Understanding the Various Aspects of Microwave Transmission

Telecommunication has come a long way since Alexander Graham Bell invented the very first practical telephone. These days, people don’t bother with wires and cables, relying mainly on wireless radio transmissions that are invisible to the naked eye. While they appreciate what the technology offers, they rarely try to discover the magic working on the background. If they did, they would be surprised to know how the telephone is closely linked to the kitchen and vice versa through microwave technology. As it happens, the oven and mobile computing use the same microwaves to work, but with different applications.

In the case of point-to-point communication, microwave transmission takes centre stage. This refers to a process where energy or information is transmitted through electromagnetic waves measured in small numbers, thus the name microwave. The wavelength measures 30 cm down to 1.0 cm, with frequencies of around 1 to 300 GHz.

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Microwave communication comes in both analogue and digital formats. The former is the cheapest and has been used by older microwave equipment, while the latter is the more advanced and more reliable technology. Because it is newer, plenty of equipment supports digital microwave transmission.

It also has a higher bandwidth, increased speeds, and more reliable reporting. This means more data can be transmitted using more verbose protocol, while cutting down on time needed to poll microwave equipment on-site.

The first experimental microwave relay link was demonstrated in 1931 by an Anglo-French consortium headed by Andre C. Clavier, where telegraph, telephony and facsimile data was transmitted between Dover and Calais, France over the bidirectional beams of 1.7 GHz that span 64 km. With the introduction of fibre-optic cable and communication satellites, microwave technology faded into the background. It was only at turn of the century when portable radio applications increased that the microwave radio relay systems became popular again.

Microwave transmission, in particular, was built by Western Union in the early 1940s, with the first microwave message sent in 1945. This paved the way for microwave to become the most commonly used technology in providing communication service. Although its usage waned with the introduction of fibre optics, it is still the gear used in most remote sites where installation of fibre cables is not possible or cheap.

Microwave technology has many applications, particularly in wireless networking. One of these is mobile computing where data is transmitted from a source to a home network using satellite or mobile phone networks. This type of technology makes portable computers and mobile devices more useful than ever.

Microwave communication, on the other hand, is divided into terrestrial links and satellite links.  Terrestrial microwave communication uses transmitters and receivers installed on the ground, such as telephone relay towers placed every few miles to facilitate telephone signals. Satellite links are used in a microwave relay station in space or with geostationary satellites. Unlike terrestrial links, satellite links can relate signals over long distances. It is often used for long-distance telephone transmission and television distribution.

Advantages of Microwave Transmission

  • No need to use cables since it transmits wirelessly
  • It is available in multiple channels that do not interfere with each other even when using the same frequencies
  • High frequency microwaves provide a wider bandwidth that allows large information to be transmitted

Disadvantages of Microwave Transmission

  • It is limited to “line of sight” where transmission is disrupted when an obstacle is in the way
  • It suffers attenuation because of atmospheric conditions
  • Building microwave towers doesn’t come cheap