What is Amplitude Modulation Signal
- overview or tutorial about the basics of what is amplitude modulation, AM used for modulating a radio signal to carry sound or other information.
In order that a steady radio signal or "radio carrier" can carry information it must be changed or modulated in one way so that the information can be conveyed from one place to another. There are a number of ways in which a carrier can be modulated to carry a signal - often an audio signal and the most obvious way is to vary its amplitude.
Amplitude Modulation has been in use since the very earliest days of radio technology. The first recorded instance of its use was in 1901 when a signal was transmitted by a Canadian engineer named Reginald Fessenden. To achieve this, he used a continuous spark transmission and placed a carbon microphone in the antenna lead. The sound waves impacting on the microphone varied its resistance and in turn this varied the intensity of the transmission. Although very crude, signals were audible over a distance of a few hundred metres. The quality of the audio was not good particularly as a result of the continuous rasping sound caused by the spark used for the transmission.
Later, continuous sine wave signals could be generated and the audio quality was greatly improved. As a result, amplitude modulation, AM became the standard for voice transmissions.
Currently amplitude modulation is primarily used for broadcasting, but it is still used for some forms of two way radio communications. Its main radio communications use is for local aviation related VHF two way radio links. It is used for ground to air radio communications as well as two way radio links for ground staff as well.
Amplitude modulation basics
When an amplitude modulated signal is created, the amplitude of the signal is varied in line with the variations in intensity of the sound wave. In this way the overall amplitude or envelope of the carrier is modulated to carry the audio signal. Here the envelope of the carrier can be seen to change in line with the modulating signal.
Amplitude Modulation, AM
Amplitude modulation, AM is the most straightforward way of modulating a signal. Demodulation, or the process where the radio frequency signal is converted into an audio frequency signal is also very simple. An amplitude modulation signal only requires a simple diode detector circuit. The circuit that is commonly used has a diode that rectifies the signal, only allowing the one half of the alternating radio frequency waveform through. A capacitor is used to remove the radio frequency parts of the signal, leaving the audio waveform. This can be fed into an amplifier after which it can be used to drive a loudspeaker. As the circuit used for demodulating AM is very cheap, it enables the cost of radio receivers for AM to be kept low.
Amplitude modulation advantages & disadvantages
Like any other system of modulation, amplitude modulation has several advantages and disadvantages. These mean that it is used in particular circumstances where its advantages can be used to good effect..
In view of its characteristics advantages and disadvantages, amplitude modulation is being used less frequently. However it is still in widespread use for broadcasting on the long, medium and short wave bands as well as for a number of mobile or portable communications systems including some aircraft communications.
Amplitude modulation related signals
Amplitude modulation forms the basis of a number of forms of signal apart from the basic mode. These signal formats are typically generated by removing or suppressing the carrier, and then utilising the sidebands. These formats are defined in greater detail in further pages of this tutorial.
|Double sideband, full carrier
i.e. basic AM
|DSB full carrier||A3E|
|Single sideband reduced carrier||SSB reduced carrier||R3E|
|Single sideband full carrier||SSB full carrier||H3E|
|Single sideband suppressed carrier||SSBSC||J3E|
While amplitude modulation is one of the simplest and easiest forms of signal modulation to implement, it is not the most efficient in terms of spectrum efficiency and power usage. As a result, the use of amplitude modulation is falling in preference to other analogue modes such as frequency modulation, and a variety of digital modulation formats. Yet despite this decrease, amplitude modulation is in such widespread use, especially for broadcasting, and many amplitude modulation signals can still be heard on the various long, medium and short wavebands where they will undoubtedly be heard for many years to come.
By Ian Poole
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