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What Is an RS 232 Transceiver?

By Benjamin Arie
Updated May 16, 2024
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An RS 232 transceiver is a type of communication device that allows data to be sent and received wirelessly. The term “RS 232” indicates a “recommended standard“ set of rules that are used by all compatible devices. This communications protocol was commonly used as computer serial ports in the past, and is still employed on some specialized devices. RS 232 transceivers are often used to link a computer and a peripheral without using a physical cable.

Standards for the RS 232 were first released in 1962. The guidelines for this method of communication specify the size and pin arrangement for equipment manufacturers, as well as the required electrical attributes of RS 232 connections. These communication standards were widely embraced by many different electronics companies, and RS 232 ports and cables were common features on personal computers for several decades.

The low-voltage signals that are sent using an RS 232 interface are usually not amplified. As a result, the connection cables have a limited useful range of around 50 feet. An RS 232 transceiver is able to take the signal and convert it into an infrared (IR) or radio frequency (RF) format. This allows data to be sent wireless beyond the limited cable range. A second transceiver is typically placed in a remote location to re-convert the wireless signal into the original format.

A variety of devices can interface wirelessly using an RS 232 transceiver. Printers, for instance, can be placed on one side of an office and used without cables. Data storage units such as external hard drives or file servers can also be wirelessly linked in this manner. Some data backup units, including tape archive drives, continue to use the RS 232 transceiver communication protocol.

Signal pins on an RS 232 interface can be individually controlled using computer commands. This feature makes it relatively easy for experimenters and device designers to build custom devices and control them with basic software. The simplicity of this interface makes the format popular for hobbyist projects, such as mobile robots.

While these types of transceivers can be useful, they also have several disadvantages. By modern standards, the RS 232 format is slow. Information can be sent at much faster rates using more advanced protocols, such as the wireless universal serial bus (USB). Many older wireless devices are no longer supported by their manufacturers and the majority of new computer systems cannot directly interface with RS 232 products.

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