In analog and digital communications, signal-to-noise ratio, often written S/N or SNR, is a measure of signal strength relative to background noise. The ratio is usually measured in decibels (dB) using a signal-to-noise ratio formula. If the incoming signal strength in microvolts is Vs, and the noise level, also in microvolts, is Vn, then the signal-to-noise ratio, S/N, in decibels is given by the formula: S/N = 20 log10(Vs/Vn)
If Vs = Vn, then S/N = 0. In this situation, the signal borders on unreadable, because the noise level severely competes with it. In digital communications, this will probably cause a reduction in data speed because of frequent errors that require the source (transmitting) computer or terminal to resend some packets of data.Content Continues Below
Ideally, Vs is greater than Vn, so a high signal-to-noise ratio is positive. As an example, suppose that Vs = 10.0 microvolts and Vn = 1.00 microvolt. Then:
S/N = 20 log10(10.0) = 20.0 dB
This results in the signal being clearly readable. If the signal is much weaker but still above the noise -- say, 1.30 microvolts -- then:
S/N = 20 log10(1.30) = 2.28 dB
This is a marginal situation. There might be some reduction in data speed under these conditions.
If Vs is less than Vn, then S/N is negative, representing a low signal-to-noise ratio. In this type of situation, reliable communication is generally not possible unless steps are taken to increase the signal level and/or decrease the noise level at the destination (receiving) computer or terminal.
Communications engineers always strive to maximize the S/N ratio. Traditionally, this has been done by using the narrowest possible receiving-system bandwidth consistent with the data speed desired. However, there are other methods. In some cases, spread spectrum techniques can improve system performance. The S/N ratio can be increased by providing the source with a higher level of signal output power if necessary. In some high-level systems such as radio telescopes, internal noise is minimized by lowering the temperature of the receiving circuitry to near absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius or -459 degrees Fahrenheit). In wireless systems, it is always important to optimize the performance of the transmitting and receiving antennas.