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In wireless communications, fading is deviation of 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 modelled 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 travelling 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.

Slow versus fast fading

The terms slow and fast fading refer to the rate at which the magnitude and phase change imposed by the channel on the signal changes. The coherence time is a measure of the minimum time required for the magnitude change of the channel to become uncorrelated from its previous value.

  • Slow fading arises when the coherence time of the channel is large relative to the delay constraint of the channel. In this regime, the amplitude and phase change imposed by the channel can be considered roughly constant over the period of use. Slow fading can be caused by events such as shadowing, where a large obstruction such as a hill or large building obscures the main signal path between the transmitter and the receiver. The amplitude change caused by shadowing is often modeled using a log-normal distribution with a standard deviation according to the log-distance path loss model.

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