PSK Meaning: Phase Shift Keying Demystified

Phase shift keying (PSK) is a widely used digital modulation technique in modern communication systems. It involves varying the phase of a carrier signal to transmit digital information. PSK offers an efficient way to modulate signals, enabling increased data rates and improved spectral efficiency for wireless and wired communication systems.

There are various types of PSK, such as binary phase shift keying (BPSK), quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK), and M-ary phase shift keying (M-PSK). Each of these techniques provides different levels of complexity and performance. In BPSK, for example, the carrier signal phase is shifted by 0 or 180 degrees, thus transmitting one bit per symbol. QPSK, on the other hand, uses four distinct phase shifts, allowing two bits per symbol to be transmitted. M-PSK generalizes this concept, using M distinct phase shifts to transmit log2(M) bits per symbol.

Understanding PSK is essential for professionals and enthusiasts in the fields of telecommunications, digital signal processing, and wireless communications. As technology continues to advance, novel PSK techniques and variations will likely emerge to meet the growing demands of modern communication systems.

simple diagram of different modulation schemes
Categorization for signal modulation based on data and carrier types by Michel Bakni is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

PSK Meaning

Phase Shift Keying Definition

Phase Shift Keying (PSK) is a digital modulation technique that represents digital information by adjusting the phase of a carrier signal. It is widely used in modern communication systems due to its ability to transmit data efficiently and reliably over various channels. In PSK, the phase of the carrier wave is altered to correspond to the data being transmitted, allowing multiple bits to be transmitted for each phase change. Common types of PSK include Binary Phase Shift Keying (BPSK), Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK), and M-ary Phase Shift Keying (M-PSK).

Digital Modulation Technique

As a digital modulation technique, PSK is designed to convert digital data into analog signals, making it suitable for transmission over a communication channel. This process involves varying the phase of a carrier wave based on the input data. PSK modulation schemes can be grouped into two main categories: coherent and non-coherent. In coherent PSK, a reference phase is used to determine the phase changes, while non-coherent PSK relies on the phase difference between adjacent symbols.

Coherent PSK:

  • BPSK: Binary PSK uses two distinct phase states to represent binary data, with each state corresponding to a 0 or 1. BPSK offers a high level of noise immunity and is ideal for situations where the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is low.
  • QPSK: Quadrature PSK is an extension of BPSK that utilizes four distinct phase states, allowing it to transmit two bits per symbol. This technique increases data throughput while maintaining the same bandwidth as BPSK.

Non-coherent PSK:

  • DPSK: Differential PSK modulates the phase difference between successive symbols, rather than the absolute phase of the carrier wave. This approach simplifies the demodulation process since it does not require a reference phase.

PSK modulation is a fundamental part of wireless communication systems, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and satellite communications. By adjusting the phase of the carrier signal, PSK enables efficient data transmission with low error rates, contributing significantly to the performance of modern communication networks.

PSK Techniques

Binary Phase Shift Keying

Binary Phase Shift Keying (BPSK) is a simple form of PSK that uses two distinct phases for transmitting information. In BPSK, each bit is represented by a specific phase shift, where the “0” bits are assigned one phase and the “1” bits are assigned the opposite phase. This modulation technique is highly resistant to noise and works well in low signal-to-noise ratio environments. However, it has a lower data rate compared to other PSK techniques, as it only transmits one bit per symbol. BPSK is commonly used in applications such as RFID tags and low-data-rate wireless communication systems.

Quadrature Phase Shift Keying

Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK), also known as 4-PSK, is an extension of BPSK that increases the data rate by using four distinct phases to represent two bits per symbol. In QPSK, each phase shift corresponds to a combination of two bits (00, 01, 10, or 11). This technique provides a higher data rate compared to BPSK while maintaining the same robustness against noise.

QPSK can be understood more easily by breaking it up into two BPSK waveforms, known as “I” and “Q”. The video below shows an animation of PSK waveforms: I, Q, and the combination of the two. Notice the abrupt phase changes:

QPSK is widely used in various applications, including satellite communications and digital cellular systems. It can be further extended to higher-order PSK modulation schemes, such as 16-PSK, 32-PSK, 64-PSK, 128-PSK, and 256-PSK, which provide even higher data rates.

Differential Phase Shift Keying

Differential Phase Shift Keying (DPSK) is a variation of PSK that uses the relative phase shift between consecutive symbols for encoding, rather than the absolute phase. In DPSK systems, the transmitter encodes the data by applying a specific phase shift to the current symbol relative to the previous symbol. At the receiver side, the demodulator compares the phase difference between consecutive symbols to decode the transmitted information.

DPSK offers some advantages over conventional PSK techniques like improved performance in the presence of phase noise and easier synchronization. A common type of DPSK is Binary Differential Phase Shift Keying (BDPSK) which uses two phases for encoding. Higher-order DPSK systems, such as M-DPSK (e.g., M-DPSK and M-Differential PSK), can also be employed for achieving higher data rates and improved performance.

Overall, PSK techniques provide robust and reliable communication solutions in various wireless systems, with BPSK, QPSK, and DPSK being some of the essential modulation schemes in their respective applications.

PSK Applications

Communication Systems

Phase Shift Keying (PSK) is an essential modulation technique that plays a significant role in communication systems. It works by conveying digital data by changing the phase of a carrier wave, increasing the efficiency of data transmission. PSK is used in various communication systems such as satellite communication, telecommunication networks, and more. Examples of PSK techniques include binary phase shift keying (BPSK), which uses two phases and quadrature-quadrature phase shift keying (Q2PSK), which uses half cosinusoid and half sinusoid as two different phases.

In satellite communication, PSK is used to transmit data over long distances with minimal degradation in signal quality. Moreover, it reduces the required bandwidth, making the communication more reliable and efficient.

Wireless Networks

In wireless networks, PSK is widely employed as a modulation scheme for Wi-Fi, mobile communication, Bluetooth, and other wireless communication systems. For instance, PSK is a critical component in higher-order PSK applications, which require multi-phase oscillators to function efficiently.

PSK-based systems provide numerous benefits like resistance to noise, increased data rates, and lower power requirements. They enhance the overall performance of wireless networks by facilitating robust communication and catering to the growing demands of data traffic in various applications, such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices, industrial automation, and smart city networks.

As a widely-used modulation technique, PSK plays an important role in digital communication applications, ranging from communication systems to wireless networks. By changing the phase of a carrier wave to transmit data, PSK contributes significantly to the efficiency, reliability, and quality of modern communication networks.

PSK Advantages and Disadvantages

Signal Quality

Phase Shift Keying (PSK) is a digital modulation scheme that offers several benefits in terms of signal quality. PSK encodes data onto the phase of a signal, making it less susceptible to noise and interference compared to other modulation schemes such as Frequency Shift Keying (FSK) and Amplitude Shift Keying (ASK) 1. Furthermore, PSK offers better resistance to signal fading in wireless communication systems, ensuring more consistent signal quality over varying channel conditions.

However, a potential drawback of PSK is that it can be more sensitive to phase noise, which may degrade the overall signal quality. In addition, PSK performance may be affected by synchronization errors in the receiver, making it essential to have accurate phase tracking mechanisms.

Bandwidth Efficiency

PSK offers good bandwidth efficiency, as it enables the transmission of multiple bits per symbol when using higher-order modulation schemes like Quadrature PSK (QPSK) or M-ary PSK 2. This allows for increased data rates without significantly increasing the required bandwidth, making it a suitable choice for a wide range of applications, from satellite communication systems to wireless local area networks (WLANs).

Nevertheless, better bandwidth efficiency can sometimes come at the expense of increased computational complexity and more sophisticated receiver designs, as the need to correctly demodulate complex signals demands additional processing power.

Error Rate

One of the advantages of PSK modulation is its reduced bit error rate (BER) compared to ASK and FSK under certain conditions, mainly due to its better performance under noisy environments and resistance to signal fading 3. This is especially important in wireless communication systems, where PSK can achieve higher data rates with lower error rates, providing a better overall communication link quality.

On the other hand, as the order of the PSK modulation increases (e.g., from BPSK to 16-PSK), the decision boundaries between symbols become closer, making the system more vulnerable to errors caused by noise and interference. Thus, higher-order PSK modulation schemes typically require more sophisticated error detection and correction techniques to maintain a low BER.




Phase shift keying (PSK) is a widely used digital modulation technique that enables the transmission of data by varying the phase of the carrier signal. As a popular method, it offers several advantages including improved bandwidth utilization and increased resistance to noise and interference.

There are multiple variations of PSK, such as binary phase shift keying (BPSK), quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK), and M-ary phase shift keying (M-PSK). Each of these variations serves different purposes and offers specific benefits in certain situations. For example, BPSK is known for its simplicity and reliability, while QPSK can transmit two bits per symbol, doubling the data rate without increasing the bandwidth requirement. M-PSK can further increase the data rate by transmitting multiple bits per symbol, making it suitable for high-speed communication systems.

PSK has been applied in various fields, such as land-mobile satellite channels, demonstrated by the analysis of M-ary phase-shift keying with diversity reception. These applications have led to the development of numerous variants, including quadrature-quadrature phase-shift keying (Q’PSK), which offers the advantage of binary detection at the receiver and zero memory transmission as explained here.

In summary, PSK stands as an essential method in digital communication, offering robust performance and efficient use of resources. Its multiple variations enable it to be tailored to specific applications, ensuring optimal results in diverse scenarios. As technology continues to advance, new developments and applications related to PSK are likely to emerge, further enhancing this important and versatile modulation technique.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of phase shift keying?

There are several types of phase shift keying. Binary phase shift keying (BPSK) involves two phases representing 1 and 0. Quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK) has four phases, each representing a pair of bits. In higher-order PSKs, like 8-ary or 16-ary PSK, a larger number of distinct phases are used to represent more bits per symbol.

How does binary phase shift keying work?

Binary phase shift keying (BPSK) encodes information in the phase of a carrier wave. It uses two distinct phases to represent binary values 0 and 1. For example, a phase of 0 degrees represents a binary 0, while a phase of 180 degrees represents a binary 1. The receiver decodes the signal by detecting the phase shifts.

What is the advantage of quadrature phase shift keying?

Quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK) has the advantage of greater spectral efficiency compared to BPSK. QPSK encodes two bits per symbol by using four distinct phases, effectively doubling the data rate for the same bandwidth. It tolerates lower signal-to-noise ratios without significant degradation in performance, making it suitable for various communication systems.

How does differential phase shift keying improve performance?

Differential phase shift keying (DPSK) improves performance by encoding data in the difference between consecutive phase values rather than absolute phase values. This makes the system less susceptible to synchronization errors and phase ambiguities. DPSK effectively reduces the error rate and increases the robustness of communication systems in the presence of noise and channel impairments.

How is QPSK different from BPSK?

QPSK is different from BPSK in that it uses four distinct phases instead of two to encode information. This allows QPSK to transmit two bits per symbol, effectively doubling the data rate for the same bandwidth. However, QPSK has a slightly higher bit error rate (BER) compared to BPSK due to the smaller phase differences between symbols.

Can you explain PSK modulation and demodulation process?

In PSK modulation, data is encoded by changing the phase of a carrier wave. Depending on the specific PSK scheme, different phase values are used to represent distinct bit patterns. The modulated signal is transmitted over the communication channel.

During the demodulation process, the receiver compares the phase of the received signal to a reference signal to determine the original bit pattern. Synchronization between the transmitter and receiver is crucial for accurate demodulation. Various techniques, such as phase-locked loops and symbol timing recovery, are used to maintain synchronization and recover the transmitted data.

Leave a Comment