Cellular vs. Radio

by Guest Blogger Brandon Moseley

(Editor’s note: This continues to be one of our most visited pages, and we felt this justified repeating it for those followers who may have missed the original post.)

As industry, cities, and businesses grow, it is a necessary evil to change nature to accommodate these expansions. Unfortunately, nature cannot always be forced to cooperate with man. Sometimes, man has to work around what already exists. Trees may not always be able to be cut down. Mountains and caverns certainly cannot be demolished or filled. These obstacles limit not only how businesses expand physically, but also how they function.  This is where cellular and radio networks provide an important service.

Cellular and radio networks are wireless networks that allow machinery, and systems, to communicate with each other. The older of the two technologies is the radio network, which has been around for over 100 years. Radio networks exist in two forms: one-to-many broadcast networks and two-way radio networks. The more commonly used in industry is the two-way type, as it allows different machinery to send information back and forth. Radio networks utilize electromagnetic signals radiated through the atmosphere or free space to communicate with one another. The problem with such a process is the concept of free space. Most radio signals would be able to eventually find their way to their destination if there were to be something in their path. People are still able to listen to radios within their own homes without fear of the signal dropping. Mountains, however, are a much bigger issue. If two radio towers are on opposite sides of a large mountain, the odds of them communicating in an efficient manner are slim to none. The signals will have a very tough time making it through the thick rock. Another issue with radios is the possibility of interference. If you place a receiver in front of a transmitter, the signal coming into the receiver will interfere with the transmitting signal, thus preventing any communication from that tower to any other tower in the network.

Cellular networks are the newer, more efficient ways of communication. A cellular network divides the area it covers into different “cells”, with one transceiver in the middle of each piece of the network. In order to avoid interference, radio’s biggest flaw, each individual tower operates on a slightly different frequency, never using the same as an adjacent “cell”. The biggest benefit of a cellular network is its “cells”. Whenever a piece of machinery wants to send a signal or receive one, it can use adjacent cells to transfer the signal from point A to point B. With a radio, it has to go straight from A to B. Cellular towers, however, can work around that mountain that prevented the radio signals from reaching their destination. Another huge positive of cellular networks is being able to join a reliable private network without having to set up one of your own.

An example of a wireless network used in a municipal water distribution application is our Guntersville, AL case study.