AOH :: BITS.TXT|
Bits, baud rate, and BPS
* BITS, BAUD RATE, AND BPS by Michael A. Banks
Here's an excerpt from The Modem Reference, written by Michael A. Banks
and recommended by Jerry Pournelle in Byte, The Smithsonian Magazine,
et al. The right to reproduce this article is granted on the condition
that all text, including this notice and the notice at the end of the
article, remain unchanged, and that no text is added to the body of the
article. Thanks! --MB
Taking the Mystery Out of Modem Speeds
(Copyright, 1988, 1990, Michael A. Banks. All rights reserved.)
Modem transmission speed is the source of a lot of confusion, even among
otherwise informed computer and modem users. The root of the problem is
the fact that the terms "baud" and "bits per second" are used
interchangeably and indiscriminately. I strongly suspect this is a
result of the fact that it's easier to say "baud" than "bits per
second," though misinformation has a hand in it, too.
If you've ever found yourself confused by the relationship between bits
and baud rate, or if you think that a modem's baud rate is the same as
the number of bits or characters it transmits per second, please read
this article carefully; I guarantee to clear up the confusion and
disabuse you of any false concepts ...
Bits per second (bps)
Bits per second is a measure of the number of data bits (digital 0's and
1's) transmitted each second in a communications channel. This is
sometimes referred to as "bit rate."
Individual characters (letters, numbers, etc.), also referred to as
bytes, are composed of several bits.
While a modem's bit rate is tied to its baud rate, the two are not the
same, as explained below.
Baud rate is a measure of the number of times per second a signal in a
communications channel varies, or makes a transition between states
(states being frequencies, voltage levels, or phase angles). One baud
is one such change. Thus, a 300-baud modem's signal changes state 300
times each second, while a 600-baud modem's signal changes state 600
times per second. This does not necessarily mean that a 300-baud and a
600-baud modem transmit 300 and 600 bits per second, as you'll learn in
a few lines.
Determining bits per second
Depending on the modulation technique used, a modem can transmit one
bit--or more or less than one bit--with each baud, or change in state.
Or, to put it another way, one change of state can transmit one bit--or
more or less than one bit.
As I mentioned earlier, the number of bits a modem transmits per second
is directly related to the number of bauds that occur each second, but
the numbers are not necessarily the same.
To illustrate this, first consider a modem with a baud rate of 300,
using a transmission technique called FSK (Frequency Shift Keying, in
which four different frequencies are turned on and off to represent
digital 0 and 1 signals from both modems).
When FSK is used, each baud (which is, a gain, a change in state)
transmits one bit; only one change in state is required to send a bit.
Thus, the modem's bps rate is also 300:
300 bauds per second X 1 bit per baud = 300 bps
Similarly, if a modem operating at 1200 baud were to use one change in
state to send each bit, that modem's bps rate would be 1200. (There are
no 1200 baud modems, by the way; remember that. This is only a
demonstrative and hypothetical example.)
Now, consider a hypothetical 300-baud modem using a modulation technique
that requires two changes in state to send one bit, which can also be
viewed as 1/2 bit per baud. Such a modem's bps rate would be 150 bps:
300 bauds per second X 1/2 baud per bit = 150 bps
To look at it another way, bits per second can also be obtained by
dividing the modem's baud rate by the number of changes in state, or
bauds, required to send one bit:
--------------- = 150 bps
2 bauds per bit
Now let's move away from the hypothetical and into reality, as it exists
in the world of modulation.
First, lest you be misled into thinking that "any 1200 baud modem"
should be able to operate at 2400 bps with a two-bits-per-baud
modulation technique, remember that I said there are no 1200 baud
modems. Medium- and high-speed modems use baud rates that are lower
than their bps rates. Along with this, however, they use multiple-state
modulation to send more than one bit per baud.
For example, 1200 bps modems that conform to the Bell 212A standard
(which includes most 1200 bps modems used in the U.S.) operate at 300
baud and use a modulation technique called phase modulation that
transmits four bits per baud. Such modems are capable of 1200 bps
operation, but not 2400 bps because they are not 1200 baud modems; they
use a baud rate of 300. So:
300 baud X 4 bits per baud = 1200 bps
------------------ = 1200 bps
1/4 baud per bit
Similarly, 2400 bps modems that conform to the CCITT V.22 recommendation
(virtually all of them) actually use a baud rate of 600 when they
operate at 2400 bps. However, they also use a modulation technique that
transmits four bits per baud:
600 baud X 4 bits per baud = 2400 bps
------------------ = 2400 bps
1/4 baud per bit
Thus, a 1200-bps modem is not a 1200-baud modem, nor is a 2400-bps modem
a 2400-baud modem.
Now let's take a look at 9600-bps modems. Most of these operate at 2400
baud, but (again) use a modulation technique that yields four bits per
2400 baud X 4 bits per baud = 9600 bps
------------------ = 9600 bps
1/4 baud per bit
Characters per second (cps)
Characters per second is the number of characters (letters, numbers,
spaces, and symbols) transmitted over a communications channel in one
second. Cps is often the bottom line in rating data transmission speed,
and a more convenient way of thinking about data transfer than baud- or
Determining the number of characters transmitted per second is easy:
simply divide the bps rate by the number of bits per character. You
must of course take into account the fact that more than just the bits
that make up the binary digit representing a character are transmitted
when a character is sent from one system to another. In fact, up to 10
bits may be transmitted for each character during ASCII transfer,
whether 7 or 8 data bits are used. This is because what are called
start- and stop-bits are added to characters by a sending system to
enable the receiving system to determine which groups of bits make up a
character. In addition, a system usually adds a parity bit during 7-bit
ASCII transmission. (The computer's serial port handles the addition of
the extra bits, and all extra bits are stripped out at the receiving
So, in asynchronous data communication, the number of bits per character
is usually 10 (either 7 data bits, plus a parity bit, plus a start bit
and a stop bit, or 8 data bits plus a start bit and a stop bit). Thus:
----------------------- = 30 characters per second
10 bits per character
----------------------- = 120 characters per second
10 bits per character
----------------------- = 240 characters per second
10 bits per character
The most commonly-used communications rates for dial-up systems (BBSs
and online services like CompuServe, DELPHI, and GEnie) are 300, 1200,
and 2400 bps. A few older systems--especially Telex systems--
communicate at 110 bps, but these are gradually going the way of the
dinosaur. 4800 and 9600 bps modems are generally available, but few
online services or BBSs accommodate them. This will be changing in the
near future, however, with the cost of high-speed modem technology
decreasing as the demand for it increases.
Modems with even higher bps rates are manufactured (19,200 and up) but
these are not used with dial-up systems; the upper limit on asynchronous
data transmission via voice-grade telephone lines appears to be 9600
bps. The use of higher transmission rates requires special dedicated
lines that are "conditioned" (i.e., shielded from outside interference)
as well as expensive modulation and transmission equipment.
If you found this article useful, you may want to pick up a copy of the
book from which it was excerpted:
THE MODEM REFERENCE
by Michael A. Banks
Published by Brady Books/Simon & Schuster
In addition to explaining the technical aspects of modem operation,
communications software, data links, and other elements of computer
communications, the book provides detailed, illustrated "tours" of major
online services such as UNISON, CompuServe, DELPHI, BIX, Dow Jones News
/Retrieval, MCI Mail, the PRODIGY service, and others. It also contains
information on using packet switching networks and BBSs, as well as dial
-up numbers for various networks and BBSs.
You'll also find hands-on guides to buying, setting up, using, and
troubleshooting computer communications hardware and software. (And the
book "supports" all major microcomputer brands.) THE MODEM REFERENCE is
available at your local B. Dalton's, WaldenSoftware, Waldenbooks, or
other bookstore, either in stock or by order. Or, phone 800-624-0023 to
Want the lowdown on getting more out of your word processor? Read the
only book on word processing written by writers, for writers: WORD
PROCESSING SECRETS FOR WRITERS, by Michael A. Banks & Ansen Dibel
(Writer's Digest Books). WORD PROCESSING SECRETS FOR WRITERS is
available at your local B. Dalton's, Waldenbooks, or other bookstore,
either in stock or by order. Or, phone 800-543-4644 (800-551-0884 in
Ohio) to order direct.
Do you use DeskMate 3? Are you getting the most out of the program? To
find out, get a copy of GETTING THE MOST OUT OF DESKMATE 3, by Michael
A. Banks. Published by Brady Books/Simon & Schuster, it is available in
your local Tandy/Radio Shack, WaldenSoftware, or Waldenbooks store now.
Or, phone 800-624-0023 to order direct.
Other books by Michael A. Banks
UNDERSTANDING FAX & E-MAIL (Howard W. Sams & Co.)
THE ODYSSEUS SOLUTION (w/Dean Lambe; SF novel; Baen Books)
JOE MAUSER: MERCENARY FROM TOMORROW (w/Mack Reynolds; SF novel; Baen
SWEET DREAMS, SWEET PRICES (w/Mack Reynolds; SF novel; Baen Books)
COUNTDOWN: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO MODEL ROCKETRY (TAB Books)
THE ROCKET BOOK (w/Robert Cannon; Prentice Hall Press)
SECOND STAGE: ADVANCED MODEL ROCKETRY (Kalmbach Books)
For more information, contact:
Michael A. Banks
P.O. Box 312
Milford, OH 45150
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