Baffling Radio Terms Made Easy
Top 10 Terms You Should Know


In the wireless industry, you may hear terms from time-to-time that you don’t necessarily understand – or have never had to understand. We love our engineers, but they have some very technical terms that can be baffling for the average radio person.

We here at Nova Communications thought we would break down 10 common wireless terms you might bump into when looking at and ordering radio systems. If you are thinking about a radio system, it’s important to note that you are not expected to fully grasp these terms – but it may be helpful to know them in discussions as they are some of the key terms on specification sheets.

Radio Terms:

Receiver Sensitivity (also known as RF Sensitivity) – Key specification for radio receiver’s across a number of platforms, including WiFi, cellular and two way radio. This is the receiver’s ability to pick up the required level of signal to operate efficiently and effectively. To measure sensitivity, you apply a desired signal and reduce the signal power until the quality threshold is met.

Power Output – This is the actual amount of power (usually in watts) of radio frequency (RF) energy that a transmitter produces when it’s in full (and normal) operations. Applies to various structures that generate power, including dams, turbines and, of course, radio transmitters.

IP Rating – Most electronics don’t like exposure to factors such as water, humidity and small particles – it usually doesn’t end well for both the electronics and their function. The IP rating (or ingress protection) is a two-digit number system that determines how well the electronics keep out environmental factors that can damage its inside.

The first digit in the rating is the protection against solids (low for large objects and high for small particles), the second against moisture (lowest is the ability to keep out small amounts of moisture, while higher is the ability to remain submerged).

The higher the rating, the more likely this equipment and technology will withstand what it’s put up to – including Canadian winters!

RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) – This is a measurement that determines the power present in a radio signal, and how well your device can “hear” the signal from a transmitter. Basically it’s the value used to determine if you have enough signal to get a good connection.

DB Terms – Decibels are commonly used in radio and sound measurement, but are broken down in various levels:

dBd: Decibels relative to a dipole (most commonly used antenna) in radio frequencies which measures the gain of an antenna (see below).

dBi (Decibels relative to an isotropic radiator): Used for radio frequencies to determine the gain of an antenna and how much stronger of a signal there would be in the main beam of an antenna versus an isotropic radiator (an antenna that would illuminate a sphere equally).

dBm: Used to represent signal strength, with a different unit of measurement from RSSI (above). Power levels for dBm are measured in mW (milliwatts).

BER Rate (Bit Error Rate) – A measure of signal to noise ratio which represents the percentage of bits that have errors related to the number of bits received when transmission takes place. It’s a means of assessing systems that transmit digital data from one location to another.

What About Antennas?

Antennas are a critical part of a radio system, and we wanted to include some of the terms that will help you in describing the antenna systems, too.

Antenna Gain – A factor in considering an antenna’s ability to direct energy from radio frequencies in a particular direction or pattern to achieve. Typically measured in dBi or dBd (see above!)

Antenna Pattern – Depends on the type of antenna being used, but your antenna pattern is what determines if your signal is omnidirectional (multiple directions) or directional (specific directions). Depending on your wireless needs, and the infrastructure around you, your antenna pattern will change.

Antenna Types – Your needs for signals determines your antenna requirements – they all have their place in various environments. Types include:

Whip: This is an antenna with a solid core that enables it to have more gain. Designed as a flexible antenna option. These are the most common antennas for handheld two way radios.

Yagi: This is a highly directional antenna option and features a number of short rods, which results in increased gain dispersed in a 360 degree circle.

Line of Sight – There’s a very good chance you’ve heard this term before. This is the path between the receiving and transmitting antennas and, when clear and without obstructions, provides optimal signal. There are, however, three variations of this:

Clear Line of Sight: No visual obstructions in receiving and transmitting. This is the best form of line of sight, and offers the best signal abilities.

Near Line of Sight: Some obstructions of signalling which doesn’t greatly impact signal, but can result in errors or trouble with throughput of messaging etc.

Non Line of Sight: In this case, obstructions such as hills and other buildings etc. prevent the best use of signal abilities. This doesn’t necessarily mean that signals cannot work, but rather they do not work all the time – depending on the situation (storms, cloud cover etc.)

Here at Nova Communications, we have the expertise for helping you navigate these terms and more. With more than 30 years in the business, our team of experts can help you with all your issues – big and small.

Contact us today for more information!

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