Is a common RF hardware platform in our future?

Basic stratification of software controlled RF system. Left side shows software stack for the RF end of the device, the right side shows the software for the user, or wire/modem interface. The layer labeled 1 depicts software to handle the data into and out of the device; layer 2 is for information security; layer 3 is for information processing.

Could another Wintel (Windows/Intel) consortium with regards to RF and wireless products be on the horizon? More than 100 companies have banded together to form the Software Defined Radio (SDR) forum. This group is pushing for a simple generic hardware platform whose operation would be defined by software. The proposed system would allow items such as modulation techniques, bandwidth, operation and function to be defined by the software that is loaded into the device. Many hardware heavy hitters are members of the forum including Boeing, Cingular Wireless, Fujitsu, Harris, Hitachi, Intel, Motorola, NASA, NEC, NTT, Raytheon, Samsung, Sarnoff, Sharp, Siemens, Sony, Sprint, Sun, Thales, Toshiba, TRW and Xilinx.

The initiatives put forth by the group could impact almost all handheld RF devices, and ripple across a large part of the spectrum. This could eventually affect the way broadcasters operate. These devices could change how the spectrum is basically used, with a mix of wideband, narrowband, and frequency - hoping applications all residing in the same segment or area of the RF spectrum.

The forum points to enhanced media delivery to mobile users, which might mean new paths to deliver content to users/viewers. The forum also said that a single hardware device that can run many different applications could bridge the incompatibility of standards around the globe, such as all the divergent cell phone 2G standards used now. The device would run different software applications based on where in the world the device is being operated.

Here the software layers are shown in greater detail. This diagram shows that many applications would usually be running on a device, and much like conventional computers, those applications would talk to middleware, which in turn would talk to the devices operating system, which in turn would control the firmware and hardware of the device.

Missing from the forum so far is the 800 pound gorilla of software, Microsoft. These generic devices will require an operating system. This leads to the possibility that a Wintel type coupling, like that found on the computing desktop, might develop in the wireless domain. Currently Intel is an active member of the group.

The SDR forum held a conference Nov. 11th and 12th in San Diego, Calif., to discuss technology, standards and business activity related to software radios and to provide an international perspective of the current state of the art.

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