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This interactive chart presents information in the form of a slider that allows you to select different spectrum bands within the radio and microwave sections of the electromagnetic spectrum (wavelength greater than 300 micrometres, frequency less than 10 to the power 12 hertz). When a band is selected, the following information is displayed: frequency range, wavelength, representative image, uses and method of propagation. This information is presented in the table below.

Spectrum bandFrequencyWavelengthRepresentative imageUsesMethod of propagation

Very low frequency (VLF)

3 kilohertz to 30 kilohertz

10 kilometres to 100 kilometres

Submarine

This band is not used much for communications in general, because of the difficulties in building efficient antennas for the long wavelengths involved (10 to 100 kilometres).

Radio waves at these frequencies, or lower, have the ability to penetrate sea water to an extent, so this band is used for submarine communications.

The VLF band has been used for global navigation systems with ground-based transmitters.

Surface wave.

Low frequency (LF)

30 kilohertz to 300 kilohertz

1 kilometre to 10 kilometres

Radio

This band is involved in long-wave radio broadcasting using amplitude modulation (AM). Surface wave propagation is effective at these frequencies, allowing coverage of a large region with one high-power transmitter. The bandwidth available at LF is limited, though (only 270 kilohertz altogether). Also, a large land area is needed for an effective broadcast transmitting antenna at these long wavelengths.

Navigation systems using ground-based transmitters operate in the LF band. They provide a backup to satellite-based systems such as GPS, which operates in the UHF band.

The LF band is used in some territories for broadcasting time signals.

Mainly surface wave.

Medium frequency (MF)

300 kilohertz to 3 megahertz

100 metres to 1 kilometre

Portable radio, radio mast

This band is involved in medium-wave radio broadcasting using amplitude modulation (AM). The reception range is increased at night time by sky-wave propagation; while this allows more stations to be received, it can also result in interference from unwanted transmissions. The transmitting antenna may be a quarter-wavelength monopole, as shown here. (A similar design for LF would need a much taller mast.)

Surface wave. Sky wave at night time.

High frequency (HF)

3 megahertz to 30 megahertz

10 metres to 100 metres

Amateur radio

This band is used for amateur radio; global distances can be covered by sky-wave propagation, often with modest transmitter power.

Propagation at HF is highly dependent on the state of the ionosphere. Nonetheless, the HF band is used for short-wave radio broadcasting, and also for a variety of government, military, aviation and maritime purposes.

Sky wave.

Very high frequency (VHF)

30 megahertz to 300 megahertz

1 metre to 10 metres

Digital radio, aeroplane, taxi

The frequency range of VHF allows wider-bandwidth services to be accommodated than is possible at HF, MF or LF. The shorter wavelength of VHF compared to HF also means that antennas are more compact. These features make the VHF band attractive for a wide variety of services.

FM radio and DAB radio, which require higher bandwidths than the AM transmissions at MF and LF, are situated in this band. The band is also used for aviation, and for some private mobile radio (e.g. taxi services).

Line of sight, together with contributions from reflected, diffracted and scattered waves.

Ultra high frequency (UHF)

300 megahertz to 3 gigahertz

100 millimetres to 1 metre

Mobile phone, microwave oven, TV aerial

This band affords more spectrum bandwidth than VHF, so terrestrial TV broadcasting in the UK is done at UHF (though VHF was used in the days before UHF receivers were widely available, and fewer channels were broadcast). Some (not all) channels of 8 megahertz bandwidth in the range 470 to 790 megahertz are used, each channel carrying a digital multiplex.

The relatively short wavelengths at UHF mean that antennas can be compact enough to fit into small mobile devices. The propagation characteristics of this band are favourable for short- to medium-range links, and the technology is mature. So it is not surprising that a huge variety of applications are found in this band, including mobile phones (at 800 megahertz, 900 megahertz, 1.8 gigahertz, 2.1 gigahertz and 2.6 gigahertz), WiFi (at 2.4 gigahertz), Bluetooth, GPS, cordless phones and baby monitors. Some radar applications also operate here.

Microwave ovens work at a frequency of 2.45 gigahertz, which is within this band.

Line of sight, together with contributions from reflected, diffracted and scattered waves.

Super high frequency (SHF)

3 gigahertz to 30 gigahertz

10 millimetres to 100 millimetres

Satellite dish, WiFi access point

Satellite broadcasting operates in this band, where it is able to take advantage of the wider bandwidths that are available for allocation, compared to UHF and lower bands. Atmospheric absorption is relatively low compared to that in the next frequency band (EHF).

Congestion in the UHF spectrum has also encouraged a move to higher frequencies for wireless networking, in particular the 5 gigahertz WiFi standard.

The SHF band is used by many radar applications.

Line of sight, together with contributions from reflected, diffracted and scattered waves.

Extremely high frequency (EHF)

30 gigahertz to 300 gigahertz

1 millimetres to 10 millimetres

Large dish antenna, satellite

This band is important for specialised uses such as radio astronomy and satellite exploration.

In the past the EHF band was not used much for general communications, owing to the technical challenges of transmitter and receiver design at these frequencies. However, this is changing, with 60 gigahertz proposed as a WiFi band for short-range data communication. This particular frequency is not suitable for long-range terrestrial communication because of a peak in atmospheric absorption.

Line of sight. Atmospheric absorption is strong, particularly at 60 gigahertz and 200 gigahertz.

 1.3 Digital signals and modulation