Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies as high as 300 gigahertz (GHz) to as low as 30 hertz (Hz).At 300 GHz, the corresponding wavelength is 1 mm, and at 30 Hz is 10,000 km. Like all other electromagnetic waves, radio waves travel at the speed of light. They are generated by electric charges undergoing acceleration, such as time varying electric currents. Naturally occurring radio waves are emitted by lightning and astronomical objects.
In physics, electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field, propagating (radiating) through space, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. It includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, (visible) light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays.
In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is thus the inverse of the spatial frequency. Wavelength is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.
The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and their respective wavelengths and photon energies.
Radio waves are generated artificially by transmitters and received by radio receivers, using antennas. Radio waves are very widely used in modern technology for fixed and mobile radio communication, broadcasting, radar and other navigation systems, communications satellites, wireless computer networks and many other applications. Different frequencies of radio waves have different propagation characteristics in the Earth's atmosphere; long waves can diffract around obstacles like mountains and follow the contour of the earth (ground waves), shorter waves can reflect off the ionosphere and return to earth beyond the horizon (skywaves), while much shorter wavelengths bend or diffract very little and travel on a line of sight, so their propagation distances are limited to the visual horizon.
In electronics and telecommunications, a transmitter or radio transmitter is an electronic device which produces radio waves with an antenna. The transmitter itself generates a radio frequency alternating current, which is applied to the antenna. When excited by this alternating current, the antenna radiates radio waves.
In radio communications, a radio receiver, also known as a receiver, wireless or simply radio is an electronic device that receives radio waves and converts the information carried by them to a usable form. It is used with an antenna. The antenna intercepts radio waves and converts them to tiny alternating currents which are applied to the receiver, and the receiver extracts the desired information. The receiver uses electronic filters to separate the desired radio frequency signal from all the other signals picked up by the antenna, an electronic amplifier to increase the power of the signal for further processing, and finally recovers the desired information through demodulation.
In radio engineering, an antenna is the interface between radio waves propagating through space and electric currents moving in metal conductors, used with a transmitter or receiver. In transmission, a radio transmitter supplies an electric current to the antenna's terminals, and the antenna radiates the energy from the current as electromagnetic waves. In reception, an antenna intercepts some of the power of a radio wave in order to produce an electric current at its terminals, that is applied to a receiver to be amplified. Antennas are essential components of all radio equipment.
To prevent interference between different users, the artificial generation and use of radio waves is strictly regulated by law, coordinated by an international body called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which defines radio waves as "electromagnetic waves of frequencies arbitrarily lower than 3 000 GHz, propagated in space without artificial guide". The radio spectrum is divided into a number of radio bands on the basis of frequency, allocated to different uses.
Electromagnetic interference (EMI), also called radio-frequency interference (RFI) when in the radio frequency spectrum, is a disturbance generated by an external source that affects an electrical circuit by electromagnetic induction, electrostatic coupling, or conduction. The disturbance may degrade the performance of the circuit or even stop it from functioning. In the case of a data path, these effects can range from an increase in error rate to a total loss of the data. Both man-made and natural sources generate changing electrical currents and voltages that can cause EMI: ignition systems, cellular network of mobile phones, lightning, solar flares, and auroras. EMI frequently affects AM radios. It can also affect mobile phones, FM radios, and televisions, as well as observations for radio astronomy.
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.
The radio spectrum is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum with frequencies from 30 Hertz to 300 GHz. Electromagnetic waves in this frequency range, called radio waves, are extremely widely used in modern technology, particularly in telecommunication. To prevent interference between different users, the generation and transmission of radio waves is strictly regulated by national laws, coordinated by an international body, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Radio waves were first predicted by mathematical work done in 1867 by Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell.Maxwell noticed wavelike properties of light and similarities in electrical and magnetic observations. His mathematical theory, now called Maxwell's equations, described light waves and radio waves as waves of electromagnetism that travel in space, radiated by a charged particle as it undergoes acceleration. In 1887, Heinrich Hertz demonstrated the reality of Maxwell's electromagnetic waves by experimentally generating radio waves in his laboratory, showing that they exhibited the same wave properties as light: standing waves, refraction, diffraction, and polarization. Radio waves, originally called "Hertzian waves", were first used for communication in the mid 1890s by Guglielmo Marconi, who developed the first practical radio transmitters and receivers. The modern term "radio wave" replaced the original name "Hertzian wave" around 1912.
James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish scientist in the field of mathematical physics. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as different manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism have been called the "second great unification in physics" after the first one realised by Isaac Newton.
Maxwell's equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electromagnetism, classical optics, and electric circuits. The equations provide a mathematical model for electric, optical, and radio technologies, such as power generation, electric motors, wireless communication, lenses, radar etc. Maxwell's equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated by charges, currents, and changes of the fields. One important consequence of the equations is that they demonstrate how fluctuating electric and magnetic fields propagate at the speed of light. Known as electromagnetic radiation, these waves may occur at various wavelengths to produce a spectrum from radio waves to γ-rays. The equations are named after the physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, who between 1861 and 1862 published an early form of the equations that included the Lorentz force law. He also first used the equations to propose that light is an electromagnetic phenomenon.
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was a German physicist who first conclusively proved the existence of the electromagnetic waves theorized by James Clerk Maxwell's electromagnetic theory of light. The unit of frequency, cycle per second, was named the "Hertz" in his honor.
Radio waves in a vacuum travel at the speed of light.When passing through a material medium, they are slowed according to that object's permeability and permittivity. Air is thin enough that in the Earth's atmosphere radio waves travel very close to the speed of light.
The speed of light in vacuum, commonly denoted c, is a universal physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its exact value is 299,792,458 metres per second. It is exact because by international agreement a metre is defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299792458 second. According to special relativity, c is the maximum speed at which all conventional matter and hence all known forms of information in the universe can travel. Though this speed is most commonly associated with light, it is in fact the speed at which all massless particles and changes of the associated fields travel in vacuum. Such particles and waves travel at c regardless of the motion of the source or the inertial reference frame of the observer. In the special and general theories of relativity, c interrelates space and time, and also appears in the famous equation of mass–energy equivalence E = mc2.
In electromagnetism, permeability is the measure of the ability of a material to support the formation of a magnetic field within itself otherwise known as distributed inductance in Transmission Line Theory. Hence, it is the degree of magnetization that a material obtains in response to an applied magnetic field. Magnetic permeability is typically represented by the (italicized) Greek letter µ. The term was coined in September 1885 by Oliver Heaviside. The reciprocal of magnetic permeability is magnetic reluctivity.
In electromagnetism, absolute permittivity, often simply called permittivity, usually denoted by the Greek letter ε (epsilon), is the measure of capacitance that is encountered when forming an electric field in a particular medium. More specifically, permittivity describes the amount of charge needed to generate one unit of electric flux in a particular medium. Accordingly, a charge will yield more electric flux in a medium with low permittivity than in a medium with high permittivity. Permittivity is the measure of a material's ability to store an electric field in the polarization of the medium.
The wavelength is the distance from one peak of the wave's electric field (wave's peak/crest) to the next, and is inversely proportional to the frequency of the wave. The distance a radio wave travels in one second, in a vacuum, is 299,792,458 meters (983,571,056 ft) which is the wavelength of a 1 hertz radio signal. A 1 megahertz radio signal has a wavelength of 299.8 meters (984 ft).
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The study of radio propagation, how radio waves move in free space and over the surface of the Earth, is vitally important in the design of practical radio systems. Radio waves passing through different environments experience reflection, refraction, polarization, diffraction, and absorption. Different frequencies experience different combinations of these phenomena in the Earth's atmosphere, making certain radio bands more useful for specific purposes than others. Practical radio systems mainly use three different techniques of radio propagation to communicate:
In radio communication systems, information is carried across space using radio waves. At the sending end, the information to be sent, in the form of a time-varying electrical signal, is applied to a radio transmitter.The information signal can be an audio signal representing sound from a microphone, a video signal representing moving images from a video camera, or a digital signal representing data from a computer. In the transmitter, an electronic oscillator generates an alternating current oscillating at a radio frequency, called the carrier wave because it serves to "carry" the information through the air. The information signal is used to modulate the carrier, altering some aspect of it, "piggybacking" the information on the carrier. The modulated carrier is amplified and applied to an antenna. The oscillating current pushes the electrons in the antenna back and forth, creating oscillating electric and magnetic fields, which radiate the energy away from the antenna as radio waves. The radio waves carry the information to the receiver location.
At the receiver, the oscillating electric and magnetic fields of the incoming radio wave push the electrons in the receiving antenna back and forth, creating a tiny oscillating voltage which is a weaker replica of the current in the transmitting antenna.This voltage is applied to the radio receiver, which extracts the information signal. The receiver first uses a bandpass filter to separate the desired radio station's radio signal from all the other radio signals picked up by the antenna, then amplifies the signal so it is stronger, then finally extracts the information-bearing modulation signal in a demodulator. The recovered signal is sent to a loudspeaker or earphone to produce sound, or a television display screen to produce a visible image, or other devices. A digital data signal is applied to a computer or microprocessor, which interacts with a human user.
The radio waves from many transmitters pass through the air simultaneously without interfering with each other. They can be separated in the receiver because each transmitter's radio waves oscillate at a different rate, in other words each transmitter has a different frequency, measured in kilohertz (kHz), megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). The bandpass filter in the receiver consists of a tuned circuit which acts like a resonator, similarly to a tuning fork.It has a natural resonant frequency at which it oscillates. The resonant frequency is set equal to the frequency of the desired radio station. The oscillating radio signal from the desired station causes the tuned circuit to oscillate in sympathy, and it passes the signal on to the rest of the receiver. Radio signals at other frequencies are blocked by the tuned circuit and not passed on.
Radio waves are nonionizing radiation , which means they do not have enough energy to separate electrons from atoms or molecules, ionizing them, or break chemical bonds, causing chemical reactions or DNA damage. The main effect of absorption of radio waves by materials is to heat them, similarly to the infrared waves radiated by sources of heat such as a space heater or wood fire. The oscillating electric field of the wave causes polar molecules to vibrate back and forth, increasing the temperature; this is how a microwave oven cooks food. However, unlike infrared waves, which are mainly absorbed at the surface of objects and cause surface heating, radio waves are able to penetrate the surface and deposit their energy inside materials and biological tissues. The depth to which radio waves penetrate decreases with their frequency, and also depends on the material's resistivity and permittivity; it is given by a parameter called the skin depth of the material, which is the depth within which 63% of the energy is deposited. For example, the 2.45 GHz radio waves (microwaves) in a microwave oven penetrate most foods approximately 2.5 to 3.8 cm (1 to 1.5 inches). Radio waves have been applied to the body for 100 years in the medical therapy of diathermy for deep heating of body tissue, to promote increased blood flow and healing. More recently they have been used to create higher temperatures in hyperthermia treatment and to kill cancer cells. Looking into a source of radio waves at close range, such as the waveguide of a working radio transmitter, can cause damage to the lens of the eye by heating. A strong enough beam of radio waves can penetrate the eye and heat the lens enough to cause cataracts.
Since the heating effect is in principle no different from other sources of heat, most research into possible health hazards of exposure to radio waves has focused on "nonthermal" effects; whether radio waves have any effect on tissues besides that caused by heating. Electromagnetic radiation has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as "Possibly carcinogenic to humans".The conceivable evidence of cancer risk via Personal exposure to RF-EMF with mobile telephone use was identified.
Radio waves can be shielded against by a conductive metal sheet or screen, an enclosure of sheet or screen is called a Faraday cage. A metal screen shields against radio waves as well as a solid sheet as long as the holes in the screen are smaller than about 1/20 of wavelength of the waves.
Since radio frequency radiation has both an electric and a magnetic component, it is often convenient to express intensity of radiation field in terms of units specific to each component. The unit volts per meter (V/m) is used for the electric component, and the unit amperes per meter (A/m) is used for the magnetic component. One can speak of an electromagnetic field, and these units are used to provide information about the levels of electric and magnetic field strength at a measurement location.
Another commonly used unit for characterizing an RF electromagnetic field is power density. Power density is most accurately used when the point of measurement is far enough away from the RF emitter to be located in what is referred to as the far field zone of the radiation pattern.In closer proximity to the transmitter, i.e., in the "near field" zone, the physical relationships between the electric and magnetic components of the field can be complex, and it is best to use the field strength units discussed above. Power density is measured in terms of power per unit area, for example, milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm2). When speaking of frequencies in the microwave range and higher, power density is usually used to express intensity since exposures that might occur would likely be in the far field zone.
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Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.
Path loss, or path attenuation, is the reduction in power density (attenuation) of an electromagnetic wave as it propagates through space. Path loss is a major component in the analysis and design of the link budget of a telecommunication system.
Line-of-sight propagation is a characteristic of electromagnetic radiation or acoustic wave propagation which means waves travel in a direct path from the source to the receiver. Electromagnetic transmission includes light emissions traveling in a straight line. The rays or waves may be diffracted, refracted, reflected, or absorbed by the atmosphere and obstructions with material and generally cannot travel over the horizon or behind obstacles.
A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields. A Faraday shield may be formed by a continuous covering of conductive material, or in the case of a Faraday cage, by a mesh of such materials. Faraday cages are named after the English scientist Michael Faraday, who invented them in 1836.
Very low frequency or VLF is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range of 3 to 30 kilohertz (kHz), corresponding to wavelengths from 100 to 10 kilometers, respectively. The band is also known as the myriameter band or myriameter wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten myriameters. Due to its limited bandwidth, audio (voice) transmission is highly impractical in this band, and therefore only low data rate coded signals are used. The VLF band is used for a few radio navigation services, government time radio stations and for secure military communication. Since VLF waves can penetrate at least 40 meters (120 ft) into saltwater, they are used for military communication with submarines.
Medium frequency (MF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range of 300 kilohertz (kHz) to 3 megahertz (MHz). Part of this band is the medium wave (MW) AM broadcast band. The MF band is also known as the hectometer band as the wavelengths range from ten to one hectometer. Frequencies immediately below MF are denoted low frequency (LF), while the first band of higher frequencies is known as high frequency (HF). MF is mostly used for AM radio broadcasting, navigational radio beacons, maritime ship-to-shore communication, and transoceanic air traffic control.
High frequency (HF) is the ITU designation for the range of radio frequency electromagnetic waves between 3 and 30 megahertz (MHz). It is also known as the decameter band or decameter wave as its wavelengths range from one to ten decameters. Frequencies immediately below HF are denoted medium frequency (MF), while the next band of higher frequencies is known as the very high frequency (VHF) band. The HF band is a major part of the shortwave band of frequencies, so communication at these frequencies is often called shortwave radio. Because radio waves in this band can be reflected back to Earth by the ionosphere layer in the atmosphere – a method known as "skip" or "skywave" propagation – these frequencies are suitable for long-distance communication across intercontinental distances and for mountainous terrains which prevent line-of-sight communications. The band is used by international shortwave broadcasting stations (2.31–25.82 MHz), aviation communication, government time stations, weather stations, amateur radio and citizens band services, among other uses.
Radio propagation is the behavior of radio waves as they travel, or are propagated, from one point to another, or into various parts of the atmosphere. As a form of electromagnetic radiation, like light waves, radio waves are affected by the phenomena of reflection, refraction, diffraction, absorption, polarization, and scattering. Understanding the effects of varying conditions on radio propagation has many practical applications, from choosing frequencies for international shortwave broadcasters, to designing reliable mobile telephone systems, to radio navigation, to operation of radar systems.
The near field and far field are regions of the electromagnetic field (EM) around an object, such as a transmitting antenna, or the result of radiation scattering off an object. Non-radiative 'near-field' behaviours of electromagnetic fields dominate close to the antenna or scattering object, while electromagnetic radiation 'far-field' behaviours dominate at greater distances.
Super high frequency (SHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range between 3 and 30 gigahertz (GHz). This band of frequencies is also known as the centimetre band or centimetre wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten centimetres. These frequencies fall within the microwave band, so radio waves with these frequencies are called microwaves. The small wavelength of microwaves allows them to be directed in narrow beams by aperture antennas such as parabolic dishes and horn antennas, so they are used for point-to-point communication and data links and for radar. This frequency range is used for most radar transmitters, wireless LANs, satellite communication, microwave radio relay links, and numerous short range terrestrial data links. They are also used for heating in industrial microwave heating, medical diathermy, microwave hyperthermy to treat cancer, and to cook food in microwave ovens.
Wireless power transfer (WPT), wireless power transmission, wireless energy transmission (WET), or electromagnetic power transfer is the transmission of electrical energy without wires as a physical link. In a wireless power transmission system, a transmitter device, driven by electric power from a power source, generates a time-varying electromagnetic field, which transmits power across space to a receiver device, which extracts power from the field and supplies it to an electrical load. The technology of the wireless power transmission can eliminate the use of the wires and batteries, thus increasing the mobility, convenience, and safety of an electronic device for all users. Wireless power transfer is useful to power electrical devices where interconnecting wires are inconvenient, hazardous, or are not possible.
The Beverage antenna or "wave antenna" is a long-wire receiving antenna mainly used in the low frequency and medium frequency radio bands, invented by Harold H. Beverage in 1921. It is used by amateur radio, shortwave listening, and longwave radio DXers and military applications.
Near-field electromagnetic ranging (NFER) refers to any radio technology employing the near-field properties of radio waves as a Real Time Location System (RTLS).
Radio-frequency engineering, or RF engineering, is a subset of electrical and electronic engineering involving the application of transmission line, waveguide, antenna and electromagnetic field principles to the design and application of devices that produce or utilize signals within the radio band, the frequency range of about 20 kHz up to 300 GHz.
Non-ionizingradiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or molecules—that is, to completely remove an electron from an atom or molecule. Instead of producing charged ions when passing through matter, non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation has sufficient energy only for excitation, the movement of an electron to a higher energy state. Ionizing radiation which has a higher frequency and shorter wavelength than nonionizing radiation, has many uses but can be a health hazard; exposure to it can cause burns, radiation sickness, cancer, and genetic damage. Using ionizing radiation requires elaborate radiological protection measures which in general are not required with nonionizing radiation.