Underwater acoustic communication

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Example of multi-path propagation

Underwater acoustic communication is a technique of sending and receiving messages below water.[1] There are several ways of employing such communication but the most common is by using hydrophones. Underwater communication is difficult due to factors such as multi-path propagation, time variations of the channel, small available bandwidth and strong signal attenuation, especially over long ranges. Compared to terrestrial communication, underwater communication has low data rates because it uses acoustic waves instead of electromagnetic waves.

At the beginning of the 20th century, some ships communicated by underwater bells, the system being competitive with the primitive Maritime radionavigation service of the time.[2] The later Fessenden oscillator allowed communication with submarines.

Types of modulation used for underwater acoustic communications[edit]

In general the modulation methods developed for radio communications can be adapted for underwater acoustic communications (UAC). However some of the modulation schemes are more suited to the unique underwater acoustic communication channel than others. Some of the modulation methods used for UAC are as follows:

The following is a discussion on the different types of modulation and their utility to UAC.

Frequency shift keying[edit]

FSK is the earliest form of modulation used for acoustic modems. UAC prior to modems was by percussion of different objects underwater. This method was also used to measure the speed of sound in water.

FSK usually employs two distinct frequencies to modulate data; for example, Frequency F1 to indicate bit 0 and frequency F2 to indicate bit 1. Hence a binary string can be transmitted by alternating these two frequencies depending on whether it is a 0 or 1. The receiver can be as simple as having analogue matched filters to the two frequencies and a level detector to decide if a 1 or 0 was received. This is a relatively easy form of modulation and therefore used in the earliest acoustic modems. However more sophisticated Demodulator using Digital Signal Processors (DSP) can be used in the present day.

The biggest challenge FSK faces in the UAC is multi-path reflections. With multi-path (particularly in UAC) several strong reflections can be present at the receiving hydrophone and the threshold detectors become confused, thus severely limiting the use of this type of UAC to vertical channels. Adaptive equalization methods have been tried with limited success. Adaptive equalization tries to model the highly reflective UAC channel and subtract the effects from the received signal. The success has been limited due to the rapidly varying conditions and the difficulty to adapt in time.

Phase shift keying[edit]

Phase-shift keying (PSK) is a digital modulation scheme that conveys data by changing (modulating) the phase of a reference signal (the carrier wave).The signal is impressed into the magnetic field x,y area by varying the sine and cosine inputs at a precise time. It is widely used for wireless LANs, RFID and Bluetooth communication.

Any digital modulation scheme uses a finite number of distinct signals to represent digital data. PSK uses a finite number of phases, each assigned a unique pattern of binary digits. Usually, each phase encodes an equal number of bits. Each pattern of bits forms the symbol that is represented by the particular phase. The demodulator, which is designed specifically for the symbol-set used by the modulator, determines the phase of the received signal and maps it back to the symbol it represents, thus recovering the original data. This requires the receiver to be able to compare the phase of the received signal to a reference signal — such a system is termed coherent (and referred to as CPSK).

Alternatively, instead of operating with respect to a constant reference wave, the broadcast can operate with respect to itself. Changes in phase of a single broadcast waveform can be considered the significant items. In this system, the demodulator determines the changes in the phase of the received signal rather than the phase (relative to a reference wave) itself. Since this scheme depends on the difference between successive phases, it is termed differential phase-shift keying (DPSK). DPSK can be significantly simpler to implement than ordinary PSK since there is no need for the demodulator to have a copy of the reference signal to determine the exact phase of the received signal (it is a non-coherent scheme). In exchange, it produces more erroneous demodulation.

Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing[edit]

Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) is a digital multi-carrier modulation scheme. OFDM conveys data on several parallel data channel by incorporating closely spaced orthogonal sub-carrier signals

OFDM is a favorable communication scheme in underwater acoustic communications thanks to its resilience against frequency selective channels with long delay spreads.[3][4][5]

Use of vector sensor receivers[edit]

A vector sensor is capable of measuring important non-scalar components of the acoustic field such as the wave velocity, which cannot be obtained by a single scalar pressure sensor.

In recent decades, extensive research has been conducted on the theory and design of vector sensors.[6][7] Many vector sensor signal processing algorithms have been designed.[8] They have been mainly used for underwater target localization and sonar applications.

Earlier underwater acoustic communication systems have been relying on scalar sensors only, which measure the pressure of the acoustic field. Vector sensors measure the scalar and vector components of the acoustic field in a single point in space, therefore can serve as a compact multichannel receiver. This is different from the existing multichannel underwater receivers,[9][10] which are composed of spatially separated pressure-only sensors, which may result in large-size arrays.

In general, there are two types of vector sensors: inertial and gradient.[11] Inertial sensors truly measure the velocity or acceleration by responding to the acoustic medium motion, whereas gradient sensors employ a finite-difference approximation to estimate the gradients of the acoustic field such as velocity and acceleration.

In the example of vector sensor communications shown, there is one transmitter pressure transducer, shown by a black dot, whereas for reception a vector sensor is used, shown by a black square, which measures the pressure and the y and z components of the velocity. This is a 1×3 single-input multiple-output (SIMO) system. With more pressure transmitters, one can have a multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) system also.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ I. F. Akyildiz, D. Pompili, and T. Melodia, "Underwater Acoustic Sensor Networks: Research Challenges," Ad Hoc Networks (Elsevier), vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 257-279, March 2005.
  2. ^ "Submarine Signaling on Steamships". www.gjenvick.com. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  3. ^ E. Demirors, G. Sklivanitis, T. Melodia, S. N. Batalama, and D. A. Pados, "Software-defined Underwater Acoustic Networks: Toward a High-rate Real-time Reconfigurable Modem," IEEE Communications Magazine, vol. 53, no. 11, pp. 64 - 71, November 2015.
  4. ^ S. Zhou and Z.-H. Wang, OFDM for Underwater Acoustic Communications. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2014.
  5. ^ E. Demirors, G. Sklivanitis, G.E. Santagati, T. Melodia, and S. N. Batalama, "Design of A Software-defined Underwater Acoustic Modem with Real-time Physical Layer Adaptation Capabilities," in Proc. of ACM Intl. Conf. on Underwater Networks & Systems (WUWNet), Rome, Italy, November 2014.
  6. ^ Proc. AIP Conf. Acoustic Particle Velocity Sensors: Design, Performance, and Applications, Mystic, CT, 1995.
  7. ^ A. Nehorai and E. Paldi, “Acoustic vector-sensor array processing,” IEEE Trans. Signal Processing, vol. 42, pp. 2481-2491, 1994.
  8. ^ K. T. Wong & H. Chi, "Beam Patterns of an Underwater Acoustic Vector Hydrophone Located Away from any Reflecting Boundary," IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 628-637, July 2002.
  9. ^ T. C. Yang, “Temporal resolutions of time-reversal and passive phase conjugation for underwater acoustic communications,” IEEE J. Oceanic Eng., vol. 28, pp. 229–245, 2003.
  10. ^ M. Stojanovic, J. A. Catipovic, and J. G. Proakis, “Reduced-complexity spatial and temporal processing of underwater acoustic communication signals,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am., vol. 98, pp. 961–972, 1995.
  11. ^ T. B. Gabrielson, “Design problems and limitations in vector sensors,” in Proc. workshop Directional Acoustic Sensors (CD-ROM), New Port, RI, 2001.

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