Reflection, refraction and diffraction may provide signals in what would otherwise be areas of no signal, but they also produce interference.

Reflected – or diffracted – signals may arrive at the receiver in any phase relationship with the direct ray and with each other. The relative phasing of the signals depends on the differing lengths of their paths and the nature of the reflection.

When the direct and reflected rays have followed paths differing by an odd number of half-wavelengths they could be expected to arrive at the receiver in anti-phase with a cancelling effect. However, in the reflection process a further phase change normally takes place.

If the reflecting surface had infinite conductivity, no losses would occur in the reflection, and the reflected wave would have exactly the same or opposite phase as the incident wave depending on the polarization in relation to the reflecting surface.

In practice, the reflected wave is of smaller amplitude than the incident, and the phase relationships are also changed. The factors affecting the phasing are complex but most frequently, in practical situations, approximately 180◦ phase change occurs on reflection, so that reflected waves travelling an odd number
of half-wavelengths arrive in phase with the direct wave while those travelling an even number arrive anti-phase.

As conditions in the path between transmitter and receiver change so does the strength and path length of reflected signals. This means that a receiver may be subjected to signal variations of almost twice the mean level and practically zero, giving rise to severe fading.

This type of fading is frequency selective and occurs on troposcatter systems and in the mobile environment where it is more severe at higher frequencies. A mobile receiver travelling through an urban area can receive rapid signal fluctuations caused by additions and cancellations of the direct and reflected signals at half-wavelength intervals.

Fading due to the multi-path environment is often referred to as Rayleigh fading. Rayleigh fading, which can cause short signal dropouts, imposes severe restraints on mobile data transmission.

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