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digital systems

multiband VHF
software radio based
receiver eliminates
RF down conversion
Software defined radio promises ease of
design and flexibility. The push is to place
the ADC as close as possible
to the antenna. The introduction
of high-speed and high-performance
ADCs means bandlimited VHF signals
may be directly digitized utilizing
undersampling principles, thereby
simplifying the design of the RF front end.
By Angsuman Rudra

he advent of software defined radio (SDR) has

promised great hope for radio communications
by offering ease of design and flexibility not previously possible.

The push is to place the analog to digital converter (ADC) as close as possible to the antenna,
thereby performing a variety of receive functionalities in the digital domain. This ensures ease of
design and flexibility.
Conventional Nyquist sampling requires that
the sampling frequency FS must be more than
twice the highest frequency of the signal to be
digitized. However, for bandlimited signals at
higher frequencies, this leads to using a very
high sample rate.
For example, a 30 MHz band (including guard
band) limited signal centered at 175 MHz would
require a sample rate of 380 MHz. However, using
the principle of undersampling, the same bandlimited signal may be sampled using a sample frequency of 80 MHz.
Images are formed as part of any sampling
process and frequencies higher than the FS/2 are
folded back in the 0 to FS/2 region. For proper
undersampling (without aliasing), the signal must
be bandlimited prior to sampling. The sample frequency FS must satisfy:


where TBW is the total bandwidth (including

guard band), FL is the low end of the band, FH is
the high end of the band and k is any non zero positive integer.
Figure 1 illustrates the undersampling concept.
The signal of interest is of bandwidth 10 MHz centered at 175 MHz. The total bandwidth (including
guard band) is 30 MHz. Thus the high end of the
band is 190 MHz, while the low end of the band is
at 160 MHz. A sample rate of 80 MHz satisfies the
conditions discussed earlier.
After undersampling, frequencies higher than
FS/2 fall in the 0 to FS/2 band:
Frequencies between FS/2 to FS are flipped
and fall between FS/2 to 0; frequencies between
FS to 3FS/2 retain their spectral shape. Table 1
explains the folding in of frequencies higher than
Nyquist frequency.


Figure 1: Undersampling can digitize bandlimited signals at sample frequencies less than
Nyquist frequency



The sensitivity of a radio is defined to the

minimum input power needed to achieve a certain performance metric (such as SINAD for
voice communications and BER for data communications). For FM radios, 12 dB SINAD is a
typical metric. The signal to noise ratio (SNR for
the input RF signal) needed to achieve this
SINAD is usually budgeted at 8 dB to 10 dB.
The typical sensitivity of a FM receiver is shown
in table 2.

July 2003

Design example
A 16 channel VHF receiver (135
MHz to 175 MHz) is chosen as a design
example. The conventional design is
compared to the software radio based
design to demonstrate its effectiveness.

Conventional Implementation
The block diagram for a conventional
radio is shown in figure 2.

For VHF frequencies, a single stage

downconversion is a difficult task due
to the higher order products formed in
the mixer.
For example, if a single stage downconversion was attempted to an intermediate frequency (IF) of 22 MHz, and
the desired channel frequency is 150
MHz, the local oscillator (LO) would
need to be set at 128 MHz. However


Folded Frequency

Region Designation

0 to FS/2

0 to FS/2

1st Nyquist

FS/2 to FS

FS/2 to 0 (spectral flip)

2nd Nyquist

FS to 3FS/2

0 to FS/2

3rd Nyquist

3FS/2 to 2FS

FS/2 to 0 (spectral flip)

4th Nyquist

Table 1: Folding of IF due to undersampling




kT: Thermal Noise Floor

-173.8 dBm/Hz

k: Boltzmans Const 1.380658e23 W/K/Hz;

T: Temp in absolute scale
(assumed 300 K)

B: Bandwidth

54.1 dB

54.1 dB with respect to 1 Hz

Total Thermal Noise

-119.7 dBm

Noise Figure of Radio

10 dB

Typical Noise Figure of a Receiver

SNR Required for 12 dB


8 dB

8 dB to 10 dB SNR is needed for

12 dB SINAD for FM demodulation


-101.7 dBm

Table 2: Sensitivity of a typical FM receiver (260 kHz bandwidth)

Figure 2: Block diagram for a conventional VHF radio receiver



the second harmonic of the LO mixes

with the second harmonic of an interfering channel at 139 MHz (a 2-2 product) to produce an IF of 22 MHz, which
will degrade the desired channel.
Usually, a 2-2 product is 40 dB to 50
dB below the 1-1 product. However, if
the interfering channel (in this case
139 MHz) is a stronger interferer, the
degradation of performance may be
A two-stage downconversion usually
avoids this problem because the first
stage upconverts the signal to a higher
frequency. For example, if the first IF
is chosen to be 900 MHz, the variable
LO must be in the range of 765 MHz to
725 MHz (to cover the 135 MHz to 175
MHz band).
The interfering frequency band that
causes the 2-2 product to fall at 900
MHz is in the 275 MHz to 315 MHz
band, which will be filtered out by the
front end bandpass filter. A second
stage downconverter can now bring the
signal back to a 22 MHz IF.
The diagram shown in figure 2 is for
a single channel. The same architecture has to be repeated 16 times to
implement a 16-channel receiver. This
implies significant hardware, design
costs and large size for the multichannel receiver.
A slow speed ADC is typically
employed in a conventional radio, one
that digitizes baseband signals. For
direct digitization of VHF signals, a
high speed ADC is essential.

SDR-based implementation
An SDR-based implementation is
shown in figure 3.
In the SDR-based implementation, a
very simple RF front end is used. The
RF front end consists of bandpass filters and gain stages, but no RF downconverters. The VHF band is broken up
into three bands and digitized by high
speed ADCs. The digital down converters (DDC) produce basedbanded complex output. Demodulation may now be
performed on the I/Q data, producing a
truly software defined radio.
The sample frequency of the ADC is
chosen to match the undersampling
sample frequency requirements discussed above. Table 3 shows the sampling frequency for each band.
Other channelization schemes are also
possible. Table 4 provides an alternate
channelization and sampling scheme.
A comparison of the SDR-based design

July 2003

method and the traditional implementation is summarized in table 5.

Performance of the SDR-based

VHF receiver

Figure 3: Block diagram for an SDR-based 16-channel VHF receiver


Usable Frequency

Total Bandwidth

Sample Frequency

135 MHz to 149 MHz

130.0 MHz to 162.5 MHz

65 MHz

148 MHz to 162 MHz

140.4 MHz to 175.5 MHz

70.2 MHz

161 MHz to 175 MHz

150.8 MHz to 188.5 MHz

75.4 MHz

Table 3: The sample frequency for the three bands



The performance of the SDR-based

VHF receiver is tested with a 20 kHz
tone-modulated FM signal with frequency deviation of 75 kHz. The set
up is shown in figure 4.
The demodulated output and the FFT
of the downconverted basebanded I,Q
data are shown in figures 5, 6 and 7. The
20 kHz tone is faithfully reproduced.
The FM sensitivity for the three
bands is shown in table 6 (page 49).
The items in bold and blue represent
the 12 dB SINAD point. The FM sensitivities obtained for the SDR-based
VHF receiver are better than the typical radio shown in table 2.
Figure 8 shows a plot of the RF sensitivity for all the frequencies in all
three bands. The points in the graph
represent the measured values and
the line represents the regression line
fitted through the data points. The

July 2003

Figure 4: Test setup for measuring the performance of the software-radio-based VHF receiver


Usable Frequency

Total Bandwidth

Sample Frequency

135 MHz to 155.5 MHz

124.5 MHz to 166 MHz

83 MHz

154.5 MHz to 175 MHz

139.5 MHz to 186 MHz

93 MHz

Table 4: An alternate sampling scheme for the VHF receiver

sensitivity for 12 dB SINAD is

obtained from the regression line as 105.4 dBm about 4 dB better than the
typical VHF receiver.


Software-radio-based multichannel,
multiband VHF receivers provide
unprecedented flexibility and perfor-


mance. This article demonstrated that a

practical multichannel, multiband software-radio-based VHF receiver provides
substantial performance enhancement.
The 14-bit high speed ADCs makes
implementation of a truly software
radio VHF receiver a reality. An actual
VHF receiver is implemented using the
RF conditioner, a four input, 105 MHz
ADC board with on-board 16 digital
tuners and FPGA.
The performance of the SDR-based
VHF FM receiver is about 4 dB better
than a typical VHF FM receiver. A
multichannel, multiband VHF receiver
may, thus, be implemented at a fraction of the cost of traditional receivers.
The design is greatly simplified, as RF
downconverters are no longer needed.
The RF stage consists of bandpass filters, and automatic gain control blocks,
channelizes and amplifies the signals.
As downconversion and tuning is
performed in the digital domain, the
same RF front end is used for the multiple channels, thereby reducing system
Continued on page 49

July 2003

Figure 5: FM demodulation - 106 dBm at 136 MHz. The bottom plot is the FFT
of the received I,Q data.

Figure 6: FM demodulation 100 dBm at 136 MHz. The bottom plot is the
FFT of the received I,Q data.

Traditional implementation

SDR-based implementation

Higher cost

Lower cost

Larger size

Smaller size

Involved RF design RF downconverters needed

Simplified RF design filters, AGC, no RF downconversion

Very little programmability

filter characteristics are not programmable

Extremely flexible
filter characteristics may be very easily programmed

Analog filters have less out of band rejection

Digital filters have greater out of band rejection

High stability needed for multiple local oscillators

Local oscillators are generated via digital means

numerically controlled oscillators - and is not an issue

Narrowband operation one channel at a time

Wideband operation ADC is digitizing a large spectral band

Table 5: Comparative analysis of the traditional implementation and the SDR-based implementation

Figure 7: FM demodulation: -95 dBm at 136 MHz. The bottom plot is the FFT
of the received I,Q data.


Figure 8: FM sensitivity plot for all the bands combined


July 2003

Table 6: FM sensitivity for 260 kHz channel bandwidth (20 kHz tone modulation, 75 kHz deviation)

cost. High performance ADC cards,

with DDCs reduce the size of the
receiver, making the receiver suitable
for airborne or ship borne applications
where space is a premium.
Further optimization of the RFC (in
terms of noise figure and gain) will
improve the overall performance of the

RF Design

About the Author

Angsuman Rudra, M.Eng., MBA, P.Eng, is the director of radio products
for Interactive Circuits and Systems Ltd. (ICS at www.ics-ltd.com). He leads
the development of software radio, and provides strategic direction for radio
product evaluation. Interactive Circuits and Systems Ltd. designs and manufactures real-time data acquisition and processing products for the sonar,
radar, communications and instrumentation markets. Rudra can be reached
at arudra@ics-ltd.com.