Bandwidth Overview

Bandwidth is a key concept in many applications. In radio communications, for example, bandwidth is the range of frequencies occupied by a modulated carrier wave, whereas in optics it is the width of an individual spectral line or the entire spectral range.

There is no single universal precise definition of bandwidth, as it is vaguely understood to be a measure of how wide a function is in the frequency domain.

For different applications there are different precise definitions. For example, one definition of bandwidth could be the range of frequencies beyond which the frequency function is zero. This would correspond to the mathematical notion of the support of a function (i.e., the total “length” of values for which the function is nonzero). Another definition might not be so strict and ignore the frequencies where the frequency function is small. Small could mean less than 3 dB below (i.e., less than half of) the maximum value, or it could mean below a certain absolute value. As with any definition of the width of a function, there are many definitions available, which are suitable for different applications.

According to the Shannon—Hartley theorem, the data rate of reliable communication is directly proportional to the frequency range of the signal used for the communication. In this context, the word bandwidth can refer to either the data rate or the frequency range of the communication system (or both).