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Taking a software slant

Software defined radio requires new design approaches. By Roy Rubenstein.

The notion of software defined radio is clear enough. The wireless standard it implements is defined in software in the form of sampled modulated waveforms. Where things get tricky is in the radio’s implementation, in the choice of hardware and the development tools.
Military and public safety organisations are adopting software radio to avoid communication problems caused by handset incompatibility between various units. The branches of the US military have created a Joint Tactical Radio System programme to solve these problems, with tens of thousands of software defined radios being deployed in the next few years.
Mobile operators and equipment makers are also eyeing software radio to tackle the rising cost of wireless design. In order to support multiple radio standards, handset makers are forced to cram several distinct rf baseband units within a phone. In turn, operators want to avoid the huge cellular infrastructure costs associated with each new wireless standard.
Having hardware that implements several radio waveforms avoids the need for distinct fixed function radios per handset, whilst a software radio base station can support several wireless standards, as well as future ones, using software downloads to deployed equipment. Software radio also aids equipment manufacturing – one board or handset made in volume can serve several wireless markets.

Author
Graham Pitcher

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