How Does Digital Radio Work?

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  • Digital radio varies from traditional radio because it has information encoded differently on its carrier waves. Amplitude modulation (AM) or frequency modulation (FM) radio tends to be dramatically weaker than digital signals. Both AM and FM tend to read at kilohertz or megahertz, rather than gigahertz, as is the case with many digital radios. Analog signals tend to have trouble differentiating between undesired and desired signals. This also means that someone with a traditional radio that uses an analog method of transmitting information will get a lot more static than a digital radio signal.

  • Any radio works by manipulating the electrical charges in the air. You can send out a radio signal by using electricity and an antenna. The electricity causes particles to vibrate, which in turn, can generate an electromagnetic field. By surging the field with electricity, you can make waves, too. Digital radio typically can do this on the ground or from space. Satellite digital radio tends to be stronger than traditional ground-based signals because, from space, there is less interference than if you sent a signal from a ground radio station. Satellite digital radio waves are stronger and longer, but you need to have a ground-base station to send your digital signal to groups of receivers all over the world.

  • To make digital radio work, you need to manipulate portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio waves make up just a small bit of the varied light, sound and energy spectrums. Digital radio signals tend to be a lot clearer than analog signals. This is because the way in which a radio wave is manipulated is different than traditional radio. By encoding a series of ones and zeros on radio waves themselves, you can generate a much more powerful signal. With a more powerful signal, you can make a wave carry that much more information on it, too. The lifespan of a digital signal is exponentially better than a traditional radio signal's lifespan.

  • Fiber optics is a way to send digital radio using plastic, glass and light pulses. Rather than send digital information along a carrier wave, a radio station can opt to encode those ones and zeros via small, thin fibers about the size of a person's hair. These fibers can carry approximately 10 times the amount of information that a simple carrier wave generated by an electromagnetic field can. Digital radio signals sent using fiber optics are also much more secure. It is very unlikely that an enemy in warfare, for example, could decode light impulses.

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