CRTC Electronics

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Frequency and Time

Lesson plan



One of the most important properties of any regular waveform identifies the number of complete cycles it goes through in a fixed period of time. For standard measurements, the period of time is one second, so the frequency of the wave is commonly measured in cycles per second (cycles/sec) and, in normal usage, is expressed in units of Hertz (Hz). It is represented in mathematical equations by the letter 'f.' In North America (primarily the US and Canada), the AC power system operates at a frequency of 60 Hz. In Europe, including the UK, Ireland, and Scotland, the power system operates at a frequency of 50 Hz. 


Sometimes we need to know the amount of time required to complete one cycle of the waveform, rather than the number of cycles per second of time. This is logically the reciprocal of frequency. Thus, period is the time duration of one cycle of the waveform, and is measured in seconds/cycle. AC power at 50 Hz will have a period of 1/50 = 0.02 seconds/cycle. A 60 Hz power system has a period of 1/60  =  0.016667 seconds/cycle. These are often expressed as 20 ms/cycle or 16.6667 ms/cycle, where 1 ms is 1 millisecond = 0.001 second (1/1000 of a second). 


  • The Period, (T) is the length of time in seconds that the waveform takes to repeat itself from start to finish. This can also be called the Periodic Time of the waveform for sine waves, or the Pulse Width for square waves.

  • The Frequency, (ƒ) is the number of times the waveform repeats itself within a one second time period. Frequency is the reciprocal of the time period, ( ƒ = 1/T ) with the unit of frequency being the Hertz, (Hz).

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