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What are the Different Types of RF Technology?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Radio frequency (RF) technology, or the use of radio frequency to send signals and commands, exists in nearly every facet of modern life. Scientists, developers and researchers continually seek to add to the usefulness of RF technology by increasing the number of applications for RF/microwave wireless capabilities. To categorize specific types of RF technologies, experts break down categories by the intended use. These types include military, commercial, medical and automotive/industrial applications.

Military applications of RF technology fall into three sub-categories: signal intelligence, electronic warfare and electronic countermeasures. Surveillance drones are an example of electronic countermeasures that use radio frequency similar to the way it is used with radio-controlled toy cars. Radar is a primitive example of signal intelligence using RF technologies, and remote sensors are examples of more modern signal intelligence applications.

Commercial applications of wireless technology are widely known to the public. These RF technologies include cell phones, radio-controlled toys, wireless cell-phone headsets, wireless printers, network computer components and other forms of RF technology that one might never consider. For example, electronic sensors in washing machines can transmit RF signals to the companion dryer’s receiver. Information such as load weight, water content and wash cycles used can help the dryer automatically calculate the drying time needed.

Medical industry experts have used RF technology for decades in a variety of applications. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and wireless monitoring implants provide doctors with a wealth of patient information. Both portable and implantable wireless monitors provide low-frequency, low-power transmitters that help medical personnel monitor patients throughout the hospital. Radio frequency technologies also provide the ability to have wireless hospitals without interference for sensitive medical equipment.

Automotive engineering and various industrial processes now use RF and wireless technology to enhance production, vehicle operation and user safety. Manufacturing facilities use wireless RF technology to manage inventory for facilitating on-demand ordering capabilities. Hand-held scanners relay inventory levels back to a central computer system that tracks and orders replenishment supplies or updates finished items in stock.

Companies in the automotive industry use the same RF technology equipment for manufacturing, and they use wireless technology in automobiles. Sensors around the car relay information such as tire pressure, minor road hazards, driving conditions and performance data to the car’s central computer system. Sensor indicator lights provide the driver with information on conditions requiring their attention, and other data is routed to automated systems such as the vehicle's headlights and fuel mixture controls.

The use of RF technology has continued to expand as advances in the field of wireless, radio and microwave signals have been made. As researchers have continued to shrink and refine transmitters and receivers, developers and scientists have found more uses for the technology. Since the electrical currents associated with RF have the ability to ionize air and have a skin affect — traveling along on conductor surfaces, rather than through — the high-frequency output allows for thousands of uses where direct current signals are ineffective.

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