Monday, December 13, 2010

Wireless Signal Propagation

A radio signal can be described in three domains: time domain, frequency domain, and phase domain. In the time domain, the amplitude of the signal varies with time; in the frequency domain, the amplitude of the signal varies with frequency; and in the phase domain, the amplitude and phase of the signal are shown on polar coordinates. According to Fourier’s theorem, any periodic signal is composed of a superposition of a series of pure sine waves and cosine waves whose frequencies are harmonics (multiples) of the fundamental frequency of the signal; therefore, any periodic signal, no matter how it was originally produced, can be reproduced using a sufficient number of pure waves.

Electronic signals for wireless communication must be converted into electromagnetic waves by an antenna for transmission. Conversely, an antenna at the receiver side is responsible for converting electromagnetic waves into electronic signals. An antenna can be omnidirectional or directional, depending on specific usage scenarios. For an antenna to be effective, it must be of a size consistent with the wavelength of the signals being transmitted or received. Antennas used in cell phones are omnidirectional and can be a short rod on the handset or hidden within the handset. A recent advancement in antenna technology is the multiple-in, multiple out (MIMO) antenna, or smart antenna, which combines spatially, separated small antennas to provide high bandwidth without consuming more power or spectrum. To take advantage of multipath propagation, these small antennas must be separated by at least half of the wavelength of the signal being transmitted or received.

A signal emitted by an antenna travels in the air following three types of propagation modes: ground-wave propagation, sky-wave propagation, and line-of-sight (LOS) propagation. AM radio is a kind of ground-wave propagation, where signals follow the contour of the Earth to reach a receiver. SW radio and HAM amateur radio are examples of sky-wave propagation, where radio signals are reflected by ionosphere and the ground along the way. Beyond 30 MHz, LOS propagation dominates, meaning that signal waves propagate on a direct, straight path in the air. It is noteworthy that radio signals of LOS propagation can also penetrate objects, especially signals of large wavelength (and thus low frequency). Satellite links, infrared light, and communication between base stations of a cellular network are examples of LOS propagation.

The strength or power of wireless signals decreases when they propagate in the air, just as visible light does. As soon as radio waves leave the transmitter’s antenna, some amount of energy will be lost as the electromagnetic field propagates. The effect will become more evident over a long distance as the signal disperses in space; therefore, the received power of the signal is invariably less than the signal power at the transmitting antenna. In the most ideal circumstances (i.e., in vacuum), signal power attenuation is proportional to d 2 , where d denotes the distance between the transmitter and the receiver. This effect is sometimes referred to as free space loss. In reality, beside free space loss, a number of other factors have to be considered to determine signal attenuation, such as weather conditions, atmospheric absorption, and space rays. In addition, signal attenuation is more severe at high frequencies than at low frequencies, resulting in signal distortion.

When it encounters obstacles along the path, a signal may experience more complex attenuation than power reduction. For example, for visible light we are well aware of the following effects: shadowing, reflection, and refraction. Likewise, for high-frequency wireless signals, such effects also exist. Shadowing and reflection occur when a signal encounters an object that is much larger than its wavelength. Though the reflected signal and the shadowed signal are comparatively weak, they in effect help to propagate the signal to spaces where LOS is impossible. For example, when reflection and shadowing are caused by buildings in an urban area, signals from an antenna of a base station may be able to reach cell phone users within a building in the area, although it might be a good idea for the user to walk close to the window for better signal strength (perceived as a number of “bars” displayed on the cell phone screen). Refraction (bending) occurs when a wave passes across the boundary of two media. Moreover, wireless signals are also subject to scattering and diffraction. Specifically, when the size of an obstacle is on the order of the signal wavelength or less, the signal will be scattered into a number of weaker pieces. Diffraction occurs when a signal hits the edge of an obstacle and is deflected into a number of directions.

The receiver of a wireless communication system must be able to detect transmitted (most likely attenuated and distorted) signals from unwanted noises. Common types of noise are thermal noise (white noise) produced by any electronic circuitry; intermodulation noise, which occurs when two frequencies of signals are modulated and transmitted over the same medium; crosstalk between two channels; and impulse noise generated by instantaneous electromagnetic changes. To cope with noises in received signals, a wireless system has to ensure that the transmitted signals are sufficiently stronger than the noises. Another approach is to employ spread spectrum schemes (explained below) that convert a signal over a wide range of frequencies of low power density as random noise. Wireless signals are subject to various impairments or distortion along the way from the transmitter to the receiver. To quantify these effects, the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is used to represent the ratio of the power in a signal to the power of the noise. SNR is usually computed in decibels as the product of 10 and the logarithm of the raw power ratio.

Multipath Propagation
The receiver of a wireless system is exposed to all radio waves in its surrounding environment; therefore, it may receive indirect signals from different paths, such as reflected signals, shadowed signals, and refracted signals, as well as signals generated by other means of propagation, all carrying the same signal with different levels of attenuation and distortion. These signals may impose some negative effect on the direct signal to a great extent. The most severe effect of multipath propagation is intersymbol interference (ISI). ISI is caused by overlapping of delayed multipath pulses (of a primary pulse) and subsequent primary LOS pulses, where one or multiple pulses represent a bit. The degree of attenuation of these pulses may vary from time to time due to path changes or environmental disturbances, making it more difficult to recover the transmitted bits. To prevent ISI from occurring, the first primary pulse and the second pulse have to be separated by a sufficient time difference such that the delayed multipath pulses of the first can be differentiated from the second LOS pulse. This implies that the symbol rate of the signal and bandwidth of the radio channel are limited by multipath propagation.

Source of Information :  Elsevier Wireless Networking Complete 2010
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1 comments: on "Wireless Signal Propagation"

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