100x-Radio propagation noise

Frequency-selective time-varying fading causes a cloudy pattern to appear on a spectrogram. Time is shown on the horizontal axis, frequency on the vertical axis and signal strength as grey-scale intensity.

In wireless communications, fading is deviation or the attenuation that a carrier-modulated telecommunication signal experiences over certain propagation media. The fading may vary with time, geographical position and/or radio frequency, and is often modeled as a random process. A fading channel is a communication channel that experiences fading. In wireless systems, fading may either be due to multipath propagation, referred to as multipath induced fading, or due to shadowing from obstacles affecting the wave propagation, sometimes referred to as shadow fading.

Key concepts[]

The presence of reflectors in the environment surrounding a transmitter and receiver create multiple paths that a transmitted signal can traverse. As a result, the receiver sees the superposition of multiple copies of the transmitted signal, each traversing a different path. Each signal copy will experience differences in attenuation, delay and phase shift while traveling from the source to the receiver. This can result in either constructive or destructive interference, amplifying or attenuating the signal power seen at the receiver. Strong destructive interference is frequently referred to as a deep fade and may result in temporary failure of communication due to a severe drop in the channel signal-to-noise ratio.

A common example of multipath fading is the experience of stopping at a traffic light and hearing an FM broadcast degenerate into static, while the signal is re-acquired if the vehicle moves only a fraction of a meter. The loss of the broadcast is caused by the vehicle stopping at a point where the signal experienced severe destructive interference. Cellular phones can also exhibit similar momentary fades.

Fading channel models are often used to model the effects of electromagnetic transmission of information over the air in cellular networks and broadcast communication. Fading channel models are also used in underwater acoustic communications to model the distortion caused by the water. Mathematically, fading is usually modeled as a time-varying random change in the amplitude and phase of the transmitted signal.


Fading can cause poor performance in a communication system because it can result in a loss of signal power without reducing the power of the noise. This signal loss can be over some or all of the signal bandwidth. Fading can also be a problem as it changes over time: communication systems are often designed to adapt to such impairments, but the fading can change faster than the adaptations can be made. In such cases, the probability of experiencing a fade (and associated bit errors as the signal-to-noise ratio drops) on the channel becomes the limiting factor in the link's performance.

The effects of fading can be combated by using diversity to transmit the signal over multiple channels that experience independent fading and coherently combining them at the receiver. The probability of experiencing a fade in this composite channel is then proportional to the probability that all the component channels simultaneously experience a fade, a much more unlikely event.

Diversity can be achieved in time, frequency, or space. Common techniques used to overcome signal fading include:

  • Diversity reception and transmission
  • OFDM
  • Rake receivers
  • Space–time codes
  • MIMO