Software-Defined Radios Role in a Smart World

Stephanie Chiao, Product Marketing Manager
Per Vices Corp.

If you haven’t heard about Software-Defined Radio (SDR) yet, you will be sure to hear a lot about it soon. Not only has it had a significant impact on the defense industry and commercial enterprises, it is also rapidly becoming popular among the DIY hacker community. As a result, you can expect software defined radio to become a household term in the near future.

According to the Gartner Group, the typical residential home will be equipped with around 500 smart devices by the year 2022. As a result, you can expect SDR to play a significant role across wireless channels in the home as well as at work. Further, the Gartner Group also predicts that there will be 250 million smart automobiles on the road by this time. This means that the software within a vehicle can be updated regularly which is turn will revolutionize the car services market, helping it grow to have a significant impact. As a result, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the car services market will grow to $148 billion and the amount of car connectivity is expected to rise by three times from today’s connectivity levels.

As every aspect of our lives becomes connected via smart devices, new digital business opportunities will arise and evolve as software is adapted to meet changing needs. As more and more communication technologies require an interoperable flexible system, SDR will continue to grow in value as it plays a crucial role in future smart technology.

SDRcrimsonangleSoftware-Defined Radio Defined
Software-Defined Radio or SDR can be described as a wireless communication device where the receiver and transmitter functionality is changed/modified by software with no physical changes made to the hardware. SDR was born out of the idea that radio tuners and filters could be replaced by software. This eliminates the need for using resistors and capacitors as software-based filtering algorithms can be utilized to select specific frequencies. Of course there still needs to be a flexible enough hardware platform but designs in this space have come a long ways.

These algorithms are both downloadable and adaptable over the lifespan of the radio hardware. This makes SDR infinitely flexible and cost effective. Originally adopted and promoted by the military, SDR has evolved to become commercially available for multiple applications. The allure of using a single device (to receive and transmit) has now grown to play a major role in public safety, astronomy, transportation, etc.

Software-Defined Radio today does a lot more than just data and voice transmission. From traditional two-way communication, SDR has grown to be to have the potential to be incorporated into cellphones, Wi-Fi routers, TVs, police radios, garage door openers, laptop, and aeronautical communications devices. The main driver for the popularity of SDR is the ability to totally change thefunctionality of the device through software alone.

Software-Defined Radio and the Cloud
After the success of SDR, the next stage was set for the success of the Software Defined Network (SDN) which separated network control from other functions. As a result, individuals are now able to build dynamic networks where the logic for making decisions was made by the software, eliminating the need to rely on hardware linked ports.

With the birth of SDN, cloud computing became ubiquitous and now plays a significant role in our daily lives. SDNs provide the necessary dexterity and speed when it comes to delivering new services and applications.

Software-Defined Radio and Storage
Technology that is software defined has revolutionized communication technology and, in turn, changed the world. These days, it is easy to use this technology to manage data independent of hardware. This is done by distributing databases and files across several servers. So when large enterprises have a massive amount of data, software-defined storage becomes the natural solution.

Software-defined architecture can extend the lifespan of hardware by almost a decade, but there may be some limitations based on hardware. Some applications may require changes to the hardware as the software evolves.

Software-Defined Radio and Defense
The military is what drove the evolution of SDR technology and the commercial and civilian world would never have reaped its benefits without the defense industry. Warfare today requires fast, adaptable, and interoperable communication solutions and SDR makes this possible.

Military radio is no longer just about voice and data communications. These days, the military depends on communication on several different frequencies and implementing several different protocols. SDRs can not only perform standard two way communication, but can act as communication repeaters (allowing for different wireless devices to communicate with one another), offer secure wireless nodes,engage with a number of different devices concurrently, and provide very low latency point to point wireless links.

Current military activities require monitoring and communication on several different frequencies (HF,VHF, and UHF) and using several different protocols (GSM, CDMA, LTE, WiFi, Bluteooth, etc.). If the system is both highly flexible and adaptable, software-defined radios enable military personnel to not only tune into one of the desired frequencies and support only one protocol, but the ability to monitor a large portion of the spectrum while supporting multiple protocols.

Software-Defined Radio in the Hacker Community
Working with radios used to be a cumbersome and complicated process. It was not only expensive, but also required a high level of skill to perform the necessary tasks. But SDR made it easy for anyone to perform these tasks by enabling the software to control functions on the radio hardware. Further, now the hardware has become less expensive which is accelerating wider adoption across a wide range of hobbyists.

The possibilities are endless when you can keep modifying and updating a device just based on software (just like smartphones have been doing for the past few years). SDRs like Crimson are flexible wideband, high-gain platforms that are equipped with four independent receive chains and four independent transmit chains, each capable of up to 322 MHz of RF bandwidth from DC to 6 GHz. As a result, one can do multiple projects with this technology at home. The internet is loaded with instructional videos and blogs to help those who want to get their feet wet.

As this technology has come down in cost, it doesn’t take much to get started on a SDR project. Some hobbyists who made a television tuner USB dongle for SDR possible have become commercially successful. This trend is expected to grow rapidly with new devices entering the market driven by multiple startups. As a rule, if you’re a beginner, keep it simple to start off and later you can get more serious about SDR.

There are already several SDR projects on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and this phenomenon is expected to rise. From PSDR Keychains to smart cars, the possibilities are infinite. Across several fields of interest, there are a growing number of people experimenting with software defined radios. This in turn will inspire the development of new applications that haven’t been imagined yet and should drive consumer electronic design. As consumers demand traditional devices toget smart, SDR will grow in importance and become part of almost every electronic device availableat home or the office.

To find out more about SDR, visit www.pervices.com.

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