Bandwidth (signal processing)

Difference between the upper and lower frequencies passed by a filter, communication channel, or signal spectrum

Bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous band of frequencies. It is typically measured in hertz, and depending on context, may specifically refer to passband bandwidth or baseband bandwidth. Passband bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower cutoff frequencies of, for example, a band-pass filter, a communication channel, or a signal spectrum. Baseband bandwidth applies to a low-pass filter or baseband signal; the bandwidth is equal to its upper cutoff frequency.

Bandwidth in hertz is a central concept in many fields, including electronics, information theory, digital communications, radio communications, signal processing, and spectroscopy and is one of the determinants of the capacity of a given communication channel.

A key characteristic of bandwidth is that any band of a given width can carry the same amount of information, regardless of where that band is located in the frequency spectrum.[a] For example, a 3 kHz band can carry a telephone conversation whether that band is at baseband (as in a POTS telephone line) or modulated to some higher frequency.

Bandwidth is a key concept in many telecommunications applications. In radio communications, for example, bandwidth is the frequency range occupied by a modulated carrier signal. An FM radio receiver's tuner spans a limited range of frequencies. A government agency (such as the Federal Communications Commission in the United States) may apportion the regionally available bandwidth to broadcast license holders so that their signals do not mutually interfere. In this context, bandwidth is also known as channel spacing.

For other applications, there are other definitions. One definition of bandwidth, for a system, could be the range of frequencies over which the system produces a specified level of performance. A less strict and more practically useful definition will refer to the frequencies beyond which performance is degraded. In the case of frequency response, degradation could, for example, mean more than 3 dB below the maximum value or it could mean below a certain absolute value. As with any definition of the width of a function, many definitions are suitable for different purposes.

In the context of, for example, the sampling theorem and Nyquist sampling rate, bandwidth typically refers to baseband bandwidth. In the context of Nyquist symbol rate or Shannon-Hartley channel capacity for communication systems it refers to passband bandwidth.

The Rayleigh bandwidth of a simple radar pulse is defined as the inverse of its duration. For example, a one-microsecond pulse has a Rayleigh bandwidth of one megahertz.[1]

The essential bandwidth is defined as the portion of a signal spectrum in the frequency domain which contains most of the energy of the signal.[2]

The magnitude response of a band-pass filter illustrating the concept of −3 dB bandwidth at a gain of approximately 0.707.

The bandwidth is also used to denote system bandwidth, for example in filter or communication channel systems. To say that a system has a certain bandwidth means that the system can process signals with that range of frequencies, or that the system reduces the bandwidth of a white noise input to that bandwidth.

The 3 dB bandwidth of an electronic filter or communication channel is the part of the system's frequency response that lies within 3 dB of the response at its peak, which, in the passband filter case, is typically at or near its center frequency, and in the low-pass filter is at or near its cutoff frequency. If the maximum gain is 0 dB, the 3 dB bandwidth is the frequency range where attenuation is less than 3 dB. 3 dB attenuation is also where power is half its maximum. This same half-power gain convention is also used in spectral width, and more generally for the extent of functions as full width at half maximum (FWHM).

In electronic filter design, a filter specification may require that within the filter passband, the gain is nominally 0 dB with a small variation, for example within the ±1 dB interval. In the stopband(s), the required attenuation in decibels is above a certain level, for example >100 dB. In a transition band the gain is not specified. In this case, the filter bandwidth corresponds to the passband width, which in this example is the 1 dB-bandwidth. If the filter shows amplitude ripple within the passband, the x dB point refers to the point where the gain is x dB below the nominal passband gain rather than x dB below the maximum gain.

In signal processing and control theory the bandwidth is the frequency at which the closed-loop system gain drops 3 dB below peak.

In communication systems, in calculations of the Shannon–Hartley channel capacity, bandwidth refers to the 3 dB-bandwidth. In calculations of the maximum symbol rate, the Nyquist sampling rate, and maximum bit rate according to the Hartley's law, the bandwidth refers to the frequency range within which the gain is non-zero.

The absolute bandwidth is not always the most appropriate or useful measure of bandwidth. For instance, in the field of antennas the difficulty of constructing an antenna to meet a specified absolute bandwidth is easier at a higher frequency than at a lower frequency. For this reason, bandwidth is often quoted relative to the frequency of operation which gives a better indication of the structure and sophistication needed for the circuit or device under consideration.

The center frequency is usually defined as the arithmetic mean of the upper and lower frequencies so that,

However, the center frequency is sometimes defined as the geometric mean of the upper and lower frequencies,

While the geometric mean is more rarely used than the arithmetic mean (and the latter can be assumed if not stated explicitly) the former is considered more mathematically rigorous. It more properly reflects the logarithmic relationship of fractional bandwidth with increasing frequency.[5] For narrowband applications, there is only marginal difference between the two definitions. The geometric mean version is inconsequentially larger. For wideband applications they diverge substantially with the arithmetic mean version approaching 2 in the limit and the geometric mean version approaching infinity.

Ratio bandwidth is defined as the ratio of the upper and lower limits of the band,

Percent bandwidth is a less meaningful measure in wideband applications. A percent bandwidth of 100% corresponds to a ratio bandwidth of 3:1. All higher ratios up to infinity are compressed into the range 100–200%.

Ratio bandwidth is often expressed in octaves for wideband applications. An octave is a frequency ratio of 2:1 leading to this expression for the number of octaves,

A related concept is the spectral linewidth of the radiation emitted by excited atoms.