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Understanding SDR


SOFTWARE-DEFINED-RADIO support multiple modes and multiple bands in an SDR

(SDR) systems require reconfigurability at both the chip system. DSP performance has increased from tens of
level to support switching air-interface modes, and at million instructions per second (MIPS) to thousands of
the system level for reconfigurable dataflow. Here, an MIPS, FPGA devices now support densities in excess of
air-interface mode refers to a combination of duplexing, one million gates, and analog-to-digital-converter
multiple-access, modulation, and error-coding and cor- (ADC) chips have greatly increased sampling rates and
rection schemes. Vendors of programmable DSPs, dynamic range. Yet, more work needs to be done to im-
FPGA logic, and mixed-signal devices have already de- prove the connectivity and interoperability of these prod-
livered significant enhancements in the ability to ucts. Reconfigurability at the system level requires that
designers pay attention to the switching fabric of
Traditional stovepipe architecture: multiple generic heterodyne receivers the system rather than just focusing on the chips
that perform the physical-layer processing.
IR filter filter
What is a software-defined radio? According
to the SDR Forum (www.sdrforum.org), it is a
Preselection ADC collection of hardware and software technolo-
filter LPF Channel 1 gies that enable reconfigurable system architec-
tures for wireless networks and user terminals.
Channel-select ADC SDR provides an efficient and comparatively in-
IR filter filter LPF
expensive solution to the problem of building
BPF LNA BPF BPF 90 deg. LO2 DSP multi-mode, multi-band, multi-functional wire-
less devices that can be enhanced using software
Preselection ADC
filter LPF upgrades. It is applicable across a wide range of
Channel 2
LO1 areas within the wireless industry.
Reconfigurability for an SDR can be “static”
Channel-select or “dynamic.” Static reconfigurability is the
IR filter filter ability to reconfigure equipment capability ‘off-
line’ (e.g., at supply), or via a smart card.
Pseudo-static reconfigurability is the ability to
Preselection ADC reconfigure equipment capability over-the-air
filter LPF
Channel N-1 (OTA), while at the same time leaving it un-
changed during a call. Dynamic reconfigurabil-
Channel-select ADC ity, on the other hand, is the ability to auto-re-
IR filter filter LPF
configure equipment capability during a call.
BPF LNA BPF BPF 90 deg. LO 2 DSP Fundamental differences exist in the manner in
which systems using SDR technology are im-
Preselection ADC
filter LPF plemented in the commercial, government, and
Channel N
LO1 military wireless-market segments. Wireless
1. The traditional stovepipe architecture, as pictured here, requires multiple base stations for commercial cellular or per-
generic heterodyne receivers. sonal-communications-services (PCS) services,
for example, must handle heavy traffic volumes

in a relatively restricted frequency range by dynamically modifying resource allo- adaptive-antenna functions need to be
and support one or two air-interface cation to maintain desired QoS over ra- integrated into the digital intermediate-
modes with relatively infrequent system dio channels. frequency (IF) and baseband-processing
changes. By contrast, military tactical • Provide flexible spectrum allocation. sections of the base station. An incre-
radio and battlefield radio applications A base-station equipment vendor, on mental deployment strategy is often used
involve a wide range of frequencies, the other hand, needs SDR to: to add smart-antenna capability where it
many waveforms, software reloads on • Provide economies of scale. SDR is most critical for expanding capacity or
a minute-by-minute basis, rapidly provides for consolidation of product expanding site coverage. The use of
changing co-site problems, and a variants onto reconfigurable product SDR in 3G base stations enables de-
very dynamic radio-frequency (RF) platforms. ferred upgrade and deployment of smart-
environment. • Simplify bug fixes and software antenna capability in the field.
For a commercial base station, SDR updates. SDR can be used to provide dynamic
requirements will vary depending on the • Reduce time to market. Reconfig- reconfigurability to switch between mul-
user’s position in the value chain. As urable SDR reduces the amount of new tiple air-interface modes or personali-
such, the needs of the network operator intellectual property (IP) that needs to be ties, but this will likely occur only in the
are different to those of the original- created, maximizes the reuse of existing handset and not in the base station.
equipment-manufacturer (OEM) base- IP, and enables hardware/software co- While dynamically reconfigurable SDR
station-equipment manufacturer. design for reduced time to market. in the base station is technically feasible,
In particular, a network operator • Facilitate adaptive-antenna support radio-resource-management issues
needs SDR to: for third-generation (3G) technology. make it difficult to support dynamic
• Maximize equipment longevity to Support for smart-antenna subsystems switching between multiple air-interface
minimize costs by deploying early with- on second-generation (2G) base stations modes. The main impediment to dy-
out risking incapability with standards as is often implemented through use of a namic-mode switching in the base sta-
they evolve. front-end appliqué to the existing equip- tion is the difficulty in dynamically allo-
• Deploy new services quickly. ment. However, this approach is infeasi- cating channels or frequencies between
• Optimize Quality of Service (QoS) ble for 3G base-station systems. Here, several classes of mobile handsets, each

Table: Signal fabric processing options:

advantages versus disadvantages
Interconnect Advantages Disadvantages

Direct-link-port • Embedded into endpoint devices to minimize board space • Too many different types of incompatible connections
connections • Low-power dissipation • Solution focuses on data streaming and ignores status and
• Deterministic and low end-to-end latencies between control flows
processing nodes • Lack of fully interconnected mesh
• Intermediate endpoints need to provide pass-through
routing or virtual channels for other devices

FIFOs • Excellent bandwidth • Fixed point-to-point dataflow (not reconfigurable)

• Deterministic propagation delays • Won’t work across backplane—I/O logic needs proximity
to the DSP resources
• Requires a separate FIFO for each data stream

Bus tranceivers • Solves problem of moving data a fair distance over a • Needs Glue Logic—Bus transceivers need significant
backplane support logic (e.g., FIFOs) if the data is to be moved at
high speed or if each end must operate asynchronously

Embedded switch • Combines advantages of FIFOs and Bus Transceivers • Does not provide fully interconected mesh between all
fabric • Resistance to single-node failure nodes (DSP, FPGA, or downconverter devices)
• I/O doesn’t need to be right beside the DSP • Maintaining deterministic latencies can be challenging
• May provide separate paths for control flows • For optimal performance and low power consumption, pairs
• Lower cost than a full crossbar switch fabric of matching source and destination nodes with high peak
• Minimizes heat dissipation and thermal problems (one half dataflows should be made adjacent in topology for
the number of link ports on endpoints when compared to a direct routing
full crossbar)
• Offloads need for DSP nodes to provide pass-through

Crossbar switch • Maximizes routing using fully interconnected mesh with • Crossbar in active backplane becomes a single point of
fabric (active any of M inputs routed to N outputs—useful for fully failure. This is an issue for high availability
backplane) adaptive beamforming • Fully interconnected mesh is costly and an overkill for ap-
plications where beamforming is not required

Crossbar switch • Maximizes routing—fully interconnected mesh with any of • Fully interconnected mesh is costly and an overkill for
fabric (passive M inputs routed to N outputs applications where beamforming is not required
backplane) • Costly—requires extra backup switch fabric cards for fault



Dual A/D 32-channel receiver DSP engine integrated into guidelines of the SDR
module Solano
RF DDC Solano Support for static reconfigurability is
DDC the least common denominator for soft-
FPGA Solano Solano
RF DDC ASIC ASIC ware-radio-platform capabilities in both
ADC Switch
tuner DDC fabric Solano
DSP military and commercial markets. Sup-
inter- port for pseudo-static or even dynamic-
connect Solano
RF DDC ASIC DSP mode switching is really only a require-
tuner ADC
DDC Solano Solano
DSP ment of military tactical radio systems or
DDC ASIC surveillance radio platforms. However,
tuner ASIC even platforms that support static recon-
ASIC DSP figurability (reconfiguring equipment
capability ‘off-line’) must be flexible
2. A narrowband radio system with switch fabric interconnect is shown here. enough to eliminate system bottlenecks.
supporting a separate and distinct air-in- station-equipment vendors are expected Legacy-transceiver architectures for
terface. For a roaming user with a multi- to supply SDR-equipped base stations base station’s employing transceiver
mode handset employing SDR the hand- that provide some static reconfigurabil- (TRX) units with fixed-function IF
set only has to support one air-interface ity for ease of upgrade and to allow channelizer modules and baseband en-
and frequency assignment at a time. platform reuse. For packet-data air gines suffer from a number of problems.
One area where SDR may encounter interfaces that use adaptive modulation Figure 1 illustrates a typical
increasing popularity for dynamic and coding, economic factors will “stovepipe-style” system with N inde-
reconfigurability is to support 2G and ultimately determine whether SDR will pendent heterodyne receivers.
3G packet data air interfaces that use use programmable DSP with reconfig- There are a number of limitations to
adaptive-modulation and adaptive-con- urable FPGAs or multiple function-spe- conventional “stovepipe” architectures.
volutional encoding as well as forward- cific ASICs to support dynamic-link The first is inflexible allocation of DSP
error-correction (FEC) schemes. The In- adaptation. resources. Stovepipe architectures lack
ternet is driving the demand for With regard to the military tactical ra- the flexibility to change the system
increased capacity and variable data dio, SDR requirements are especially dataflow to support multiple bandwidths
rates for a broad range of services that challenging. Here, air interfaces used by in the RF/IF front end and multiple mo-
extend beyond the currently deployed SDR are typically more complex than dem types at baseband. Therefore, a sep-
voice-only services. New packet data modes used in the civilian sector. The arate TRX module is required for each
services for mobile wireless must be ca- Operational Requirements Document air-interface standard. Another limita-
pable of supporting different QoS levels (ORD) for the US Joint Tactical Radio tion is the lack of any economies of
for different users and for different mul- System (JTRS) includes a set of require- scale. Infrastructure manufacturers must
timedia applications. ments that highlights this point. Some of create a new IF and baseband platform
Some systems employing rate adapta- these requirements include: every time standards change and evolve.
tion include 1xEV (HDR), general- •Dynamic Reconfigurability. JTRS Network operators face “forklift” up-
packet radio service (GPRS), EGPRS, terminals must support dynamic loading grades or change-outs to upgrade system
and time-division multiple access of any one of over 30 different air inter- capability. Increased costs result from
(TDMA) 136+. These packet-data ser- faces or waveforms identified in the equipment providers who must support
vices support dynamic switching on a specification. multiple platforms.
frame-by-frame basis between several • Broad Spectrum Coverage. JTRS Lack of a migration path to 2.5G and
modulations and coding schemes as- must also support waveforms across a 3G air interfaces is another limitation.
signed to users in different timeslots. For wide range of radio frequencies, from 2 Consider a base station system with a
instance, 1xEV (on the forward link) MHz to 2 GHz, with the additional abil- mix of Global System for Mobile Com-
supports 12 different data rates from ity to add support for any military and munications (GSM)/TRX modules and
38.4 to 2457.6 kb/s. Differing rates may commercial satellite and terrestrial com- EDGE-GPRS TRX modules. This sys-
be used depending on the desired QoS as munications above 2 GHz. tem does not allow for easy migration
well as the level of channel impairment. •Low Probability of Intercept (LPI). from GSM to EDGE since the allocation
Each data rate uses one of quadrature- • Interference Mitigation. Tactical ra- of TRX modules in the system is fixed.
phase-shift-keying (QPSK), 8-PSK, or dio systems must deal with serious co- As the proportion of data traffic changes
16-QAM modulations with either a rate site interference and electromagnetic-in- over time with increased customer adop-
1/5 or rate 1/3 convolutional coder. A terference (EMI) problems when tion of high-data-rate (HDR) services,
base station implemented with SDR can attempting to receive low signal-to- change-out of modules is required.
support dynamic modulation and coding noise-ratio signals. The key to constructing reconfigura-
schemes easily, and adds the potential • Adoption of open-systems architec- bility in the system dataflow for SDR
for quick software upgrades to support tures. An example is the Software Com- transceiver systems is to adopt a design
new rates with different modulations munications Architecture (SCA), which which provides enough flexibility to
(e.g., 64-QAM). has well-defined publicly available in- change the data flow for either narrow-
To date, SDR has had limited success terfaces, and is supported by consensus- band or wideband tuner sections. The
in 2G deployments. However, 3G base- based standards. SCA is currently being design would also need to allow data to


be arbitrarily routed to any DSP node in (DDCs 1 to 4)
a DSP resource cluster depending on the DSP #1
From DDC filter and 8-PSK demodulation Deframing
baseband modem algorithm to be used
for the data channel. Additionally, a sys-
tem-interconnect design should support DSP #2
De-puncturing R = 1/2 convolutional
high-bandwidth and deterministic low- and decoder and Reed-
latency data flow and scalability to allow deinterleaving Solomon decoder
adding DSP resources and channelizer FPGA
cards without running into system bot- (DDCs 5 to 8)
tlenecks. Partitioning of the channelizer From DDC Channel GSM TRXs 1 to n
and baseband-modem functionality DSP #n–1
across a backplane, as well as redundant GMSK demodulation Deciphering
channelizer and baseband DSP process- and equalization
ing cards to eliminate any single points- Legend
of-failure will also be crucial. DSP #n
Switch fabric link
The communication structure in a typ- Deinterleaving Channel Source
Internal dataflow decoding decoding
ical wireless transceiver is made up of
multiple components. These include the
RF fabric, the signal-processing fabric,
the control fabric, and the network inter- 3. This diagram shows how DSP nodes can be repartitioned between several EDGE
face or LAN fabric (Ethernet/ATM). E-GPRS receivers and GSM receivers.
There is a lot of effort in the industry to
create standards for the control and LAN judged accordingly (see table). These these options include:
fabrics but little to address the RF and approaches work to move potentially •Direct Link Port Connections. Here
signal-processing fabrics. huge amounts of baseband data over a one device directly interfaces with an-
Currently, there are a number of dif- backplane between multiple upcon- other and doesn’t need any interface
ferent approaches to address the signal- verter/downconverter channelizer sec- logic (e.g., connecting the SHARC link
processing fabric. Each has its own ad- tions and DSP resource clusters used for port interface of a Greychip GC4014
vantages and disadvantages and must be baseband-modem processing. Some of digital downconverter directly to an

Enter No. 130 at www.wsdmag.com


Analog Devices SHARC DSP). ferential-signaling (LVDS) parts can be Solano ASIC from Spectrum Signal Pro-
•First In First Out (FIFO) Buffers. used to move digitized IF signals from cessing is an example of just such a fab-
These IC devices are often used in signal an A/D converter board to a channelizer ric. It can communicate between high-
processing to provide streaming data board. performance DSPs, reduced-
paths directly between the expansion bus •Embedded Switch Fabric. This de- instruction-set-computer (RISC) proces-
of a DSP processor and I/O modules. fines a distributed switch fabric on an sors, coprocessors, and FPGAs in an
•Bus Transceivers. These devices ASIC, which supports multiple link-port SDR system (Fig. 2).
convert a parallel signal (like an analog- inputs and outputs. It allows local con- •Crossbar Switch Fabric (MxN) on an
to-digital [A/D] output) to a more robust nections between signal-processing end- Active Backplane.This defines a central-
signal that can be transmitted between points without the necessity of routing ized cross-connect embedded within an
boards. As an example, low-voltage-dif- traffic through a centralized switch. The active backplane which allows any of M
input channels to be mapped to any of N
output channels.
•Crossbar Switch Fabric Cards on a
Passive Backplane. Here, a centralized
crossbar is implemented on a switch-
ing card that plugs into a passive back-
plane. Multiple processing-node cards
and I/O cards can be connected via the
backplane in a “star” configuration to a
MxN crossbar located on this switch-
ing card.
The major benefit of the embedded
switch fabric approach is the ability to
repartition the resource assignment in a
receiver design. DSP nodes can be dedi-
cated to different baseband algorithms
and the dataflow can be configured ac-
cordingly. Figure 3 shows an example
of partitioning DSP nodes between base-
band pipelines for N EDGE E-GPRS re-
ceivers and M GSM receivers. With
software upgrades or a change in the
number of users allotted to EDGE and
GSM respectively, the receivers can be
statically reconfigured by reallocating
algorithms to DSP nodes and modifying
the routing of the dataflow over the
switch fabric interconnect.
Given the uncertainty in the evolution
of wireless standards and in the demand
for various air-interface modes and rate
classes, it is difficult to predict accu-
rately how to partition resources in a sys-
tem. Traditional “stovepipe” architec-
tures lack the flexibility to adapt to
newer standards or to change the relative
proportion of TRX transceiver channel
modules within a base-station system
without change-outs. In an architecture
that provides for system-level dataflow
reconfigurability as well as reconfig-
urable processing elements, the system
design is future-proof in the face of these
uncertainties. WSD

GORD FINLAY, Technical Analyst,

Spectrum Signal Processing, One Spec-
trum Court, #200-2700 Production Way,
Burnaby, BC V5A 4X1, Canada; (604)
Enter No. 127 at www.wsdmag.com 421-5422, www.spectrumsignal.com.