How Can Digital Beat Analog?

By: Ajeet Khurana

I was a student of electronics in the 80s. Digital electronics sounded like a fancy word then.

In analog you could have almost infinite number of values, but digital had ones and zeros. And binary transmission means a bunch of zeros and ones

For instance in analog transmission, if I wanted to transmit the number 254, I would simply send it as 3 digits, a two and a five and a four. But in digital, specifically binary transmission, it would have to be 8 digits, i.e. 11111110, i.e., a series of seven ones and then followed by one zero.

I have been talking about binary transmission when talking about digital, because they are not the same thing. Binary transmission is just one type of digital transmission. There can be many others. For instance there can be trinary, which would transmit zeroes, ones, and twos. You get the idea.

Though there were initial doubts, there is now no doubt that digital electronics is the winner. This is because, in creating electronic circuits, you can very easily create switching circuits that will have a high voltage, i.e., a one and a low voltage, i.e., a zero.

So, back to the original question. Why is analog not as good as digital? Are we missing something? Did out engineering teachers miss out on teaching us about some important part of the deal here? For instance, could it be about economics and not about electronics at all?

We queried our teachers. Though they all knew that digital was obsolete, there were few who could give us more than standard party-lines. Of course there were the old-timers who stood staunchly behind the power electronics based on the analog paradigm.

It was the belief of these old-timers that the real electronics was the power electronics with vacuum tubes and a whole lot of heat. They told me of huge factories and industrial units that ran on these power electronics.

They pooh-poohed the latest fads revolving around digital electronics as a fad that was not worth more than making doorbells or kids projects. Probably that is all that they were exposed to in the name of digital electronics.

Now that two decades have passed, we have answered many of our early questions, but we have also created new and tougher questions.

Amazingly enough it was the printed circuit board that gave digital its real boost. Being able to print a circuit instead of wiring it is the miracle that supports digital electronics.

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