Processors enable global software designed radio platforms

by Sebastian Schreuder, NXP , TechOnline India - December 26, 2011

The general explosion in available processor power makes SDR interesting for automobile OEMs. First of all, moving radio functions from hardware into software opens up cost benefits for global car production. Secondly, it affords producers flexibility when making decisions about future innovations in the pipeline — such as car-to-X. Nevertheless, pure SDR is still far from being an economical proposition. What is needed is the right mix of specialized and flexible function blocks.

The general explosion in available processor power makes SDR interesting for automobile OEMs. First of all, moving radio functions from hardware into software opens up cost benefits for global car production. Secondly, it affords producers flexibility when making decisions about future innovations in the pipeline—such as car-to-X. Nevertheless, pure SDR is still far from being an economical proposition. What is needed is the right mix of specialized and flexible function blocks.

The multiple broadcasting standards for digital radio worldwide are a major challenge here—from Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) or DRM+ through Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) or DAB+ to Terrestrial Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (T-DMB) and HD Radio. It does not look as though there could be any agreement on a single standard in the near future, because different countries have their own preferences: In the USA, HD Radio is standard, while Europe generally opts for DAB/DAB+/T-DMB, India listens to DRM, and Brazil cannot decide whether to go for DRM or HD Radio.

For the automobile industry as a global operator, that means producing a specific digital radio solution for each market, a degree of variety that costs time and money. Engineers are faced with evaluating, testing, and integrating different types of hardware.

Software flexibility

One solution can be seen in software-defined radio (SDR) together with multistandard processors plus flexible hardware accelerators. SDR is a radio system in which, in its pure form, typical components such as mixers, filters, modulators/demodulators, or detectors are replaced by software. The idea is not new, but since the software effort that goes into it is extremely high, to date the system was more relevant at an academic level.

The increasing performance of today's processor technology has changed that. Even though the SDR ideal—the entire radio processing by software being done by an all-purpose processor—still lies some way ahead of us, more and more aspects of signal processing can be handled efficiently in software. That helps OEMs to save hardware costs and get their vehicles to market faster.

SDR is attractive in this respect—instead of having to develop a separate solution for each standard, OEMs can integrate a chip with hardware supporting a number of standards. With the right software, they simply activate it for a particular market.

For the complete article, which discusses a chip with function blocks activated based on standards and economics, click here, courtesy of Automotive Designline Europe.

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