Frequency Modulation Advantages & Disadvantages

- summary of the advantages and disadvantages of frequency modulation, FM, detailing why it is used in certain applications and not others.

FM is widely used because of the many advantages of frequency modulation. Although, in the early days of radio communications, these were not exploited because of a lack of understand of how to benefit from FM, once these were understood, its use grew.

There are many advantages of FM, but also some disadvantages, and as a result it is suitable for many applications, but other modes may be more suited to other applications.

An understanding of the disadvantages and advantages of FM will enable the choice of the best modulation format to be made.

Advantages of frequency modulation

There are many advantages to the use of frequency modulation. These have meant that it has been widely used for many years, and will remain in use for many years.

  • Resilient to noise:   One of the main advantages of frequency modulation that has been utilised by the broadcasting industry is the reduction in noise. As most noise is amplitude based, this can be removed by running the signal through a limiter so that only frequency variations appear. This is provided that the signal level is sufficiently high to allow the signal to be limited.
  • Resilient to signal strength variations:   In the same way that amplitude noise can be removed, so too can any signal variations. This means that one of the advantages of frequency modulation is that it does not suffer audio amplitude variations as the signal level varies, and it makes FM ideal for use in mobile applications where signal levels constantly vary. This is provided that the signal level is sufficiently high to allow the signal to be limited.
  • Does not require linear amplifiers in the transmitter:   As only frequency changes are required to be carried, any amplifiers in the transmitter do not need to be linear.
  • Enables greater efficiency than many other modes:   The use of non-linear amplifiers, e.g. class C, etc means that transmitter efficiency levels will be higher - linear amplifiers are inherently inefficient.

Disadvantages of frequency modulation

There are a number of dis-advantages to the use of frequency modulation. Some are can be overcome quite easily, but others may mean that another modulation format is more suitable.

  • Requires more complicated demodulator:   One of the minor dis-advantages of frequency modulation is that the demodulator is a little more complicated, and hence slightly more expensive than the very simple diode detectors used for AM. Also requiring a tuned circuit adds cost. However this is only an issue for the very low cost broadcast receiver market.
  • Some other modes have higher data spectral efficiency:   Some phase modulation and quadrature amplitude modulation formats have a higher spectral efficiency for data transmission that frequency shift keying, a form of frequency modulation. As a result, most data transmission system use PSK and QAM.
  • Sidebands extend to infinity either side:   The sidebands for an FM transmission theoretically extend out to infinity. To limit the bandwidth of the transmission, filters are used, and these introduce some distortion of the signal.

There are many advantages to using frequency modulation - it is still widely used for many broadcast and radio communications applications. However with more systems using digital formats, phase and quadrature amplitude modulation formats are on the increase. Nevertheless, the advantages of frequency modulation mean that it is an ideal format for many analogue applications.

By Ian Poole

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