Are We Getting Any Closer To The Wireless Holy Grail?

from the keep-searching dept

For years and years we’ve been hearing about how software-defined radio was the holy grail of wireless technologies. The idea is that the wireless radio is software-based, rather than hardware-based, and therefore can change on the fly. Thus, a single device can, in theory, do a lot more. For example, it could automatically find the best network and switch you to that network, even if it involves a totally different type of network. That’s cool in theory, but it’s very, very difficult and can lead to a lot of complications. There was a lot of hype about the technology a few years ago, but it’s been pretty quiet for a while. That may be changing as Vanu Bose’s company is starting to get some new press coverage long after his SDR company first got attention (in part, because he’s the son of the founder of Bose, the speaker company). Of course, reading through the NY Times article on Vanu, it doesn’t sound like we’re really getting anywhere near the big vision of SDR that people talked about half a decade ago. Instead, it’s still being used for very basic things. That’s not to say it’s not a promising, and potentially revolutionary, technology. It’s just to note that we’re still a very long way from it living up to its potential, even if the press is suddenly writing about it again.

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Companies: vanu

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Comments on “Are We Getting Any Closer To The Wireless Holy Grail?”

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Iron Chef says:

If the DSPs exist, anything can be updated remotely. This was the promise of UMTS in the late 1990s. UMTS later changed to HSDPA, W-CDMA, and the like. The problem exists in the frequencies being utilized- an antenna tuned to, say, 1900MHz is fixed at 1900MHz, and the DSP has to accommodate the incoming bandwidth, and also understand the protocol necessary to create an outgoing data stream. Additionally modulation techniques play a big factor in bringing something, anything, whatever it happens to be, to market.

OFDM really messed things up, and now that virtually everything that utilizes OFDM is under patent of Qualcommm (by acquisition of Flarion) well, we get back to those patent discussions that TechDirt is so well known for.

Sorry Mike. We need to revamp the patent system first. Only then can we start to look at application of real cool and unique ideas, and then we can start creating awesome businesses that benefit from the new bandwidth.

Iron Chef says:

I am a dumbass...

In the end it’s a lot like applying the current state of the patent system to Erwin Schrödinger’s Schrödinger’s cat hypothesis to Einstein. Good god, it sucks having a high IQ.

Sorry. I know I killed this thread.

Therefore I defer… How about the local sports team in your area? (please respond, please please please)

Boost says:

Re: What do you expect for Bose demon seed?

Yeah, but they were students ideas and who really cares about students ideas? Isn’t that the real reason that schools exist? To have people who are ignorant about patent law give them ideas for which they can make boat loads of money while at the same time charging those ingnorant people huge amounts of money? At least that’s what I got out of college. It’s win-win for the schools. It all comes back down to industry anyway. Industry tells people they need to go to college to get a job which a college education teaches you nothing about. Sorry for ranting.

wirelessman says:

as interesting as the digressions have been, how about we go back to the original topic?

There are two main reasons why SDR will continue to be a niche technology that doesn’t appear in consumer devices.

1)The RF front end for any low cost radio tends to be fairly application specific. By application, I mean the protocol (such as GSM or WiMAX) where the key differences are channel bandwidth, peak-to-average power ratio (a big deal for OFDM), operational dynamic range (a big deal for cellular standards), operating SNR range(i.e. do you need a very high SNR for 64-QAM?), duplexing scheme (FDD vs TDD). In addition, there’s the question of the frequency neighbourhood (are there strong signals in adjacent RF channels? is it licensed or unlicensed spectrum?).

2) Re-configurable signal processing (e.g. DSPs and FPGAs) tend to be more expensive then their ASIC equivalents. This was true 15 years ago (when I first read about SDR) and is still true today. It’s true because even though DSP/FPGA technology has tracked Moore’s law over those years, the computational requirements for the latest protocols have also tracked Moore’s law so DSPs/FPGAs remain more expensive a solution than ASICs for the baseband processing in a modern wireless communications device.

Neither of these two reasons preclude a SDR device. It’s possible to make radios that do everything (the military does this today with SDR) coupled with completely reconfigurable signal processing; but at what cost, size and power consumption? For consumer devices, SDR will continue to be the technology that’s just around the corner. As far as Bose’s company, SDR makes much more sense in wireless basestations, which have very different price points than consumer devices. Though even in that application, the intent is generally not to support multiple protocols but to allow for software update and incremental firmware improvements for a given technology (such as WCDMA or CDMA).

IQPacketConstructorFactory says:


I agree with wirelessman #16,
SDR is a buzzword, and Vanu is vaporware.
There are 2 issues
Digital Radio by its nature can be implemented in SW. if enough mips are there.
DSP/FPGA/ASIC/Custom HW are all manipulating bits.
on mobile handsets ASICS are logical choice.
on Basestation FPGA+DSP(and even GPP(general purpose processor)
are logical choice

(2)RF frontends will be different, because of some fundamentals….
Bands are different. Each require different antenna, different filters different power amplifiers etc

Now Vanus approach is nothing revolutionary.
Yes 20 years ago what was done with custom hw can be done in sw today.
Big deal.
The question remains is it worth it?

PS Its clear that the company is in trouble.
They raised money when it was available expanded headcount and have shrunk

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