CRC Developing Software-Defined Radio Technology

The Communications Research Centre Canada (CRC) has a wide range of technical expertise, including broadband networks, satellite and terrestrial wireless, radio propagation and broadcasting. A few years ago CRC helped evaluate competing systems for ATSC Mobile DTV. It isn't surprising the CRC is also at the forefront of software defined radio (SDR) research.

This week Objective Interface Systems (OIS) announced that CRC used OIS's ORBexpress communications software to achieve a record-time adaption of a complete Software Communications Architecture (SCA) radio system to a handheld Android device without a major impact on battery life.

The Android device used a single-core ARM processor and seamlessly ran a radio system that included a "full core framework and FM waveform application."

While an "FM waveform application" doesn't sound like something that would be able to demodulate a mobile DTV stream from an 8-VSB signal, or decode a DVB-T2 transmission, it shows the day may be coming when decoding a new broadcast mode may be as simple as downloading a new application on a laptop, tablet or smart phone. Broadcasters have been limited in their ability to drive technical innovations to market by the need to continue to serve viewers that may be using devices that were made more than a decade ago. Just as computers replaced dedicated word processing machines and laptops, tablets, and smart phones replaced dedicated calculators, we may see a day when the dedicated radio or TV receiver disappears, replaced by computer devices of various size with a built-in software defined radio.

"Our source is very portable but depends on third-party software," said Steve Bernier, research program manager of Advanced Radio Systems at CRC. "Thanks to ORBexpress, we were able to port the core framework and FM waveform without changing a single line of source code. We took advantage of OIS's expertise to figure out the right configuration for cross-compiling the application across Android's mixed language architecture. With the right configuration, one engineer completed the entire port of the radio and waveform in just one day."

Bernier's comments were amplified by OIS senior vice president, Joe Jacob.

"The power efficiency, size and cost of platforms such as Android are compelling to governments and industries alike," said Jacob. "CRC's SCARI++ core framework is a robust, fast core framework that is already deployed on battlefields around the world. Because of CRC's excellent engineering work over the past several years, the SCARI++ core framework is highly optimized for small form factor, low-power devices."

The possibilities I described earlier were for receiver-only applications. As a SDR, an Android smart phone or tablet using the CRC SCA could also become a transmitter and act as garage door opener, for example.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack. A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.