Duplex (telecommunications)

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A duplex communication system is a point-to-point system composed of two connected parties or devices that can communicate with one another in both directions. Translated literally, "duplex" means "two paths";[citation needed] thus, a duplex system has two clearly defined paths, with each path carrying information in only one direction – A to B over one path, and B to A over the other. There are two types of duplex communication systems: full-duplex and half-duplex.

In a full duplex system, both parties can communicate to the other simultaneously. An example of a full-duplex device is a telephone; the parties at both ends of a call can speak and be heard by the other party simultaneously. The earphone reproduces the speech of the remote party as the microphone transmits the speech of the local party, because there is a two-way communication channel between them, or more strictly speaking, because there are two communication paths/channels between them.

In a half-duplex system, there are still two clearly defined paths/channels, and each party can communicate to the other but not simultaneously; the communication is one direction at a time. An example of a half-duplex device is a walkie-talkie two-way radio that has a "push-to-talk" button; when the local user wants to speak to the remote person they push this button, which turns on the transmitter but turns off the receiver, so they cannot hear the remote person. To listen to the other person they release the button, which turns on the receiver but turns off the transmitter.

Duplex systems are employed in many communications networks, either to allow for a communication "two-way street" between two connected parties or to provide a "reverse path" for the monitoring and remote adjustment of equipment in the field.

Systems that do not need the duplex capability may instead use simplex communication, in which one device transmits and the others can only "listen". Examples are broadcast radio and television, garage door openers, baby monitors, wireless microphones, and surveillance cameras. In these devices the communication is only in one direction.


A simple illustration of a half-duplex communication system

A half-duplex (HDX) system provides communication in both directions, but only one direction at a time (not simultaneously). Typically, once a party begins receiving a signal, it must wait for the transmitter to stop transmitting, before replying.

An example of a half-duplex system is a two-party system such as a walkie-talkie, wherein one must use "over" or another previously designated keyword to indicate the end of transmission, and ensure that only one party transmits at a time, because both parties transmit and receive on the same frequency. A good analogy for a half-duplex system would be a one-lane road with traffic controllers at each end, such as a two-lane bridge under re-construction. Traffic can flow in both directions, but only one direction at a time, regulated by the traffic controllers.

Half-duplex systems are usually used to conserve bandwidth, since only a single communication channel is needed, which is shared alternately between the two directions. For example, a walkie-talkie requires only a single frequency for bidirectional communication, while a cell phone, which is a full-duplex device, requires two frequencies to carry the two simultaneous voice channels, one in each direction.

In automatically run communications systems, such as two-way data-links, the time allocations for communications in a half-duplex system can be firmly controlled by the hardware. Thus, there is no waste of the channel for switching. For example, station A on one end of the data link could be allowed to transmit for exactly one second, then station B on the other end could be allowed to transmit for exactly one second, and then the cycle repeats.

In half-duplex systems, if more than one party transmits at the same time, a collision occurs, resulting in lost messages.


A simple illustration of a full-duplex communication system. Full-duplex is not common in handheld radios as shown here due to the cost and complexity of common duplexing methods, but is used in telephones, cellphones, and cordless phones.

A full-duplex (FDX) system, or sometimes called double-duplex, allows communication in both directions, and, unlike half-duplex, allows this to happen simultaneously. Land-line telephone networks are full-duplex, since they allow both callers to speak and be heard at the same time, with the transition from four to two wires being achieved by a hybrid coil in a telephone hybrid. Modern cell phones are also full-duplex.[1]

A good analogy for a full-duplex system would be a two-lane road with one lane for each direction. In full-duplex mode, transmitted data does not appear to be sent until it has been actually received and an acknowledgment was sent back by the other party.[citation needed]

Two-way radios can be designed as full-duplex systems, transmitting on one frequency and receiving on another. This is also called frequency-division duplex. Frequency-division duplex systems can be extended to farther distances using pairs of simple repeater stations, because the communications transmitted on any one frequency always travel in the same direction.

Full-duplex Ethernet connections work by making simultaneous use of two physical pairs of twisted cable (which are inside the jacket), where one pair is used for receiving packets and one pair is used for sending packets (two pairs per direction for some types of Ethernet), to a directly connected device. This effectively makes the cable itself a collision-free environment and doubles the maximum data capacity that can be supported by the connection.

There are several benefits to using full-duplex over half-duplex. Firstly, time is not wasted, since no frames need to be retransmitted, as there are no collisions. Secondly, the full data capacity is available in both directions because the send and receive functions are separated. Thirdly, stations (or nodes) do not have to wait until others complete their transmission, since there is only one transmitter for each twisted pair.

Historically, some computer-based systems of the 1960s and 1970s required full-duplex facilities even for half-duplex operation, because their poll-and-response schemes could not tolerate the slight delays in reversing the direction of transmission in a half-duplex line.

Full-duplex emulation[edit]

Where channel access methods are used in point-to-multipoint networks (such as cellular networks) for dividing forward and reverse communication channels on the same physical communications medium, they are known as duplexing methods, such as time-division duplexing and frequency-division duplexing.

Time-division duplexing[edit]

Time-division duplexing (TDD) is the application of time-division multiplexing to separate outward and return signals. It emulates full duplex communication over a half duplex communication link.

Time-division duplexing has a strong advantage in the case where there is asymmetry of the uplink and downlink data rates. As the amount of uplink data increases, more communication capacity can be dynamically allocated, and as the traffic load becomes lighter, capacity can be taken away. The same applies in the downlink direction.

For radio systems that aren't moving quickly, another advantage is that the uplink and downlink radio paths are likely to be very similar. This means that techniques such as beamforming work well with TDD systems.

Examples of time-division duplexing systems are:

Frequency-division duplexing[edit]

Frequency-division duplexing (FDD) means that the transmitter and receiver operate at different carrier frequencies. The term is frequently used in ham radio operation, where an operator is attempting to contact a repeater station. The station must be able to send and receive a transmission at the same time, and does so by slightly altering the frequency at which it sends and receives. This mode of operation is referred to as duplex mode or offset mode.

Uplink and downlink sub-bands are said to be separated by the frequency offset. Frequency-division duplexing can be efficient in the case of symmetric traffic. In this case time-division duplexing tends to waste bandwidth during the switch-over from transmitting to receiving, has greater inherent latency, and may require more complex circuitry.

Another advantage of frequency-division duplexing is that it makes radio planning easier and more efficient, since base stations do not "hear" each other (as they transmit and receive in different sub-bands) and therefore will normally not interfere with each other. On the converse, with time-division duplexing systems, care must be taken to keep guard times between neighboring base stations (which decreases spectral efficiency) or to synchronize base stations, so that they will transmit and receive at the same time (which increases network complexity and therefore cost, and reduces bandwidth allocation flexibility as all base stations and sectors will be forced to use the same uplink/downlink ratio)

Examples of Frequency Division Duplexing systems are:

Echo cancellation[edit]

Full-duplex audio systems like telephones can create echo, which needs to be removed. Echo occurs when the sound coming out of the speaker, originating from the far end, re-enters the microphone and is sent back to the far end. The sound then reappears at the original source end, but delayed. This feedback path may be acoustic, through the air, or it may be mechanically coupled, for example in a telephone handset. Echo cancellation is a signal-processing operation that subtracts the far-end signal from the microphone signal before it is sent back over the network.

Echo cancellation is important to the V.32, V.34, V.56, and V.90 modem standards[clarification needed].

Echo cancelers are available as both software and hardware implementations. They can be independent components in a communications system or integrated into the communication system's central processing unit. Devices that do not eliminate echo sometimes will not produce good full-duplex performance.


  • CB radio (half-duplex)


  • Simplex - Communication in one direction only, e.g. TV or radio broadcasts.
  • Half-duplex - Communication in both directions, one direction at a time, e.g. Two-way radio.
  • Full-duplex - Communication in both directions simultaneously, e.g. telephone calls.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/cell-phone1.htm