Radio is the technology of signaling and communicating using radio waves. Radio waves are electromagnetic waves of frequency between 30 hertz (Hz) and 300 gigahertz (GHz). They are generated by an electronic device called a transmitter connected to an antenna which radiates the waves, and received by a radio receiver connected to another antenna. Radio is very widely used in modern technology, in radio communication, radar, radio navigation, remote control, remote sensing and other applications. In radio communication, used in radio and television broadcasting, cell phones, two-way radios, wireless networking and satellite communication among numerous other uses, radio waves are used to carry information across space from a transmitter to a receiver, by modulating the radio signal (impressing an information signal on the radio wave by varying some aspect of the wave) in the transmitter. In radar, used to locate and track objects like aircraft, ships, spacecraft and missiles, a beam of radio waves emitted by a radar transmitter reflects off the target object, and the reflected waves reveal the object's location. In radio navigation systems such as GPS and VOR, a mobile receiver receives radio signals from navigational radio beacons whose position is known, and by precisely measuring the arrival time of the radio waves the receiver can calculate its position on Earth. In wireless radio remote control devices like drones, garage door openers, and keyless entry systems, radio signals transmitted from a controller device control the actions of a remote device.
Applications of radio waves which do not involve transmitting the waves significant distances, such as RF heating used in industrial processes and microwave ovens, and medical uses such as diathermy and MRI machines, are not usually called radio. The noun radio is also used to mean a broadcast radio receiver.
Radio waves were first identified and studied by German physicist Heinrich Hertz in 1886. The first practical radio transmitters and receivers were developed around 1895-6 by Italian Guglielmo Marconi, and radio began to be used commercially around 1900. To prevent interference between users, the emission of radio waves is strictly regulated by law, coordinated by an international body called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which allocates frequency bands in the radio spectrum for different uses.
Radio waves are radiated by electric charges undergoing acceleration. They are generated artificially by time varying electric currents, consisting of electrons flowing back and forth in a metal conductor called an antenna, thus accelerating. In transmission, a transmitter generates an alternating current of radio frequency which is applied to an antenna. The antenna radiates the power in the current as radio waves. When the waves strike the antenna of a radio receiver, they push the electrons in the metal back and forth, inducing a tiny alternating current. The radio receiver connected to the receiving antenna detects this oscillating current and amplifies it.
As they travel farther from the transmitting antenna, radio waves spread out so their signal strength (intensity in watts per square meter) decreases, so radio transmissions can only be received within a limited range of the transmitter, the distance depending on the transmitter power, antenna radiation pattern, receiver sensitivity, noise level, and presence of obstructions between transmitter and receiver. An omnidirectional antenna transmits or receives radio waves in all directions, while a directional antenna or high gain antenna transmits radio waves in a beam in a particular direction, or receives waves from only one direction.
Radio waves travel through a vacuum at the speed of light, and in air at very close to the speed of light, so the wavelength of a radio wave, the distance in meters between adjacent crests of the wave, is inversely proportional to its frequency.
The other types of electromagnetic waves besides radio waves; infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays, are also able to carry information and be used for communication. The wide use of radio waves for telecommunication is mainly due to their desirable propagation properties stemming from their large wavelength. Radio waves have the ability to pass through the atmosphere, foliage, and most building materials, and by diffraction can bend around obstructions, and unlike other electromagnetic waves they tend to be scattered rather than absorbed by objects larger than their wavelength.
A modulated radio wave, carrying an information signal, occupies a range of frequencies. See diagram. The information (modulation) in a radio signal is usually concentrated in narrow frequency bands called sidebands (SB) just above and below the carrier frequency. The width in hertz of the frequency range that the radio signal occupies, the highest frequency minus the lowest frequency, is called its bandwidth (BW). For any given signal-to-noise ratio, an amount of bandwidth can carry the same amount of information (data rate in bits per second) regardless of where in the radio frequency spectrum it is located, so bandwidth is a measure of information-carrying capacity. The bandwidth required by a radio transmission depends on the data rate of the information (modulation signal) being sent, and the spectral efficiency of the modulation method used; how much data it can transmit in each kilohertz of bandwidth. Different types of information signals carried by radio have different data rates. For example, a television (video) signal has a greater data rate than an audio signal.
The radio spectrum, the total range of radio frequencies that can be used for communication in a given area, is a limited resource. Each radio transmission occupies a portion of the total bandwidth available. Radio bandwidth is regarded as an economic good which has a monetary cost and is in increasing demand. In some parts of the radio spectrum the right to use a frequency band or even a single radio channel is bought and sold for millions of dollars. So there is an incentive to employ technology to minimize the bandwidth used by radio services.
In recent years there has been a transition from analog to digital radio transmission technologies. Part of the reason for this is that digital modulation can often transmit more information (a greater data rate) in a given bandwidth than analog modulation, by using data compression algorithms, which reduce redundancy in the data to be sent, and more efficient modulation. Other reasons for the transition is that digital modulation has greater noise immunity than analog, digital signal processing chips have more power and flexibility than analog circuits, and a wide variety of types of information can be transmitted using the same digital modulation.
Because it is a fixed resource which is in demand by an increasing number of users, the radio spectrum has become increasingly congested in recent decades, and the need to use it more effectively is driving many additional radio innovations such as trunked radio systems, spread spectrum (ultra-wideband) transmission, frequency reuse, dynamic spectrum management, frequency pooling, and cognitive radio.
Broadcasting is the one-way transmission of information from a radio transmitter to receivers belonging to a public audience. Since the radio waves become weaker with distance, a broadcasting station can only be received within a limited distance of its transmitter. Systems which broadcast from satellites can generally be received over an entire country or continent. Older terrestrial radio and television is paid for by commercial advertising or governments. In subscription systems like satellite television and satellite radio the customer pays a monthly fee. In these systems the radio signal is encrypted and can only be decrypted by the receiver, which is controlled by the company and can be deactivated if the customer doesn't pay his bill.
Broadcasting uses several parts of the radio spectrum, depending on the type of signals transmitted and the desired target audience. Longwave and medium wave signals can give reliable coverage of areas several hundred kilometres across, but have more limited information carrying capacity and so work best with audio signals (speech and music), and the sound quality can be degraded by radio noise from natural and artificial sources. The shortwave bands have greater potential range, but are more subject to interference by distant stations and varying atmospheric conditions that affect reception.
In the very high frequency band, greater than 30 megahertz, the Earth's atmosphere has less of an effect on the range of signals, and line-of-sight propagation becomes the principle mode. These higher frequencies permit the great bandwidth required for television broadcasting. Since natural and artificial noise sources are less present at these frequencies, high-quality audio transmission is possible, using frequency modulation.
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