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Radio frequency (RF) is the frequency range used in radio, extending from around twenty thousand times per second (20 kHz) to around three hundred billion times per second (300 GHz). This is roughly between the upper limit of audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies.[1] RF usually refers to electrical rather than mechanical oscillations. However, mechanical RF systems do exist (see mechanical filter and RF MEMS).


Special properties of RF currentEdit

Electric currents that oscillate at radio frequencies have special properties not shared by direct current or alternating current of lower frequencies.

  • Energy from RF currents in conductors can radiate into space as electromagnetic waves (radio waves). This is the basis of radio technology.
  • RF current does not penetrate deeply into electrical conductors but tends to flow along their surfaces; this is known as the skin effect.
  • RF currents applied to the body often do not cause the painful sensation and muscular contraction of electric shock that lower frequency currents produce.[2][3] This is because the current changes direction too quickly to trigger depolarization of nerve membranes. However this does not mean RF currents are harmless; they can cause internal injury as well as serious superficial burns called RF burns.
  • RF current can easily ionize air, creating a conductive path through it. This property is exploited by "high frequency" units used in electric arc welding, which use currents at higher frequencies than power distribution uses.
  • Another property is the ability to appear to flow through paths that contain insulating material, like the dielectric insulator of a capacitor. This is because capacitive reactance in a circuit decreases with frequency.
  • In contrast, RF current can be blocked by a coil of wire, or even a single turn or bend in a wire. This is because the inductive reactance of a circuit increases with frequency.
  • When conducted by an ordinary electric cable, RF current has a tendency to reflect from discontinuities in the cable such as connectors and travel back down the cable toward the source, causing a condition called standing waves. Therefore, RF current must be carried by specialized types of cable called transmission line.

Frequency bandsEdit

The radio spectrum of frequencies is divided into bands with conventional names designated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU):

ITU designation IEEE bands[4]
Full name Abbreviation[5]
3–30 Hz 105–104 km Extremely low frequency ELF N/A
30–300 Hz 104–103 km Super low frequency SLF N/A
300–3000 Hz 103–100 km Ultra low frequency ULF N/A
3–30 kHz 100–10 km Very low frequency VLF N/A
30–300 kHz 10–1 km Low frequency LF N/A
300 kHz – 3 MHz 1 km – 100 m Medium frequency MF N/A
3–30 MHz 100–10 m High frequency HF HF
30–300 MHz 10–1 m Very high frequency VHF VHF
300 MHz – 3 GHz 1 m – 10 cm Ultra high frequency UHF UHF, L, S
3–30 GHz 10–1 cm Super high frequency SHF S, C, X, Ku, K, Ka
30–300 GHz 1 cm – 1 mm Extremely high frequency EHF Ka, V, W, mm
300 GHz – 3 THz 1 mm – 0.1 mm Tremendously high frequency THF N/A

Frequencies of 1 GHz and above are conventionally called microwave,[6] while frequencies of 30 GHz and above are designated millimeter wave. More detailed band designations are given by the standard IEEE letter- band frequency designations[4] and the EU/NATO frequency designations.[7]

In communicationEdit

Radio frequencies are generated and processed within very many functional units such as transmitters, receivers, computers, and televisions to name a few. Radio frequencies are also applied in carrier current systems including telephony and control circuits.

In medicineEdit

Radio frequency (RF) energy, in the form of radiating waves or electrical currents, has been used in medical treatments for over 75 years,[8] generally for minimally invasive surgeries using radiofrequency ablation including the treatment of sleep apnea.[9] Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio frequency waves to generate images of the human body.[10]

Radio frequencies at non-ablation energy levels are commonly used as a part of aesthetic treatments that can tighten skin, reduce fat by lipolysis and also apoptosis,[11] or promote healing.[12]

RF diathermy is a medical treatment that uses RF induced heat as a form of physical or occupational therapy and in surgical procedures. It is commonly used for muscle relaxation. It is also a method of heating tissue electromagnetically for therapeutic purposes in medicine. Diathermy is used in physical therapy and occupational therapy to deliver moderate heat directly to pathologic lesions in the deeper tissues of the body. Surgically, the extreme heat that can be produced by diathermy may be used to destroy neoplasms, warts, and infected tissues, and to cauterize blood vessels to prevent excessive bleeding. The technique is particularly valuable in neurosurgery and surgery of the eye. Diathermy equipment typically operates in the short-wave radio frequency (range 1–100 MHz) or microwave energy (range 434–915 MHz).

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) is a medical treatment that purportedly helps to heal bone tissue reported in a recent NASA study. This method usually employs electromagnetic radiation of different frequencies - ranging from static magnetic fields, through extremely low frequencies (ELF) to higher radio frequencies (RF) administered in pulses.

Effects on the human bodyEdit

Radio frequency current through tissue will generate heat in the tissue and can cause burns.


Test apparatus for radio frequencies can include standard instruments at the lower end of the range, but at higher frequencies the test equipment becomes more specialized.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ A. A. Ghirardi, Radio Physics Course, 2nd ed. New York: Rinehart Books, 1932, p. 249
  2. ^ Curtis, Thomas Stanley (1916). High Frequency Apparatus: Its Construction and Practical Application. USA: Everyday Mechanics Company. p. 6. 
  3. ^ Mieny, C. J. (2003). Principles of Surgical Patient Care (2nd ed.). New Africa Books. p. 136. ISBN 9781869280055. 
  4. ^ a b IEEE Std 521-2002 Standard Letter Designations for Radar-Frequency Bands Archived 2013-12-21 at the Wayback Machine., Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2002.
  5. ^ Jeffrey S. Beasley; Gary M. Miller (2008). Modern Electronic Communication (9th ed.). pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-0132251136. 
  6. ^ Kumar, Sanjay; Shukla, Saurabh (2014). Concepts and Applications of Microwave Engineering. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. p. 3. ISBN 8120349350. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Ruey J. Sung & Michael R. Lauer (2000). Fundamental approaches to the management of cardiac arrhythmias. Springer. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-7923-6559-4. Archived from the original on 2015-09-05. 
  9. ^ Melvin A. Shiffman; Sid J. Mirrafati; Samuel M. Lam; Chelso G. Cueteaux (2007). Simplified Facial Rejuvenation. Springer. p. 157. ISBN 978-3-540-71096-7. 
  10. ^ Bethge, K. (2004-04-27). Medical Applications of Nuclear Physics. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9783540208051. Archived from the original on 2018-05-01. 
  11. ^ McDaniel, David; Lozanova, Paula (2015-6). "Human Adipocyte Apoptosis Immediately Following High Frequency Focused Field Radio Frequency: Case Study". Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD. 14 (6): 622–623. ISSN 1545-9616. PMID 26091389.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ "Noninvasive Radio Frequency for Skin Tightening and Body Contouring, Frontline Medical Communications, 2013" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2018. 

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