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Radar Detector Alphabet Soup: Radar Detector Basics

Industry Trends
  • November 29 2023
  • Kathy Anderson
Radar Detector Basics

Multiple bandwidths and new technologies call for sophisticated detectors

updated November 28, 2023

Newcomers to the world of radar detectors can be overwhelmed by the alphabet soup of radar bands. So, understanding bandwidth basics of a radar detector will enable your sales force to explain the differences and help buyers make informed decisions, hopefully avoiding the dreaded speeding ticket.

It’s also important to remind them that a radar detector cannot protect them against everything. There are many other methods law enforcement might use to estimate speed, such as aircraft monitoring (VASCAR), pacing, or turning the radar gun on at the last moment (instant-on/POP).

Although today’s radar detectors have come a long way in terms of reception distance, location of threats, and filtering out false alerts, no radar detector is foolproof.

With that in mind, let’s review the different radar bands along with some other all-letter police technologies.

What Is X Band?

X Band operates from 10.500 to 10.550 GHz and is the oldest radar band used in the U.S. It was the only band used for police radar until the mid 1970s. Today, X band is also used for many security and other non-speed-related devices, which means detectors can get a false alarm. Although X band can be detected up to 4 miles away, accuracy is limited to around a half mile. Despite its age, some states are still using this band.

What Is K Band?

K Band operates around 24 GHz. K band began to be used around 1978 and is still in use today for speed detection. Detection distance ranges from 1/4 of a mile to 2 miles, but accuracy is about 1/4 of a mile. Other devices also operate on K Band like blind spot monitoring radar, smart cruise control, speed cameras, safety radar signs, etc. So, the need for a radar detector with the ability to filter out false alerts is a must. With the arrival of K band, dual-band X/K radar detectors were developed.

What Is Ka Band?

Ka Band operates from 33.4 to 36 GHz Superwideband. Police radar guns began using the Ka band frequencies in 1987 with the introduction of photo radar. Today, a number of different frequencies are used. Photo radar is often 34.3 GHz, law enforcement’s Stalker is 34.2 to 35.2 GHz, and BEE 36A is 33.4 GHz to 34.4 GHz. This can prove a challenge to many radar detectors. There’s not much interference on the KA band, so any alerts in the KA band must be treated as real.

What Is POP radar?

Super-quick POP transmissions often happen in the 33.8 GHz Ka band. The transmission can last from 67 ms (older tech) to 16 ms (today’s tech). They happen so fast, there’s no way to get advanced detection of the signals. Some sources suggest POP is not used as much now due to the popularity of LIDAR speed guns (see below).

Tri-Band Wideband and Superwideband Detectors

The introduction of Ka band photo radarled to the development of tri-band radar detectors able to detect X, K, plus a small portion of Ka band. As police radar adapted to radar detectors, a fourth category of radar receivers emerged called Wideband. Wideband detects X, K and the wideband Ka (34.2–35.2GHz) used by the Stalker. Finally, in response to the BEE 36A, a new generation of radar detectors were developed called Superwideband detectors. These cover all radar guns operating on X, K or Superwideband Ka (33.4–36.0GHz). After the introduction of these new terms, all Whistler radar models developed were capable of detecting the three radar bands.

What is Ku band?

Since the introduction of Ka band, there really hasn’t been a new radar band brought to the US market. However, the Ku band, although not used too much in the US, is used in Europe. It operates with a spread between 12 GHz and 18 GHz and is centered around 13.45 GHz.

MRCD/MRCT Radar Used by Law Enforcement

Traditional police radar uses a fixed frequency. However, there is a newer technology out there. MRCD (MultaRadar CD) and MRCT (MultaRadar CT) continually sweep through several frequencies. This can prove challenging for radar detectors to identify and warn against. In the US, it can be found in red light cameras. And in Canada, it’s been concealed in the rear of pickup trucks. There are detectors that are designed to pick this up.

GATSO RT3/4 Radar

Swedish-based Senys Gatso makes traffic enforcement products. Their RT4 systems are found in speed cameras, photo cameras, fixed and portable models, and speed zone cameras. It is radar based but can be challenging to detect. But there are some detectors that can warn against this.

Radar vs Lidar/Laser

Up to this point, we just talked about radar (Radar Detection and Ranging). As Kustom Signals Inc. explains:

“When the radio waves from the officer’s device strike a vehicle, some of the signals are reflected and bounced back towards the gun. Using what is known as the Doppler Effect, the device can calculate the speed of the vehicle based on changes in the value of the returning signal.”

With radar, the radio waves are broad and for the most part (except Ka band) are easy to detect.

However, the police also use laser or LIDAR speed guns. LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. A police laser gun sends a narrow beam of light, generally targeting just one vehicle at a time. That beam then bounces back to the gun’s laser receiver. Generally, the grille of a vehicle is targeted.

This can be the most accurate form of speed detection because the officer knows exactly which car is speeding. As a rule, drivers have no warning when they are about to be laser pinged. Most radar detectors sold today will offer some sort of laser heads-up, but it may simply come too late.

Laser shifters are also available but are not legal in all states. Radar jammers are illegal, period.

Are Radar Detectors Legal?

Yes, mainly. But there are notable exceptions. Car and Driver notes:

  • In the US, they are legal in passenger vehicles except in Virginia and Washington DC
  • Nationally, they are illegal in all commercial vehicles over 10,000 lbs., however, if a commercial vehicle weighs less than 10,000 lbs., they are only illegal in Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington DC
  • Minnesota and California prohibit any devices attached to a windshield that can obstruct a driver’s view
  • In Puerto Rico, they are legal in passenger vehicles but illegal in all commercial vehicles, regardless of weight
  • They are illegal on all US military bases
  • In Canada, they are legal only in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan

Radar Detector Detectors

What your staff and your customers may not know is that there are detectors used by law enforcement to see if a vehicle even has a radar detector. Is this a big deal? Only if one is in use where it shouldn’t be! Terms to look for in a radar detector’s list of features to help it be stealthy or undetectable include VG-2, Spectre IV, and Spectra Elite.

The Takeaway

As you can see, there are a lot of ways law enforcement can check speed. So, for a radar detector to be effective, it must use a lot of sophisticated technology. Plus, to lower the risk of false alerts, many detectors also have some kind of filtering technology. And many feature a form of crowd-sourced information for speed traps, red light cameras, speed cameras, etc.

Understanding bandwidth basics and the various kinds of speed monitoring technologies will help you drive your customers into the world of radar detectors. Then you can help them find the right one for their needs and budget.

Petra offers models at wholesale prices from Cobra, ESCORT, Uniden, and the Whistler Group.

Whistler and ESCORT even offer combo radar laster detector/dash cams to help reduce windshield clutter.

And if you’re looking for companion sales, Petra has plenty of standalone dash cams in stock.

Not yet a Petra customer? Get started here!