OFDM Tutorial

Frequency division multiplexing (FDM) is a technology that transmits multiple signals simultaneously over a single transmission path, such as a cable or wireless system. Each signal travels within its own unique frequency range (carrier), which is modulated by the data (text, voice, video, etc.).

Orthogonal FDM’s (OFDM) spread spectrum technique distributes the data over a large number of carriers that are spaced apart at precise frequencies. This spacing provides the “orthogonality” in this technique which prevents the demodulators from seeing frequencies other than their own. The benefits of OFDM are high spectral efficiency, resiliency to RF interference, and lower multi-path distortion. This is useful because in a typical terrestrial broadcasting scenario there are multipath-channels (i.e. the transmitted signal arrives at the receiver using various paths of different length). Since multiple versions of the signal interfere with each other (inter symbol interference (ISI)) it becomes very hard to extract the original information.

OFDM is sometimes called multi-carrier or discrete multi-tone modulation. It is the modulation technique used for digital TV in Europe, Japan and Australia.


DAB – OFDM forms the basis for the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) standard in the European market.

ADSL – OFDM forms the basis for the global ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) standard.

Wireless Local Area Networks – development is ongoing for wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint configurations using OFDM technology.

In a supplement to the IEEE 802.11 standard, the IEEE 802.11 working group published IEEE 802.11a, which outlines the use of OFDM in the 5.8-GHz band.


Multiple Input, Multiple Output Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing is a technology developed by Iospan Wireless that uses multiple antennas to transmit and receive radio signals. MIMO-OFDM will allow service providers to deploy a Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) system that has Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) functionality. Specifically, MIMO-OFDM takes advantage of the multipath properties of environments using base station antennas that do not have LOS.

The MIMO system uses multiple antennas to simultaneously transmit data, in small pieces to the receiver, which can process the data flows and put them back together. This process, called spatial multiplexing, proportionally boosts the data-transmission speed by a factor equal to the number of transmitting antennas. In addition, since all data is transmitted both in the same frequency band and with separate spatial signatures, this technique utilizes spectrum very efficiently.

VOFDM (Vector OFDM) uses the concept of MIMO technology and is also being developed by Cisco Systems.

Other Versions of OFDM

WOFDM – Wideband OFDM, developed by Wi-Lan, develops spacing between channels large enough so that any frequency errors between transmitter and receiver have no effect on performance.

Flash OFDM – Flarion (Lucent/Bell Labs spinoff) has developed this technology, also called fast-hopped OFDM, which uses multiple tones and fast hopping to spread signals over a given spectrum band.

The OFDM Alliance Special Interest Group merged with the WiMedia Alliance in 2005.

Additional sources of information*

WiMedia Alliance
OFDM Receivers for Broadband-Transmission, Michael Speth
Spread Spectrum Scene
Telecommunications, Sean Buckley

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