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How do you make data move?

Creating connections with electromagnetic waves

How, exactly, does information travel from one device to another in today’s digital age? Explore how electromagnetic waves make it possible and see how broadband has evolved over the years to make connections even faster and more reliable.

Starting with the spectrum

So many factors affect how we transmit data, but it all starts with the electromagnetic spectrum.

Explore some of the many ways electromagnetic waves impact your everyday life and transmit data.

The electromagnetic spectrum

Line wavelength that becomes compressed on the right side

Properties of waves

Spectrum management

Spectrum management is the process of regulating the use of radio frequencies to promote efficient use and gain a net social benefit.

It’s almost like the Tragedy of the Commons, an economics problem in which individuals have an incentive to use a resource at the expense of other individuals with no way of excluding or regulating use.

For example, if shepherds all acted in their own best interest and allowed their sheep to graze as much as they want in a common field,Bar divided in half with an arrow pointing to the rightthe grass would all be eaten, which is detrimental for everyone.

Likewise, a lack of regulation around the use of radio frequencies would clog up communication and prevent people from communicating.

Moving data by modulating waves

As electromagnetic waves move data, modulation minimizes interference along the way.

More properties of waves


Modulation uses a high frequency wave as a carrier signal, varying a property of that signal in accordance with the message signal.

  • Carrier Signal

  • Message Signal

  • Modulated Signal

Transmitting electromagnetic waves without modulation is like trying to throw a feather across a room. Modulating waves to a high frequency channel is like attaching your feather to an arrow.

Bow and arrow

Analog modulation methods are commonly used for radio stations.

  • Illustration of amplitude modulation

    Amplitude modulation (AM):
    Constant frequency, modulated amplitude

  • Illustration of frequency modulation

    Frequency modulation (FM):
    Constant amplitude, modulated frequency

Digital modulation uses a modem—short for "Modulator-Demodulator”—a hardware component that allows a computer or another device to connect to the Internet through a form of modulation called shift-keying .

Illustration of digital modulation

From dial-up connections to future-ready fiber

As long as we’ve been modulating and transmitting data with electromagnetic waves, we’ve been innovating infrastructure to make the process even better.

"To keep you connected, broadband providers use the vast ocean of the electromagnetic spectrum to carry your data on waves of energy. Whether wireless or wired, electrical or optical, it all flows where it needs to go. Orchestrating this complex and sophisticated dance of waves and signals is what we do and how your data moves."

Jon Pederson, Chief Technology Innovation Officer of Midco

As we look to the future of broadband, exciting new infrastructure will help make sure our connections can keep up with the data we want to transmit.

Remember when you couldn’t use the landline in your house if someone was on the internet? That’s because the earliest internet access came from dial-up connections, an analog signal carried over phone lines.

Newer cable types help us transmit data faster and more reliably

The hybrid fiber-coax model

As providers look to future-proof their broadband infrastructure with fiber, they’re even able to combine it with existing coaxial cable in a hybrid fiber-coax model.

The fiber network extends from the cable provider’s master facility, or “headend”, and out to a hub site in a neighborhood, where coaxial cable nodes take over to serve groups of homes.