**Phase-shift keying** (**PSK**) is a digital modulation process which conveys data by changing (modulating) the phase of a constant frequency reference signal (the carrier wave). The modulation is accomplished by varying the sine and cosine inputs at a precise time. It is widely used for wireless LANs, RFID and Bluetooth communication.

Any digital modulation scheme uses a finite number of distinct signals to represent digital data. PSK uses a finite number of phases, each assigned a unique pattern of binary digits. Usually, each phase encodes an equal number of bits. Each pattern of bits forms the symbol that is represented by the particular phase. The demodulator, which is designed specifically for the symbol-set used by the modulator, determines the phase of the received signal and maps it back to the symbol it represents, thus recovering the original data. This requires the receiver to be able to compare the phase of the received signal to a reference signal – such a system is termed coherent (and referred to as CPSK).

CPSK requires a complicated demodulator, because it must extract the reference wave from the received signal and keep track of it, to compare each sample to. Alternatively, the phase shift of each symbol sent can be measured with respect to the phase of the previous symbol sent. Because the symbols are encoded in the difference in phase between successive samples, this is called **differential phase-shift keying (DPSK)**. DPSK can be significantly simpler to implement than ordinary PSK, as it is a 'non-coherent' scheme, i.e. there is no need for the demodulator to keep track of a reference wave. A trade-off is that it has more demodulation errors.

There are three major classes of digital modulation techniques used for transmission of digitally represented data:

All convey data by changing some aspect of a base signal, the carrier wave (usually a sinusoid), in response to a data signal. In the case of PSK, the phase is changed to represent the data signal. There are two fundamental ways of utilizing the phase of a signal in this way:

A convenient method to represent PSK schemes is on a constellation diagram. This shows the points in the complex plane where, in this context, the real and imaginary axes are termed the in-phase and quadrature axes respectively due to their 90° separation. Such a representation on perpendicular axes lends itself to straightforward implementation. The amplitude of each point along the in-phase axis is used to modulate a cosine (or sine) wave and the amplitude along the quadrature axis to modulate a sine (or cosine) wave. By convention, in-phase modulates cosine and quadrature modulates sine.

In PSK, the constellation points chosen are usually positioned with uniform angular spacing around a circle. This gives maximum phase-separation between adjacent points and thus the best immunity to corruption. They are positioned on a circle so that they can all be transmitted with the same energy. In this way, the moduli of the complex numbers they represent will be the same and thus so will the amplitudes needed for the cosine and sine waves. Two common examples are "binary phase-shift keying" (BPSK) which uses two phases, and "quadrature phase-shift keying" (QPSK) which uses four phases, although any number of phases may be used. Since the data to be conveyed are usually binary, the PSK scheme is usually designed with the number of constellation points being a power of two.