In electronics and telecommunications, modulation is the process of varying one or more properties of a periodic waveform, called the carrier signal, with a separate signal called the modulation signal that typically contains information to be transmitted. For example, the modulation signal might be an audio signal representing sound from a microphone, a video signal representing moving images from a video camera, or a digital signal representing a sequence of binary digits, a bitstream from a computer. The carrier is higher in frequency than the modulation signal. The purpose of modulation is to impress the information on the carrier wave, which is used to carry the information to another location. In radio communication the modulated carrier is transmitted through space as a radio wave to a radio receiver. Another purpose is to transmit multiple channels of information through a single communication medium, using frequency division multiplexing (FDM). For example in cable television which uses FDM, many carrier signals carrying different television channels are transported through a single cable to customers. Since each carrier occupies a different frequency, the channels do not interfere with each other. At the destination end, the carrier signal is demodulated to extract the information bearing modulation signal.
This article may be too technical for most readers to understand. (February 2017)
A modulator is a device or circuit that performs modulation. A demodulator (sometimes detector) is a circuit that performs demodulation, the inverse of modulation. A modem (from modulator–demodulator), used in bidirectional communication, can perform both operations. The frequency band occupied by the modulation signal is called the baseband, while the higher frequency band occupied by the modulated carrier is called the passband.
In analog modulation an analog modulation signal is impressed on the carrier. Examples are amplitude modulation (AM) in which the amplitude (strength) of the carrier wave is varied by the modulation signal, and frequency modulation (FM) in which the frequency of the carrier wave is varied by the modulation signal. These were the earliest types of modulation, and are used to transmit an audio signal representing sound, in AM and FM radio broadcasting. More recent systems use digital modulation, which impresses a digital signal consisting of a sequence of binary digits (bits), a bitstream, on the carrier. In frequency shift keying (FSK) modulation, used in computer buses and telemetry, the carrier signal is periodically shifted between two frequencies that represent the two binary digits. In digital baseband modulation (line coding) used to transmit data in serial computer bus cables and wired LAN computer networks such as Ethernet, the voltage on the line is switched between two amplitudes (voltage levels) representing the two binary digits, 0 and 1, and the carrier (clock) frequency is combined with the data. A more complicated digital modulation method that employs multiple carriers, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), is used in WiFi networks, digital radio stations and digital cable television transmission.
In music production, the term modulation has a different meaning: it is the process of gradually changing sound properties in order to reproduce a sense of movement and depth in audio recordings. It involves the use of a source signal (known as a modulator) to control another signal (a carrier) through a variety of sound effects and methods of synthesis. With singers and other vocalists, modulation means to modify characteristics of their voices during a performance, such as loudness or pitch.