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CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) communication

Code-division multiple access (CDMA): A coding scheme, used as a modulation technique, in which multiple channels are independently coded for transmission over a single wideband channel.

In some communication systems, CDMA is used as an access method that permits carriers from different stations to use the same transmission equipment by using a wider bandwidth than the individual carriers. On reception, each carrier can be distinguished from the others by means of a specific modulation code, thereby allowing for the reception of signals that were originally overlapping in frequency and time. Thus, several transmissions can occur simultaneously within the same bandwidth, with the mutual interference reduced by the degree of orthogonality of the unique codes used in each transmission.

CDMA permits a more uniform distribution of energy in the emitted bandwidth.

CDMA (code-division multiple access) refers to any of several protocols used in so-called second-generation (2G) and third-generation (3G) wireless communications. As the term implies, CDMA is a form of multiplexing, which allows numerous signals to occupy a single transmission channel, optimizing the use of available bandwidth. The technology is used in ultra-high-frequency (UHF) cellular telephone systems in the 800-MHz and 1.9-GHz bands.

CDMA employs analog-to-digital conversion (ADC) in combination with spread spectrum technology. Audio input is first digitized into binary elements. The frequency of the transmitted signal is then made to vary according to a defined pattern (code), so it can be intercepted only by a receiver whose frequency response is programmed with the same code, so it follows exactly along with the transmitter frequency. There are trillions of possible frequency-sequencing codes; this enhances privacy and makes cloning difficult.

The CDMA channel is nominally 1.23 MHz wide. CDMA networks use a scheme called soft handoff, which minimizes signal breakup as a handset passes from one cell to another. The combination of digital and spread-spectrum modes supports several times as many signals per unit bandwidth as analog modes. CDMA is compatible with other cellular technologies; this allows for nationwide roaming.

The original CDMA standard, also known as CDMA One and still common in cellular telephones in the U.S., offers a transmission speed of only up to 14.4 Kbps in its single channel form and up to 115 Kbps in an eight-channel form. CDMA2000 and wideband CDMA deliver data many times faster.

What is CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)?

One of the most important concepts to any cellular telephone system is that of "multiple access", meaning that multiple, simultaneous users can be supported. In other words, a large number of users share a common pool of radio channels and any user can gain access to any channel (each user is not always assigned to the same channel). A channel can be thought of as merely a portion of the limited radio resource which is temporarily allocated for a specific purpose, such as someone's phone call. A multiple access method is a definition of how the radio spectrum is divided into channels and how channels are allocated to the many users of the system.

Current Cellular Standards

Different types of cellular systems employ various methods of multiple access. The traditional analog cellular systems, such as those based on the Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS) and Total Access Communications System (TACS) standards, use Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA). FDMA channels are defined by a range of radio frequencies, usually expressed in a number of kilohertz (kHz), out of the radio spectrum.

For example, AMPS systems use 30 kHz "slices" of spectrum for each channel. Narrowband AMPS (NAMPS) requires only 10 kHz per channel. TACS channels are 25 kHz wide. With FDMA, only one subscriber at a time is assigned to a channel. No other conversations can access this channel until the subscriber's call is finished, or until that original call is handed off to a different channel by the system.

A common multiple access method employed in new digital cellular systems is the Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA). TDMA digital standards include North American Digital Cellular (know by its standard number IS-54), Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), and Personal Digital Cellular (PDC).

TDMA systems commonly start with a slice of spectrum, referred to as one "carrier". Each carrier is then divided into time slots. Only one subscriber at a time is assigned to each time slot, or channel. No other conversations can access this channel until the subscriber's call is finished, or until that original call is handed off to a different channel by the system.

For example, IS-54 systems, designed to coexist with AMPS systems, divide 30 kHz of spectrum into three channels. PDC divides 25 kHz slices of spectrum into three channels. GSM systems create 8 time-division channels in 200 kHz wide carriers.

The CDMA Cellular Standard

With CDMA, unique digital codes, rather than separate RF frequencies or channels, are used to differentiate subscribers. The codes are shared by both the mobile station (cellular phone) and the base station, and are called "pseudo-Random Code Sequences." All users share the same range of radio spectrum.

For cellular telephony, CDMA is a digital multiple access technique specified by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) as "IS-95."

In March 1992, the TIA established the TR-45.5 subcommittee with the charter of developing a spread-spectrum digital cellular standard. In July of 1993, the TIA gave its approval of the CDMA IS-95 standard.

IS-95 systems divide the radio spectrum into carriers which are 1,250 kHz (1.25 MHz) wide. One of the unique aspects of CDMA is that while there are certainly limits to the number of phone calls that can be handled by a carrier, this is not a fixed number. Rather, the capacity of the system will be dependent on a number of different factors. This will be discussed in later sections.

CDMA Technology

Though CDMA's application in cellular telephony is relatively new, it is not a new technology. CDMA has been used in many military applications, such as anti-jamming (because of the spread signal, it is difficult to jam or interfere with a CDMA signal), ranging (measuring the distance of the transmission to know when it will be received), and secure communications (the spread spectrum signal is very hard to detect).

Spread Spectrum

CDMA is a "spread spectrum" technology, which means that it spreads the information contained in a particular signal of interest over a much greater bandwidth than the original signal.

A CDMA call starts with a standard rate of 9600 bits per second (9.6 kilobits per second). This is then spread to a transmitted rate of about 1.23 Megabits per second. Spreading means that digital codes are applied to the data bits associated with users in a cell. These data bits are transmitted along with the signals of all the other users in that cell. When the signal is received, the codes are removed from the desired signal, separating the users and returning the call to a rate of 9600 bps.

Traditional uses of spread spectrum are in military operations. Because of the wide bandwidth of a spread spectrum signal, it is very difficult to jam, difficult to interfere with, and difficult to identify. This is in contrast to technologies using a narrower bandwidth of frequencies. Since a wideband spread spectrum signal is very hard to detect, it appears as nothing more than a slight rise in the "noise floor" or interference level. With other technologies, the power of the signal is concentrated in a narrower band, which makes it easier to detect.

Increased privacy is inherent in CDMA technology. CDMA phone calls will be secure from the casual eavesdropper since, unlike an analog conversation, a simple radio receiver will not be able to pick individual digital conversations out of the overall RF radiation in a frequency band.


In the final stages of the encoding of the radio link from the base station to the mobile, CDMA adds a special "pseudo-random code" to the signal that repeats itself after a finite amount of time. Base stations in the system distinguish themselves from each other by transmitting different portions of the code at a given time. In other words, the base stations transmit time offset versions of the same pseudo-random code. In order to assure that the time offsets used remain unique from each other, CDMA stations must remain synchronized to a common time reference.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) provides this precise common time reference. GPS is a satellite based, radio navigation system capable of providing a practical and affordable means of determining continuous position, velocity, and time to an unlimited number of users.

"The Balancing Act"

CDMA cell coverage is dependent upon the way the system is designed. In fact, three primary system characteristics-Coverage, Quality, and Capacity-must be balanced off of each other to arrive at the desired level of system performance.

In a CDMA system these three characteristics are tightly inter-related. Even higher capacity might be achieved through some degree of degradation in coverage and/or quality. Since these parameters are all intertwined, operators cannot have the best of all worlds: three times wider coverage, 40 times capacity, and "CD" quality sound. For example, the 13 kbps vocoder provides better sound quality, but reduces system capacity as compared to an 8 kbps vocoder.

CDMA Benefits

When implemented in a cellular telephone system, CDMA technology offers numerous benefits to the cellular operators and their subscribers. The following is an overview of the benefits of CDMA:

Introduction to CDMA

Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) is a radically new concept in wireless communications. It has gained widespread international acceptance by cellular radio system operators as an upgrade that will dramatically increase both their system capacity and the service quality. It has likewise been chosen for deployment by the majority of the winners of the United States Personal Communications System spectrum auctions. It may seem, however, mysterious for those who aren't familiar with it. This site is provided in an effort to dispel some of the mystery and to disseminate at least a basic level of knowledge about the technology.

CDMA is a form of spread-spectrum, a family of digital communication techniques that have been used in military applications for many years. The core principle of spread spectrum is the use of noise-like carrier waves, and, as the name implies, bandwidths much wider than that required for simple point-to-point communication at the same data rate. Originally there were two motivations: either to resist enemy efforts to jam the communications (anti-jam, or AJ), or to hide the fact that communication was even taking place, sometimes called low probability of intercept (LPI). It has a history that goes back to the early days of World War II.

The use of CDMA for civilian mobile radio applications is novel. It was proposed theoretically in the late 1940's, but the practical application in the civilian marketplace did not take place until 40 years later. Commercial applications became possible because of two evolutionary developments. One was the availability of very low cost, high density digital integrated circuits, which reduce the size, weight, and cost of the subscriber stations to an acceptably low level. The other was the realization that optimal multiple access communication requires that all user stations regulate their transmitter powers to the lowest that will achieve adequate signal quality.

CDMA changes the nature of the subscriber station from a predominately analog device to a predominately digital device. Old-fashioned radio receivers separate stations or channels by filtering in the frequency domain. CDMA receivers do not eliminate analog processing entirely, but they separate communication channels by means of a pseudo-random modulation that is applied and removed in the digital domain, not on the basis of frequency. Multiple users occupy the same frequency band. This universal frequency reuse is not fortuitous. On the contrary, it is crucial to the very high spectral efficiency that is the hallmark of CDMA. Other discussions in these pages show why this is true.

CDMA is altering the face of cellular and PCS communication by:

Principles of CDMA

THE GOAL OF SPREAD SPECTRUM is a substantial increase in bandwidth of an information-bearing signal, far beyond that needed for basic communication. The bandwidth increase, while not necessary for communication, can mitigate the harmful effects of interference, either deliberate, like a military jammer, or inadvertent, like co-channel users. The interference mitigation is a well-known property of all spread spectrum systems. However the cooperative use of these techniques in a commercial, non-military, environment, to optimize spectral efficiency was a major conceptual advance.

SPREAD SPECTRUM systems generally fall into one of two categories: frequency hopping (FH) or direct sequence (DS). In both cases synchronization of transmitter and receiver is required. Both forms can be regarded as using a pseudo-random carrier, but they create that carrier in different ways.

FREQUENCY HOPPING is typically accomplished by rapid switching of fast-settling frequency synthesizers in a pseudo-random pattern. The references can be consulted for further discussions of FH, which is not a part of commercial CDMA.

CDMA uses a form of direct sequence. Direct sequence is, in essence, multiplication of a more conventional communication waveform by a pseudonoise (PN) +1 binary sequence in the transmitter.

We are taking some liberties with the details. In reality spreading takes place prior to any modulation, entirely in the binary domain, and the transmitted signals are carefully bandlimited.

A second multiplication by a replica of the same +1 sequence in the receiver recovers the original signal.

The noise and interference, being uncorrelated with the PN sequence, become noise-like and increase in bandwidth when they reach the detector. The signal-to-noise ratio can be enhanced by narrowband filtering that rejects most of the interference power. It is often said, with some poetic license, that the SNR is enhanced by the so-called processing gain W/R, where W is the spread bandwidth and R is the data rate. This is a partial truth. A careful analysis is needed to accurately determine the performance. In IS-95A CDMA W/R = 10 log(1.2288 MHz/9600Hz) = 21 dB for the 9600 bps rate set.Show me the math!To get this right, you have to bite the bullet, and go do some math! We've tried to present it in as simple a fashion as possible.

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