Hello Heisenberg -- “New York City Not Ready for the iPhone” « Phorgy Phynance

As frequencies increase, the waves start acting more like laser beams. They no longer ooze around corners. You start to get “shadows” or dead spots with no signal. It becomes more difficult for the signals to penetrate walls etc. These problems get worse the higher you go in frequency.

An extreme case is an actual laser. Here, it becomes more difficult to distinguish the wave dynamics from particle dynamics. Like in Star Wars, the laser beams can bounce around like particles.

So we have two extremes: low frequency molasses waves and high frequency laser beams. As bandwidth demands increase, we begin moving the dial away from molasses (where we have good wireless signals) to laser beams (where we have dark spots, shadows, with no signal, etc).

There are many clever modulation tricks that delay the inevitable, but the basic rule is that you cannot defeat Heisenberg. This is an imprecise (but I hope effective) analogy that relates to the fact that at lower frequency (and longer wavelength, i.e. larger “effective size” of the wave), you have more certainty as to “where the photon is” (because it is coming from a relatively smaller antenna) you have more uncertainty about where it goes, i.e. it goes everywhere like a good wireless signal should. At higher frequency (and shorter wavelength), the antenna is relatively larger (compared to the wave) so we know less precisely where the photons are, hence we have more certainty as to where they are going, i.e. in a straight line instead of around a corner, which is undesirable for a wireless signal.

Neat info for us non-radio engineers :)