Radio is the transmission of signals, by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space. Information is carried by systematically changing (modulating) some property of the radiated waves, such as amplitude, frequency, or phase. When radio waves pass an electrical conductor, the oscillating fields induce an alternating current in the conductor. This can be detected and transformed into sound or other signals that carry information.
In recent years the term "wireless" has gained renewed popularity through the rapid growth of short-range computer networking, e.g., Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), WiFi and Bluetooth, as well as mobile telephony, e.g., GSM and UMTS. Today, the term "radio" often refers to the actual transceiver device or chip, whereas "wireless" refers to the system and/or method used for radio communication, hence one talks about radio transceivers and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), but about wireless devices and wireless sensor networks.
Each system contains a transmitter. This consists of a source of electrical energy, producing alternating current of a desired frequency of oscillation. The transmitter contains a system to modulate (change) some property of the energy produced to impress a signal on it. This modulation might be a simple as turning the energy on and off, or altering more subtle properties such as amplitude, frequency, phase, or combinations of these properties. The transmitter sends the modulated electrical energy to an antenna; this structure converts the rapidly-changing alternating current into an electromagentic wave that can move through free space.
Electromagnetic waves travel through space either directly, or have their path altered by reflection, refraction or diffraction. The intensity of the waves diminishes due to geometric dispersion (the inverse-square law); some energy may also be absorbed by the intervening medium in some cases. Noise will generally alter the desired signal; this electromagnetic interference comes from natural sources, as well as from artifical sources such as other transmitters and accidental radiators. Noise is also produced at every step due to the inherent properties of the devices used. If the magnitude of the noise is large enough, the desired signal will no longer be discernable; this is the fundamental limit to the range of radio communications.
The electromagnetic wave is intercepted by a receiving antenna; this structure captures some of the energy of the wave and returns it to the form of oscillating electrical currents. At the receiver, these currents are demodulated, which is conversion to a usable signal form by a detector sub-system. The receiver is "tuned" to respond preferentially to the desired signals, and reject undersired signals.
Early radio systems relied entirely on the energy collected by an antenna to produce signals for the operator. Radio became more useful after the invention of electronic devices such as the vacuum tube and later the transistor, which made it possible to amplify weak signals. Today radio systems are used for applications from walkie-talkie children's toys to the control of space vehicles, as well as for broadcasting, and many other applications.
The meaning and usage of the word "radio" has developed in parallel with developments within the field and can be seen to have three distinct phases: electromagnetic waves and experimentation; wireless communication and technical development; and radio broadcasting and commercialization. Many individuals -- inventors, engineers, developers, businessmen -- contributed to produce the modern idea of radio and thus the origins and 'invention' are multiple and controversial.
Development from a laboratory demonstration to commercial utility spanned several decades and required the efforts of many practitioners.
In 1893, in St. Louis, Missouri, Nikola Tesla made devices for his experiments with electricity. Addressing the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the National Electric Light Association, he described and demonstrated in detail the principles of his wireless work. The descriptions contained all the elements that were later incorporated into radio systems before the development of the vacuum tube. He initially experimented with magnetic receivers, unlike the coherers (detecting devices consisting of tubes filled with iron filings which had been invented by Temistocle Calzecchi-Onesti at Fermo in Italy in 1884) used by Guglielmo Marconi and other early experimenters.
The first radio couldn't transmit sound or speech and was called the "wireless telegraph." The first public demonstration of wireless telegraphy took place in the lecture theater of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on August 14, 1894, carried out by Professor Oliver Lodge and Alexander Muirhead. During the demonstration a radio signal was sent from the neighboring Clarendon laboratory building, and received by apparatus in the lecture theater.
In 1895 Alexander Stepanovich Popov built his first radio receiver, which contained a coherer. Further refined as a lightning detector, it was presented to the Russian Physical and Chemical Society on May 7, 1895. A depiction of Popov's lightning detector was printed in the Journal of the Russian Physical and Chemical Society the same year. Popov's receiver was created on the improved basis of Lodge's receiver, and originally intended for reproduction of its experiments.
The next great invention was the vacuum tube detector, invented by Westinghouse engineers. On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden used a synchronous rotary-spark transmitter for the first radio program broadcast, from Ocean Bluff-Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Ships at sea heard a broadcast that included Fessenden playing O Holy Night on the violin and reading a passage from the Bible. The first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan. The first college radio station began broadcasting on October 14, 1920, from Union College, Schenectady, New York under the personal call letters of Wendell King, an African-American student at the school. That month 2ADD, later renamed WRUC in 1940, aired what is believed to be the first public entertainment broadcast in the United States, a series of Thursday night concerts initially heard within a radius and later for a radius. In November 1920, it aired the first broadcast of a sporting event. At 9 pm on August 27, 1920, Sociedad Radio Argentina aired a live performance of Richard Wagner's Parsifal opera from the Coliseo Theater in downtown Buenos Aires, only about twenty homes in the city had a receiver to tune in. Meanwhile, regular entertainment broadcasts commenced in 1922 from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle, England.
One of the first developments in the early 20th century (1900-1959) was that aircraft used commercial AM radio stations for navigation. This continued until the early 1960s when VOR systems finally became widespread (though AM stations are still marked on U.S. aviation charts). In the early 1930s, single sideband and frequency modulation were invented by amateur radio operators. By the end of the decade, they were established commercial modes. Radio was used to transmit pictures visible as television as early as the 1920s. Commercial television transmissions started in North America and Europe in the 1940s. In 1954, Regency introduced a pocket transistor radio, the TR-1, powered by a "standard 22.5 V Battery".
In 1960, Sony introduced its first transistorized radio, small enough to fit in a vest pocket, and able to be powered by a small battery. It was durable, because there were no tubes to burn out. Over the next 20 years, transistors replaced tubes almost completely except for very high-power uses. By 1963 color television was being regularly transmitted commercially, and the first (radio) communication satellite, TELSTAR, was launched. In the late 1960s, the U.S. long-distance telephone network began to convert to a digital network, employing digital radios for many of its links. In the 1970s, LORAN became the premier radio navigation system. Soon, the U.S. Navy experimented with satellite navigation, culminating in the invention and launch of the GPS constellation in 1987. In the early 1990s, amateur radio experimenters began to use personal computers with audio cards to process radio signals. In 1994, the U.S. Army and DARPA launched an aggressive, successful project to construct a software defined radio that can be programmed to be virtually any radio by changing its software program. Digital transmissions began to be applied to broadcasting in the late 1990s.
Radio was used to pass on orders and communications between armies and navies on both sides in World War I; Germany used radio communications for diplomatic messages once it discovered that its submarine cables had been tapped by the British. The United States passed on President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points to Germany via radio during the war. Broadcasting began from San Jose in 1909, and became feasible in the 1920s, with the widespread introduction of radio receivers, particularly in Europe and the United States. Besides broadcasting, point-to-point broadcasting, including telephone messages and relays of radio programs, became widespread in the 1920s and 1930s. Another use of radio in the pre-war years was the development of detection and locating of aircraft and ships by the use of radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging).
Today, radio takes many forms, including wireless networks and mobile communications of all types, as well as radio broadcasting. Before the advent of television, commercial radio broadcasts included not only news and music, but dramas, comedies, variety shows, and many other forms of entertainment. Radio was unique among methods of dramatic presentation in that it used only sound. For more, see radio programming.
AM broadcast radio sends music and voice in the Medium Frequency (MF—0.300 MHz to 3 MHz) radio spectrum. AM radio uses amplitude modulation, in which the amplitude of the transmitted signal is made proportional to the sound amplitude captured (transduced) by the microphone while the transmitted frequency remains unchanged. Transmissions are affected by static and interference because lightning and other sources of radio that are transmitting at the same frequency add their amplitudes to the original transmitted amplitude. The most wattage an AM radio station in the United States and Canada is allowed to use is 50,000 watts and the majority of stations that emit signals this powerful were grandfathered in; these include WGN (AM), WJR, KGA and CKLW. In 1986 KTNN received the last granted 50,000 watt license.
FM broadcast radio sends music and voice with higher fidelity than AM radio. In frequency modulation, amplitude variation at the microphone causes the transmitter frequency to fluctuate. Because the audio signal modulates the frequency and not the amplitude, an FM signal is not subject to static and interference in the same way as AM signals. Due to its need for a wider bandwidth, FM is transmitted in the Very High Frequency (VHF—30 MHz to 300 MHz) radio spectrum. VHF radio waves act more like light, traveling in straight lines, hence the reception range is generally limited to about 50-100 miles. During unusual upper atmospheric conditions, FM signals are occasionally reflected back towards the Earth by the ionosphere, resulting in Long distance FM reception. FM receivers are subject to the capture effect, which causes the radio to only receive the strongest signal when multiple signals appear on the same frequency. FM receivers are relatively immune to lightning and spark interference.
High power is useful in penetrating buildings, diffracting around hills, and refracting for some distance beyond the horizon. Consequently, 100,000 watt FM stations can regularly be heard up to 100 miles (160 km) away, and farther (e.g., 150 miles, 240 km) if there are no competing signals. A few old, "grandfathered" stations do not conform to these power rules. WBCT-FM (93.7) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, runs 320,000 watts ERP, and can increase to 500,000 watts ERP by the terms of its original license. Such a huge power level does not usually help to increase range as much as one might expect, because VHF frequencies travel in nearly straight lines over the horizon and off into space. Nevertheless, when there were fewer FM stations competing, this station could be heard near Bloomington, Illinois, USA, almost 300 miles (500 km) away.
FM subcarrier services are secondary signals transmitted in a "piggyback" fashion along with the main program. Special receivers are required to utilize these services. Analog channels may contain alternative programming, such as reading services for the blind, background music or stereo sound signals. In some extremely crowded metropolitan areas, the sub-channel program might be an alternate foreign language radio program for various ethnic groups. Sub-carriers can also transmit digital data, such as station identification, the current song's name, web addresses, or stock quotes. In some countries, FM radios automatically re-tune themselves to the same channel in a different district by using sub-bands.
Aviation voice radios use VHF AM. AM is used so that multiple stations on the same channel can be received. (Use of FM would result in stronger stations blocking out reception of weaker stations due to FM's capture effect). Aircraft fly high enough that their transmitters can be received hundreds of miles (or kilometres) away, even though they are using VHF.
Marine voice radios can use single sideband voice (SSB) in the shortwave High Frequency (HF—3 MHz to 30 MHz) radio spectrum for very long ranges or narrowband FM in the VHF spectrum for much shorter ranges. Narrowband FM sacrifices fidelity to make more channels available within the radio spectrum, by using a smaller range of radio frequencies, usually with five kHz of deviation, versus the 75 kHz used by commercial FM broadcasts, and 25 kHz used for TV sound.
Government, police, fire and commercial voice services also use narrowband FM on special frequencies. Early police radios used AM receivers to receive one-way dispatches.
Civil and military HF (high frequency) voice services use shortwave radio to contact ships at sea, aircraft and isolated settlements. Most use single sideband voice (SSB), which uses less bandwidth than AM. On an AM radio SSB sounds like ducks quacking. Viewed as a graph of frequency versus power, an AM signal shows power where the frequencies of the voice add and subtract with the main radio frequency. SSB cuts the bandwidth in half by suppressing the carrier and (usually) lower sideband. This also makes the transmitter about three times more powerful, because it doesn't need to transmit the unused carrier and sideband.
Satellite phones use satellites rather than cell towers to communicate. They come in two types: INMARSAT and Iridium. Both types provide world-wide coverage. INMARSAT uses geosynchronous satellites, with aimed high-gain antennas on the vehicles. Iridium uses 66 Low Earth Orbit satellites as the cells.
Digital television uses 8VSB modulation in North America (under the ATSC digital television standard), and COFDM modulation elsewhere in the world (using the DVB-T standard). A Reed-Solomon error correction code adds redundant correction codes and allows reliable reception during moderate data loss. Although many current and future codecs can be sent in the MPEG-2 transport stream container format, as of 2006 most systems use a standard-definition format almost identical to DVD: MPEG-2 video in Anamorphic widescreen and MPEG layer 2 (MP2) audio. High-definition television is possible simply by using a higher-resolution picture, but H.264/AVC is being considered as a replacement video codec in some regions for its improved compression. With the compression and improved modulation involved, a single "channel" can contain a high-definition program and several standard-definition programs.
Radio direction-finding is the oldest form of radio navigation. Before 1960 navigators used movable loop antennas to locate commercial AM stations near cities. In some cases they used marine radiolocation beacons, which share a range of frequencies just above AM radio with amateur radio operators. Loran systems also used time-of-flight radio signals, but from radio stations on the ground. VOR (Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range), systems (used by aircraft), have an antenna array that transmits two signals simultaneously. A directional signal rotates like a lighthouse at a fixed rate. When the directional signal is facing north, an omnidirectional signal pulses. By measuring the difference in phase of these two signals, an aircraft can determine its bearing or radial from the station, thus establishing a line of position. An aircraft can get readings from two VORs and locate its position at the intersection of the two radials, known as a "fix." When the VOR station is collocated with DME (Distance Measuring Equipment), the aircraft can determine its bearing and range from the station, thus providing a fix from only one ground station. Such stations are called VOR/DMEs. The military operates a similar system of navaids, called TACANs, which are often built into VOR stations. Such stations are called VORTACs. Because TACANs include distance measuring equipment, VOR/DME and VORTAC stations are identical in navigation potential to civil aircraft.
General purpose radars generally use navigational radar frequencies, but modulate and polarize the pulse so the receiver can determine the type of surface of the reflector. The best general-purpose radars distinguish the rain of heavy storms, as well as land and vehicles. Some can superimpose sonar data and map data from GPS position.
Search radars scan a wide area with pulses of short radio waves. They usually scan the area two to four times a minute. Sometimes search radars use the Doppler Effect to separate moving vehicles from clutter. Targeting radars use the same principle as search radar but scan a much smaller area far more often, usually several times a second or more. Weather radars resemble search radars, but use radio waves with circular polarization and a wavelength to reflect from water droplets. Some weather radar use the Doppler Effect to measure wind speeds.
The next advance was continuous wave telegraphy, or CW (Continuous Wave), in which a pure radio frequency, produced by a vacuum tube electronic oscillator was switched on and off by a key. A receiver with a local oscillator would "heterodyne" with the pure radio frequency, creating a whistle-like audio tone. CW uses less than 100 Hz of bandwidth. CW is still used, these days primarily by amateur radio operators (hams). Strictly, on-off keying of a carrier should be known as "Interrupted Continuous Wave" or ICW or on-off keying (OOK).
Radio teletypes usually operate on short-wave (HF) and are much loved by the military because they create written information without a skilled operator. They send a bit as one of two tones. Groups of five or seven bits become a character printed by a teletype. From about 1925 to 1975, radio teletype was how most commercial messages were sent to less developed countries. These are still used by the military and weather services.
Aircraft use a 1200 Baud radioteletype service over VHF to send their ID, altitude and position, and get gate and connecting-flight data. Microwave dishes on satellites, telephone exchanges and TV stations usually use quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM). QAM sends data by changing both the phase and the amplitude of the radio signal. Engineers like QAM because it packs the most bits into a radio signal when given an exclusive (non-shared) fixed narrowband frequency range. Usually the bits are sent in "frames" that repeat. A special bit pattern is used to locate the beginning of a frame.
Communication systems that limit themselves to a fixed narrowband frequency range are vulnerable to jamming.
A variety of jamming-resistant spread spectrum techniques were initially developed for military use, most famously for Global Positioning System satellite transmissions. Commercial use of spread spectrum begin in the 1980s.
Bluetooth, most cell phones, and the 802.11b version of Wi-Fi each use various forms of spread spectrum.
Systems that need reliability, or that share their frequency with other services, may use "coded orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing" or COFDM. COFDM breaks a digital signal into as many as several hundred slower subchannels. The digital signal is often sent as QAM on the subchannels. Modern COFDM systems use a small computer to make and decode the signal with digital signal processing, which is more flexible and far less expensive than older systems that implemented separate electronic channels. COFDM resists fading and ghosting because the narrow-channel QAM signals can be sent slowly. An adaptive system, or one that sends error-correction codes can also resist interference, because most interference can affect only a few of the QAM channels. COFDM is used for WiFi, some cell phones, Digital Radio Mondiale, Eureka 147, and many other local area network, digital TV and radio standards.
Unauthorized, unlicensed radio broadcasting is known as Free or pirate radio. The main difference between the two is that a Free radio station does not advertise or make any money, while the Pirate station could not exist without adverts, payolas, etc.
In Madison Square Garden, at the Electrical Exhibition of 1898, Nikola Tesla successfully demonstrated a radio-controlled boat. He was awarded U.S. patent No. 613,809 for a "Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vessels or Vehicles.
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