core time

Time-division multiplexing

Time-Division Multiplexing (TDM) is a type of digital or (rarely) analog multiplexing in which two or more signals or bit streams are transferred apparently simultaneously as sub-channels in one communication channel, but are physically taking turns on the channel. The time domain is divided into several recurrent timeslots of fixed length, one for each sub-channel. A sample byte or data block of sub-channel 1 is transmitted during timeslot 1, sub-channel 2 during timeslot 2, etc. One TDM frame consists of one timeslot per sub-channel. After the last sub-channel the cycle starts all over again with a new frame, starting with the second sample, byte or data block from sub-channel 1, etc.

Application examples

  • The Plesiochronous Digital Hierarchy (PDH) system, also known as the PCM system, for digital transmission of several telephone calls over the same four-wire copper cable (T-carrier or E-carrier) or fiber cable in the circuit switched digital telephone network
  • The SDH and Synchronous Optical Networking (SONET) network transmission standards, that has suppressed PDH.
  • The RIFF (WAV) audio standard interleaves left and right stereo signals on a per-sample basis
  • The left-right channel splitting in use for Stereoscopic Liquid Crystal shutter glasses

TDM can be further extended into the time division multiple access (TDMA) scheme, where several stations connected to the same physical medium, for example sharing the same frequency channel, can communicate. Application examples include:

  • The GSM telephone system

TDM versus packet mode communication

In its primary form, TDM is used for circuit mode communication with a fixed number of channels and constant bandwidth per channel.

What distinguishes time-division multiplexing from statistical multiplexing such as packet mode communication (also known as statistical time-domain multiplexing, see below) is that the time-slots are recurrent in a fixed order and pre-allocated to the channels, rather than scheduled on a packet-by-packet basis. Statistical time-domain multiplexing resembles, but should not be considered as, time division multiplexing

In dynamic TDMA, a scheduling algorithm dynamically reserves a variable number of timeslots in each frame to variable bit-rate data streams, based on the traffic demand of each data stream. Dynamic TDMA is used in


For the SIGSALY encryptor of 1943, see PCM.

In 1962, engineers from Bell Labs developed the first D1 Channel Banks, which combined 24 digitised voice calls over a 4-wire copper trunk between Bell central office analogue switches. A channel bank sliced a 1.544 Mbit/s digital signal into 8,000 separate frames, each composed of 24 contiguous bytes. Each byte represented a single telephone call encoded into a constant bit rate signal of 64 Kbit/s. Channel banks used a byte's fixed position (temporal alignment) in the frame to determine which call it belonged to.

Transmission using Time Division Multiplexing (TDM)

In circuit switched networks such as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) there exists the need to transmit multiple subscribers’ calls along the same transmission medium. To accomplish this, network designers make use of TDM. TDM allows switches to create channels, also known as tributaries, within a transmission stream. A standard DS0 voice signal has a data bit rate of 64 kbit/s, determined using Nyquist’s sampling criterion. TDM takes frames of the voice signals and multiplexes them into a TDM frame which runs at a higher bandwidth. So if the TDM frame consists of n voice frames, the bandwidth will be n*64 kbit/s.

Each voice sample timeslot in the TDM frame is called a channel or tributary. In European systems, TDM frames contain 30 digital voice channels, and in American systems, they contain 24 channels. Both standards also contain extra bits (or bit timeslots) for signalling (see Signaling System 7) and synchronisation bits.

Multiplexing more than 24 or 30 digital voice channels is called higher order multiplexing. Higher order multiplexing is accomplished by multiplexing the standard TDM frames. For example, a European 120 channel TDM frame is formed by multiplexing four standard 30 channel TDM frames. At each higher order multiplex, four TDM frames from the immediate lower order are combined, creating multiplexes with a bandwidth of n x 64 kbit/s, where n = 120, 480, 1920, etc.

Synchronous Time Division Multiplexing (Sync TDM)

There are three types of (Sync TDM): T1, SONET/SDH (see below), and ISDN.

Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH)

Plesiochronous Digital Hierarchy (PDH) was developed as a standard for multiplexing higher order frames. PDH created larger numbers of channels by multiplexing the standard Europeans 30 channel TDM frames. This solution worked for a while; however PDH suffered from several inherent drawbacks which ultimately resulted in the development of the Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH). The requirements which drove the development of SDH were as follows:

  • Be synchronous – All clocks in the system must align with a reference clock.
  • Be service-oriented – SDH must route traffic from End Exchange to End Exchange without worrying about exchanges in between, where the bandwidth can be reserved at a fixed level for a fixed period of time.
  • Allow frames of any size to be removed or inserted into an SDH frame of any size.
  • Easily manageable with the capability of transferring management data across links.
  • Provide high levels of recovery from faults.
  • Provide high data rates by multiplexing any size frame, limited only by technology.
  • Give reduced bit rate errors.

SDH has become the primary transmission protocol in most PSTN networks. It was developed to allow streams 1.544 Mbit/s and above to be multiplexed, so as to create larger SDH frames known as Synchronous Transport Modules (STM). The STM-1 frame consists of smaller streams that are multiplexed to create a 155.52 Mbit/s frame. SDH can also multiplex packet based frames such as Ethernet, PPP and ATM.

While SDH is considered to be a transmission protocol (Layer 1 in the OSI Reference Model), it also performs some switching functions, as stated in the third bullet point requirement listed above. The most common SDH Networking functions are as follows:

  • SDH Crossconnect – The SDH Crossconnect is the SDH version of a Time-Space-Time crosspoint switch. It connects any channel on any of its inputs to any channel on any of its outputs. The SDH Crossconnect is used in Transit Exchanges, where all inputs and outputs are connected to other exchanges.
  • SDH Add-Drop Multiplexer – The SDH Add-Drop Multiplexer (ADM) can add or remove any multiplexed frame down to 1.544Mb. Below this level, standard TDM can be performed. SDH ADMs can also perform the task of an SDH Crossconnect and are used in End Exchanges where the channels from subscribers are connected to the core PSTN network.

SDH Network functions are connected using high-speed Optic Fibre. Optic Fibre uses light pulses to transmit data and is therefore extremely fast. Modern optic fibre transmission makes use of Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) where signals transmitted across the fibre are transmitted at different wavelengths, creating additional channels for transmission. This increases the speed and capacity of the link, which in turn reduces both unit and total costs.

Statistical Time-division Multiplexing (Stat TDM)

STDM is an advanced version of TDM in which both the address of the terminal and the data itself are transmitted together for better routing. Using STDM allows bandwidth to be split over 1 line. Many college and corporate campuses use this type of TDM to logically distribute bandwidth.

If there is one 10MBit line coming into the building, STDM can be used to provide 178 terminals with a dedicated 56k connection (178 * 56k = 9.96Mb). A more common use however is to only grant the bandwidth when that much is needed. STDM does not reserve a time slot for each terminal, rather it assigns a slot when the terminal is requiring data to be sent or received.

This is also called Asynchronous Time-division Multiplexing.


This article was originally based on a Federal Standard 1037C entry in support of MIL-STD-188.

See also

External links

  • Understanding Telecommunications has been removed from the Ericsson website but can be found at .

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