Pulse modulation involves modulating a carrier that is a train of regularly recurrent pulses. The modulation might vary the amplitude (PAM or pulse amplitude modulation), the duration (PDM or pulse duration modulation), or the presence of the pulses (PCM or pulse code modulation). PCM can be used to send digital data; audio signals on a compact disc use pulse code modulation. Developed in 1939 by the English inventor Alec H. Reeves, pulse code modulation is the most important form of pulse modulation because it can be used to transmit information over long distances with hardly any interference or distortion; for this reason it has become increasingly important in the transmission of data in the space program and between computers. Although PCM transmits digital instead of analog signals, the modulating wave is continuous. Digital modulation begins with a digital modulating signal. The two most common digital modulating techniques are phase-shift keying (PSK) and frequency-shift keying (FSK).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.