Chemistry » Electronic Structure of Atoms » Electromagnetic Energy

Wireless Communication

Waves in Real Life: Wireless Communication


Radio and cell towers are typically used to transmit long-wavelength electromagnetic radiation. Increasingly, cell towers are designed to blend in with the landscape, as with the Tucson, Arizona, cell tower (right) disguised as a palm tree. Image credit: left: modification of work by Sir Mildred Pierce; middle: modification of work by M.O. Stevens

Many valuable technologies (see image above) operate in the radio (3 kHz-300 GHz) frequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum. At the low frequency (low energy, long wavelength) end of this region are AM (amplitude modulation) radio signals (540-2830 kHz) that can travel long distances.

FM (frequency modulation) radio signals are used at higher frequencies (87.5-108.0 MHz). In AM radio, the information is transmitted by varying the amplitude of the wave (see figure below). In FM radio, by contrast, the amplitude is constant and the instantaneous frequency varies (also see figure below).


This schematic depicts how amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM) can be used to transmit a radio wave. Image credit: OpenStax, Chemistry

Other technologies also operate in the radio-wave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. For example, 4G cellular telephone signals are approximately 880 MHz, while Global Positioning System (GPS) signals operate at 1.228 and 1.575 GHz, local area wireless technology (Wi-Fi) networks operate at 2.4 to 5 GHz, and highway toll sensors operate at 5.8 GHz. The frequencies associated with these applications are convenient because such waves tend not to be absorbed much by common building materials.

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