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New sphere decoding and synchronization algorithms for multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) systems are proposed in this paper. In particular, an iterative list branch-and-bound (BB) algorithm based on the basic BB algorithm is described to obtain a candidate list to compute soft information that is used in the iterative detector. Furthermore, an improved algorithm that uses prior information from the preceding iteration to calculate the lower bound is proposed, and the candidate list is updated every iteration. To obtain a complete modem architecture, we propose an efficient expectation-maximization (EM)-based iterative algorithm for synchronization and channel estimation to interface with the proposed list-sphere-decoding detector, and we investigate the performance of the designed MIMO-OFDM modem on a realistic fading channel. The obtained performance results show that it is possible to practically design a performing MIMO-OFDM modem with high spectral efficiency, i.e., 8 bit/s/Hz with a 4times4 16-QAM MIMO-OFDM system.