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Demodulation is extracting the original information-bearing signal from a carrier wave. A demodulator is an electronic circuit (or computer program in a software-defined radio) that is used to recover the information content from the modulated carrier wave. [1] There are many types of modulation so there are many types of demodulators. The signal output from a demodulator may represent sound (an analog audio signal), images (an analog video signal) or binary data (a digital signal).

Carrier wave waveform (usually sinusoidal) that is modulated (modified) with an input signal for the purpose of conveying information

In telecommunications, a carrier wave, carrier signal, or just carrier, is a waveform that is modulated (modified) with an input signal for the purpose of conveying information. This carrier wave usually has a much higher frequency than the input signal does. The purpose of the carrier is usually either to transmit the information through space as an electromagnetic wave, or to allow several carriers at different frequencies to share a common physical transmission medium by frequency division multiplexing. The term is also used for an unmodulated emission in the absence of any modulating signal.

Electronic circuit electrical circuit with active components such as transistors, valves and integrated circuits; electrical network that contains active electronic components, generally nonlinear and require complex design and analysis tools

An electronic circuit is composed of individual electronic components, such as resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors and diodes, connected by conductive wires or traces through which electric current can flow. To be referred to as electronic, rather than electrical, generally at least one active component must be present. The combination of components and wires allows various simple and complex operations to be performed: signals can be amplified, computations can be performed, and data can be moved from one place to another.

Computer program sequence of instructions written to perform a specified task with a computer

A computer program is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer. A computer requires programs to function.


These terms are traditionally used in connection with radio receivers, but many other systems use many kinds of demodulators. For example, in a modem, which is a contraction of the terms modulator/demodulator, a demodulator is used to extract a serial digital data stream from a carrier signal which is used to carry it through a telephone line, coaxial cable, or optical fiber

Radio receiver radio device for receiving radio waves and converting them to a useful signal

In radio communications, a radio receiver, also known as a receiver, wireless or simply radio is an electronic device that receives radio waves and converts the information carried by them to a usable form. It is used with an antenna. The antenna intercepts radio waves and converts them to tiny alternating currents which are applied to the receiver, and the receiver extracts the desired information. The receiver uses electronic filters to separate the desired radio frequency signal from all the other signals picked up by the antenna, an electronic amplifier to increase the power of the signal for further processing, and finally recovers the desired information through demodulation.

Modem device that modulates an analog carrier signal to encode digital information

A modem is a hardware device that converts data between transmission media so that it can be transmitted from computer to computer. The goal is to produce a signal that can be transmitted easily and decoded to reproduce the original digital data. Modems can be used with any means of transmitting analog signals from light-emitting diodes to radio. A common type of modem is one that turns the digital data of a computer into modulated electrical signal for transmission over telephone lines and demodulated by another modem at the receiver side to recover the digital data.

Telephone line single-user circuit on a telephone communication system

A telephone line or telephone circuit is a single-user circuit on a telephone communication system. This is the physical wire or other signaling medium connecting the user's telephone apparatus to the telecommunications network, and usually also implies a single telephone number for billing purposes reserved for that user. Telephone lines are used to deliver landline telephone service and Digital subscriber line (DSL) phone cable service to the premises. Telephone overhead lines are connected to the public switched telephone network.


Demodulation was first used in radio receivers. In the wireless telegraphy radio systems used during the first 3 decades of radio (1884-1914) the transmitter did not communicate audio (sound) but transmitted information in the form of pulses of radio waves that represented text messages in Morse code. Therefore, the receiver merely had to detect the presence or absence of the radio signal, and produce a click sound. The device that did this was called a detector. The first detectors were coherers, simple devices that acted as a switch. The term detector stuck, was used for other types of demodulators and continues to be used to the present day for a demodulator in a radio receiver.

Wireless telegraphy

Wireless telegraphy means transmission of telegraph signals by radio waves; a more specific term for this is radiotelegraphy. Before about 1910 when radio became dominant, the term wireless telegraphy was also used for various other experimental technologies for transmitting telegraph signals without wires, such as electromagnetic induction, and ground conduction telegraph systems.

Morse code Transmission of language with brief pulses

Morse code is a character encoding scheme used in telecommunication that encodes text characters as standardized sequences of two different signal durations called dots and dashes or dits and dahs. Morse code is named for Samuel F. B. Morse, an inventor of the telegraph.

Detector (radio)

In radio, a detector is a device or circuit that extracts information from a modulated radio frequency current or voltage. The term dates from the first three decades of radio (1888-1918). Unlike modern radio stations which transmit sound on an uninterrupted carrier wave, early radio stations transmitted information by radiotelegraphy. The transmitter was switched on and off to produce long or short periods of radio waves, spelling out text messages in Morse code. Therefore, early radio receivers had only to distinguish between the presence or absence of a radio signal. The device that performed this function in the receiver circuit was called a detector. A variety of different detector devices, such as the coherer, electrolytic detector, magnetic detector and the crystal detector were used during the wireless telegraphy era until superseded by vacuum tube technology.

The first type of modulation used to transmit sound over radio waves was amplitude modulation (AM), invented by Reginald Fessendon around 1900. An AM radio signal can be demodulated by rectifying it to remove one side of the carrier, and then filtering to remove the radio-frequency component, leaving only the modulating audio component. This is equivalent to peak detection with a suitably long time constant. The amplitude of the recovered audio frequency varies with the modulating audio signal, so it can drive an earphone or an audio amplifier. Fessendon invented the first AM demodulator in 1904 called the electrolytic detector, consisting of a short needle dipping into a cup of dilute acid. The same year John Ambrose Fleming invented the Fleming valve or thermionic diode which could also rectify an AM signal.

In electronics and telecommunications, modulation is the process of varying one or more properties of a periodic waveform, called the carrier signal, with a modulating signal that typically contains information to be transmitted. Most radio systems in the 20th century used frequency modulation (FM) or amplitude modulation (AM) for radio broadcast.

Amplitude modulation in amplitude modulation, the amplitude (signal strength) of the carrier wave is varied in proportion to the waveform being transmitted

Amplitude modulation (AM) is a modulation technique used in electronic communication, most commonly for transmitting information via a radio carrier wave. In amplitude modulation, the amplitude of the carrier wave is varied in proportion to that of the message signal being transmitted. The message signal is, for example, a function of the sound to be reproduced by a loudspeaker, or the light intensity of pixels of a television screen. This technique contrasts with frequency modulation, in which the frequency of the carrier signal is varied, and phase modulation, in which its phase is varied.

Electrolytic detector

The electrolytic detector, or liquid barretter, was a type of detector (demodulator) used in early radio receivers. First used by Canadian radio researcher Reginald Fessenden in 1903, it was used until about 1913, after which it was superseded by crystal detectors and vacuum tube detectors such as the Fleming valve and Audion (triode). It was considered very sensitive and reliable compared to other detectors available at the time such as the magnetic detector and the coherer. It was one of the first rectifying detectors, able to receive AM (sound) transmissions. On December 24, 1906, US Naval ships with radio receivers equipped with Fessendon's electrolytic detectors received the first AM radio broadcast from Fessenden's Brant Rock, Massachusetts transmitter, consisting of a program of Christmas music.


There are several ways of demodulation depending on how parameters of the base-band signal such as amplitude, frequency or phase are transmitted in the carrier signal. For example, for a signal modulated with a linear modulation like AM (amplitude modulation), we can use a synchronous detector. On the other hand, for a signal modulated with an angular modulation, we must use an FM (frequency modulation) demodulator or a PM (phase modulation) demodulator. Different kinds of circuits perform these functions.

In electronics, a synchronous detector is a device that recovers information from a modulated signal by mixing the signal with a replica of the un-modulated carrier. This can be locally generated at the receiver using a phase-locked loop or other techniques. Synchronous detection preserves any phase information originally present in the modulating signal. Synchronous detection is a necessary component of any analog color television receiver, where it allows recovery of the phase information that conveys hue. Synchronous detectors are also found in some shortwave radio receivers used for audio signals, where they provide better performance on signals that may be affected by fading.

Frequency modulation encoding of information in a carrier wave by varying the instantaneous frequency of the wave

In telecommunications and signal processing, frequency modulation (FM) is the encoding of information in a carrier wave by varying the instantaneous frequency of the wave.

Phase modulation (PM) is a modulation pattern for conditioning communication signals for transmission. It encodes a message signal as variations in the instantaneous phase of a carrier wave. Phase modulation is one of the two principal forms of angle modulation, together with frequency modulation.

Many techniques such as carrier recovery, clock recovery, bit slip, frame synchronization, rake receiver, pulse compression, Received Signal Strength Indication, error detection and correction, etc., are only performed by demodulators, although any specific demodulator may perform only some or none of these techniques.

Carrier recovery

A carrier recovery system is a circuit used to estimate and compensate for frequency and phase differences between a received signal's carrier wave and the receiver's local oscillator for the purpose of coherent demodulation.

In serial communication of digital data, clock recovery is the process of extracting timing information from a serial data stream to allow the receiving circuit to decode the transmitted symbols. Clock recovery from the data stream is expedited by modifying the transmitted data. Wherever a serial communication channel does not transmit the clock signal along with the data stream, the clock must be regenerated at the receiver, using the timing information from the data stream. Clock recovery is a common component of systems communicating over wires, optical fibers, or by radio.

In digital transmission, bit slip is the loss or gain of a bit or bits, caused by clock drift – variations in the respective clock rates of the transmitting and receiving devices.

Many things can act as a demodulator, if they pass the radio waves on nonlinearly. [2]

AM radio

An AM signal encodes the information into the carrier wave by varying its amplitude in direct sympathy with the analogue signal to be sent. There are two methods used to demodulate AM signals:

SSB is a form of AM in which the carrier is reduced or suppressed entirely, which require coherent demodulation. For further reading, see sideband.

FM radio

Frequency modulation (FM) has numerous advantages over AM such as better fidelity and noise immunity. However, it is much more complex to both modulate and demodulate a carrier wave with FM, and AM predates it by several decades.

There are several common types of FM demodulators:



QAM demodulation requires a coherent receiver.

See also

Related Research Articles

Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) is the name of a family of digital modulation methods and a related family of analog modulation methods widely used in modern telecommunications to transmit information. It conveys two analog message signals, or two digital bit streams, by changing (modulating) the amplitudes of two carrier waves, using the amplitude-shift keying (ASK) digital modulation scheme or amplitude modulation (AM) analog modulation scheme. The two carrier waves of the same frequency are out of phase with each other by 90°, a condition known as orthogonality and as quadrature. Being the same frequency, the modulated carriers add together, but can be coherently separated (demodulated) because of their orthogonality property. Another key property is that the modulations are low-frequency/low-bandwidth waveforms compared to the carrier frequency, which is known as the narrowband assumption.

Single-sideband modulation refinement of amplitude modulation

In radio communications, single-sideband modulation (SSB) or single-sideband suppressed-carrier modulation (SSB-SC) is a type of modulation, used to transmit information, such as an audio signal, by radio waves. A refinement of amplitude modulation, it uses transmitter power and bandwidth more efficiently. Amplitude modulation produces an output signal the bandwidth of which is twice the maximum frequency of the original baseband signal. Single-sideband modulation avoids this bandwidth increase, and the power wasted on a carrier, at the cost of increased device complexity and more difficult tuning at the receiver.

Superheterodyne receiver radio receiver; uses frequency mixing to convert a received signal to a fixed intermediate frequency which can be more conveniently processed than the original carrier frequency;virtually all modern radio receivers use the superheterodyne principle

A superheterodyne receiver, often shortened to superhet, is a type of radio receiver that uses frequency mixing to convert a received signal to a fixed intermediate frequency (IF) which can be more conveniently processed than the original carrier frequency. It was invented by US engineer Edwin Armstrong in 1918 during World War I. Virtually all modern radio receivers use the superheterodyne principle.

In telecommunications, the capture effect, or FM capture effect, is a phenomenon associated with FM reception in which only the stronger of two signals at, or near, the same frequency or channel will be demodulated.

RF modulator

An RF modulator is an electronic device whose input is a baseband signal which is used to modulate a radio frequency source.

A satellite modem or satmodem is a modem used to establish data transfers using a communications satellite as a relay. A satellite modem's main function is to transform an input bitstream to a radio signal and vice versa.

A subcarrier is a sideband of a radio frequency carrier wave, which is modulated to send additional information. Examples include the provision of colour in a black and white television system or the provision of stereo in a monophonic radio broadcast. There is no physical difference between a carrier and a subcarrier; the "sub" implies that it has been derived from a carrier, which has been amplitude modulated by a steady signal and has a constant frequency relation to it.

A product detector is a type of demodulator used for AM and SSB signals. Rather than converting the envelope of the signal into the decoded waveform like an envelope detector, the product detector takes the product of the modulated signal and a local oscillator, hence the name. A product detector is a frequency mixer.

Envelope detector

An envelope detector is an electronic circuit that takes a (relatively) high-frequency amplitude modulated signal as input and provides an output which is the envelope of the original signal.

Tuner (radio) frequency selection subsystem for a radio receiver

A tuner is a subsystem that receives radio frequency (RF) transmissions like radio broadcasts and converts the selected carrier frequency and its associated bandwidth into a fixed frequency that is suitable for further processing, usually because a lower frequency is used on the output. Broadcast FM/AM transmissions usually feed this intermediate frequency (IF) directly into a demodulator that convert the radio signal into audio-frequency signals that can be fed into an amplifier to drive a loudspeaker.

Continuous phase modulation (CPM) is a method for modulation of data commonly used in wireless modems. In contrast to other coherent digital phase modulation techniques where the carrier phase abruptly resets to zero at the start of every symbol, with CPM the carrier phase is modulated in a continuous manner. For instance, with QPSK the carrier instantaneously jumps from a sine to a cosine whenever one of the two message bits of the current symbol differs from the two message bits of the previous symbol. This discontinuity requires a relatively large percentage of the power to occur outside of the intended band, leading to poor spectral efficiency. Furthermore, CPM is typically implemented as a constant-envelope waveform, i.e., the transmitted carrier power is constant. Therefore, CPM is attractive because the phase continuity yields high spectral efficiency, and the constant envelope yields excellent power efficiency. The primary drawback is the high implementation complexity required for an optimal receiver.

Constellation diagram

A constellation diagram is a representation of a signal modulated by a digital modulation scheme such as quadrature amplitude modulation or phase-shift keying. It displays the signal as a two-dimensional xy-plane scatter diagram in the complex plane at symbol sampling instants. The angle of a point, measured counterclockwise from the horizontal axis, represents the phase shift of the carrier wave from a reference phase. The distance of a point from the origin represents a measure of the amplitude or power of the signal.

A direct-conversion receiver (DCR), also known as homodyne, synchrodyne, or zero-IF receiver, is a radio receiver design that demodulates the incoming radio signal using synchronous detection driven by a local oscillator whose frequency is identical to, or very close to the carrier frequency of the intended signal. This is in contrast to the standard superheterodyne receiver where this is accomplished only after an initial conversion to an intermediate frequency.

Underwater acoustic communication

Underwater acoustic communication is a technique of sending and receiving messages below water. There are several ways of employing such communication but the most common is by using hydrophones. Underwater communication is difficult due to factors such as multi-path propagation, time variations of the channel, small available bandwidth and strong signal attenuation, especially over long ranges. Compared to terrestrial communication, underwater communication has low data rates because it uses acoustic waves instead of electromagnetic waves.


  1. "Demodulator - Definitions from". Retrieved 2008-05-16.
  2. Ghostly voices, New Scientist, 2 October 1999, retrieved 2017-04-25
  3. "The ratio detector"