Originally published in The Clarion | October 27, 2010
Radio Frequency (RF) is literally all around us. Electromagnetic waves from broadcast television stations, AM and FM radio stations, cellular telephone towers, satellites, wireless remote controls, cordless telephones and civil, commercial, amateur and governmental two-way radio systems travel at the speed of light in the same air and atmosphere from which we breathe. We can’t see it, feel it, taste it or smell it but it is always there. Radio waves are also used to prepare meals in microwave ovens and are used in various manners in the medical field. RF can also be contained within copper wiring and even fiber optic cables for the delivery of Cable TV, Internet and Voice services to your home or business. A result of the invention of the telegraph and telephone, a world without RF is simply unimaginable.
RF itself was not invented, but discovered in the mid-to-late 1800’s. Before the end of the 19th Century, wireless communications testing had begun using RF. Experimentation continued into the early 20th Century and, seemingly as fast as the speed of the RF signal itself, AM and eventually FM radio stations were ‘on the air’. Broadcast television followed along with other new technologies including the ones mentioned above.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the use of the entire spectrum of RF frequencies, allocating individual frequency bands to a plethora of communications services. Because the transmission of RF frequencies can be contained within physical media (coaxial, twisted-pair and fiber optic cables), many RF frequency allocations overlap and are used ‘in the air’ alongside physical media. The same frequency you receive your favorite television channel on may also be used for wireless two-way communications services. Because of this, companies who use physical media to deliver telecommunications services to your home or business are held to strict standards so that their transmissions don’t leak into the atmosphere and interfere with wireless transmissions on the same frequencies.
Rules modifications by the FCC in the last couple of decades have transformed how we communicate in our day-to-day lives. As new transmission technologies have come about, RF spectrums have been modified and reallocated to accommodate the modern technologies we enjoy and depend on every day. Digital transmissions over RF have revolutionized the communications industry, allowing larger amounts of content to be transmitted in equal or even less bandwidth than by using analog transmissions. By transmitting content digitally, more spectrum has become available for new services in both the public and private sectors. The latest technologies to be approved and allocated by the FCC are being referred to as ‘white space’ in the broadcast television frequency bands. In the upcoming months, wireless high-speed Internet services will be offered in these ‘white spaces’ and will once again change the way many Americans communicate using the Internet. It is going to be very interesting to see how this new allocation is implemented and what new broadband services are born in this sector of technology.