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Electronic noise

Electronic noise is a random fluctuation in an electrical signal, a characteristic of all electronic circuits. Noise generated by electronic devices varies greatly, as it can be produced by several different effects. Thermal and shot noise are unavoidable and due to the laws of nature, rather than to the device exhibiting them, while other types depend mostly on manufacturing quality and semiconductor defects.

In communication systems, the noise is an error or undesired random disturbance of a useful information signal, introduced before or after the detector and decoder. The noise is a summation of unwanted or disturbing energy from natural and sometimes man-made sources. Noise is, however, typically distinguished from interference, (e.g. cross-talk, deliberate jamming or other unwanted electromagnetic interference from specific transmitters), for example in the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), signal-to-interference ratio (SIR) and signal-to-noise plus interference ratio (SNIR) measures. Noise is also typically distinguished from distortion, which is an unwanted alteration of the signal waveform, for example in the signal-to-noise and distortion ratio (SINAD). In a carrier-modulated passband analog communication system, a certain carrier-to-noise ratio (CNR) at the radio receiver input would result in a certain signal-to-noise ratio in the detected message signal. In a digital communications system, a certain Eb/N0 (normalized signal-to-noise ratio) would result in a certain bit error rate (BER).

While noise is generally unwanted, it can serve a useful purpose in some applications, such as random number generation or dithering.


Thermal noise
Main article: Johnson–Nyquist noise

Johnson–Nyquist noise (sometimes thermal, Johnson or Nyquist noise) is unavoidable, and generated by the random thermal motion of charge carriers (usually electrons), inside an electrical conductor, which happens regardless of any applied voltage.

Thermal noise is approximately white, meaning that its power spectral density is nearly equal throughout the frequency spectrum. The amplitude of the signal has very nearly a Gaussian probability density function. A communication system affected by thermal noise is often modelled as an additive white Gaussian noise (AWGN) channel.

The root mean square (RMS) voltage due to thermal noise vn, generated in a resistance R (ohms) over bandwidth Δf (hertz), is given by

v n = (4 kB T R Δ f )1/2

where kB is Boltzmann's constant (joules per kelvin) and T is the resistor's absolute temperature (kelvin).

As the amount of thermal noise generated depends upon the temperature of the circuit, very sensitive circuits such as preamplifiers in radio telescopes are sometimes cooled in liquid nitrogen to reduce the noise level.

Shot noise
Main article: Shot noise

Shot noise in electronic devices consists of unavoidable random statistical fluctuations of the electric current in an electrical conductor. Random fluctuations are inherent when current flows, as the current is a flow of discrete charges (electrons).

Flicker noise
Main article: Flicker noise

Flicker noise, also known as 1/f noise, is a signal or process with a frequency spectrum that falls off steadily into the higher frequencies, with a pink spectrum. It occurs in almost all electronic devices, and results from a variety of effects, though always related to a direct current.

Burst noise
Main article: Burst noise

Burst noise consists of sudden step-like transitions between two or more levels (non-Gaussian), as high as several hundred millivolts, at random and unpredictable times. Each shift in offset voltage or current lasts for several milliseconds, and the intervals between pulses tend to be in the audio range (less than 100 Hz), leading to the term popcorn noise for the popping or crackling sounds it produces in audio circuits.

Avalanche noise

Avalanche noise is the noise produced when a junction diode is operated at the onset of avalanche breakdown, a semiconductor junction phenomenon in which carriers in a high voltage gradient develop sufficient energy to dislodge additional carriers through physical impact, creating ragged current flows.


The noise level in an electronic system is typically measured as an electrical power N in watts or dBm, a root mean square (RMS) voltage (identical to the noise standard deviation) in volts, dBμV or a mean squared error (MSE) in volts squared. Noise may also be characterized by its probability distribution and noise spectral density N0(f) in watts per hertz.

A noise signal is typically considered as a linear addition to a useful information signal. Typical signal quality measures involving noise are signal-to-noise ratio (SNR or S/N), signal-to-quantization noise ratio (SQNR) in analog-to-digital coversion and compression, peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR) in image and video coding, Eb/N0 in digital transmission, carrier to noise ratio (CNR) before the detector in carrier-modulated systems, and noise figure in cascaded amplifiers.

Noise is a random process, characterized by stochastic properties such as its variance, distribution, and spectral density. The spectral distribution of noise can vary with frequency, so its power density is measured in watts per hertz (W/Hz). Since the power in a resistive element is proportional to the square of the voltage across it, noise voltage (density) can be described by taking the square root of the noise power density, resulting in volts per root hertz (\scriptstyle \mathrm{V}/\sqrt{\mathrm{Hz}}). Integrated circuit devices, such as operational amplifiers commonly quote equivalent input noise level in these terms (at room temperature).

Noise power is measured in Watts or decibels (dB) relative to a standard power, usually indicated by adding a suffix after dB. Examples of electrical noise-level measurement units are dBu, dBm0, dBrn, dBrnC, and dBrn(f1 − f2), dBrn(144-line).

Noise levels are usually viewed in opposition to signal levels and so are often seen as part of a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Telecommunication systems strive to increase the ratio of signal level to noise level in order to effectively transmit data. In practice, if the transmitted signal falls below the level of the noise (often designated as the noise floor) in the system, data can no longer be decoded at the receiver. Noise in telecommunication systems is a product of both internal and external sources to the system.


If the noise source is correlated with the signal, such as in the case of quantisation error, the intentional introduction of additional noise, called dither, can reduce overall noise in the bandwidth of interest. This technique allows retrieval of signals below the nominal detection threshold of an instrument. This is an example of stochastic resonance.

See also

Generation-recombination noise
Quantization noise
Phase noise

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