Communication Systems/Frequency-Division Multiplexing

Introduction edit

It turns out that many wires have a much higher bandwidth than is needed for the signals that they are currently carrying. Analog Telephone transmissions, for instance, require only 3 000 Hz of bandwidth to transmit human voice signals. Over short distances, however, twisted-pair telephone wire has an available bandwidth of nearly 100000 Hz!

There are several terrestrial radio based communications systems deployed today. They include:

  • Cellular radio
  • Mobile radio
  • Digital microwave radio

Mobile radio service was first introduced in the St. Louis in 1946. This system was essentially a radio dispatching system with an operator who was able to patch the caller to the PSTN via a switchboard. Later, an improved mobile telephone system, IMTS, allowed customers to dial their own calls without the need for an operator. This in turn developed into the cellular radio networks we see today.

The long haul PSTNs and packet data networks use a wide variety of transmission media including

  • Terrestrial microwave
  • Satellite microwave
  • Fiber optics
  • Coaxial cable

In this section, we will be concerned with terrestrial microwave systems. Originally, microwave links used FDM exclusively as the access technique, but recent developments are changing analog systems to digital where TDM is more appropriate.

Fixed Access Assignment edit

Three basic methods can be used to combine customers on to fixed channel radio links:

  • FDMA - (Frequency division multiple access) analog or digital
  • TDMA - (Time division multiple access) three conversation paths are time division multiplexed in 6.7 mSec time slots on a single carrier.
  • CDMA - (Code division multiple access) this uses spread spectrum techniques to increase the subscriber density. The transmitter hops through a pseudo-random sequence of frequencies. The receiver is given the sequence list and is able to follow the transmitter. As more customers are added to the system, the signal to noise will gradually degrade. This is in contrast to AMPS where customers are denied access once all of the frequencies are assigned code division multiple access [digital only]

What is FDM? edit

Frequency Division Multiplexing (FDM) allows engineers to utilize the extra space in each wire to carry more than one signal. By frequency-shifting some signals by a certain amount, engineers can shift the spectrum of that signal up into the unused band on that wire. In this way, multiple signals can be carried on the same wire, without having to divy up time-slices as in Time-Division Multiplexing schemes.In analog transmission, signals are commonly multiplexed using frequency-division multiplexing (FDM), in which the carrier bandwidth is divided into subchannels of different frequency widths, each carrying a signal at the same time in parallel

Traditional terrestrial microwave and satellite links employ FDM. Although FDM in telecommunications is being reduced, several systems will continue to use this technique, namely: broadcast & cable TV, and commercial & cellular radio.

Analog Carrier Systems edit

The standard telephony voice band [300 – 3400 Hz] is heterodyned and stacked on high frequency carriers by single sideband amplitude modulation. This is the most bandwidth efficient scheme possible.


The analog voice channels are pre-grouped into threes and heterodyned on carriers at 12, 16, and 20 kHz. The resulting upper sidebands of four such pregroups are then heterodyned on carriers at 84, 96, 108, and 120 kHz to form a 12-channel group.

Since the lower sideband is selected in the second mixing stage, the channel sequence is reversed and a frequency inversion occurs within each channel.


This process can continue until the available bandwidth on the coaxial cable or microwave link is exhausted.


In the North American system, there are:

  • 12 channels per group
  • 5 groups per supergroup
  • 10 super groups per mastergroup
  • 6 master groups per jumbogroup

In the European CCITT system, there are:

  • 12 channels per group
  • 5 groups per supergroup
  • 5 super groups per mastergroup
  • 3 master groups per supermastergroup

There are other FDM schemes including:

  • L600 - 600 voice channels 60–2788 kHz
  • U600 - 600 voice channels 564–3084 kHz
  • L3 - 1860 voice channels 312–8284 kHz, comprised of 3 mastergroups and a supergroup
  • L4 - 3600 voice channels, comprised of six U600s

Benefits of FDM edit

FDM allows engineers to transmit multiple data streams simultaneously over the same channel, at the expense of bandwidth. To that extent, FDM provides a trade-off: faster data for less bandwidth. Also, to demultiplex an FDM signal requires a series of bandpass filters to isolate each individual signal. Bandpass filters are relatively complicated and expensive, therefore the receivers in an FDM system are generally expensive.

Examples of FDM edit

As an example of an FDM system, Commercial broadcast radio (AM and FM radio) simultaneously transmits multiple signals or "stations" over the airwaves. These stations each get their own frequency band to use, and a radio can be tuned to receive each different station. Another good example is cable television, which simultaneously transmits every channel, and the TV "tunes in" to which channel it wants to watch.

Orthogonal FDM edit

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) is a more modern variant of FDM that uses orthogonal sub-carriers to transmit data that does not overlap in the frequency spectrum and is able to be separated out using frequency methods. OFDM has a similar data rate to traditional FDM systems, but has a higher resilience to disruptive channel conditions such as noise and channel fading.