Many users opt for wireless transmission media because it is more convenient than installing cables. In addition, businesses use wireless transmission media in locations where it is impossible to install cables. Types of wireless transmission media used in communications include infrared, broadcast radio, cellular radio, microwaves, and communications satellites.


As discussed earlier in the chapter, infrared (IR) is a wireless transmission medium that sends signals using infrared light waves. Mobile computers and devices, such as a mouse, printer, and smart phone, often have an IrDA port that enables the transfer of data from one device to another using infrared light waves.

Broadcast Radio

Broadcast radio is a wireless transmission medium that distributes radio signals through the air over long distances such as between cities, regions, and countries and short distances such as within an office or home. Bluetooth, UWB, Wi-Fi, and WiMAX communications technologies discussed earlier in this chapter use broadcast radio signals.

Cellular Radio

Cellular radio is a form of broadcast radio that is used widely for mobile communications, specifically wireless modems and cell phones. A cell phone is a telephone device that uses high-frequency radio waves to transmit voice and digital data messages.

Some mobile users connect their notebook computer or other mobile computer to a cell phone to access the Web, send and receive e-mail, enter a chat room, or connect to an office or school network while away from a standard telephone line. Read Looking Ahead 8-2 for a look at the next generation of cellular communications.

Personal Communications Services (PCS) is the term used by the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to identify all wireless digital communications. Devices that use PCS include cell phones, PDAs, pagers, and fax machines. 


Microwaves are radio waves that provide a high-speed signal transmission. Microwave transmission, often called fixed wireless, involves sending signals from one microwave station to another (shown in Figure 8-1 on page 296). Microwaves can transmit data at rates up to 4,500 times faster than a dial-up modem.

A microwave station is an earth-based reflective dish that contains the antenna, transceivers, and other equipment necessary for microwave communications. Microwaves use line-of-sight transmission. To avoid possible obstructions, such as buildings or mountains, microwave stations often sit on the tops of buildings, towers, or mountains.

Microwave transmission is used in environments where installing physical transmission media is difficult or impossible and where line-of-sight transmission is available. For example, microwave transmission is used in wide-open areas such as deserts or lakes; between buildings in a close geo- graphic area; or to communicate with a satellite. Current users of microwave transmission include universities, hospitals, city governments, cable television providers, and telephone companies. Home and small business users who do not have other high-speed Internet connections available in their area also opt for lower-cost fixed wireless plans. 

Communications Satellite

A communications satellite is a space station that receives microwave signals from an earth-based station, amplifies (strengthens) the signals, and broadcasts the signals back over a wide area to any number of earth-based stations.

These earth-based stations often are microwave stations. Other devices, such as smart phones and GPS receivers, also can function as earth-based stations. Transmission from an earth-based station to a satellite is an uplink. Transmission from a satellite to an earth-based station is a downlink.

Applications such as air navigation, television and radio broadcasts, weather forecasting, video conferencing, paging, global positioning systems, and Internet connections use communications satellites. With the proper satellite dish and a sat- ellite modem card, consumers access the Internet using satellite technology. With satellite Internet connections, however, uplink transmissions usually are slower than downlink transmissions. This difference in speeds usually is acceptable to most Internet satellite users because they download much more data than they upload. Although a satellite Internet connection is more expensive than cable Internet or DSL connections, sometimes it is the only high-speed Internet option in remote areas.