Amplitude modulation (AM) is a technique used in electronic communication, most commonly for transmitting information via a radio carrier wave. AM works by varying the strength of the transmitted signal in relation to the information being sent. For example, changes in signal strength may be used to specify the sounds to be reproduced by a loudspeaker, or the light intensity of television pixels. Contrast this with frequency modulation, in which the frequency is varied, and phase modulation, in which the phase is varied.
In the mid-1870s, a form of amplitude modulation—initially called "undulatory currents"—was the first method to successfully produce quality audio over telephone lines. Beginning with Reginald Fessenden's audio demonstrations in 1906, it was also the original method used for audio radio transmissions, and remains in use today by many forms of communication—"AM" is often used to refer to the mediumwave broadcast band (see AM radio).
Forms of amplitude modulation
In radio communication, a continuous wave radio-frequency signal (a sinusoidal carrier wave) has its amplitude modulated by an audio waveform before transmission. The audio waveform modifies the amplitude of the carrier wave and determines the envelope of the waveform. In the frequency domain, amplitude modulation produces a signal with power concentrated at the carrier frequency and two adjacent sidebands. Each sideband is equal in bandwidth to that of the modulating signal, and is a mirror image of the other. Amplitude modulation resulting in two sidebands and a carrier is called "double-sideband amplitude modulation" (DSB-AM). Amplitude modulation is inefficient in power usage; at least two-thirds of the power is concentrated in the carrier signal, which carries no useful information (beyond the fact that a signal is present).
To increase transmitter efficiency, the carrier may be suppressed. This produces a reduced-carrier transmission, or DSB "double-sideband suppressed-carrier" (DSB-SC) signal. A suppressed-carrier AM signal is three times more power-efficient than AM. If the carrier is only partially suppressed, a double-sideband reduced-carrier (DSBRC) signal results. For reception, a local oscillator will typically restore the suppressed carrier so the signal can be demodulated with a product detector.
Improved bandwidth efficiency is achieved at the expense of increased transmitter and receiver complexity by completely suppressing both the carrier and one of the sidebands. This is single-sideband modulation, widely used in amateur radio and other communications applications. A simple form of AM, often used for digital communications, is on-off keying: a type of amplitude-shift keying in which binary data is represented by the presence or absence of a carrier. This is used by radio amateurs to transmit Morse code and is known as continuous wave (CW) operation.