Here's a solution that might bring software-defined radio to a handheld consumer device near you.
My biggest surprise at ESC? Finding out that Imagination Technologies has a proven software-defined radio (SDR) solution for the consumer market. Here's why this is a big deal: The number of radios in wireless devices is getting completely out of hand. For example, a high-end mobile phone is stuffed with six or more radios: One for 3G, one for Wi-Fi, one for mobile TV, etc. These radios are expensive and take up valuable real estate. Even worse, you need different radios for different networks, different regions, etc.
The obvious solution to the problem is to create a radio that can handle everything—3G, Wi-Fi, you name it. The problem with this idea is that a flexible radio always burns more power than a radio that is hard-wired for a specific standard. Thus, software-defined radios have been confined to applications that have big power budgets, such as military applications.
Now enter Imagination's solution, the ENSIGMA IP platform. ENSIGMA is a low-power solution that can demodulate analog and digital TV, mobile TV, and analog and digital radio reception. That's an impressive degree of flexibility—and Imagination claims to do all this in a power budget competitive with fixed-function radios.
One might ask: "Sounds great, but how do I know that it delivers?" It turns out that Imagination has been quietly shipping ENSIGMA in digital radios since 2000, and the solution has hit volumes in the tens of millions. So there is strong evidence that SDR is a viable technology for consumer electronics.
It's also worth noting that the ENSIGMA platform looks an awful lot like the ADRES processor from research institute IMEC. (After taking a close look at ADRES, Imagination reports that IMEC is a "kindred spirit.") IMEC just licensed this platform to Toshiba, further validating the SDR approach in consumer electronics.
I have it on good authority that we'll have some major news on this front in January. Stay tuned for in-depth coverage of this important development in SDR.
Kenton Williston is the site editor of DSP Designline website. He has been writing about DSP technology and business trends since 2001. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.