What is the most useful HT band?
March 21, 2011 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I am getting my Technician ham license next month. Which alternate band do I want for my HT ham radio? 216 - 280 mhz, 350 - 470 mhz, or 420 - 520 mhz?

I am about to buy my first handheld ham radio, but I'm still confused about which bands I'll be using. I've heard good things about these Wouxun radios, and they're cheap.

The Wouxun KG-UV2D comes in three bands:

136 - 174 mhz & 216 - 280 mhz

136 - 174 mhz & 350 - 470 mhz

136 - 174 mhz & 420 - 520 mhz

Which band do I want? I live in the SF Bay Area, if that matters. And if anyone has used this radio, I'd love to hear the experience of a seasoned ham.
posted by jstef to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience, the most popular bands for HT use are 2 meters (144-148 MHz) and 70 cm (420-450 MHz). Those are the bands where most of the VHF/UHF repeaters tend to be located, which will likely be a predominant form of communication for you if you are planning on using an HT as your primary radio. So I would encourage you to opt for a radio that includes those two bands, at least. That looks like it would be either of the second two radios you mentioned. The first radio you listed has coverage for the lesser-used 1.25 meter band (222-225 MHz) which I have never personally used, nor do I know anyone who does. I'm not familiar with the Wouxun brand; I've only ever used Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood gear, but it seems to have good reviews from a source that I consider to be reputable.
posted by Nothlit at 8:06 PM on March 21, 2011

Also, if you want a broader range of input on this topic, you might want to try posing your question over at the QRZ Forums. Or find a local amateur radio club in your area; there is likely someone there who would be happy to be an "elmer" (mentor) to you. And welcome to the hobby! It can really be a lot of fun.
posted by Nothlit at 8:18 PM on March 21, 2011

(Can't comment on the band question as I'm only sitting my exam tonight, but I have a KG-UVD1P sitting on the desk here, and it's a really solid, nicely made piece of kit that receives like a champ. WouXun is, apparently, pronounced approximately like "ocean".)
posted by scruss at 4:38 AM on March 22, 2011

Personally, I'd go for the one that covers 420-520 MHz at the top end.... but your mileage may vary, depending on what you're interested in listening to outside the ham bands.
posted by Ninevolt at 6:30 AM on March 22, 2011

Though I'm a SF Bay Area ham, I haven't used VHF/UHF for more than a few hours a year in recent years, and my take on this may well be out of date. I've not used that particular radio, or any by that manufacturer, so can't comment on the model itself.

The 2m band (144-148) is very popular, and you'll find open repeaters everywhere, including when traveling to more sparse regions of the country. It's a must-have in your first radio, which seems to agree with your plans.

The quality of the 440 band (420-450, with most repeaters and FM voice above 440) varies considerably from region to region. In California, you'll find a fair number of open and welcoming repeaters and, in dense places, significant simplex traffic. (Though a surprising fraction of the repeaters you'll find are closed or private, there are still enough of them around that you're likely to find a few nearby that are open.) It's also not a bad band to explore modes other than FM voice, if that appeals to you, though that may not be a driver in picking a first HT. Even in the SF Bay Area, where there are some restrictions on 440 repeaters (because of conflict with the US Air Force PAVE/PAWS system), you're likely to find plenty of activity. It's a pretty good choice for a dual band radio.

In general, the 220 band (220-224 MHz) is the quieter and less widely used than the other two. It's a smaller band, has less overlap with international allocations (if I remember correctly), and until recently the significantly lower price of 2m/440 HTs meant relatively few people had equipment for it. All of which means that you'll find fewer repeaters and even fewer open, friendly, chatty repeaters there than in the 440 band.

There are of course exceptions. In particular there are a couple large multi-machine repeater networks and a few emergency communications organizations that use 220. There are also people who choose 220 specifically because it's quieter, and it's a fine place to enjoy a quiet simplex chat with a friend or to place an alternate input for a repeater in a crowded area.

But, unless you've already got a reason to pick 220, I'd choose a 2m/440 machine as a first radio.

It looks like the second and third radios in your list cover the full 440 US ham band. To be honest, I'm not sure why there are two models. I imagine they're either designed for international markets, or they're sharing hardware with radios designed for other services. If you only care about US ham bands, pick whatever's cheaper, or flip a coin. If you've any interest in using the radio as a scanner, then you might want to spend a few minutes looking into what other services use the spectrum just below and above the 440 band to see if there's something particularly appealing to you that one of those radios can access. (A one minute search suggests lots of traffic above 440, as Ninevolt suggests.)

In short, my recommendation is:

* If you've got a nearby ham friend or a local amateur radio club, ask them what bands they use, and choose the same.

* If you don't have some external reason to want to use 220, I'd choose one of the 2m/440 radios.

* As a ham transceiver, both the second the third radios look like equally good choices.

If you'd like to chat in private (or arrange a QSO), feel free to memail me. I'm always happy to meet a new local ham.
posted by eotvos at 5:16 PM on March 22, 2011

Thanks to everyone who answered. Eotvos, that site of the Bay Area frequencies really helped me to decide, and I would have never found it on my own! I'm going to take yours and Ninevolt's advice and grab the 2m/420-520 model, because I can listen in on the local boys in blue.

Thanks again! I'll eventually memail you all to QSL my new radio!
posted by jstef at 8:31 PM on March 23, 2011

« Older If I could find my passport, I'd be in the Bahamas...   |   LA to Sacramento via 101? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.