The other meaning of the term “channel” in telecommunications is seen in the phrase communications channel, which is a subdivision of a transmission medium so that it can be used to send multiple streams of information simultaneously. For example, one radio station can broadcast radio waves into free space at frequencies in the neighborhood of 94.5 MHz (megahertz) while another radio station can simultaneously broadcast radio waves at frequencies in the neighborhood of 96.1 MHz. Each radio station would transmit radio waves over a frequency bandwidth of about 180 kHz (kilohertz), centered at frequencies such as the above, which are called the “carrier frequencies”.
In the example above, the “free space channel” has been divided into communications channels according to frequencies, and each channel is assigned a separate frequency bandwidth in which to broadcast radio waves. This system of dividing the medium into channels according to frequency is called “frequency-division multiplexing”. Another term for the same concept is “wavelength-division multiplexing”, which is more commonly used in optical communications when multiple transmitters share the same physical medium.
Modulation can also be used to transmit the information of low-frequency analog signals at higher frequencies. This is helpful because low-frequency analog signals cannot be effectively transmitted over free space. Hence the information from a low-frequency analog signal must be impressed into a higher-frequency signal (known as the “carrier wave”) before transmission. There are several different modulation schemes available to achieve this [two of the most basic being amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM)].
A telecommunications network is a collection of transmitters, receivers, and communications channels that send messages to one another. Some digital communications networks contain one or more routers that work together to transmit information to the correct user. An analog communications network consists of one or more switches that establish a connection between two or more users. For both types of network, repeaters may be necessary to amplify or recreate the signal when it is being transmitted over long distances.