In telecommunications and computer networks, multiplexing (sometimes contracted to muxing) is a method by which multiple analog or digital signals are combined into one signal over a shared medium. The aim is to share a scarce resource. For example, in telecommunications, several telephone calls may be carried using one wire. Multiplexing originated in telegraphy in the 1870s and is now widely applied in communications. In telephony, George Owen Squier is credited with the development of telephone carrier multiplexing in 1910.
The multiplexed signal is transmitted over a communication channel such as a cable. The multiplexing divides the capacity of the communication channel into several logical channels, one for each message signal or data stream to be transferred. A reverse process, known as demultiplexing, extracts the original channels on the receiver end.
A device that performs the multiplexing is called a multiplexer (MUX), and a device that performs the reverse process is called a demultiplexer (DEMUX or DMX).
Inverse multiplexing (IMUX) has the opposite aim as multiplexing, namely to break one data stream into several streams, transfer them simultaneously over several communication channels, and recreate the original data stream.
In computing, I/O multiplexing can also be used to refer to the concept of processing multiple input/output events from a single event loop, with system calls like poll and select (Unix).
In video editing and processing systems, multiplexing refers to the process of interleaving audio and video into one coherent data stream.
In digital video, such a transport stream is normally a feature of a container format which may include metadata and other information, such as subtitles. The audio and video streams may have a variable bit rate. Software that produces such a transport stream and/or container is commonly called a statistical multiplexer or muxer. A demuxer is software that extracts or otherwise makes available for separate processing the components of such a stream or container.
In digital television systems, several variable bit-rate data streams are multiplexed together to a fixed bitrate transport stream by means of statistical multiplexing. This makes it possible to transfer several video and audio channels simultaneously over the same frequency channel, together with various services. This may involve several standard-definition television (SDTV) programs (particularly on DVB-T, DVB-S2, ISDB, and ATSC-C), or one HDTV, possibly with a single SDTV companion channel over one 6 to 8 MHz-wide TV channel. The device that accomplishes this is called a statistical multiplexer. In several of these systems, the multiplexing results in a MPEG transport stream. The newer DVB standards DVB-S2 and DVB-T2 have the capacity to carry several HDTV channels in one multiplex.
In digital radio, a multiplex (also known as an ensemble) is a number of radio stations that are grouped together. A multiplex is a stream of digital information that includes audio and other data.
On communications satellites which carry broadcast television networks and radio networks, this is known as multiple channels per carrier or MCPC. Where multiplexing is not practical (such as where there are different sources using a single transponder), single-channel per carrier mode is used.
In FM broadcasting and other analog radio media, multiplexing is a term commonly given to the process of adding subcarriers to the audio signal before it enters the transmitter, where modulation occurs. (In fact, the stereo multiplex signal can be generated using time-division multiplexing, by switching between the two (left channel and right channel) input signals at an ultrasonic rate (the subcarrier), and then filtering out the higher harmonics.) Multiplexing in this sense is sometimes known as MPX, which in turn is also an old term for stereophonic FM, seen on stereo systems since the 1960s.