Long-time readers know I'm excited about the potential for software-defined radios (SDR). Unlike hardwired radios that are difficult, if not impossible, to modify to handle new types of modulation, SDRs can be easily upgraded by changing the software used to decode the signal. One excellent example of an SDR is GNURadio. Ham radio operators have multiple SDRs to chose from. With Microtune's announcement of the MT3511 MicroDigitzer, I expect to see an explosion in the number of SDR products.
The MT3511 is a specialized automotive-grade RF-to-digital converter designed to work with generic high-performance digital signal processors (DSPs) and multimedia processors. According to Microtune, the product will support standard AM/FM radio, Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) and weather band broadcasts. The MT3511 MicroDigitizer product sheet [PDF] shows the unit operating in the 0.1 to 26.1 MHz band in the AM mode, the 76 to 108 MHz band in the FM mode and 161 to 163 MHz in the weather band mode.
"For decades, leading automotive manufacturers and Tier-1 suppliers have used Microtune radio and TV tuners to migrate compelling consumer-class entertainment to the car," said James A. Fontaine, Microtune's president and CEO. "We are now introducing a single-chip RF-to-digital converter that will help drive software-defined radio throughout the auto industry as a practical mainstream technology."
Gartner Research analyst Paul O'Donovan also commented on the new converter.
"Software defined radio has been the holy grail of the automotive industry," said O'Donovan. "Modern multimedia or DSP processors are now increasing in computing power, allowing the complete processing of radio signals in software, while providing the necessary connectivity features. SDR applications also demand a new kind of front-end technology, such as the MT3511, that can receive and digitize radio broadcast signals across the fast-changing signal environment of the moving vehicle."
While it does not appear the MT3511 will work in any of the TV bands, I expect to see ham radio operators doing some very interesting things with this chip in the HF bands. In automotive AM radio applications, it would be great if this chip leads to the introduction of a car radio that can pick up shortwave DRM broadcasts.
Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.
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