Peter Cochrane's Blog: How to visualise radio signals

Fields and waves are hard to grasp because they're just like jelly...

Written in a San Diego hotel and dispatched to via a wired LAN.

There you are with five bars of 3G or wi-fi and suddenly it all goes to nothing.

It is difficult for a layperson to understand fields and waves and there has long been a need for a simple visualisation technology.

Without the benefit of magic spectacles - which don't exist - it's even harder for an engineer to explain the properties and dynamics of such fields.

I often liken them to a jelly that covers and connects with everything and, in turn, is affected and influenced by everything.

Perhaps the most irritating feature of wireless systems is the sudden fluctuations in signal strength: the five-bars-to-one-bar problem. How does this happen? Signal interference is one common mechanism, and the other is an object moving through the jelly-like field changing the distribution.

It's difficult to explain and even more difficult to demonstrate. But I just stumbled across this video, which illustrates exactly what I'm talking about:

Video: timoarnall/YouTube

How stunningly simple, powerful and informative. But best of all, it is not from the hands and minds of radio engineers. I like it.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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