Telecommunication is the extension of communication over a distance. In practice it also recognizes that something may be lost in the process; hence the term ‘telecommunication’ covers all forms of distance and/or conversion of the original communications, including radio, telegraphy, television, telephony, data communication and computer networking.
The elements of a telecommunication system are a transmitter, a medium (line) and possibly a channel imposed upon the medium (see baseband and broadband as well as multiplexing), and a receiver. The transmitter is a device that transforms or encodes the message into a physical phenomenon; the signal. The transmission medium, by its physical nature, is likely to modify or degrade the signal on its path from the transmitter to the receiver. The receiver has a decoding mechanism capable of recovering the message within certain limits of signal degradation. In some cases, the final “receiver” is the human eye and/or ear (or in some extreme cases other sense organs) and the recovery of the message is done by the brain.
Telecommunication can be point-to-point, point-to-multipoint or broadcasting, which is a particular form of point-to-multipoint that goes only from the transmitter to the receivers.
One of the roles of the telecommunications engineer is to analyse the physical properties of the line or transmission medium, and the statistical properties of the message in order to design the most effective encoding and decoding mechanisms.
When systems are designed to communicate through human sense organs (mainly vision and hearing), physiological and psychological characteristics of human perception will be taken into account. This has important economic implications and engineers will research what defects may be tolerated in the signal yet not affect the viewing or hearing experience too badly.
Examples of human (tele)communications
In a simplistic example, consider a normal conversation between two people. The message is the sentence that the speaker decides to communicate to the listener. The transmitter is the language areas in the brain, the motor cortex, the vocal cords, the larynx, and the mouth that produce those sounds called speech. The signal is the sound waves (pressure fluctuations in air particles) that can be identified as speech. The channel is the air carrying those sound waves, and all the acoustic properties of the surrounding space: echoes, ambient noise, reverberation. Between the speaker and the listener (the receiver), might be other devices that do or do not introduce their own distortions of the original vocal signal (e.g. telephone, HAM radio, IP phone, etc.) The penultimate receiver is the listener’s ear and auditory system, the auditory nerve, and the language areas in the listener’s brain that will “decode” the signal into meaningful information and filter out background noise.
All channels have noise. Another important aspect of the channel is called the bandwidth. A low bandwidth channel, such as a telephone, cannot carry all of the audio information that is transmitted in normal conversation, causing distortion and irregularities in the speaker’s voice, as compared to normal, in-person speech.