Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) is a method of encoding digital data on multiple carrier frequencies. OFDM has developed into a popular scheme for wideband digital communication, whether wireless or over copper wires, used in applications such as digital television and audio broadcasting, DSL broadband internet access, wireless networks, and 4G mobile communications.
OFDM is essentially identical to coded OFDM (COFDM) and discrete multi-tone modulation (DMT), and is a frequency-division multiplexing (FDM) scheme used as a digital multi-carrier modulation method. The word "coded" comes from the use of forward error correction (FEC). A large number of closely spaced orthogonal sub-carrier signals are used to carry data on several parallel data streams or channels. Each sub-carrier is modulated with a conventional modulation scheme (such as quadrature amplitude modulation or phase-shift keying) at a low symbol rate, maintaining total data rates similar to conventional single-carrier modulation schemes in the same bandwidth.
The primary advantage of OFDM over single-carrier schemes is its ability to cope with severe channel conditions (for example, attenuation of high frequencies in a long copper wire, narrowband interference and frequency-selective fading due to multipath) without complex equalization filters. Channel equalization is simplified because OFDM may be viewed as using many slowly modulated narrowband signals rather than one rapidly modulated wideband signal. The low symbol rate makes the use of a guard interval between symbols affordable, making it possible to eliminate intersymbol interference (ISI) and utilize echoes and time-spreading (that shows up as ghosting on analogue TV) to achieve a diversity gain, i.e. a signal-to-noise ratio improvement. This mechanism also facilitates the design of single frequency networks (SFNs), where several adjacent transmitters send the same signal simultaneously at the same frequency, as the signals from multiple distant transmitters may be combined constructively, rather than interfering as would typically occur in a traditional single-carrier system.