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.[note 1] 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.
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.