Line coding schemes (Unipolar, Polar, Bipolar, Multilevel, Multitransition) | web4study

Line coding schemes (Unipolar, Polar, Bipolar, Multilevel, Multitransition)

Category: Bachelor of Computer Science , Data Communications and Networking ,

Line Coding Schemes:

We can roughly divide line coding schemes into five broad categories (Unipolar, Polar, Bipolar, Multilevel, Multitransition), as shown in Figure 4.4. There are several schemes in each category.

Line coding schemes

Unipolar Scheme:

In a unipolar scheme, all the signal levels are on one side of the time axis, either above or below.

NRZ (Non-Return-to-Zero):

Traditionally, a unipolar scheme was designed as a non-return-to-zero (NRZ) scheme in which the positive voltage defines bit 1 and the zero voltage defines bit 0. It is called NRZ because the signal does not return to zero in the middle of the bit. Figure 4.5 shows a unipolar NRZ scheme.

Unipolar NRZ scheme

Compared with its polar counterpart, this scheme is very costly. As we will see shortly, the normalized power (the power needed to send 1 bit per unit line resistance) is double that for polar NRZ. For this reason, this scheme is normally not used in data communications today.

Polar Schemes:

In polar schemes, the voltages are on both sides of the time axis. For example, the voltage level for 0 can be positive and the voltage level for 1 can be negative.

Non-Return-to-Zero (NRZ):

In polar NRZ encoding, we use two levels of voltage amplitude. We can have two versions of polar NRZ: NRZ-L and NRZ-I, as shown in Figure 4.6. The figure also shows the value of r, the average baud rate, and the bandwidth. In the first variation, NRZ-L (NRZ-Level), the level of the voltage determines the value of the bit. In the second variation, NRZ-I (NRZ-Invert), the change or lack of change in the level of the voltage determines the value of the bit. If there is no change, the bit is 0; if there is a change, the bit is 1.

Polar NRZ-L and NRZ-I schemes

Let us compare these two schemes based on the criteria we previously defined. Although baseline wandering is a problem for both variations, it is twice as severe in NRZ-L. If there is a long sequence of 0s or 1s in NRZ-L, the average signal power becomes skewed. The receiver might have difficulty discerning the bit value. In NRZ-I this problem occurs only for a long sequence of 0s. If somehow we can eliminate the long sequence of 0s, we can avoid baseline wandering. We will see shortly how this can be done.

The synchronization problem (sender and receiver clocks are not synchronized) also exists in both schemes. Again, this problem is more serious in NRZ-L than in NRZ-I. While a long sequence of 0s can cause a problem in both schemes, a long sequence of 1s affects only NRZ-L.

Another problem with NRZ-L occurs when there is a sudden change of polarity in the system. For example, if the twisted-pair cable is the medium, a change in the polarity of the wire results in all 0s interpreted as 1s and all 1s interpreted as 0s. NRZ-I does not have this problem. Both schemes have an average signal rate of N/2 Bd.

Return-to-Zero (RZ):

The main problem with NRZ encoding occurs when the sender and receiver clocks are not synchronized. The receiver does not know when one bit has ended and the next bit is starting. One solution is the return-to-zero (RZ) scheme, which uses three values: positive, negative, and zero. In RZ, the signal changes not between bits but during the bit. In Figure 4.7 we see that the signal goes to 0 in the middle of each bit. It remains there until the beginning of the next bit. The main disadvantage of RZ encoding is that it requires two signal changes to encode a bit and therefore occupies greater bandwidth. The same problem we mentioned, a sudden change of polarity resulting in all 0s interpreted as 1s and all 1s interpreted as 0s, still exists here, but there is no DC component problem. Another problem is the complexity: RZ uses three levels of voltage, which is more complex to create and discern. As a result of all these deficiencies, the scheme is not used today. Instead, it has been replaced by the better-performing Manchester and differential Manchester schemes (discussed next).

Polar RZ scheme

Biphase: Manchester and Differential Manchester:

The idea of RZ (transition at the middle of the bit) and the idea of NRZ-L are combined into the Manchester scheme. In Manchester encoding, the duration of the bit is divided into two halves. The voltage remains at one level during the first half and moves to the other level in the second half. The transition at the middle of the bit provides synchronization. Differential Manchester, on the other hand, combines the ideas of RZ and NRZ-I. There is always a transition at the middle of the bit, but the bit values are determined at the beginning of the bit. If the next bit is 0, there is a transition; if the next bit is 1, there is none. Figure 4.8 shows both Manchester and differential Manchester encoding.

Polar biphase Manchester and differential Manchester schemes

The Manchester scheme overcomes several problems associated with NRZ-L, and differential Manchester overcomes several problems associated with NRZ-I. First, there is no baseline wandering. There is no DC component because each bit has a positive and negative voltage contribution. The only drawback is the signal rate. The signal rate for Manchester and differential Manchester is double that for NRZ. The reason is that there is always one transition at the middle of the bit and maybe one transition at the end of each bit. Figure 4.8 shows both Manchester and differential Manchester encoding schemes. Note that Manchester and differential Manchester schemes are also called biphase schemes.

Bipolar Schemes:

In bipolar encoding (sometimes called multilevel binary), there are three voltage levels: positive, negative, and zero. The voltage level for one data element is at zero, while the voltage level for the other element alternates between positive and negative.

AMI and Pseudoternary:

Figure 4.9 shows two variations of bipolar encoding: AMI and pseudo ternary. A common bipolar encoding scheme is called bipolar alternate mark inversion (AMI). In the term alternate mark inversion, the word mark comes from telegraphy and means 1. So AMI means alternate 1 inversion. A neutral zero voltage represents binary 0. Binary 1s are represented by alternating positive and negative voltages. A variation of AMI encoding is called pseudo ternary in which the 1 bit is encoded as a zero voltage and the 0 bit is encoded as alternating positive and negative voltages.

Bipolar schemes AMI and pseudoternary

The bipolar scheme was developed as an alternative to NRZ. The bipolar scheme has the same signal rate as NRZ, but there is no DC component. The NRZ scheme has most of its energy concentrated near zero frequency, which makes it unsuitable for transmission over channels with poor performance around this frequency. The concentration of the energy in bipolar encoding is around frequency N/2. Figure 4.9 shows the typical energy concentration for a bipolar scheme.

One may ask why we do not have a DC component in bipolar encoding. We can answer this question by using the Fourier transform, but we can also think about it intuitively. If we have a long sequence of 1s, the voltage level alternates between positive and negative; it is not constant. Therefore, there is no DC component. For a long sequence of 0s, the voltage remains constant, but its amplitude is zero, which is the same as having no DC component. In other words, a sequence that creates a constant zero voltage does not have a DC component.

Multilevel Schemes:

The desire to increase the data rate or decrease the required bandwidth has resulted in the creation of many schemes. The goal is to increase the number of bits per baud by encoding a pattern of m data elements into a pattern of n signal elements. We only have two types of data elements (0s and 1s), which means that a group of m data elements can produce a combination of 2m data patterns. We can have different types of signal elements by allowing different signal levels. If we have L different levels, then we can produce Ln combinations of signal patterns. If 2m = Ln, then each data pattern is encoded into one signal pattern. If 2m < Ln, data patterns occupy only a subset of signal patterns. The subset can be carefully designed to prevent baseline wandering, to provide synchronization, and to detect errors that occurred during data transmission. Data encoding is not possible if 2m > Ln because some of the data patterns cannot be encoded.

The code designers have classified these types of coding as mBnL, where m is the length of the binary pattern, B means binary data, n is the length of the signal pattern, and L is the number of levels in the signalling. A letter is often used in place of L: B (binary) for L = 2, T (ternary) for L = 3, and Q (quaternary) for L = 4. Note that the first two letters define the data pattern, and the second two define the signal pattern.


The first mBnL scheme we discuss, two binary, one quaternary (2B1Q), uses data patterns of size 2 and encodes the 2-bit patterns as one signal element belonging to a four-level signal. In this type of encoding m = 2, n = 1, and L = 4 (quaternary). Figure 4.10 shows an example of a 2B1Q signal.

Multilevel 2B1Q scheme

The average signal rate of 2B1Q is S = N/4. This means that using 2B1Q, we can send data 2 times faster than by using NRZ-L. However, 2B1Q uses four different signal levels, which means the receiver has to discern four different thresholds. The reduced bandwidth comes with a price. There are no redundant signal patterns in this scheme because of 22 = 41.


A very interesting scheme is eight binary, six ternary (8B6T). This code is used with 100 BASE-4T cables. The idea is to encode a pattern of 8 bits as a pattern of six signal elements, where the signal has three levels (ternary). In this type of scheme, we can have 28 = 256 different data patterns and 36 = 729 different signal patterns. The mapping table is shown in Appendix F. There are 729 − 256 = 473 redundant signal elements that provide synchronization and error detection. Part of the redundancy is also used to provide DC balance. Each signal pattern has a weight of 0 or +1 DC values. This means that there is no pattern with the weight −1. To make the whole stream DC-balanced, the sender keeps track of the weight. If two groups of weight 1 are encountered one after another, the first one is sent as is, while the next one is totally inverted to give a weight of −1.

Figure 4.11 shows an example of three data patterns encoded as three signal patterns. The three possible signal levels are represented as −, 0, and +. The first 8-bit pattern 00010001 is encoded as the signal pattern − 0 − 0 + + with weight 0; the second 8-bit pattern 01010011 is encoded as − + − + + 0 with weight +1. The third 8-bit pattern 01010000 should be encoded as + − − + 0 + with weight +1. To create the DC balance, the sender inverts the actual signal. The receiver can easily recognize that this is an inverted pattern because the weight is −1. The pattern is inverted before decoding.

Multilevel 8B6T scheme


The last signalling scheme we discuss in this category is called four-dimensional five-level pulse amplitude modulation (4D-PAM5). The 4D means that data is sent over four wires at the same time. It uses five voltage levels, such as −2, −1, 0, 1, and 2. However, one level, level 0, is used only for forward error detection (discussed in Chapter 10). If we assume that the code is just one-dimensional, the four levels create something similar to 8B4Q. In other words, an 8-bit word is translated to a signal element of four different levels. The worst signal rate for this imaginary one-dimensional version is N × 4/8, or N/2.

The technique is designed to send data over four channels (four wires). This means the signal rate can be reduced to N/8, a significant achievement. All 8 bits can be fed into a wire simultaneously and sent by using one signal element. The point here is that the four signal elements comprising one signal group are sent simultaneously in a four-dimensional setting. Figure 4.12 shows the imaginary one-dimensional and the actual four-dimensional implementation. Gigabit LANs use this technique to send 1-Gbps data over four copper cables that can handle 125 Mbaud. This scheme has a lot of redundancy in the signal pattern because 28 data patterns are matched to 44 = 256 signal patterns. The extra signal patterns can be used for other purposes such as error detection.

Multilevel 4D-PAM5 scheme

Multitransition: MLT-3

NRZ-I and differential Manchester are classified as differential encoding but use two transition rules to encode binary data (no inversion, inversion). If we have a signal with more than two levels, we can design a differential encoding scheme with more than two transition rules. MLT-3 is one of them. The multiline transmission, three-level (MLT-3) scheme uses three levels (+V, 0, and −V) and three transition rules to move between the levels.

  • 1. If the next bit is 0, there is no transition.
  • 2. If the next bit is 1 and the current level is not 0, the next level is 0.
  • 3. If the next bit is 1 and the current level is 0, the next level is the opposite of the last nonzero level.

The behaviour of MLT-3 can best be described by the state diagram shown in Figure 4.13. The three voltage levels (−V, 0, and +V) are shown by three states (ovals). The transition from one state (level) to another is shown by the connecting lines. Figure 4.13 also shows two examples of an MLT-3 signal.

Multitransition MLT-3 scheme

Summary of Line Coding Schemes:

Summarize in Table 4.1 the characteristics of the different schemes discussed.

Summary of line coding schemes

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