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Software Defined Radio Gets Boost in Canada

TORONTO - The Software Defined Radio (SDR) Forum achieved version 2.2 of the U.S. Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Software Communications Architecture (SCA) at a general meeting of its membership in June. The SCA is a set of rules for deploying and interconnecting the signal processing objects of an SDR system. The U.S. Department of Defense's JTRS Joint Program Office is focusing on the SCA as a key enabler for developing versatile, interoperable SDR. These systems are designed to improve the ability of soldiers to communicate on battlefields.


The SDR Forum defines its technology as "radios that provide software control of a variety of modulation techniques, wide-band or narrow-band operation, communications security functions (such as hopping), and waveform requirements of current and evolving standards over a broad frequency range."

Further, SDR refers to the technology where software modules running on a generic hardware platform consisting of digital signal processors (DSPs) and general purpose microprocessors are used to implement radio functions such as generation of transmitted signal (modulation) at transmitter and tuning/detection of received radio signal (demodulation) at receiver. SDR technology can be used to implement military, commercial and civilian radio applications. A wide range of radio applications like Bluetooth, WLAN, GPS, Radar, WCDMA, GPRS, et cetera can be implemented using SDR technology.

A team from Com-munications Research Centre Canada (CRC) and Defence Research & Development Canada (DRDC) performed the first public demonstration of a commercial wireless radio application working in an SDR environment, two years ago. The CRC did a complete implementation of SCA, and the source code and the object code is available on the department’s Web site. Offering the source code ensures a common interpretation of the SCA standard, which is crucial to obtaining compatibility among radios made by different manufacturers. In the first three weeks the Web site had 5,600 hits and 600 downloads.

"In the first version we did the interpretation and people adopted that," said Claude B?àlisle, CRC’s research manager for the Military Satellite Communications Research group. "The military have said this is the interpretation, so we teamed up with the U.S. military on this one here and again with the sponsorship from the forum, we will make another implementation certified, which will be publicly available, and that should be completed by November," B?àlisle said.

According to B?àlisle, the CRC’s implementation initiative started as part of a military program the Department of National Defence (DOD) asked the agency to be on because of its expertise in satellite communications. "We had the right people at the right time, we made the right moves and we got this SCA reference implementation," B?àlisle said.

The CRC is currently looking at multi-band, multi-protocol radios based on SDR technology. CRC and Defence Research and Development have begun a project to develop a protocol for military satellite communications that uses Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF).

The market for SDR is primarily the defence communications program in the U.S. The JTRS joint tactical radio system will replace military radio with software defined radio enabling interoperability. The US$9 billion program extends to 2012 and will convert 750,000 radios, making it the largest U.S. military communications program in history.
The SDR Forum’s formation of a relationship with the CRC was almost a twist of fate, says Mark Cummings, managing general partner of venture capitalist Envia II of Atherton, Calif., and principal inventor on the first patent granted on SDR.
"To make this a successful industry we had to have some common standards bases, and so we all came together to create that common standards base. And then we needed an implementation so people could understand it and use it correctly, and that’s where CRC came in. And when the forum started looking to do this, it was, mysteriously, the people in Canada who had made the investment and had the creative people and had the critical mass necessary, and were willing to make the co-investment that would allow it to all come together," Cummings said.

The nature of signal processing technology allows SDR to vastly expand its applications. According to B?àlisle, SDR will eventually merge with satellite systems, such as those included in the controversial U.S. ballistic-missile-defence system program.

"I don’t see why the Canadian military wouldn’t go with the SCA because we’re so close to the U.S. on our deployment," B?àlisle said. "The whole thing about SDR is you could replace the radio with almost anything you want. It could be a software defined radar, almost anything that has signal processing involved with it. Because at the heart of this whole technology is signal processing based on a common open architecture and the architecture is a deployment architecture. You could do medical imagery, you could do telematics; the application is much wider than military radio."

The Government of Canada is also heavily investing in private sector SDR initiatives. One recipient of that funding is Spectrum Signal Processing of Burnaby, B.C. The company recently secured an $8.3 million research and development investment from the government’s Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC) program. Spectrum has used TPC’s investment to broaden its existing software reconfigurable processing platform portfolio.

"Spectrum’s SDR research and development is at the forefront of efforts to improve Canadian and worldwide military communications interoperability," said Dr. Malcolm Vant, director general of DND’s Defence R&D Canada. "DRDC is currently using Spectrum’s technology to support research in reconfigurable satellite communication terminals and next generation electronic warfare platforms."

In August, Spectrum announced that an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense had selected Spectrum’s SDR-3000 as the development and deployment platform for a mobile signals intelligence application. Initial field trials are expected to begin this quarter. Upon the conclusion of successful field trials, production shipments are expected to start in 2005. The total program value is estimated to be between $500,000 and $1,750,000.

Spectrum has also been in on design wins with MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates of Halifax, in a contract from the Canadian government that calls for extending software radio to satellite terminals, said Manuel Uhm, a senior manager at Spectrum.

According to Cummings, although the roadmap begins with the military sector, the technology depends to a large extent on its success in commercial markets.

"Right now we have military systems that are in the process of deployment. We have a significant number of base stations that have incorporated SDR technology and over time more and more base stations will, for example Nortel. We will see commercial handsets this year that will come to market and they will be based on the first generation of reconfiguration logic chips that were developed. There will be a second generation of chips that will provide more capability and a second generation of software that will provide more capability. In the five-to-ten year range all new radios shipped in the world will be software defined," Cummings said.
The next SDR Forum meeting takes place November 16-18 in Scottsdale, Ariz.