Like many digital modulation schemes, the constellation diagram is a useful representation. In QAM, the constellation points are usually arranged in a square grid with equal vertical and horizontal spacing, although other configurations are possible (e.g. Cross-QAM). Since in digital telecommunications the data are usually binary, the number of points in the grid is usually a power of 2 (2, 4, 8, …). Since QAM is usually square, some of these are rare—the most common forms are 16-QAM, 64-QAM and 256-QAM. By moving to a higher-order constellation, it is possible to transmit more bits per symbol. However, if the mean energy of the constellation is to remain the same (by way of making a fair comparison), the points must be closer together and are thus more susceptible to noise and other corruption; this results in a higher bit error rate and so higher-order QAM can deliver more data less reliably than lower-order QAM, for constant mean constellation energy.
If data-rates beyond those offered by 8-PSK are required, it is more usual to move to QAM since it achieves a greater distance between adjacent points in the I-Q plane by distributing the points more evenly. The complicating factor is that the points are no longer all the same amplitude and so the demodulator must now correctly detect both phase and amplitude, rather than just phase.
64-QAM and 256-QAM are often used in digital cable television and cable modem applications. In the United States, 64-QAM and 256-QAM are the mandated modulation schemes for digital cable (see QAM tuner) as standardised by the SCTE in the standard ANSI/SCTE 07 2000. Note that many marketing people will refer to these as QAM-64 and QAM-256. In the UK, 16-QAM and 64-QAM are currently used for digital terrestrial television (Freeview and Top Up TV) and 256-QAM is planned for Freeview-HD.
Communication systems designed to achieve very high levels of spectral efficiency usually employ very dense QAM constellations. For example current Homeplug AV2 500-Mbit powerline ethernet devices use 1024-QAM and 4096-QAM modulation, as well as future devices using ITU-T G.hn standard for networking over existing home wiring (coaxial cable, phone lines and power lines); 4096-QAM provides 12 bits/symbol. Another example is VDSL2 technology for copper twisted pairs, whose constellation size goes up to 32768 points.
Read more about this topic: Quadrature Amplitude Modulation