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Radio Frequency

Fundamentals
Wireless Networking Unit

Radio Frequency Signals

Radio Frequency (RF)

RF signals are high frequency


alternating current (AC) signals
composed of electromagnetic energy.
Imagine dropping a rock into a still
pond and watching the concentric
ripples flow away from the point where
the rock hit the water. This is how RF
waves exit an antenna.

RF Properties

All radio frequency signals have


the following properties:

Amplitude,
Frequency,
Wavelength,
Phase, and
Polarity,

RF Properties

Amplitude

RF energy is analogous to sound waves.


Sound waves are changes in the
pressure of the air. The cone of a
loudspeaker creates high and low sound
waves by moving the air back and forth.
With RF waves, electrons vibrating in an
antenna cause waves of high and low
pressure.

RF Properties

Amplitude

In the same way that we can measure the


change in air pressure from a passing
sound wave, we can measure the change
in RF energy caused by a passing RF wave,
The change in RF energy is know as
Amplitude of a signal,

Higher amplitude signals are more likely to


show a higher signal strength,

RF Properties

Amplitude

Examples

FM Radio Stations transmit @ 6000 to


100,000 watts,
Microwave Ovens @ 700- 1000 watts,
Cell phones @ tenths of a watt to 1 watt,
Wireless 802.11 networks @1-200
milliwatts

1 milliwatt = 1/1000 of a watt

RF Properties

Amplitude

Amplitude is the most basic quality of


an RF signal
The higher the amplitude of an RF
signal the further it will travel before
becoming weakened to the point of
being un-receivable,

RF Properties

Frequency

Alternating Current (AC) signal

Since amplitude is the most basic quality of


an RF signal, information is conveyed by
changing the amplitude of the RF signal over
time.

Direct Current (DC) signal

A signal whose amplitude doesnt change at


all over time is referred to as a direct current
signal,

RF Properties

Frequency is measured in Hertz,

Transmission and reception are easier when the


signal oscillates with a more or less regular
rhythm.
The time between one peak in the signals
amplitude and the next peak is constant from
peak to peak.
The number of times per second that the signals
amplitude peaks is the frequency of the signal.
802.11 transmissions operate at frequencies of
around 2.4 to 5.8 GHz

1 GHz 1,000,000,000 Hz or 1 billion cycles per second

RF properties

Modulation

In reality an 802.11 signal is not perfectly


fixed at one particular frequency, but
modulates slightly around a central
frequency,
Since a change in the signal is required to
convey information the slight modulations
around the central frequency are
interpreted as ones and zeros,

RF Properties

Frequency bands

802.11 is constrained by the FCCs


limits on what frequencies can be used:

2.4 GHz band is used for:

802.11
802.11b
802.11g
802.11n

5 GHz band is used for:

802.11a

RF Properties

Wavelength

The wavelength of an RF signal is a


function of the signals frequency and its
speed through space. If a signals wave
front it traveling through space at a
certain speed, and we know the amount of
time between each peak, then we can
calculate how far the signal will have
traveled from one peak to the next. That
distance is the signals wavelength.

RF Properties

Wavelength

RF energy travels at the speed of


light, approximately 300,000,000
meters per second,
A signal traveling through an Ethernet
cable will travel at about two-thirds
the speed of light,

RF Properties

If we assume that an RF signal is


traveling at the speed of light, then its
wavelength and frequency can be
calculated:
Wavelength (m) = 300,000,000 m/s

Frequency (Hz)

Wavelength=300,000,000ms/2,400,000,000Hz
Wavelength = 0.125 meter
Wavelength = 12.5 centimeter

RF Properties

By rearranging the formula, we can


calculate frequency from
wavelength:
Frequency (Hz) = 300,000,000
m/s, or the speed of light,

RF Properties

Wavelength

Practical Use

The most direct way that we interact with


wavelength is through the antennae on
most 802.11b access points (AP)

Antennae are most receptive to signals that


have a wavelength equal to the length of the
antennas element.
Antenna elements of one-half and one-quarter
wavelength are the next best choice.

RF Properties

Phase

Phase is a method of expressing the relationship


between the amplitudes of two RF signals that
have the same frequency.
Phase is measured in degrees (like the degrees of
a compass)

If two signals are aligned so that they both reach their


peak at the exact same time, we say that they have zero
degrees of phase separation. They are completely in
phase.
If the signals are aligned so that on reaches its peak at
the exact same time that the other reaches its trough
(lowest amplitude) we say that they have 180 degrees of
phase separation.

RF Properties

To the Wireless Lan Engineer,


phase is important because two
signals that are in phase add their
energy together, resulting in a
stronger signal.
Two signals that are 180 degrees
out of phase, completely cancel
each other out.

RF Properties

Polarization

A radio wave is actually made of up of


two fields:

One electric,
One magnetic,

The sum of these two field is called the


electromagnetic field,
When energy is transferred back and
forth from one field to the other it is
called Oscillation

RF Properties

E-Plane

The plane that is parallel with the


antenna element is referred to as the
E-Plane,

H-Plane

The plane that is perpendicular to the


antenna element if referred to as the
H-plane,

RF Properties

Gain

Is the term used to describe an


increase in an RF signals amplitude.

Loss

Loss describes a decrease in signal


amplitude.

Cable resistance can cause loss of signal,


since resistance coverts electrical signals to
heat,

RF Properties

Reflection

Reflection occurs when a propagating


electromagnetic wave strikes an
object that has very large dimension
in comparison to the wavelength of
the propagating wave.

If the surface is smooth, the reflected


signal may remain intact, though there
may be some loss due to absorption.

RF Properties

Refraction

Refraction describes the bending of a


radio wave as it passes through a
medium of different density.

Incoming RF signal
Reflected RF

Refracted RF

RF Properties

Diffraction

Diffraction occurs when the radio path


between the transmitter and receiver is
obstructed by a surface that has sharp
irregularities or an other wise rough surface

Diffraction is commonly confused with refraction.


Diffraction describes a wave bending around an
obstacle, whereas refraction describes a wave
bending as it ravels from a medium of one density
to a medium of another density (fog).

RF Properties

Absorption

Absorption occurs when the RF signal


strikes an object and is absorbed into
the material in such a manner that it
does not pass through, reflect off, or
bend around the object.