A software-defined-radio chip design capable of speeds in excess of 100 megabits per second (Mb/s) is available for licensing from the Interuniversity Microelectronics Center (IMEC; Leuven, Belgium). The design, which is currently being prototyped at a foundry, enables a single baseband chip to use software to dynamically reconfigure its operation for worldwide standard mobile-device bands, including WiFi (802.11n), WiMax (802.16e), mobile TV and the 3GPP LTE (third-generation partnership project for long-term evolution). IMEC, a European design center, is offering licenses to chip makers who want to supply mobile-device makers with a single baseband chip that tunes to multiple bands with software alone.
Software defined radio (SDR) has long been a goal for chip vendors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) alike, since it translates the analog encoding methods for radio-frequency (RF) signals that define the various bands into a digital signal stream that software can manipulate to suit. Today, mobile devices that want to serve multiple bands must incorporate separate chips into their device, but with a baseband SDR chip, all that expense and complexity is handled by software, potentially enabling ultra-small and inexpensive mobile devices to immediately switch between different bands and encodings.
IMEC's design is a multi-core device that harnesses its proprietary architecture for dynamically reconfigurable embedded systems to enable software to define its two separate baseband processors for different bands. A C-code compiler lets OEMs define each core's band in software, and three digital front-end tiles controlled by a proprietary application-specific integrated processor enable sure-fire sync detection, according to IMEC. The chip also includes an ARM-9 core for control and an Advanced Microcontroller Bus Architecture (AMBA) interface to external memory chips.
IMEC's license includes preconfigured intellectual property (IP) blocks and the software that links the system-on-a-chip (SoC) module's memory, as well as the reference platform control software and firmware for IEEE-802.11n, -802.16e and 3GPP-LTE.
IMEC claims the SoC consumes only a few milliwatts (mW) in standby mode, with reactive radio response capable of immediately coming out of standby to receive up to 100-Mb/s data bursts in any supported wireless band. During normal transmitting and receiving operations, that the chip consumes about 300 mW.
Later this year--after the prototype chip is fabricated by the foundry and successfully tested--IMEC plans to build a complete reference design for a wideband SDR transceiver. The mobile software-defined radio prototype will also implement multi-mode forward error correction. IMEC is also working on software for the chip that will demonstrate a complete cognitive radio. (Cognitive radio monitors traffic on available bands and switches its transmission and reception parameters on-the-fly to avoiding interference and to optimize wireless radio band utilization and efficiency.)
The IMEC baseband SDR 400-MHz radio chip consumes 33 square millimeters of die area, houses 6.7 megabytes of memory, has 270 input/output pins and executes 25.6 billion operations per second.