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Frequency-division multiplexing (FDM) is a scheme in which numerous signals are combined for transmission on a single communications line or channel.

Each signal is assigned a different frequency (subchannel) within the main channel.

A typical analog Internet connection via a twisted pair telephone line requires approximately three kilohertz (3 kHz) of bandwidth for accurate and reliable data transfer. Twisted-pair lines are common in households and small businesses. But major telephone cables, operating between large businesses, government agencies, and municipalities, are capable of much larger bandwidths.

Suppose a long-distance cable is available with a bandwidth allotment of three megahertz (3 MHz). This is 3,000 kHz, so in theory, it is possible to place 1,000 signals, each 3 kHz wide, into the long-distance channel. The circuit that does this is known as a multiplexer. It accepts the input from each individual end user, and generates a signal on a different frequency for each of the inputs. This results in a high-bandwidth, complex signal containing data from all the end users. At the other end of the long-distance cable, the individual signals are separated out by means of a circuit called a demultiplexer, and routed to the proper end users. A two-way communications circuit requires a multiplexer/demultiplexer at each end of the long-distance, high-bandwidth cable.

ime-division multiplexing (TDM) is a method of putting multiple data streams in a single signal by separating the signal into many segments, each having a very short duration. Each individual data stream is reassembled at the receiving end based on the timing. The circuit that combines signals at the source (transmitting) end of a communications link is known as a multiplexer. It accepts the input from each individual end user, breaks each signal into segments, and assigns the segments to the composite signal in a rotating, repeating sequence. The composite signal thus contains data from multiple senders. At the other end of the long-distance cable, the individual signals are separated out by means of a circuit called a demultiplexer, and routed to the proper end users. A two-way communications circuit requires a multiplexer/demultiplexer at each end of the long-distance, high-bandwidth cable.

STDM, or statistical time division multiplexing, is one method for transmitting several types of data simultaneously across a single transmission cable or line (such as a T1 or T3 line). STDM is often used for managing data being transmitted via a local area network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN). In these situations, the data is often simultaneously transmitted from any number of input devices attached to the network, including computers, printers, or fax machines. STDM can also be used in telephone switchboard settings to manage the simultaneous calls going to or coming from multiple, internal telephone lines. The concept behind STDM is similar to TDM, or time division multiplexing. TDM allows multiple users or input devices to transmit or receive data simultaneously by assigning each device the same, fixed amount of time on one of many "channels" available on the cable or line. The TDM method works well in many cases, but does not always account for the varying data transmission needs of different devices or users. For example, a busy laser printer shared by many users might need to receive or transmit data 80-90% of the time at a much higher transmission rate than a seldom-used, data-entry computer attached to the same T-1 line. With TDM, even though the printer's transmission needs are greater, both devices would still be allocated the same duration of time to transmit or receive data. In comparison to TDM, the STDM method analyzes statistics related to the typical workload of each input device (printer, fax, computer) and determines on-the-fly how much time each device should be allocated for data transmission on the cable or line. In the above example, STDM would allocate more time to the group printer, based on its past and current transmission needs and less time to the data-entry computer. Many believe the STDM method is a more efficient use of total bandwidth available than the TDM method. The main statistics used in STDM are: each input device's peak data rates (in kbps, or kilobytes per second), and each device's duty factors (which is the percentage of time the device typically spends either transmitting or receiving data). Wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) is a method of combining multiple signals on laser beams at various infared (IR) wavelengths for transmission along fiber optic media. Each laser is modulated by an independent set of signals. Wavelength-sensitive filters, the IR analog of visible-light color filters, are used at the receiving end. WDM is similar to frequency-division multiplexing (FDM). But instead of taking place at radio frequencies (RF), WDM is done in the IR portion of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. Each IR channel carries several RF signals combined by means of FDM or timedivision multiplexing (TDM). Each multiplexed IR channel is separated, or demultiplexed, into the original signals at the destination. Using FDM or TDM in each IR channel in combination with WDM of several IR channels, data in different formats and at different speeds can be transmitted simultaneously on a single fiber.

In early WDM systems, there were two IR channels per fiber. At the destination, the IR channels were demultiplexed by a dichroic (two-wavelength) filter with a cutoff wavelength approximately midway between the wavelengths of the two channels. It soon became clear that more than two multiplexed IR channels could be demultiplexed using cascaded dichroic filters, giving rise to coarse wavelength-division multiplexing (CWDM) and dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM). In CWDM, there are usually eight different IR channels, but there can be up to 18. In DWDM, there can be dozens. Because each IR channel carries its own set of multiplexed RF signals, it is theoretically possible to transmit combined data on a single fiber at a total effective speed of several hundred gigabits per second (Gbps). The use of WDM can multiply the effective bandwidth of a fiber optic communications system by a large factor. But its cost must be weighed against the alternative of using multiple fibers bundled into a cable. A fiber optic repeater device called the erbium amplifier promises to make WDM a cost-effective long-term solution to the bandwidth exhaustion problem.