I am confused about using in and on for the following sentence:

  1. I have two channels only. Concurrent transmissions on both channels will cause problem.

  2. I have two channels only. Concurrent transmissions in both channels will cause problem.

A channel here is a wireless link, which is not visible. I am talking about two cellphone users who are trying to make calls simultaneously. However, there are only two channels available and both cannot be used at the same time.

Can anyone please explain which one is more currect and why?

  • 2
    It could be either depending on context. Please add some more information about the context. – Max Williams Jul 28 '16 at 12:46
  • 4
    They're both correct. It depends on whether you conceptualize these invisible metaphoric "channels" as two-dimensional (use on) or three-dimensional (use in). One of the costs of using physical names for nonphysical things is that you have to pin down the associations tighter sometimes. – John Lawler Jul 28 '16 at 13:39
  • Neither is correct: either use a problem or problems, whichever is appropriate. In addition, putting only at the end of a sentence is frequently awkward, as it is in this case. I have only two channels. – David Handelman Oct 5 '16 at 22:49
  • The choice of in or on (or, say, over or through) in such situations is highly dependent on the conventions that exist for the specific technology. There is no single "right" answer from a simple English syntax point of view, but rather it's an issue of which is more idiomatic for the context. – Hot Licks Oct 5 '16 at 23:40

Strictly speaking, one transmits over a channel:

In information theory, the Shannon–Hartley theorem tells the maximum rate at which information can be transmitted over a communications channel of a specified bandwidth in the presence of noise.


In practice, you'll find that both on and in are also being used, albeit less frequently:

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However, there may be a nuance: for example, a TV engineer might say my station transmits on Channel 5, but we are now transmitting a test in our UHF channel.

  • Yeah, Ngram is relatively useless in this situation, since there are so many different technical specialties, each with its own jargon. – Hot Licks Oct 6 '16 at 0:03
  • 1
    @HotLicks I am not aware of such compartmentalization. AFAIK, engineers in TV, radio, celular, optical, infrared, microwave etc. have all been to the same schools and read the same technical literature. – michael.hor257k Oct 6 '16 at 1:11
  • Why do some people doubt n-gram? – Mido Mido Apr 4 '17 at 8:09

a) I have two channels only. Concurrent transmissions on both channels will cause problem.--This one looks correct. We need to say ON because the transmission shall be visible to us. Like a picture ON screen, not IN screen.

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