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Orthogonal frequency division modulation

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Orthogonal frequency division modulation (OFDM) is a modulation technique for encoding information into an analog signal. OFDM is typically used to modulate digital information onto a carrier signal. OFDM is sometimes called Discrete multitone modulation (DMT)

An OFDM signal may be regarded as the sum of a number of individual sub-carrier signals, each modulated (typically using QAM) by its own modulating signal. This composite signal is then used to modulate the main carrier.

OFDM modulation and demodulation are typically (as of 2001) implemented using digital filter banks generally using the Fast Fourier Transform.

When OFDM is used in conjunction with channel coding techniques, it is described as Coded orthogonal frequency division modulation (COFDM). As the overhead of doing this in an already digital system is low, and the gains substantial, practical OFDM/DMT systems are all actually COFDM.

Although highly complex, COFDM has high performance under even very challenging channel conditions.

By combining the OFDM technique with error-correcting codes, adaptive equalization and reconfigurable modulation, COFDM has the following properties:

COFDM also generally has a nearly 'white' spectrum, giving it benign electromagnetic interference properties with respect to other signals.

For these reasons, COFDM is frequently used in applications such as ADSL modems. It is also now being used in some wireless LAN applications.

COFDM is also now widely used in Europe and elsewhere where the Eureka 147 standard has been adopted for digital radio broadcasting, and also for digital TV in the DVB digital TV standard. One of the major benefits provided by COFDM is that it renders radio broadcasts relatively immune to multipath distortion, and signal fading due to atmospheric conditions, or passing aircraft. The USA has rejected several proposals to adopt COFDM for its digital radio services, and has instead opted for 8VSB (vestigial sideband modulation) operation.

Some COFDM systems use some of the sub carriers to carry pilot signals, which are used for frequency stabilisation, as frequency shifts during the transmission using the main modulation/demodulation process transform into bit errors in the decoded data.

In wide area broadcasting, because effectively the bit rate is slowed down on each sub-carrier, receivers can benefit from receiving signals from several spatially dispersed transmitters simultaneously, so that instead of transmitters interfering with each other, they can actually reinforce coverage over a wide area. This is very beneficial in many countries, as it permits the operation of national single frequency networks, and avoids the replication of program content on different carrier frequencies which is necessary with FM or other forms of radio broadcasting. Such single frequency networks utilise the available spectrum more effectively than existing analogue radio networks.

References: See the page on Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing at http://www.iss.rwth-aachen.de/Projekte/Theo/OFDM/node6 accessed on 13th Nov. 2002.

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