Communication Systems/What is Modulation?

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Modulation is a term that is going to be used very frequently in this book. So much in fact, that we could almost have renamed this book "Principals of Modulation", without having to delete too many chapters. So, the logical question arises: What exactly is modulation?

Definition[edit]

Modulation is a process of mixing a signal with a sinusoid to produce a new signal. This new signal, conceivably, will have certain benefits over an un-modulated signal, especially during transmission. If we look at a general function for a sinusoid:

f(t) = A \sin(\omega t + \phi)

we can see that this sinusoid has 3 parameters that can be altered, to affect the shape of the graph. The first term, A, is called the magnitude, or amplitude of the sinusoid. The next term, \omega is known as the frequency, and the last term, \phi is known as the phase angle. All 3 parameters can be altered to transmit data.

The sinusoidal signal that is used in the modulation is known as the carrier signal, or simply "the carrier". The signal that is used in modulating the carrier signal(or sinusoidal signal) is known as the "data signal" or the "message signal". It is important to notice that a simple sinusoidal carrier contains no information of its own.

In other words we can say that modulation is used because some data signals are not always suitable for direct transmission, but the modulated signal may be more suitable.

Types of Modulation[edit]

There are 3 basic types of modulation: Amplitude modulation, Frequency modulation, and Phase modulation.

amplitude modulation
a type of modulation where the amplitude of the carrier signal is modulated (changed) in proportion to the message signal while the frequency and phase are kept constant.
frequency modulation
a type of modulation where the frequency of the carrier signal is modulated (changed) in proportion to the message signal while the amplitude and phase are kept constant.
phase modulation
a type of modulation where the phase of the carrier signal is varied accordance to the low frequency of the message signal is known as phase modulation.

Why Use Modulation?[edit]

Clearly the concept of modulation can be a little tricky, especially for the people who don't like trigonometry. Why then do we bother to use modulation at all? To answer this question, let's consider a channel that essentially acts like a bandpass filter: both the lowest frequency components and the highest frequency components are attenuated or unusable in some way, with transmission only being practical over some intermediate frequency range. If we can't send low-frequency signals, then we need to shift our signal up the frequency ladder. Modulation allows us to send a signal over a bandpass frequency range. If every signal gets its own frequency range, then we can transmit multiple signals simultaneously over a single channel, all using different frequency ranges.

Another reason to modulate a signal is to allow the use of a smaller antenna. A baseband (low frequency) signal would need a huge antenna because in order to be efficient, the antenna needs to be about 1/10th the length of the wavelength. Modulation shifts the baseband signal up to a much higher frequency, which has much smaller wavelengths and allows the use of a much smaller antenna.

Examples[edit]

Think about your car radio. There are more than a dozen (or so) channels on the radio at any time, each with a given frequency: 100.1MHz, 102.5MHz etc... Each channel gets a certain range (usually about 0.22MHz), and the entire station gets transmitted over that range. Modulation makes it all possible, because it allows us to send voice and music (which are essential baseband signals) over a bandpass (or "Broadband") channel.

non-sinusoidal modulation[edit]

A sine wave at one frequency can be separated from a sine wave at another frequency (or a cosine wave at the same frequency) because the two signals are "orthogonal".

There are other sets of signals, such that every signal in the set is orthogonal to every other signal in the set.

A simple orthogonal set is time multiplexed division (TDM) -- only one transmitter is active at any one time.

Other more complicated sets of orthogonal waveforms -- Walsh codes and various pseudo-noise codes such as Gold codes and maximum length sequences -- are also used in some communication systems.

The process of combining these waveforms with data signals is sometimes called "modulation", because it is so very similar to the way modulation combines sine waves are with data signals.

further reading[edit]