Definition

telecommunications

Telecommunications, also called telecommunication, is the exchange of information over significant distances by electronic means. A complete, single telecommunications circuit consists of two stations, each equipped with a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter and receiver at any station may be combined into a single device called a transceiver. The medium of signal transmission can be electrical wire or cable (also known as "copper"), optical fiber or electromagnetic fields. The free-space transmission and reception of data by means of electromagntetic fields is called wireless.

The simplest form of telecommunications takes place between two stations. However, it is common for multiple transmitting and receiving stations to exchange data among themselves. Such an arrangement is called a telecommunications network. The Internet is the largest example. On a smaller scale, examples include:

  • Corporate and academic wide-area networks (WANs)
  • Telephone networks
  • Police and fire communications systems
  • Taxicab dispatch networks
  • Groups of amateur radio operators

Data is conveyed in a telecommunications circuit by means of an electrical signal called the carrier or carrier wave. In order for a carrier to convey information, some form of modulation is required. The mode of modulation can be broadly categorized as either analog or digital. In analog modulation, some aspect of the carrier is varied in a continuous fashion. The oldest form of analog modulation is amplitude modulation (AM), still used in radio broadcasting at some frequencies. Digital modulation actually predates analog modulation; the earliest form was Morse code. During the 1900s, dozens of new forms of modulation were developed and deployed, particularly during the so-called "digital revolution" when the use of computers among ordinary citizens became widespread.

In some contexts, a broadcast network, consisting of a single transmitting station and multiple receive-only stations, is considered a form of telecommunications. Radio and television broadcasting are the most common examples.

Telecommunications and broadcasting worldwide are overseen by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations (UN) with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Most countries have their own agencies that enforce telecommunications regulations formulated by their governments. In the United States, that agency is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

This was last updated in July 2007
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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