Pagers and embedded messaging have become mainstream portable
applications. They send digital messages to central base stations
that dispatch the information to other locations. New, de facto
messaging standards have emerged to provide the underlying
messaging mechanisms to drive these applications that range
automatic utility meter readers and smart vending machines to
automobile security systems. One key de facto standard is
Motorola's FLEX protocol, a one-way paging protocol.
The FLEX protocol can be implemented in a hardware core
integrated with low-power RISCs. Motorola engineers have
implemented a FLEX decoder core and integrated it with the
M•CORE, mini-RISC architecture. This implementation can be
deployed as the core processor for low-power, handheld
applications. The SoC incorporates the FLEX protocol and its
Currently, 229 operators in 48 countries, representing over 92%
of the world's paging subscriber base, are in commercial operation
with the FLEX protocol or in the process of bringing it online. And
Japan, Korea, India, China, and Russia have also adopted the FLEX
protocol as their national standard for high-speed paging.
FLEX Wireless Transport Protocol
The entire paging process is based on the production of some
form of selective signaling (coding) format that will initiate an
alert in one specific receiving device (or possibly a group of
these devices). It also provides a format in which to deliver some
form of message to that device, the pager. The key element in this
process is a format that performs the transfer of information in an
efficient and effective manner.
Historically, several formats have evolved to provide this
service such as an early analog two-tone and 5/6 tone sequential
formats. While effective, these formats were limited in system
capacity, throughput, and functionality. To satisfy the increasing
demands for paging services, the industry turned to true digital
formats. Several formats evolved from this need, such as the Golay
Sequential Code (GSC) and the Post Office Code Standardization
Advisory Group (POCSAG) protocols.
This evolution in signaling formats once again has been driven
by the increasing popularity of paging as a personal communications
tool. The FLEX protocol for high-speed paging supports increased
transmission speed and capacity. Service providers have adopted the
protocol because it quadruples the capacity of other paging
protocols and significantly improves messaging reliability.
Thus, the FLEX family of wireless transport protocols greatly
enhances the channel efficiency and the cost of traditional paging
systems while enabling new value-added wireless services. There are
two Messaging Systems currently defined, the FLEX (one-way data
messaging) protocol and the ReFLEX (two-way data messaging)
FLEX-based protocols provide higher transmission speeds than the
older protocols. The FLEX protocol builds upon existing systems
using POCSAG 1200 and runs side by side with POCSAG on one RF
channel. Current 1200-bps POCSAG systems have a channel capacity of
approximately 120,000 numeric pagers per channel. The FLEX protocol
provides paging speeds up to 6400-bps to allow more than 600,000
numeric pagers per channel.
The FLEX protocol maintains data integrity by providing error
protection against multi-path fading errors (caused by
multi-casting), and by keeping the data-reception electronics
continuously in synchronization with the transmission. It also
provides roaming capabilities and significantly improves product
Signal Structure Overview
The FLEX paging protocol is a synchronous time-slot protocol
that is referenced to an accurate real-time base, the Global
Positioning System (GPS). Each pager implementing the protocol is
assigned to a base frame in a set of 128 frames (0-127) transmitted
during a 4-minute time interval called a cycle (32
frames-per-minute, 1.875 seconds-per-frame).
Fifteen FLEX cycles (numbered 0-14, cycle 0/frame 0) occur each
hour and they are synchronized to the start of the GPS hour. The
FLEX pager's capcode defines its base frame assignment. How often
the pager awakes to receive frame information is determined by the
collapse value assigned to it, which affects battery life.
Figure 1: Each FLEX frame consists of a synchronization
and data portion.
The synchronization portion of the FLEX frame consists of a
synchronization signal and an 11-bit frame information word that
allows the pager to identify the frame and cycle in which it
resides uniquely. A second synchronization signal indicates the
rate at which the data portion is transmitted (i.e., 1600-, 3200-,
or 6400-bps). Data is transmitted using either two- or four-level
frequency shift keyed (FSK) modulation. The 6400-bps rate is
transmitted as four concurrent phases of information using
four-level FSK modulation.
FLEX Stack Structure
The FLEX encoding and decoding rules specify the minimum
requirements that must be met by the paging device, paging
terminal, or other encoding equipment to properly format a FLEX
data stream for RF transmission and to successfully decode it.
The FLEX Stack One-Way (FS) simplifies the task of incorporating
a FLEX protocol into a wide variety of devices and appliances to
process information received and demodulated from a FLEX decoder.
FS is an Application Programming Interface (API) that runs on a
host processor to manage communication with the FLEX decoder. FS
handles the initialization, buffering of received code words, and
decoding of separate address, vector, and data packets. It also
performs phase de-multiplexing, roaming, security, and event
notification (out of range, low battery, time of day, and error
Figure 2: The FLEX Stack One-Way Version 4.1 consists of
three modules and public and intermodule application program
interfaces that control the FLEX decoder and manage the raw FLEX
The Driver module manages the flow of data from the FLEX decoder
and builds raw message data from received data streams. The Message
manager module stores and manages message data and routes calls to
the appropriate API. The Message filter module formats raw message
data according to the required format. This format could be ASCI
characters, binary data, ideographic character symbols, or any
other supported form.
A Public Application Programming Interface (PAPI) complements
the three fundamental FS modules. The PAPI provides a high-level
interface that is used by the host software to manage message data,
message notification, and the FLEX decoder using eleven function
MCM2080 for FLEX Paging Applications
Engineers don't have to design their FLEX-based systems from
scratch. Motorola engineers have developed a reference design, a
FLEX application to showcase details of the FLEX protocol, hardware
and software interface. This design, the MMC2080 chip, integrates
several field-proven technologies, providing a versatile Roaming
FLEX solution. This device combines the control and I/O capability
of an M•CORE RISC processor with the processing power of the
Roaming FLEX Alphanumeric Decoder core.
The design features an integrated FLEX protocol decoder, digital
demodulator, alert generator, and time-of-day timer. These features
make this device ideal for mid-tier pagers and advanced messaging
The FLEX decoder in the MMC2080 is the G1.9 compliant version
for roaming, allowing paging carriers to network many paging
systems across a broad geographic region and provide complete
service to the customers who want nationwide service, all without
disrupting service to existing local customers. This feature is
important in countries like China and Korea that operate on
different frequencies from region to region.
In addition to the roaming capability, the FLEX G1.9-compliant
decoder features partial addressing that increases battery life up
to 25% and an internal demodulator that eliminates the need for a
discrete analog-to-digital converter.
Figure 3: The MMC2080 SoC implements a low power
M•CORE RISC processor with 24K x 32 bits of ROM (96K bytes)
and 1.5K x 32 bits of RAM (6K bytes).
The M•CORE processor is a streamlined execution engine
that provides many of the same performance enhancements as
mainstream RISC architectures. It is implemented with a fixed
16-bit instruction length and 32-bit internal data path. Its 16-bit
instruction/32-bit data word provides a high degree of code
density, minimizing both the need for memory and the overhead of
memory system energy consumption.
To provide optimal static power management for the overall
system, the M•CORE processor provides three instructions
(stop, wait, and doze) that enable external logic to disable power
to parts of the system. These instructions provide power management
to internal peripherals as well by shutting down unused circuits
that are not needed while waiting for the pager's particular
The M•CORE processor communicates through the APB
Peripheral Bridge, which is the interface between the system bus
and the peripheral bus. Operation of the APB is completely
automatic and does not require any programming. The M•CORE
processor and its associated peripherals have both doze and stop
low-power standby modes. Through the System Integration Module it
is possible to place many of the individual modules on the MMC2080
into one of the low power modes independent of one another, thus
providing the greatest possible flexibility in power saving.
FLEX Decoder Module
The FLEX decoder simplifies implementation of a FLEX paging
device by interfacing with most industry-standard paging receivers.
Its primary function is to process information received from a FLEX
radio paging channel, select messages addressed to the paging
device, and to communicate the message information to the resident
M•CORE processor as illustrated in Figure 4. It front-ends
the M•CORE processor, off-loading the CPU from the FLEX
The FLEX decoder supports 1600-, 3200-, and 6400-bps decoding.
Intermediate frequency signals are demodulated, synchronized,
de-interleaved, and error corrected prior to entry into a holding
buffer. The holding buffer is then fed into a synchronous serial
peripheral interface (SPI) which then converts the data into a
parallel format. All communication with the M•CORE processor
is through the SPI control/status and data registers. The SPI is
interrupt driven to reduce processor overhead and save power.
A resident real-time clock operates off a 76.8-kHz or 160-kHz
crystal and is used to wake up the M•CORE processor at
one-minute intervals. This permits the M•CORE processor to
operate in a low power mode when monitoring a single channel for
message information. A low battery detect input is also available
and generates interrupts to the M•CORE processor for display
of a low battery symbol on a user interface and graceful
Figure 4: MMC2080 FLEX Decoder Block Diagram
Developing FLEX Apps
With the MMC2080 base, developing products with messaging
capabilities is now easier for the hardware and software designer.
In addition, development tools are available that facilitate rapid
evaluation of the FLEX protocol. The FLEX Stack Roaming protocol
software has recently been ported to the M•CORE processor and
is available for licensing.
The MMCCMB2080 Computer Memory Board provides an easy interface
to a RF receiver and a host computer for system level prototyping.
The board provides a Motorola development tools interconnect
standard known as Modular All Purpose Interface (MAPI). This
interface permits connecting FPGA development boards for custom
Figure 5: An illustration of a FLEX Development Kit that
is being made available.
ReFLEX Protocol—Two-Way Messaging
The FLEX protocol doesn't necessarily restrict designers to
one-way communication. The underlying technology of the FLEX
protocol allowed for the development of the ReFLEX protocol.
The ReFLEX protocol provides an asymmetrical high capacity
two-way data message delivery system for paging applications. It
has a synchronous frame structure similar to and compatible with
the FLEX protocol on a frame basis.
The ReFLEX protocol delivers control and data messages to
subscriber units on a forward channel (outbound from the base
transmitter) and receives independent acknowledgements and, from
subscriber units equipped with keyboards, messages on a reverse
channel (inbound from the subscriber unit to the base receiver).
The ReFLEX protocol system also permits the service provider to
monitor the paging devices' location within a local geographic area
using subscriber unit registration.
ReFLEX systems are designed to operate on a frequency spectrum
with a width that is a multiple of 25-kHz. A 25-kHz band supports a
single digital FM control and data message channel, centered on the
band. Digital FM channels must remain at a distance of 12.5-kHz
from the edges of the available spectrum. A 50-kHz forward channel
can support up to three digital FM control and data message
channels separated by 12.5-kHz and operated in time lock. Outbound
channels operate at the 930/931- and 940/941-mHz range and inbound
channels operate at 901/902-mHz. The Motorola Page Writer 2000
two-way pager is an example of an implementation of the ReFLEX
Figure 6: The protocol supports systems consisting of up
to eight forward control channels. This opens an immense number of
opportunities for low cost messaging applications.
New products are easier to implement when there is a complete
solution to carry you from the conceptual stage to the delivery of
production units. The integration of a FLEX decoder onto a low
power M•CORE micro-RISC processor, the availability of the
FLEX Stack software and a suite of development tools to accelerate
product development makes the MMC2080 an attractive system solution
for applications that require messaging capability. Device drivers
are also available for each peripheral on the MMC2080 and will be
offered in a software library.
More information on FLEX products may be
obtained at: www.mot.com/wireless-semi
More information on ReFLEX products may be obtained at: www.mot.com/MIMS/MSPG/FLEX