"RF" redirects here. For other uses, see RF (disambiguation).

Radio frequency (RF) is a rate of oscillation in the range of about kHz to 300 GHz, which corresponds to the frequency of radio waves, and the alternating currents which carry radio signals. RF usually refers to electrical rather than mechanical oscillations; however, mechanical RF systems do exist (see mechanical filter and RF MEMS).

Although radio frequency is a rate of oscillation, the term "radio frequency" or its abbreviation "RF" are also used as a synonym for radio – i.e. to describe the use of wireless communication, as opposed to communication via electric wires. Examples include:

Special properties of RF current

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

  • The energy in an RF current can radiate off a conductor 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. For this reason, when the human body comes in contact with high power RF currents it can cause superficial but serious burns called RF burns.
  • RF currents applied to the body often do not cause the painful sensation of electric shock as do lower frequency currents.[2][3] This is because the current changes direction too quickly to trigger depolarization of nerve membranes.
  • 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.
  • 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, so RF current must be carried by specialized types of cable called transmission line.

Radio communication

To receive radio signals an antenna must be used. However, since the antenna will pick up thousands of radio signals at a time, a radio tuner is necessary to tune into a particular frequency (or frequency range).[4] This is typically done via a resonator – in its simplest form, a circuit with a capacitor and an inductor form a tuned circuit. The resonator amplifies oscillations within a particular frequency band, while reducing oscillations at other frequencies outside the band.


Main article: Radio spectrum
Frequency Wavelength Designation Abbreviation[5]
3 – 30 Hz 105 – 104 km Extremely low frequency ELF
30 – 300 Hz 104 – 103 km Super low frequency SLF
300 – 3000 Hz 103 – 100 km Ultra low frequency ULF
3 – 30 kHz 100 – 10 km Very low frequency VLF
30 – 300 kHz 10 – 1 km Low frequency LF
300 kHz – 3 MHz 1 km – 100 m Medium frequency MF
3 – 30 MHz 100 – 10 m High frequency HF
30 – 300 MHz 10 – 1 m Very high frequency VHF
300 MHz – 3 GHz 1 m – 10 cm Ultra high frequency UHF
3 – 30 GHz 10 – 1 cm Super high frequency SHF
30 – 300 GHz 1 cm – 1 mm Extremely high frequency EHF
300 GHz - 3000 GHz 1 mm - 0.1 mm Tremendously high frequency THF

The inverse relation between frequency and wavelength deduces that the higher the frequency of the RF Signal, the smaller its wavelength and vice versa. Thus, under similar conditions of propagation, the higher frequency signal attenuates faster than the lower frequency signal and becomes too weak to be detected at the end of the receiver, located at larger distances. An RF power amplifier is used to amplify the power level of such a transmitter RF Signal, so that it can travel larger distances with less attenuation.

In medicine

Radio frequency (RF) energy has been used in medical treatments for over 75 years,[6] generally for minimally invasive surgeries, using radiofrequency ablation and cryoablation, including the treatment of sleep apnea.[7] Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio frequency waves to generate images of the human body.

Radio frequencies at non-ablation energy levels are sometimes used as a form of cosmetic treatment that can tighten skin, reduce fat, or promote healing.[8]

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.

RF Effects on the human body

Extremely Low frequency RF with electric field levels in the low Kv/m range are known to induce perceivable currents within the human body that create an annoying tingling sensation. These currents will typically flow to ground through a body contact surface such as the feet, or arc to ground where the body is well insulated.[9][10]

Canadian safety code 6, also, recommends electric field limits of 100 kV/m for pulsed EMF to prevent air breakdown and spark discharges. Additional rational for EMF restrictions is to avoid auditory effect and energy-induced unconsciousness in rats.[11]

Also, see Microwave burn and Electromagnetic radiation and health

as a weapon

A heat ray is a RF harassment device that makes use of microwave radio frequencies to create an unpleasant heating effect in the upper layer of the skin. A publically known heat ray weapon called the Active Denial System was developed by the US millary as an experimental weapon to deny the enemy access to an area. Also, see death ray which is a heat ray weapon that delivers electromagnetic energy at levels that injure human tissue. The inventor of the death ray, Harry Grindell Matthews, claims to have lost sight in his left eye while developing his death ray weapon based on a primitive microwave magnetron from the 1920's. (Note that a typical microwave oven induces a tissue damaging cooking effect inside the oven at about 2 kV/m.)

Also, see, directed energy weapons

See also


External links

  • Definition of frequency bands (VLF, ELF … etc.) IK1QFK Home Page (
  • Radio, light, and sound waves, conversion between wavelength and frequency
  • RF Terms Glossary
cs:Rádiové vlny

fr:Onde radio he:גלי רדיו

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