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Radio Communications

At the beginning of the 20th century, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first transatlantic radio signals from England to Newfoundland. Since then, radio communications have continually improved. Radio communication and principles are often taken for granted in these modern times; it is so commonplace!

Televisions, cordless phones, garage-door openers, Radio-Controlled model airplanes and cars, pagers, cellular phones, and security systems are all examples of commonplace radio communication technology.

The Radio Frequency Spectrum

Listed below are the frequency ranges for various "bands" of the frequency spectrum:

VLF = Very Low Frequency
LF  = Low Frequency
MF  = Medium Frequency
HF  = High Frequency
VHF = Very High Frequency
UHF = Ultra High Frequency
SHF = Super High Frequency
EHF = Extremely High Frequency

Band   ITU      Frequency          Waveform
Name   Band       Range              Name
----   ----   --------------    ---------------
VLF     4       3 -   30 KHz    Myriametric
LF      5      30 -  300 KHz    Kilometric
MF      6     300 - 3000 KHz    Hectometric
HF      7       3 -   30 MHz    Decametric
VHF     8      30 -  300 MHz    Metric
UHF     9     300 - 3000 MHz    Decimetric
SHF    10       3 -   30 GHz    Centimetric
EHF    11      30 -  300 GHz    Millimetric
(IR)   12     300 - 3000 GHz    Decimillimetric

Other Frequencies and Waveforms

        Frequency Range                       Description
-------------------------------      -----------------------------
3x10E11 (300 GHz)  -  4.3x10E14      Infrared Light
4.3x10E14          -  1x10E15        Visible Light (Red to Violet)
1x10E15            -  6x10E16        Ultraviolet Light
6x10E16            -  3x10E19        X-Rays
3x10E19            -  5x10E20        Gamma Rays
5x10E20            -  8x10E21        Cosmic Rays

Radio Wave Propagation

Radio waves are often categorized into 2 general categories of propagation:

Ground Wave
Sky Wave

Another type of propagation, called

Ground Wave Propagation

Ground Waves travel along the surface of the earth. There are three types of Ground Waves; the Surface Wave, the Direct Wave, and the Ground-Reflected Wave.

VLF (3 - 30 KHz) and LF (30-300 KHz) signals typically use Surface Wave propagation, for spanning thousands of miles in distance. Such systems include submarine and maritime communications, as well as the LORAN-C navigational system (100 KHz).

Signals above 30 MHz (including the FM broadcast band and Microwave Radio frequencies) generally use Direct Wave propagation. This includes the VHF, UHF, SHF, and EHF frequency bands. This type of propagation is also known as "Line Of Sight" transmission, since a direct wave will not (usually!) traverse the horizon. Line Of Sight transmission is usually used for communications purposes. In typical systems, the transmitter and receiver must be within 25-30 miles of each other.

Ground-Reflected waves are usually detrimental to communications, since a REFLECTED wave causes a 180-degree phase shift. This phase shift, coupled with a valid Surface or Direct wave, results in cancellation and sub-optimal transmission quality. Often, the use of a beam antenna can eliminate degradation from ground relections.

Sky Wave Propagation

Sky Waves travel up into the earth's atmosphere, where they either continue or are REFRACTED by the ionized air particles in the upper atmosphere. This depends upon the strength of the signal, the angle at which the signal hits the ionized layer, and the frequency of the signal. Also, signals that reflect off the ionosphere may travel further (skip distance) at night.

The Ionosphere consists of the "D" (30-60 miles), "E" (60-100 miles), F1 (90-160 miles), and the F2 (160-250 miles) layers. At night, the "E" layer disappears and the F1 and F2 layers combine to form the "F" layer (somewhere between 90 and 250 miles). Since the "E" layer disappears at night, the lower frequency Sky Waves (MF) travel further up into the atmosphere, where they are REFRACTED by the "F" layer. That's why at night, your radio often picks up many more AM broadcast stations!

Frequencies in the range of 300 KHz to 30 MHz (Medium Frequency and High Frequency bands) usually utilize sky wave transmission. Generally, these frequencies are not used for communications, since the transmission media (the Ionosphere) is highly variable. Additionally, their lower frequencies results in lower bandwidth; thus, they can support fewer channels.

Scatter Propagation

Another propagation method worthy of note is "Scatter" propagation. When Direct Waves in the UHF/SHF range are transmitted, they can be affected by the dense characteristics of the Troposphere or Stratosphere. As such, these waves may be REFRACTED in a forward, side, or even backwards direction. Powerful transmitters and sensitive receivers are needed, but these wideband signals can traverse distances of 200 - 400 miles!

The most common form of Scatter propagation is known as Forward Propagation by Tropospheric Scatter (FPTS). It is often useful for military tactical communications, where wideband signals can be transmitted over long distances without the benefit of Microwave Relay stations or wideband satellite facilities. However, long-haul Tropospheric Scatter propagation requires high transmit power and very large receiving antenna arrays. Also, signal strength losses are great and the signal is affected by many kinds of noise sources.

FREQUENCIESHere is a listing of some frequency assignments.

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