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By Dominick Paniscotti, VP & General Manager, SDR Products, PrismTech

Apr 08. For the past several years, a technical innovation, namely Software Defined Radio (SDR), has been maturing to support the wireless communications transformation underway in the U.S. Department of Defense. The demand for this communications evolution is ultimately driven by the need to support Network Centric Operations (NCO).

Software defined radios are radios that can be dynamically reprogrammed by the installation and execution of software applications. In this regard, they are somewhat analogous to personal computers. Much like a personal computer, the user of an SDR can acquire a multitude of supported applications, install and execute those applications on the radio, and thereby transform an SDR into the communication system required by the user’s situational demands. Depending on the hardware making up a particular SDR, this re-programmability allows a single SDR to operate across a wide range of frequencies using a wide array of modulation technologies.

SDRs endeavor to replace the rigid, stovepipe communications systems currently fielded with this dynamic and flexible system capability while at the same time supporting backwards compatibility with the current wireless communication systems used today. SDRs achieve this flexibility through the use of internal software architectures that abstract the radio hardware from application implementations, much like a personal computer’s operating system. This software architecture delivers benefits such as:
* Easier insertion of future hardware technologies
* Lower total cost of ownership as many stovepipe systems can be replaced by a single commutation system
* Vehicle size, weight and power reductions (as again, multiple stovepipe systems are replaced by a single system)
* Re-programmability and reconfiguration to support mission demands
* Re-programmability and reconfiguration to deliver updates and new capabilities in fielded systems
* Lowered production costs because of the standardized software architectures

Given these numerous benefits, the business case for SDR use is quite well established for the U.S. DoD. The business case for SDR is also strong in the commercial sector; however, the drivers are somewhat different.

The demand for an ever-increasing number of services by cellular handset users is driving the need for multi-protocol, multi-band, multi-mode base stations. As with the military, simply trying to aggregate hardware to support this ever demanding need is not scaleable, and as such, the commercial wireless infrastructure manufacturers are beginning to turn to SDR technologies to solve this issue. On the other side of the commercial marketplace, there is an unquenchable demand for converged cellular handsets that support multitudes of multimedia standards. Therefore, hand set manufacturers must adapt ever more quickly to the evolution and sheer number of network communication standards.

Although the business case might be clear, SDR is a “disruptive technology” and as with most disruptive technologies, it tends to shake the “apple cart” of the incumbents in the marketplace, whether they be commercial or defense. Even so, early innovators have invested in these SDR technologies because of the benefits they promise.

The prime example of an SDR early innovator is the U.S. DoD with its Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program. JTRS has provided funding that has expanded the SDR technology base and JTRS has shared a significant amount of key SDR technologies with industry. Key to the list of technologies shared by JTRS with the commercial world is the Software Communication Architecture (SCA) standard. This standard defines a software architecture that can be used within an SDR to support application development, installation, re-programming, and re-configuration. In hopes

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