I am an undergraduate student and studying digital communication systems.

I am not able to find any good resource where I can self-study about synchronization and it's types (time, frequency and phase synchronization). Can someone explain what exactly synchronization is and why we need it in digital communication systems?

Note: I searched a lot about this in many books and sites but I was not able to clear my concept, all I found are research papers etc.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you think of any reason that synchronisation might be required? (If we understand where you are stuck it will help narrow down the focus of any answers.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Transistor
    Apr 21, 2021 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for asking, at this stage I am just asking about it's basic terminology that what it is basically how one can understand it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Autodidact
    Apr 21, 2021 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ For an interesting read on synchronization and what can go wrong, search for the subtle problem that was discovered on the Cassini Mission to Saturn, and it's Huygens probe (that descended into Saturn's moon Titan). IEEE Spectrum October 2004 is one source. \$\endgroup\$
    – SteveSh
    Apr 22, 2021 at 1:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ In digital systems, synchronization generally refers to the process of controlling events to occur in an order that achieves reliable function. It is not a shallow topic. For deeper self-study, I recommend the textbook "Digital Systems Engineering" by Dally and Poulton. Perhaps you can find a copy at a library. It is over 20 years old, but the concepts still apply. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2021 at 5:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ ok thanks I will read it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Autodidact
    Apr 22, 2021 at 5:41

2 Answers 2


In digital communication, the transmitter sends discrete "symbols"1, usually at a fixed rate, called the baud rate.

The receiver must figure out when to sample the channel in order to recover the symbols correctly. The problem is that there is usually no timing reference shared by the transmitter and the receiver. The delay from the transmitter to the receiver is an unknown amount of time, and even if the receiver knows the nominal baud rate, its internal clock frequency might be slightly different from that of the transmitter.

Therefore, the receiver must be able synchronize itself (both frequency and phase) based on information found only in the signal. There are many ways to accomplish this.

For example, the normal asynchronous serial protocol (a.k.a. "UART" protocol) frames every data byte with fixed-value "start" and "stop" bits, so that there is a high-to-low transition at the beginning of every byte. This allows the receiver to phase-align itself and sample the individual bits. In this case, small frequency errors (a few percent) don't matter, since the phase alignment happens so often.

1 A symbol is any specific state of the channel. It could be a voltage, a current, a frequency or a phase measurement.


RF spectrum is democratic.

RF sources share the RF spectrum by modulating narrow band signals within preassigned channels.

Signals, in order to be bandwidth limited, has to be similar in shape to the prince of all bandwidth limited signals:

x(t) = Asin(2pift)

Digital modulation using band limited signals:

One of the simplest way to encode digital bit streams into sine-like waveforms is by associating 0's to a sine wave of a predefined frequency f1 and 1's to a sine wave of a predefined waveform of frequency f2.

f1 and f2 must satisfy this inequality:

| f1 - f2 | < Channel bandwidth

This is called binary shift keying modulation: 2-FSK

When an RF signal changes its frequency f from f1 to f2 or vice versa there's a certain period of time where f is not equal to f1 nor to f2.

This time interval is transient and it's just like a rising or falling edge time of a digital signal.

Within this time interval the signal is not 0 nor 1.

That's where the bit synchronization problem comes in.

Modern transmitters and receivers.

They are all based on a microcontroller architecture.

There's a CPU that executes a certain software and there's a certain amount of RAM and a fast and precise ADC converter.

RF signals are first pulled down in frequency, by a mixer, and then ADC sampled.

An 868 MHz RF signal is usually pulled down in the 100 kHz frequency range before being sampled.

Samples are stored in RAM for 1's and 0's patterns matching and recognition.

Bit synchronization in 2-FSK modulation

The transmitter and the receiver both know in advance the symbol rate or, in short, the baud rate.

The receiver starts ADC sampling and RAM recording the incoming signal at a frequency at least double than f1 and f2.

Let's say the sampling rate is 4 times f1.

The incoming signal is an analog waveform pretty different with respect to the one transmitted.

Reflections and absorption add distortion to the transmitted signal.

After recording N samples, the receiver starts the process of recognizing 0's and 1's in the samples set.

0's and 1's are called symbols.

Every N/4 samples there's one symbol, that is one bit.

Recognizing a symbol is done by geometrical projection (inner product) of 2 vectors: the received waveform and a non distorted waveform representing the perfect 0 or the perfect 1.

It's all based on Hilbert's signals theorems.

This is the inner product between 2 vectors:

GP_0 = s_1nds0_2 + s_2nds0_2 + s_3nds0_3 + s_4nds0_4

GP_0 is a number.

s_1 is sample 1 of the incoming signal and so on.

nds0_i is sample i of the non distorted signal 0

Afterwards, the receiver calculate GP_1

GP_1= s_1nds1_2 + s_2nds1_2 + s_3nds1_3 + s_4nds1_4

If GP_1 is greater than GP_0 than the received bit is a 1.

Attention here:

If the instant where the sampling process begins is not correctly aligned to the start of the received analog waveform than all of your samples are late or in advance by some time ΔT.

If ΔT is big, GP_1 and GP_0 become meaningless and the receiver is not able to recognize 1's and 0's.

That means that the receiver, before starting the recognition process, must correctly recognize the instants where symbols start. After that, the receiver shift backwards or forward all the samples stored in RAM by a certain amount of time ΔT.

This is called bit synchronization.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Kindly read the question again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Autodidact
    Apr 21, 2021 at 18:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.