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.

Filed Under: sdr, software defined radio, vanu bose
Companies: vanu

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  1. identicon
    wirelessman, 27 Sep 2007 @ 12:31pm

    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).

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