What is QAM?

By Srynearson posted Oct 08, 2013 07:09 PM


This blog is for anyone wanting to learn about QAM. It is written to help depict and describe aspects of QAM in a way that is hopefully easy to grasp.


What is Quadrature Amplitude Modulation?

Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, QAM is a form of modulation that is a combination of phase modulation and amplitude modulation. The QAM scheme represents bits as points in a quadrant grid know as a constellation map.


Constellation Map                                                                                                   

  • Is a graph of the phase and amplitude modulation points in a given modulation scheme.
  • Shown below is the constellation map of 16-QAM



Phase Modulation

  • Represents bits by changing the angle of a wave.
  • An example of Phase Modulation is QPSK.


  • As seen above, QPSK can have four different phase changes as four different angles.
  • Is the angle of the constellation point.

Amplitude Modulation

  • Represents bits by changing the amplitude of a wave.
  • It is the change in distance from 0,0 to the constellation point.
  • Could also be described as the hypotenuse of the right angle formed from the x-axis and the constellation point.


  • As seen above. QPSK does not have aplitude modulation. At each of the 4 states the aplitude is the same.


How does QAM work with Wi-Fi?

Depending on the modulation scheme, more bits can be represented at a given constellation point. Consequently, a higher signal quality must be present to distinguish between constellation points when using high modulation schemes.


  • Think of the different schemes as different languages.
  • The higher the modulation the more complex the language.
  • The complex languages become difficult to understand while walking further and further away from a Wi-Fi radio.
  • Complexity needs to be lowered. This results in a lower data rate.  
  • This is why lower signal quality usually equals slower speed.


QPSK (Sometimes referred to as 4-QAM)

  • Symbol = 2 bits
  • 2 ^ 2 bits = 4
  • Constellation Map:




  • Symbol = 4 bits
  • 2 ^ 4 bits = 16
  • Constellation Map:




  • Symbol = 6 bits
  • 2 ^ 6 bits = 64
  • Constellation Map:




  • 802.11ac enhancement
  • Symbol = 8 bits
  • 2 ^ 8 bits = 256
  • Constellation Map:




Great resources for learning about QAM and other Wi-Fi Modulations:

CWNA - Study Guide

CWDP - Study Guide 

802.11ac: A Survival Guide


Let me know if something needs to be changed in this article. Also please let us know if this was helpfull and if you would want other Wi-Fi general knowledge blogs.






Feb 24, 2017 04:51 PM

i just want to know that what is the difference between edge qam and qam????




Oct 09, 2013 11:30 AM

Thanks Sunny. 


Great Idea. I will create some gifs showing different states.

Oct 09, 2013 03:05 AM

This ia good article and your example of language is simpler to understand.


Can we make it better by showing in the form of waves (I mean sign waves). Like, if at one point on wave..if angle is so and so and amplitude is so and so, then bit is represented as one.


More imaginable of how the radio transmissions take advantage of QAM for higher throughput.