27 GHz German Kurz (short)
Ka 27 to 40 GHz Kurz-above
V 40 to 75 GHz
W 75 to 110 GHz W follows V in the alphabet
mm 110 to 300 GHz​[note 1] Millimeter[6]
  1. ^ The designation mm is also used to refer to the range from 30 to 300 GHz.[6]

EU, NATO, US ECM frequency designations[edit]

NATO Radio spectrum designation[9][8]
A band 0 – 250 I 100 – 150
B band 250 – 500 G 150 – 225
C band 500 – 1 000 P 225 – 390
D band 1 000 – 2 000 L 390 – 1 550
E band 2 000 – 3 000 S 1 550 – 3 900
F band 3 000 – 4 000 C 3 900 – 6 200
G band 4 000 – 6 000 X 6 200 – 10 900
H band 6 000 – 8 000 K 10 900 – 36 000
I band 8 000 – 10 000 Ku 10 900 – 20 000
J band 10 000 – 20 000 Ka 20 000 – 36 000
K band 20 000 – 40 000 Q 36 000 – 46 000
L band 40 000 – 60 000 V 46 000 – 56 000
M band 60 000 – 100 000 W 56 000 – 100 000

Waveguide frequency bands[edit]

Band Frequency range [10]
R band 1.70 to 2.60 GHz
D band 2.20 to 3.30 GHz
S band 2.60 to 3.95 GHz
E band 3.30 to 4.90 GHz
G band 3.95 to 5.85 GHz
F band 4.90 to 7.05 GHz
C band 5.85 to 8.20 GHz
H band 7.05 to 10.10 GHz
X band 8.2 to 12.4 GHz
Ku band 12.4 to 18.0 GHz
K band 15.0 to 26.5 GHz
Ka band 26.5 to 40.0 GHz
Q band 33 to 50 GHz
U band 40 to 60 GHz
V band 40 to 75 GHz
W band 75 to 110 GHz
F band 90 to 140 GHz
D band 110 to 170 GHz
Y band 325 to 500 GHz

Comparison of radio band designation standards[edit]

Comparison of frequency band designations
Frequency IEEE[6] EU,
no. abbr.
3 Hz 1 ELF
30 Hz 2 SLF
300 Hz 3 ULF
3 kHz 4 VLF
30 kHz 5 LF
300 kHz 6 MF
3 MHz HF 7 HF
30 MHz VHF 8 VHF
250 MHz B
300 MHz UHF 9 UHF
500 MHz C
1 GHz L D
2 GHz S E
3 GHz F 10 SHF
4 GHz C G
6 GHz H
8 GHz X I
10 GHz J
12 GHz Ku
18 GHz K
20 GHz K
27 GHz Ka
30 GHz 11 EHF
40 GHz V L
60 GHz M
75 GHz W
100 GHz
110 GHz mm
300 GHz 12 THF
3 THz  

By application [edit]


Broadcast frequencies:

Designations for television and FM radio broadcast frequencies vary between countries, see Television channel frequencies and FM broadcast band. Since VHF and UHF frequencies are desirable for many uses in urban areas, in North America some parts of the former television broadcasting band have been reassigned to cellular phone and various land mobile communications systems. Even within the allocation still dedicated to television, TV-band devices use channels without local broadcasters.

The Apex band in the United States was a pre-WWII allocation for VHF audio broadcasting; it was made obsolete after the introduction of FM broadcasting.

Air band[edit]

Airband refers to VHF frequencies 118 to 137 MHz, used for navigation and voice communication with aircraft. Trans-oceanic aircraft also carry HF radio and satellite transceivers.

Marine band[edit]

The greatest incentive for development of radio was the need to communicate with ships out of visual range of shore. From the very early days of radio, large oceangoing vessels carried powerful long-wave and medium-wave transmitters. High-frequency allocations are still designated for ships, although satellite systems have taken over some of the safety applications previously served by 500 kHz and other frequencies. 2182 kHz is a medium-wave frequency still used for marine emergency communication.

Marine VHF radio is used in coastal waters and relatively short-range communication between vessels and to shore stations. Radios are channelized, with different channels used for different purposes; marine Channel 16 is used for calling and emergencies.

Amateur radio frequencies[edit]

Amateur radio frequency allocations vary around the world. Several bands are common for amateurs world-wide, usually in the shortwave part of the spectrum. Other bands are national or regional allocations only due to differing allocations for other services, especially in the VHF and UHF parts of the radio spectrum.

Citizens' band and personal radio services[edit]

Citizens' band radio is allocated in many countries, using channelized radios in the upper HF part of the spectrum (around 27 MHz). It is used for personal, small business and hobby purposes. Other frequency allocations are used for similar services in different jurisdictions, for example UHF CB is allocated in Australia. A wide range of personal radio services exist around the world, usually emphasizing short-range communication between individuals or for small businesses, simplified or no license requirements, and usually FM transceivers using around 1 watt or less.

Industrial, scientific, medical[edit]

The ISM bands were initially reserved for non-communications uses of RF energy, such as microwave ovens, radio-frequency heating, and similar purposes. However, in recent years the largest use of these bands has been by short-range low-power communications systems, since users do not have to hold a radio operator's license. Cordless telephones, wireless computer networks, Bluetooth devices, and garage door openers all use the ISM bands. ISM devices do not have regulatory protection against interference from other users of the band.

Land mobile bands[edit]

Bands of frequencies, especially in the VHF and UHF parts of the spectrum, are allocated for communication between fixed base stations and land mobile vehicle-mounted or portable transceivers. In the United States these services are informally known as business band radio. See also Professional mobile radio.

Police radio and other public safety services such as fire departments and ambulances are generally found in the VHF and UHF parts of the spectrum. Trunking systems are often used to make most efficient use of the limited number of frequencies available.

The demand for mobile telephone service has led to large blocks of radio spectrum allocated to cellular frequencies.

Radio control[edit]

Reliable radio control uses bands dedicated to the purpose. Radio-controlled toys may use portions of unlicensed spectrum in the 27 MHz or 49 MHz bands, but more costly aircraft, boat, or land vehicle models use dedicated radio control frequencies near 72 MHz to avoid interference by unlicensed uses. Licensed amateur radio operators use portions of the 6-meter band in North America. Industrial remote control of cranes or railway locomotives use assigned frequencies that vary by area.


Radar applications use relatively high power pulse transmitters and sensitive receivers, so radar is operated on bands not used for other purposes. Most radar bands are in the microwave part of the spectrum, although certain important applications for meteorology make use of powerful transmitters in the UHF band.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ International Telecommunication Union´s Radio Regulations, Edition of 2012.
  2. ^ ITU Radio Regulations – Article 1, Definitions of Radio Services, Article 1.2 Administration: Any governmental department or service responsible for discharging the obligations undertaken in the Constitution of the International Telecommunication Union, in the Convention of the International Telecommunication Union and in the Administrative Regulations (CS 1002).
  3. ^ Colin Robinson (2003). Competition and regulation in utility markets. Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-84376-230-0. 
  4. ^ ITU Radio Regulations, Volume 1, Article 2; Edition of 2008. Available online at [1]
  5. ^ Booth, C.F. (1949). "Nomenclature of Frequencies". The Post Office Electrical Engineers' Journal 42 (1): 47–48. 
  6. ^ a b c d e IEEE Std 521-2002 Standard Letter Designations for Radar-Frequency Bands.
  7. ^ a b c Table 2 in [6]
  8. ^ a b Norman Friedman (2006). The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems. Naval Institute Press. pp. xiii. ISBN 978-1-55750-262-9. 
  9. ^ Leonid A. Belov; Sergey M. Smolskiy; Victor N. Kochemasov (2012). Handbook of RF, Microwave, and Millimeter-Wave Components. Artech House. pp. 27–28. ISBN 978-1-60807-209-5. 
  10. ^ "Waveguide frequency bands and interior dimensions"


External links[edit]