Telecommunications is about transferring information from one location to another. This includes many forms of information: telephone conversations, television signals, computer files, and other types of data. To transfer the information, you need a channel between the two locations. This may be a wire pair, radio signal, optical fiber, etc. Telecommunications companies receive payment for transferring their customer's information, while they must pay to establish and maintain the channel. The financial bottom line is simple: the more information they can pass through a single channel, the more money they make. DSP has revolutionized the telecommunications industry in many areas: signaling tone generation and detection, frequency band shifting, filtering to remove power line hum, etc. Three specific examples from the telephone network will be discussed here: multiplexing, compression, and echo control.
There are approximately one billion telephones in the world. At the press of a few buttons, switching networks allow any one of these to be connected to any other in only a few seconds. The immensity of this task is mind boggling! Until the 1960s, a connection between two telephones required passing the analog voice signals through mechanical switches and amplifiers. One connection required one pair of wires. In comparison, DSP converts audio signals into a stream of serial digital data. Since bits can be easily intertwined and later separated, many telephone conversations can be transmitted on a single channel. For example, a telephone standard known as the T-carrier system can simultaneously transmit 24 voice signals. Each voice signal is sampled 8000 times per second using an 8 bit companded (logarithmic compressed) analog-to-digital conversion. This results in each voice signal being represented as 64,000 bits/sec, and all 24 channels being contained in 1.544 megabits/sec. This signal can be transmitted about 6000 feet using ordinary telephone lines of 22 gauge copper wire, a typical interconnection distance. The financial advantage of digital transmission is enormous. Wire and analog switches are expensive; digital logic gates are cheap.
When a voice signal is digitized at 8000 samples/sec, most of the digital information is redundant. That is, the information carried by any one sample is largely duplicated by the neighboring samples. Dozens of DSP algorithms have been developed to convert digitized voice signals into data streams that require fewer bits/sec. These are called data compression algorithms. Matching uncompression algorithms are used to restore the signal to its original form. These algorithms vary in the amount of compression achieved and the resulting sound quality. In general, reducing the data rate from 64 kilobits/sec to 32 kilobits/sec results in no loss of sound quality. When compressed to a data rate of 8 kilobits/sec, the sound is noticeably affected, but still usable for long distance telephone networks. The highest achievable compression is about 2 kilobits/sec, resulting in sound that is highly distorted, but usable for some applications such as military and undersea communications.
Echoes are a serious problem in long distance telephone connections. When you speak into a telephone, a signal representing your voice travels to the connecting receiver, where a portion of it returns as an echo. If the connection is within a few hundred miles, the elapsed time for receiving the echo is only a few milliseconds. The human ear is accustomed to hearing echoes with these small time delays, and the connection sounds quite normal. As the distance becomes larger, the echo becomes increasingly noticeable and irritating. The delay can be several hundred milliseconds for intercontinental communications, and is particularity objectionable. Digital Signal Processing attacks this type of problem by measuring the returned signal and generating an appropriate antisignal to cancel the offending echo. This same technique allows speakerphone users to hear and speak at the same time without fighting audio feedback (squealing). It can also be used to reduce environmental noise by canceling it with digitally generated antinoise.