Noncoherent data-transition tracking loops (DTTLs) have been proposed for use as symbol synchronizers in digital communication receivers. [Communication- receiver subsystems that can perform their assigned functions in the absence of synchronization with the phases of their carrier signals ("carrier synchronization") are denoted by the term "noncoherent," while receiver subsystems that cannot function without carrier synchronization are said to be "coherent."] The proposal applies, more specifically, to receivers of binary phaseshift- keying (BPSK) signals generated by directly phase-modulating binary nonreturn- to-zero (NRZ) data streams onto carrier signals having known frequencies but unknown phases. The proposed noncoherent DTTLs would be modified versions of traditional DTTLs, which are coherent.

The symbol-synchronization problem is essentially the problem of recovering symbol timing from a received signal. In the traditional, coherent approach to symbol synchronization, it is necessary to establish carrier synchronization in order to recover symbol timing. A traditional DTTL effects an iterative process in which it first generates an estimate of the carrier phase in the absence of symbolsynchronization information, then uses the carrier-phase estimate to obtain an estimate of the symbol-synchronization information, then feeds the symbol-synchronization estimate back to the carrierphase- estimation subprocess. In a noncoherent symbol-synchronization process, there is no need for carrier synchronization and, hence, no need for iteration between carrier-synchronization and symbol- synchronization subprocesses.

The proposed noncoherent symbol-synchronization process is justified theoretically by a mathematical derivation that starts from a maximum a posteriori (MAP) method of estimation of symbol timing utilized in traditional, coherent DTTLs. In that MAP method, one chooses the value of a variable of interest (in this case, the offset in the estimated symbol timing) that causes a likelihood function of symbol estimates over some number of symbol periods to assume a maximum value. In terms that are necessarily oversimplified to fit within the space available for this article, it can be said that the mathematical derivation involves a modified interpretation of the likelihood function that lends itself to noncoherent DTTLs.

The proposal encompasses both linear and nonlinear noncoherent DTTLs. The performances of both have been computationally simulated; for comparison, the performances of linear and nonlinear coherent DTTLs have also been computationally simulated. The results of these simulations show that, among other things, the expected mean-square timing errors of coherent and noncoherent DTTLs are relatively insensitive to window width. The results also show that at high signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs), the performances of the noncoherent DTTLs approach those of their coherent counterparts at, while at low SNRs, the noncoherent DTTLs incur penalties of the order of 1.5 to 2 dB.

This work was done by Marvin Simon and Andre Tkacenko of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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