What Is Attenuation? (And What It Means in Data Communication)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Terms like attenuation help us understand what data communication is and how it works. Learn what this term means and related careers in data communications.

[Featured Image] Three coworkers gather around a desktop computer station in a networking room.

What is attenuation in data communication?

Attenuation is the loss of signal strength, caused by internal or external factors, in networking connections. In data communications, cables and connections are responsible for producing your Wi-Fi signal and keeping it strong. 

For example, attenuation occurs when you’re at a coffee shop. Both your phone and your laptop are connected to the Wi-Fi network. You’re working on your laptop, but you receive a phone call and move outside. That Wi-Fi connection is attenuated when you move farther away from the router, thus requiring your phone to disconnect from Wi-Fi and connect to the mobile network instead.

Attenuation can occur for many different reasons, with any type of cable or wireless connection. This can include fiber cables, satellite, radio signals, and more [1].

What causes attenuation?

Attenuation occurs because of a loss in signal strength. This can occur for several reasons:

  • Distance: Attenuation can occur if a cable needs to connect over a long distance.

  • Weather: Weather can affect attenuation, for example, if a thunderstorm causes the electricity to go out. Cables moving significantly in the wind can also cause slight attenuation. Cold temperatures can cause wires to break or become inflexible, which can slow down signals.

  • Frequency: Network cables produce electromagnetic waves within the immediate vicinity. More frequencies can decrease signal strength, requiring the use of amplifiers to boost it to a regular strength.

How can it be fixed?

Attenuation can be improved or fixed depending on the circumstance with simple adjustments.

  • Decrease distance: Network administrators and/or technicians are responsible for helping to maintain attenuation in a data communication network. They may use shorter cables and get rid of unnecessarily long cables, or move routers closer to where they need to be, to increase signal strength. 

  • Use amplifiers or repeaters: Repeaters and amplifiers can prevent attenuation. They tend to work best in large offices—places where the signal needs to reach all corners, but network speed is less important and only needed for downloads, emails, and video connection.

  • Strengthen cables: There are fiber, satellite, copper, and other types of cables, and each of them transfers data at a different rate and temperature. Switching from a copper to a fiber cable, for example, can increase signal strength.

Career paths in data communication and networking

If solving networking issues like attenuation interests you, consider a career in data communications. Here are a few roles that are common in the industry:

1. Network administrator

Network administrators are IT professionals who ensure a company’s computer networks are operating smoothly. They maintain and troubleshoot computer networks, focusing on routing, IP addresses, VPN, and Local Area Networks (LAN). Their role includes installing and configuring network hardware such as firewalls and switches, and resolving connectivity issues for employees.

Read more: What Is a Network Administrator? A Career Guide

2. Network engineer

Network engineers and architects are in charge of designing and building communication networks. They also protect these networks from external threats, such as phishing schemes, ransomware, and other cyberattacks—through a process called network security.

Read more: How to Get a Job as a Network Engineer | 6 Tips

3. System administrator

System administrators are IT professionals who make sure a company’s computer systems are functioning. They provide support, troubleshooting, and maintenance for computer servers and networks.

Read more: What Does a System Administrator Do? Career Guide

Learn IT support and networking with Google

To start a career in networking, you’ll need to know the basics of IT support. With Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate, you’ll gain all the skills you need for an entry-level IT job. From there, you can advance into administrator and manager roles as you gain experience.

Article sources

  1. CompTIA. “What Is Attenuation in Networking?, https://www.comptia.org/content/guides/what-is-attenuation.” Accessed October 10, 2023.

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