Direct-sequence spread spectrum

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In telecommunications, direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) is a modulation technique. As with other spread spectrum technologies, the transmitted signal takes up more bandwidth than the information signal that modulates the carrier or broadcast frequency. The name 'spread spectrum' comes from the fact that the carrier signals occur over the full bandwidth (spectrum) of a device's transmitting frequency. Certain IEEE 802.11 standards use DSSS signaling.


One of the earliest practical DSSS systems was developed by Mortimer Rogoff working at ITT in the late 1940s and early 1950s using "noise wheels". He selected 1440 random phone numbers from the Manhattan telephone directory, and radially plotted the middle two of the last four digits so that the radius at every quarter of a degree represented a new random number. The drawing was transferred to a wheel-shaped film, and then used to modulate a light beam to produce the noise-like signal. Two copies were used on synchronous motors at the transmitter and receiver. A patent for the system was filed in 1953, but kept secret until 1979.


  1. DSSS phase-shifts a sine wave pseudorandomly with a continuous string of pseudonoise (PN) code symbols called "chips", each of which has a much shorter duration than an information bit. That is, each information bit is modulated by a sequence of much faster chips. Therefore, the chip rate is much higher than the information signal bit rate.
  2. DSSS uses a signal structure in which the sequence of chips produced by the transmitter is already known by the receiver. The receiver can then use the same PN sequence to counteract the effect of the PN sequence on the received signal in order to reconstruct the information signal.

Transmission method[edit]

Direct-sequence spread-spectrum transmissions multiply the data being transmitted by a "noise" signal. This noise signal is a pseudorandom sequence of 1 and −1 values, at a frequency much higher than that of the original signal.

The resulting signal resembles white noise, like an audio recording of "static". However, this noise-like signal is used to exactly reconstruct the original data at the receiving end, by multiplying it by the same pseudorandom sequence (because 1 × 1 = 1, and −1 × −1 = 1). This process, known as "de-spreading", mathematically constitutes a correlation of the transmitted PN sequence with the PN sequence that the receiver already knows the transmitter is using.

The resulting effect of enhancing signal to noise ratio on the channel is called process gain. This effect can be made larger by employing a longer PN sequence and more chips per bit, but physical devices used to generate the PN sequence impose practical limits on attainable processing gain.

If an undesired transmitter transmits on the same channel but with a different PN sequence (or no sequence at all), the de-spreading process has reduced processing gain for that signal. This effect is the basis for the code division multiple access (CDMA) property of DSSS, which allows multiple transmitters to share the same channel within the limits of the cross-correlation properties of their PN sequences.

As this description suggests, a plot of the transmitted waveform has a roughly bell-shaped envelope centered on the carrier frequency, just like a normal AM transmission, except that the added noise causes the distribution to be much wider than that of an AM transmission.

In contrast, frequency-hopping spread spectrum pseudo-randomly re-tunes the carrier, instead of adding pseudo-random noise to the data, the latter process results in a uniform frequency distribution whose width is determined by the output range of the pseudorandom number generator.


  • Resistance to intended or unintended jamming
  • Sharing of a single channel among multiple users
  • Reduced signal/background-noise level hampers interception
  • Determination of relative timing between transmitter and receiver


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