Video: Comparing Microwaves and Radio Waves

Both microwaves and radio waves are used in telecommunications. Which have the shorter wavelength, microwaves or short-range radio waves? Which have the lower frequency, microwaves or long-range radio waves?

02:50

Video Transcript

Both microwaves and radio waves are used in telecommunications. Which have the shorter wavelength, microwaves or short-range radio waves? Which have the lower frequency, microwaves or long-range radio waves?

Okay, so, to start answering this question, we first need to recall that microwaves and radio waves are both types of electromagnetic wave. In other words, they both fall on the electromagnetic spectrum. Now, we can draw the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that contains radio waves and microwaves. And in this particular case, we’ve drawn it so that moving from left to right, the energy of these electromagnetic waves increases, the frequency increases as well, and the wavelength decreases. In other words, at this end of the spectrum, we’ve got low-energy, low-frequency, large-wavelength waves. And as we move towards the right, the energy increases, the frequency increases, and the wavelength decreases.

Now, this question also talks about short-range and long-range radio waves. These are subdivisions within the radio waves category. And specifically, short-range radio waves are also known as short-wave radio waves. And long-range radio waves are known as long-wave radio waves. Because both short-wave and long-wave are referring to the wavelength of these radio waves in the sense that short-wave radio waves have short wavelengths and long-wave radio waves have long wavelengths. In other words, we’ll find short-wave radio waves on this end of the spectrum towards the shortest wavelengths available in the radio waves category. And as we move towards the longer wavelength of radio waves, we will have long-wave radio waves.

Now, long-wave radio waves are better at travelling further through the atmosphere because they’re not absorbed as much by the atmosphere. And therefore, they can carry information over much larger ranges. Hence, long-wave radio waves are also known as long-range radio waves. And, of course, vice versa, short-wave radio waves are not so good at carrying information over large distances because these wavelengths are more easily absorbed by the atmosphere. And so, short-wave radio waves are also known as short-range radio waves.

But anyway, so, to answer our first question, which have the shorter wavelength, microwaves or short-range radio waves. We’ve already said that as we move towards the right, the wavelength decreases. And therefore, if we’re comparing short-range radio waves, which are here, to microwaves, which are this whole region. Then we see that microwaves are further to the right on this electromagnetic spectrum and, therefore, have a shorter wavelength. Hence, our answer for this part of the question is microwaves.

For the second part of the question then, which have the lower frequency, microwaves or long-range radio waves. We’ve already said once again that as we move towards the right on this diagram, the frequency increases. In other words, if we’re comparing long-range radio waves, which are here on the diagram, to microwaves, which are here, we see that the lower frequency is further to the left. Which means long-range radio waves have the lower frequencies. And that’s our answer to the second part of the question.

Therefore, to recap, out of microwaves and short-range radio waves, it’s microwaves that have the shorter wavelength. And out of microwaves and long-range radio waves, it’s a long-range radio waves that have the lower frequency.

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