How The Internet Works With The Radio Spectrum

Back to Blog  •  Posted on June 6, 2014 by admin


SRI Radio dish antenna

Photo by SRI International via Wikimedia Commons (creative commons)


Though we call wireless internet “WiFi,” it actually operates in the radio spectrum, much like a traditional FM radio.

When we use a WiFi hotspot, the wireless router transmits information via radio waves to and from our devices. The wireless card in our laptops, computer, cell phones, or other devices receives and transmits this data as 0s and 1s. When the router receives data, it transmits that information along the fiber or cable network to its destination.





WiFi and the Radio Spectrum

WiFi transceivers, though similar to cell phones and wireless cards, are more complex. They transmit data with the 802.11 coding standards, which have several varieties. Each coding standard is labelled “802.11,” followed by a letter, such as 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and so on.

Each standard has different pros and cons, and each has different uses. They each encode the data differently, which can affect how fast or efficient they are. Some are designed for specific uses, such as inside a car or Wide Area Network (WAN). Some newer standards, such as 802.11ac, are not widely adopted yet.

Wireless Networks

Wireless Networks, like WiFi devices, also operate through the radio spectrum. A cell tower, similar to a router or wireless hotspot, has a certain radius, and can serve compatible wireless devices inside that range.

These areas are called “cells,” which is where the term cellular telephone comes from. Since cells with the same frequencies do not overlap, those frequencies can be reused in nearby cells without conflict.And, just like wireless cards, a cell phone can transmit and receive data in a binary format. When you talk, your voice is encoded into 0’s and 1’s, and then transmitted to the cell tower, through the network, and to the receiving device at the other end.

The same process occurs when you connect to the internet through a smartphone. Larger bandwidth applications, such as games or video, require more space on the radio spectrum. Experts have agreed that we will soon require more radio spectrum “real estate,” since our data needs keep escalating.

Wireless devices of any kind, whether they are radios, walkie-talkies, cell phones, or laptops, all use the radio spectrum when they operate. And, since we will be using more and more bandwidth in the years to come, many of the wireless network carriers are increasing their speed, capacity, and radio spectrum real estate.