How Can We Improve Wireless Radio Modulation?

In this article, we will discuss wireless radio modulation, pathloss, line of sight propagation, and path profile engineering.

In this article, we will continue with where we left off discussing wave modulation in Part 1, How does Industrial Wireless Communication work? where we also discussed electromagnetism and how radio waves are transmitted and received. And now that we have a better understanding of electromagnetism and how radio waves are generated, let’s continue with this knowledge of wireless communication in our Part 2 article, How can we improve Wireless Radio Modulation?

In this article, we will discuss radio modulation, what is pathloss and how to decrease it, line of sight propagation, path profiles, and path profile engineering.

What is modulation?

Modulation is a technique of converting and mixing data into radio waves by adding this information to a carrier or base signal. This is accomplished by a modulator in which, mixes the data signal with a carrier signal.

Wireless radio modulation carrier

A carrier wave is a wave of constant frequency, like a sine wave.


As we have learned previously, the transmitter combines the modulated and amplified signals to the antenna, which is specifically designed to emit this signal to the air.

The now modulated and amplified signal which emanates from the antenna propagates through the air towards the receiving station antenna where the modulated signal is demodulated, separating the data from the carrier signal.

So, in other words, modulation alters the shape of a carrier wave to encode the speech or sound and data information we want to be transported by hopping on a normal signal wave.

Signal propagation

Frequency and wavelength

A wave can be identified by its frequency, measured in oscillation per second, its wavelength measured in units of lengths, and its amplitude or power measured in dB or m.

Frequency and wavelength

This means the wavelength is inversely proportional to frequency, in that, the longer the wavelength, will result in a lower frequency. Or, the shorter the wavelength, will result in a higher frequency.

Frequency and wavelength relation

Wireless radio modulation methods

There are essentially three basic types of modulation, Amplitude modulation, then there is Frequency modulation and finally, Phase modulation. The difference between these modulation methods is how the carrier wave is modulated, hence altered.

Modulation methods

Let’s talk about the first two types.

Amplitude modulation (AM) is where the amplitude of the carrier signal is modulated or changed in proportion to the data signal.

And with Frequency modulation (FM), the frequency, or the number of times per second the wave changes direction determines how the carrier signal is modulated or altered.

AM and FM modulation

Wave propagation

Ok, now let’s discuss how far a radio wave will travel (or propagate) and what are the elements interfering (or attenuates) the signal, with a brief introduction to pathloss.

What is path loss?

The transmitter radiates a signal having a specific power based on the size and type of an antenna. The signal as it travels begins to weaken or attenuate based on the environment and landscape the signal travels. The phenomenon known for how the electromagnetic wave weakens is known as path loss.


Radio waves are not aware of the exact path to a receiver and therefore once transmitted propagates in a direction of where antenna radiates the signal. But the receiver only captures a certain portion of the signal based on the power used at transmission and depending on the different obstructive factors, such as distance or free space, obstacles such as buildings and mountains for example.

Signal transmission

As electromagnetic waves propagate and travel further and further away, the initial power at which the transmitted signals spreads out over a large area. In the beginning, the entire transmitted power is confined to a small spherical area or bubble.

To illustrate the degradation of the signal, if the receiver is close to the transmitter it will capture more power and if the receiver is further away from the transmitter the receiving antenna can only capture a smaller fraction of the transmitted power.

Signal degradation

Attenuation parameters

There are several parameters involved with attenuation.

They are distance, wavelength, and transmit power.

As we now know, the power of the signal reduces as the signal propagates and so just to let you know, the shorter waves (or higher the frequency waves) will experience higher attenuation.

Pathloss (or L) depends on distance and wavelength. The greater the distance means lower power to be received and with the wavelength, attenuation is greater for shorter wavelengths.

Attenuation parameters

What is power loss?

Power loss is the weakening of the signal no matter how much power is transmitted. This means, if the path attenuation is 20dB, it will affect a strong signal in the same way as a weak signal. However, if we transmit a weak signal and becomes attenuated, even more, the demodulation of the signal becomes less reliable or even impossible.

Signal Power loss

SCADACORE RF Line-of-Sight tool

How can we overcome path loss? One way is to use an RF Line-of-Sight tool.

It allows us to easily drag-and-drop blue and Green markers at different locations. The tool then provides point-to-point line-of-sight information anywhere using Google Maps for example.

Check out this free online tool from SCADACORE.

The RF Line-of-Sight tool is very helpful in mapping long-distance radio communications for remote SCADA monitoring remote sites and data acquisition applications.

The online tool considers antenna height and the topographical patterns of the earth to calculate the line-of-sight of a radio path.

RF Line-of-Sight tool

What about security, isn’t this a concern with all this information transmitting out over free space?

Yes, and wireless network security becomes a very important factor for IT and SCADA administrators to consider.

Soon the RealPars article, Wireless Security on the Plant Floor Explained will be released.

This concludes the article, How Can We Improve Wireless Radio Modulation. If you would like to get additional training on wireless radio modulation or a similar subject, please let us know in the comment section. 

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If you would like to get additional training on a similar subject please let us know in the comment section.

Check back with us soon for more automation control topics.

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The RealPars Team
By Wally Gastreich

By Wally Gastreich

Automation Engineer

Posted on May 18, 2020

By Wally Gastreich

Automation Engineer

Posted on May 18, 2020


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