−1values, at a frequency much higher than that of the original signal, thereby spreading the energy of the original signal into a much wider band.
The resulting signal resembles white noise, like an audio recording of "static". However, this noise-like signal can be 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 believes the transmitter is using.
For de-spreading to work correctly, the transmit and receive sequences must be synchronized. This requires the receiver to synchronize its sequence with the transmitter's sequence via some sort of timing search process. However, this apparent drawback can be a significant benefit: if the sequences of multiple transmitters are synchronized with each other, the relative synchronizations the receiver must make between them can be used to determine relative timing, which, in turn, can be used to calculate the receiver's position if the transmitters' positions are known. This is the basis for many satellite navigation systems.
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 results in no 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, which results in a uniform frequency distribution whose width is determined by the output range of the pseudo-random number generator.