radio antennaIn a broad sense of the word, telecommunication is defined as “communication over a distance by cable, telegraph, telephone, or broadcasting.” Most of us are familiar with Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Besides him, other notable pioneers in the telecommunications field include Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, Lee de Forest, inventor of the radio, and Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the television.

Modern telecommunication technology has come a long way, rapidly advancing from year to year as science and technology alike becomes increasingly complex. Radio waves, in particular, have a huge impact on AM and FM broadcasts, cell phones, wireless networks, television broadcasts, police radios, and more. Without radio waves, it would be impossible to use satellite-based communication and navigation including modern air travel which heavily depends on a number of intricate radio systems. At its core, radio is amazingly simple technology; however, it’s seemingly infinite uses has cemented it as the key to modern communication.

Radios today use continuous sine waves to transmit information like audio, video, and other forms of data. Although invisible to the naked eye, we are surrounded by thousands of sine waves being used by our mobile devices, computers, and even microwaves. As the prevalence of wearable technology increases, so will the radio waves around us.

A basic radio is set up in two parts: the transmitter and the receiver. The job of a transmitter is to take a message (for example, someone’s voice or a text input), encode that information into a sine wave, and then transmit it into radio waves. Intrinsic to its name, the receiver decodes the radio wave into useful information that we can process as an animated gif or witty email. So, for example, your cell phone contains at least one radio antenna that both transmits and receives radio signals. A 4G equipped cell phone would simply contain an advanced radio system that can transmit and receive more compact data at a quicker speed.

Radio waves are fairly easy to understand, yet they provide a world of opportunities engineers are only beginning to tap into.