Continuous wave

# Continuous wave

Overview
A continuous wave or continuous waveform (CW) is an electromagnetic wave of constant amplitude
Amplitude
Amplitude is the magnitude of change in the oscillating variable with each oscillation within an oscillating system. For example, sound waves in air are oscillations in atmospheric pressure and their amplitudes are proportional to the change in pressure during one oscillation...

and frequency
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

; and in mathematical analysis
Mathematical analysis
Mathematical analysis, which mathematicians refer to simply as analysis, has its beginnings in the rigorous formulation of infinitesimal calculus. It is a branch of pure mathematics that includes the theories of differentiation, integration and measure, limits, infinite series, and analytic functions...

, of infinite duration. Continuous wave is also the name given to an early method of radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

transmission
Transmission (telecommunications)
Transmission, in telecommunications, is the process of sending, propagating and receiving an analogue or digital information signal over a physical point-to-point or point-to-multipoint transmission medium, either wired, optical fiber or wireless...

, in which a carrier wave
Carrier wave
In telecommunications, a carrier wave or carrier is a waveform that is modulated with an input signal for the purpose of conveying information. This carrier wave is usually a much higher frequency than the input signal...

is switched on and off. Information
Information
Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

is carried in the varying duration of the on and off periods
On-off keying
On-off keying the simplest form of amplitude-shift keying modulation that represents digital data as the presence or absence of a carrier wave. In its simplest form, the presence of a carrier for a specific duration represents a binary one, while its absence for the same duration represents a...

of the signal, for example by Morse code
Morse code
Morse code is a method of transmitting textual information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment...

in early radio. In early wireless telegraphy
Wireless telegraphy
Wireless telegraphy is a historical term used today to apply to early radio telegraph communications techniques and practices, particularly those used during the first three decades of radio before the term radio came into use....

radio transmission, CW waves were also known as "undamped waves", to distinguish this method from damped wave
Damped wave
A damped wave is a wave whose amplitude of oscillation decreases with time, eventually going to zero. This term also refers to an early method of radio transmission produced by spark gap transmitters, which consisted of a series of damped electromagnetic waves...

transmission.

Very early radio transmitters used a spark gap
Spark gap
A spark gap consists of an arrangement of two conducting electrodes separated by a gap usually filled with a gas such as air, designed to allow an electric spark to pass between the conductors. When the voltage difference between the conductors exceeds the gap's breakdown voltage, a spark forms,...

to produce radio-frequency oscillations in the transmitting antenna.
Discussion

Encyclopedia
A continuous wave or continuous waveform (CW) is an electromagnetic wave of constant amplitude
Amplitude
Amplitude is the magnitude of change in the oscillating variable with each oscillation within an oscillating system. For example, sound waves in air are oscillations in atmospheric pressure and their amplitudes are proportional to the change in pressure during one oscillation...

and frequency
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

; and in mathematical analysis
Mathematical analysis
Mathematical analysis, which mathematicians refer to simply as analysis, has its beginnings in the rigorous formulation of infinitesimal calculus. It is a branch of pure mathematics that includes the theories of differentiation, integration and measure, limits, infinite series, and analytic functions...

, of infinite duration. Continuous wave is also the name given to an early method of radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

transmission
Transmission (telecommunications)
Transmission, in telecommunications, is the process of sending, propagating and receiving an analogue or digital information signal over a physical point-to-point or point-to-multipoint transmission medium, either wired, optical fiber or wireless...

, in which a carrier wave
Carrier wave
In telecommunications, a carrier wave or carrier is a waveform that is modulated with an input signal for the purpose of conveying information. This carrier wave is usually a much higher frequency than the input signal...

is switched on and off. Information
Information
Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

is carried in the varying duration of the on and off periods
On-off keying
On-off keying the simplest form of amplitude-shift keying modulation that represents digital data as the presence or absence of a carrier wave. In its simplest form, the presence of a carrier for a specific duration represents a binary one, while its absence for the same duration represents a...

of the signal, for example by Morse code
Morse code
Morse code is a method of transmitting textual information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment...

in early radio. In early wireless telegraphy
Wireless telegraphy
Wireless telegraphy is a historical term used today to apply to early radio telegraph communications techniques and practices, particularly those used during the first three decades of radio before the term radio came into use....

radio transmission, CW waves were also known as "undamped waves", to distinguish this method from damped wave
Damped wave
A damped wave is a wave whose amplitude of oscillation decreases with time, eventually going to zero. This term also refers to an early method of radio transmission produced by spark gap transmitters, which consisted of a series of damped electromagnetic waves...

transmission.

Very early radio transmitters used a spark gap
Spark gap
A spark gap consists of an arrangement of two conducting electrodes separated by a gap usually filled with a gas such as air, designed to allow an electric spark to pass between the conductors. When the voltage difference between the conductors exceeds the gap's breakdown voltage, a spark forms,...

to produce radio-frequency oscillations in the transmitting antenna. The signals produced by these spark-gap transmitter
Spark-gap transmitter
A spark-gap transmitter is a device for generating radio frequency electromagnetic waves using a spark gap.These devices served as the transmitters for most wireless telegraphy systems for the first three decades of radio and the first demonstrations of practical radio were carried out using them...

s consisted of brief pulses of radio frequency oscillations which died out rapidly to zero, called damped wave
Damped wave
A damped wave is a wave whose amplitude of oscillation decreases with time, eventually going to zero. This term also refers to an early method of radio transmission produced by spark gap transmitters, which consisted of a series of damped electromagnetic waves...

s. The disadvantage of damped waves was that they produced electromagnetic interference
Electromagnetic interference
Electromagnetic interference is disturbance that affects an electrical circuit due to either electromagnetic induction or electromagnetic radiation emitted from an external source. The disturbance may interrupt, obstruct, or otherwise degrade or limit the effective performance of the circuit...

that spread over the transmissions of stations at other frequencies
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

. Mathematically, the extremely wideband excitation provided by the spark gap was bandpass filtered by the self-oscillating antenna side circuit, which because of its simple construction, unfortunately also had a relatively broad and badly controlled filter characteristic.

This motivated efforts to produce radio frequency oscillations that decayed more slowly. Strictly speaking an unmodulated, continuous carrier has no bandwidth and cannot interfere with signals at other frequencies, but on the other hand conveys no information either. Thus it is commonly understood that the act of keying the carrier on and off is necessary. However, in order to bring the bandwidth of the resulting signal under control, the buildup and decay of the radio frequency envelope needed to be slower than in the early spark gap implementations.

When this is done, the spectrum of the signal approaches that of a continuous sinusoidal oscillation, while temporally its amplitude
Amplitude
Amplitude is the magnitude of change in the oscillating variable with each oscillation within an oscillating system. For example, sound waves in air are oscillations in atmospheric pressure and their amplitudes are proportional to the change in pressure during one oscillation...

does vary between zero and full carrier strength. As such, the resulting narrower bandwidth mode of operation is to this day described as "continuous wave". The resulting signal allows many radio stations to share a given band of frequencies without noticeable mutual interference.

The first transmitters capable of producing continuous wave, the Alexanderson alternator
Alexanderson alternator
An Alexanderson alternator is a rotating machine invented by Ernst Alexanderson in 1904 for the generation of high frequency alternating current up to 100 kHz, for use as a radio transmitter...

and vacuum tube
Vacuum tube
In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube , or thermionic valve , reduced to simply "tube" or "valve" in everyday parlance, is a device that relies on the flow of electric current through a vacuum...

oscillators, became widely available after World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

.

Early radio transmitters were incapable of handling the complexity of actual audio and therefore CW was the only form of communication available. CW still remained a viable form of radio communication for many years after voice transmission was perfected, because simple transmitters could be used. The low bandwidth of the code signal, due in part to low information transmission rate, allowed very selective filters to be used in the receiver which blocked out much of the atmospheric noise that would otherwise reduce the intelligibility of the signal.

Continuous-wave radio was called radiotelegraphy because like the telegraph, it worked by means of a simple switch to transmit Morse code
Morse code
Morse code is a method of transmitting textual information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment...

. However, instead of controlling the electricity in a cross-country wire, the switch controlled the power sent to a radio transmitter
Transmitter
In electronics and telecommunications a transmitter or radio transmitter is an electronic device which, with the aid of an antenna, produces radio waves. The transmitter itself generates a radio frequency alternating current, which is applied to the antenna. When excited by this alternating...

. This mode is still in common use by amateur radio
Amateur radio is the use of designated radio frequency spectrum for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication...

operators.

Continuous-wave radar is a type of radar system where a known stable frequency continuous wave radio energy is transmitted and then received from any reflecting objects.Continuous wave radar uses Doppler, which renders the radar immune to interference from large stationary objects and slow moving...

system is one where a continuous wave is transmitted by one aerial
An antenna is an electrical device which converts electric currents into radio waves, and vice versa. It is usually used with a radio transmitter or radio receiver...

Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

energy.

In military communications and amateur radio
Amateur radio is the use of designated radio frequency spectrum for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication...

, the terms "CW" and "Morse code" are often used interchangeably, despite the distinctions between the two. Morse code may be sent using direct current
Direct current
Direct current is the unidirectional flow of electric charge. Direct current is produced by such sources as batteries, thermocouples, solar cells, and commutator-type electric machines of the dynamo type. Direct current may flow in a conductor such as a wire, but can also flow through...

in wires, sound, or light, for example. A carrier wave is keyed on and off to represent the dots and dashes of the code elements. The carrier's amplitude and frequency remains constant during each code element. At the receiver, the received signal is mixed with a heterodyne signal
Heterodyne
Heterodyning is a radio signal processing technique invented in 1901 by Canadian inventor-engineer Reginald Fessenden where high frequency signals are converted to lower frequencies by combining two frequencies. Heterodyning is useful for frequency shifting information of interest into a useful...

from a BFO (Beat frequency oscillator) to change the radio frequency impulses to sound.
Though most commercial traffic has now ceased operation using that mode, it is still popular with amateur radio operators.

Older non-directional beacon
Non-directional beacon
A non-directional beacon is a radio transmitter at a known location, used as an aviation or marine navigational aid. As the name implies, the signal transmitted does not include inherent directional information, in contrast to other navigational aids such as low frequency radio range, VHF...

s used in air navigation use CW to transmit their identifier.

### Key clicks

In any form of on-off carrier keying, if the carrier wave is turned on or off abruptly, the bandwidth will be large; if the carrier turns on and off more gradually, the bandwidth will be smaller. What is transmitted in the extra bandwidth used by a transmitter
Transmitter
In electronics and telecommunications a transmitter or radio transmitter is an electronic device which, with the aid of an antenna, produces radio waves. The transmitter itself generates a radio frequency alternating current, which is applied to the antenna. When excited by this alternating...

that turns on/off more abruptly is known as key clicks. Certain types of power amplifiers used in transmission may increase the effect of key clicks.

## Laser physics

In laser physics
Laser Physics
Laser Physics is an international scientific journal published by Nauka/Interperiodica. It is distributed through the Springer.-Topics covered:The journal specializes in laser physics, but also publishes papers about:...

and engineering the term "continuous wave" or "CW" refers to a laser
Laser
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation...

which produces a continuous output beam, sometimes referred to as 'free-running'. This is as opposed to a q-switched, gain-switched
Gain-switching
Gain-switching is a technique in optics by which a laser can be made to produce pulses of light of extremely short duration, of the order of picoseconds ....

or modelocked
Modelocking
Mode-locking is a technique in optics by which a laser can be made to produce pulses of light of extremely short duration, on the order of picoseconds or femtoseconds ....

laser, which produces pulses of light.

• Amplitude modulation
Amplitude modulation
Amplitude modulation is a technique used in electronic communication, most commonly for transmitting information via a radio carrier wave. AM works by varying the strength of the transmitted signal in relation to the information being sent...

• The CW Operators' Club
The CW Operators' Club
The CW Operators' Club is an international organization, in membership and management, for amateur radio operators who enjoy communicating using Morse Code. The club is commonly known as CWops. Its mission is to foster the use of CW, whether for contesting, DXing, traffic handling, or engaging in...

• Damped wave
Damped wave
A damped wave is a wave whose amplitude of oscillation decreases with time, eventually going to zero. This term also refers to an early method of radio transmission produced by spark gap transmitters, which consisted of a series of damped electromagnetic waves...

• On-off keying
On-off keying
On-off keying the simplest form of amplitude-shift keying modulation that represents digital data as the presence or absence of a carrier wave. In its simplest form, the presence of a carrier for a specific duration represents a binary one, while its absence for the same duration represents a...

• Tikker
Tikker
A tikker was a device that allowed early crystal radio circuits to detect continuous-wave telegraphy. Ordinary crystal detectors cannot demodulate continuous waves; the direct current signal is inaudible in headphones...