Communication Systems/Communication Mediums

Signals need a channel to follow, so that they can move from place to place. These Communication Mediums, or "channels" are things like wires and antennae that transmit the signal from one location to another. Some of the most common channels are listed below:

Twisted Pair WireEdit

Twisted Pair is a transmission medium that uses two conductors that are twisted together to form a pair. The concept for the twist of the conductors is to prevent interference. Ideally, each conductor of the pair basically receives the same amount of interference, positive and negative, effectively cancelling the effect of the interference. Typically, most inside cabling has four pairs with each pair having a different twist rate. The different twist rates help to further reduce the chance of crosstalk by making the pairs appear electrically different in reference to each other. If the pairs all had the same twist rate, they would be electrically identical in reference to each other causing crosstalk, which is also referred to as capacitive coupling. Twisted pair wire is commonly used in telephone and data cables with variations of categories and twist rates.

Other variants of Twisted Pair are the Shielded Twisted Pair cables. The shielded types operate very similar to the non-shielded variety, except that Shielded Twisted Pair also has a layer of metal foil or mesh shielding around all the pairs or each individual pair to further shield the pairs from electromagnetic interference. Shielded twisted pair is typically deployed in situations where the cabling is subjected to higher than normal levels of interference.

Coaxial CableEdit

Another common type of wire is Coaxial Cable. Coaxial cable (or simply, "coax") is a type of cable with a single data line, surrounded by various layers of padding and shielding. The most common coax cable, common television cable, has a layer of wire mesh surrounding the padded core, that absorbs a large amount of EM interference, and helps to ensure a relatively clean signal is transmitted and received. Coax cable has a much higher bandwidth than a twisted pair, but coax is also significantly more expensive than an equal length of twisted pair wire. Coax cable frequently has an available bandwidth in excess of hundreds of megahertz (in comparison with the hundreds of kilohertz available on twisted pair wires).

Originally, Coax cable was used as the backbone of the telephone network because a single coaxial cable could hold hundreds of simultaneous phone calls by a method known as "Frequency Division Multiplexing" (discussed in a later chapter). Recently however, Fiber Optic cables have replaced Coaxial Cable as the backbone of the telephone network because Fiber Optic channels can hold many more simultaneous phone conversations (thousands at a time), and are less susceptible to interference, crosstalk, and noise then Coaxial Cable.

Fiber OpticsEdit

Fiber Optic cables are thin strands of glass that carry pulses of light (frequently infrared light) across long distances. Fiber Optic channels are usually immune to common RF interference, and can transmit incredibly high amounts of data very quickly. There are 2 general types of fiber optic cable: single frequency cable, and multi-frequency cable. single frequency cable carries only a single frequency of laser light, and because of this there is no self-interference on the line. Single-frequency fiber optic cables can attain incredible bandwidths of many gigahertz. Multi-Frequency fiber optics cables allow a Frequency-Division Multiplexed series of signals to each inhabit a given frequency range. However, interference between the different signals can decrease the range over which reliable data can be transmitted.

Wireless TransmissionEdit

In wireless transmission systems, signals are propagated as Electro-Magnetic waves through free space. Wireless signals are transmitted by a transmitter, and received by a receiver. Wireless systems are inexpensive because no wires need to be installed to transmit the signal, but wireless transmissions are susceptible not only to EM interference, but also to physical interference. A large building in a city, for instance can interfere with cell-phone reception, and a large mountain could block AM radio transmissions. Also, WiFi internet users may have noticed that their wireless internet signals don't travel through walls very well.

There are 2 types of antennas that are used in wireless communications, isotropic, and directional.


People should be familiar with isotropic antennas because they are everywhere: in your car, on your radio, etc... Isotropic antennas are omni-directional in the sense that they transmit data out equally (or nearly equally) in all directions. These antennas are excellent for systems (such as FM radio transmission) that need to transmit data to multiple receivers in multiple directions. Also, Isotropic antennas are good for systems in which the direction of the receiver, relative to the transmitter is not known (such as cellular phone systems).


Directional antennas focus their transmission power in a single narrow direction range. Some examples of directional antennas are satellite dishes, and wave-guides. The downfall of the directional antennas is that they need to be pointed directly at the receiver all the time to maintain transmission power. This is useful when the receiver and the transmitter are not moving (such as in communicating with a geo-synchronous satellite).