Communication Systems/Analog vs. Digital

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There is lots of talk nowadays about buzzwords such as "Analog" and "Digital". Certainly, engineers who are interested in creating a new communication system should understand the difference. Which is better, analog or digital? What is the difference? What are the pros and cons of each? This chapter will look at the answers to some of these questions.

What are They?[edit]

What exactly is an analog signal, and what is a digital signal?

Analog 
Analog signals are signals with continuous values. Analog signals are continuous in both time and value. Analog signals are used in many systems, although the use of analog signals has declined with the advent of cheap digital signals. All natural signals are Analog in nature.
Digital 
Digital signals are discrete in time and value. Digital signals are signals that are represented by binary numbers, "1" or "0". The 1 and 0 values can correspond to different discrete voltage values, and any signal that doesn't quite fit into the scheme just gets rounded off.

Digital signals are sampled, quantized & encoded version of continuous time signals which they represent. In addition, some techniques also make the signal undergo encryption to make the system more tolerent to the channel.

What are the Pros and Cons?[edit]

Each paradigm has its own benefits and problems.

Analog 
Analog systems are less tolerant to noise, make good use of bandwidth, and are easy to manipulate mathematically. However, analog signals require hardware receivers and transmitters that are designed to perfectly fit the particular transmission. If you are working on a new system, and you decide to change your analog signal, you need to completely change your transmitters and receivers.
Digital 
Digital signals are more tolerant to noise, but digital signals can be completely corrupted in the presence of excess noise. In digital signals, noise could cause a 1 to be interpreted as a 0 and vice versa, which makes the received data different than the original data. Imagine if the army transmitted a position coordinate to a missile digitally, and a single bit was received in error? This single bit error could cause a missile to miss its target by miles. Luckily, there are systems in place to prevent this sort of scenario, such as checksums and CRCs, which tell the receiver when a bit has been corrupted and ask the transmitter to resend the data. The primary benefit of digital signals is that they can be handled by simple, standardized receivers and transmitters, and the signal can be then dealt with in software (which is comparatively cheap to change).
Discrete Digital and Analogue

Discrete data has a fixed set of possible values.
Digital data is a type of Discrete data where the fixed value can either be 1 or 0.
Analogue data can take on any real value.

Sampling and Reconstruction[edit]

The process of converting from analog data to digital data is called "sampling". The process of recreating an analog signal from a digital one is called "reconstruction". This book will not talk about either of these subjects in much depth beyond this, although other books on the topic of EE might, such as A-level Physics (Advancing Physics)/Digitisation.

further reading[edit]