Last week I made the case that SDR has become a mainstream technology. Now I want to explain why. People have been talking about SDR for nearly 20 years. Why is it suddenly becoming a reality? In my view, there are four key reasons:
1. Design costs are rising exponentially. Developing a 32nm chip costs an incredible $75 million. That is a huge commitment! With development costs so high, you want to make chips flexible so one design can take on many personalities.
2. Handsets contain an ever-increasing number of radios. Smart phones are already 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. You can save cost, size, and power by running all multiple radios on the same processor.
Wait, did I just say you could save power with SDR? You betcha! That leads me to…
3. Baseband power is becoming les important. As the baseband processor moves to smaller process nodes, it consumes less power. In contrast, the RF power is staying the same. Therefore, you have more wiggle room in the baseband power consumption.
It's also important to consider that static power is becoming more important. CEVA says that at 32nm, the split between active and static power is about 50/50. If you combine a bunch of radios onto an SDR platform, you will probably increase the active power consumption, but you will also cut the static power. On the whole, it's possible that you will save power.
4. Analog front ends are becoming more flexible. Until recently, RF chips were fixed-function, inflexible devices. Today companies like Mirics offer flexible front ends that can handle multiple RF bands. By replacing multiple front ends with a single flexible device, these chips let you "double down" on the benefits of SDR and further reduce cost, size, etc.
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