Wireless Communications in Alaska.


In a mobile society, we need mobile communication.

The early 2000s are exciting times of expanding technologies that are changing the world we live in. One of the most influential industries is telecommunications, or the ability to deliver information--whether by telephone, television or Internet--to consumers from a distance. Alaska, with its vast distances and rugged terrain, is a challenging proving ground for the telecommunications industry. Wireless is one of the most utilitarian communication technologies connecting the state.

Wireless systems use radio links, rather than copper wire or fiber optic cable, to deliver information, or bandwidth, to phones, televisions or computers. Bandwidth can be envisioned as the amount of information that can be transmitted per second. Information flow is measured in pieces of information called bits. Four gigabytes of bandwidth is roughly equivalent to the number of bits constituting a feature-length movie video, transmitted every second.

There are two methods for delivering wireless bandwidth. The first is through land-based radio systems delivering telephone, television and Internet services from transmitters in the local area. The second is satellite systems, whose signals cover vastly larger areas than any land-based system yet provide the same services as land-based systems.

Wireless is distinctive in this ability to deliver bandwidth through the air rather than through wires or cables. Transmitters send out signals across the landscape as either a focused beam intended for a line-of-sight receiver (a receiver's signals travel unobstructed and in a straight line to another receiver), or as a 360-degree blanket signal accessible to a specific receiver in a general area.

With wireless, the receiver grabs the signal out of the air to either 1) retransmit it through the air as a focused beam to the next line-of-sight station; 2) send out a blanket signal to a receiver that is mobile (like a cell phone), yet is somewhere in the general reception area; 3) redirect the signal through an adjoining wired/cable system; or 4) turn the signal into the appropriate audio or visual data medium required by the system endpoint. Different frequencies for different services are used to keep the various media from interfering with one another, even though they may travel simultaneously through the same portion of atmosphere.

Both types of systems are used in Alaska, but focus on distinctly separate markets and...

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