Software-defined radio

Software-defined radio

A Software-Defined Radio (SDR) system is a radio communication system where components that have typically been implemented in hardware (i.e. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors. etc.) are instead implemented using software on a personal computer or other embedded computing devices. While the concept of SDR is not new, the rapidly evolving capabilities of digital electronics are making practical many processes that were once only theoretically possible.

A basic SDR may consist of a computer (PC) equipped with a sound card, or other analog-to-digital converter, preceded by some form of RF front end. Significant amounts of signal processing are handed over to the general purpose processor, rather than done using special-purpose hardware. Such a design produces a radio that can receive and transmit a different form of radio protocol (sometimes referred to as a waveform) just by running different software.

Software radios have significant utility for the military and cell phone services, both of which must serve a wide variety of changing radio protocols in real time.

In the long term, software-defined radio is expected by its proponents to become the dominant technology in radio communications. It is the enabler of the cognitive radio.

Operating principles

Ideal concept

The ideal receiver scheme would be to attach an analog to digital converter to an antenna. A digital signal processor would read the converter, and then its software would transform the stream of data from the converter to any other form the application requires.

An ideal transmitter would be similar. A digital signal processor would generate a stream of numbers. These would be sent to a digital to analog converter connected to a radio antenna.

The ideal scheme is, due to the actual technology progress limits, not completely realizable, however.

Receiver Architecture

Most receivers utilize a variable frequency oscillator to tune the desired signal to a common intermediate frequency or baseband, where it is then sampled by the analog to digital converter. However, in some applications it is not necessary to tune the signal to an intermediate frequency and the radio frequency signal is directly sampled by the analog to digital converter (after amplification).

Real analog-to-digital converters lack the discrimination to pick up sub-microvolt, nanowatt radio signals. Therefore a low-noise amplifier must precede the conversion step and this device introduces its own problems. For example if spurious signals are present (which is typical), these compete with the desired signals within the amplifier's dynamic range. They may introduce distortion in the desired signals, or may block them completely. The standard solution is to put band-pass filters between the antenna and the amplifier, but these reduce the radio's flexibility - which some see as the whole point of a software radio. Real software radios often have two or three analog "channels" that are switched in and out. These contain matched filters, amplifiers and sometimes a mixer.

SDR Hardware Local Oscillator Phase Noise And Spurs

Currently the Direct Digital Synthesizers (DDS) for deriving the internal local oscillator signals for tuning the SDR receiver hardwares, are notorious for generating spurious RF byproducts in the passband of the receiver. These spurs as they are called, can mask weak signals and make entire band segments in the RF spectrum useless.


The term "Software Defined Radio" was coined in 1991 by Joseph Mitola, who published the first paper on the topic in 1992 [J Mitola, "The Software Radio," IEEE National Telesystems Conference, 1992 - Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/NTC.1992.267870] . Though the concept was first proposed in 1991, software-defined radios have their origins in the defense sector since the late 1970's in both the U.S. and Europe (for example, Walter Tuttlebee described a VLF radio that used an ADC and an 8085 microprocessor) [First International Workshop on Software Radio, Greece 1998] . One of the first public software radio initiatives was a U.S. military project named SpeakEasy. The primary goal of the SpeakEasy project was to use programmable processing to emulate more than 10 existing military radios, operating in frequency bands between 2 and 2000 MHz [RJ Lackey and DW Upmal, "Speakeasy: The Military Software Radio," IEEE Communications Magazine, May 1995.] . Further, another design goal was to be able to easily incorporate new coding and modulation standards in the future, so that military communications can keep pace with advances in coding and modulation techniques.

PEAKeasy phase I

From 1992 to 1995, the goal was to produce a radio for the U.S. Army that could operate from 2 MHz to 2 GHz, and operate with ground force radios (frequency-agile VHF, FM, and SINCGARS), Air Force radios (VHF AM), Naval Radios (VHF AM and HF SSB teleprinters) and satellites (microwave QAM). Some particular goals were to provide a new signal format in two weeks from a standing start, and demonstrate a radio into which multiple contractors could plug parts and software.

The project was demonstrated at TF-XXI Advanced Warfighting Exercise, and met all these goals. There was some discontent with certain unspecified features. Its cryptographic processor could not change context fast enough to keep several radio conversations on the air at once. Its software architecture, though practical enough, bore no resemblance to any other.

The basic arrangement of the radio receiver used an antenna feeding an amplifier and down-converter (see Frequency mixer) feeding an automatic gain control, which fed an analog to digital converter that was on a computer VMEbus with a lot of digital signal processors (Texas Instruments C40s). The transmitter had digital to analog converters on the PCI bus feeding an up converter (mixer) that led to a power amplifier and antenna. The very wide frequency range was divided into a few sub-bands with different analog radio technologies feeding the same analog to digital converters. This has since become a standard design scheme for wide band software radios.

PEAKeasy phase II

The goals were to get a more quickly reconfigurable architecture (i.e. several conversations at once), in an "open" software architecture, with cross-channel connectivity (the radio can "bridge" different radio protocols). The secondary goals were to make it smaller, weigh less and cheaper.

The project produced a demonstration radio only fifteen months into a three year research project. The demonstration was so successful that further development was halted, and the radio went into production with only a 4 MHz to 400 MHz range.

The software architecture identified standard interfaces for different modules of the radio: "radio frequency control" to manage the analog parts of the radio, "modem control" managed resources for modulation and demodulation schemes (FM, AM, SSB, QAM, etc), "waveform processing" modules actually performed the modem functions, "key processing" and "crytographic processing" managed the cryptographic functions, a "multimedia" module did voice processing, a "human interface" provided local or remote controls, there was a "routing" module for network services, and a "control" module to keep it all straight.

The modules are said to communicate without a central operating system. Instead, they send messages over the PCI computer bus to each other with a layered protocol.

As a military project, the radio strongly distinguished "red" (unsecured secret data) and "black" (cryptographically-secured data).

The project was the first known to use FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) for digital processing of radio data. The time to reprogram these is an issue limiting application of the radio.

Joint Tactical Radio System

The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) is a program of the US and NATO to produce radios that provide flexible and interoperable communications. Examples of radio terminals that require support include hand-held, vehicular, airborne and dismounted radios, as well as base-stations (fixed and maritime).

This goal is achieved through the use of SDR systems based on an internationally endorsed open Software Communications Architecture (SCA). This standard uses CORBA on POSIX operating systems to coordinate various software modules. The SCA documentation is freely available at the [ JTRS website] .

The program is providing a flexible new approach to meet diverse warfighter communications needs through software programmable radio technology. All functionality and expandability is built upon the Software Communications Architecture (SCA).

The SCA, despite its military origin, is under evaluation by commercial radio vendors for applicability in their domains.

Amateur software radios

A typical amateur software radio, such as the FlexRadio, [Flex-Radio Systems, Inc.] SDR-1000 or the home made design described in the ARRL Handbook (1999), uses a direct conversion receiver. Unlike direct conversion receivers of the more distant past, the mixer technology used in the SDR-1000 and the more recent Flex 5000 are based on the quadrature sampling detector and the quadrature sampling exciter. [ "A Software Defined Radio for the Masses, Part 1", QEX, ARRL, July/Aug. 2002] [ "A Software Defined Radio for the Masses, Part 2", QEX, ARRL, Sept/Oct 2002] [ "A Software Defined Radio for the Masses, Part 3", QEX, ARRL, Nov./Dec. 2002] [ "A Software Defined Radio for the Masses, Part 4", QEX, ARRL, Mar/Apr 2003] . The performance of both the SDR-1000 ["FlexRadio Systems SDR-1000 HF+VHF Software Defined Radio Redux", QST, ARRL, October 2005 ] and the Flex 5000. [ Many articles review of all products are here:] The conversion is to the audio frequency band, which is sampled by a standard (or enhanced) PC sound card. A fast PC operates custom (usually amateur-written) software as the signal processor. In the case of FlexRadio Systems Inc., and several other software radio efforts (principally amateur radio), the actual code is based on the open source sdr library DttSP. [DttSP]

Uses include every common amateur modulation: morse code, single sideband modulation, frequency modulation, radioteletype, slow-scan television, and packet radio. Amateurs also experiment with new modulation methods: for instance, the DREAM open-source project decodes the COFDM technique used by Digital Radio Mondiale.

More recently, the GNU Radio [ GnuRadio Project ] using primarily the Universal Software Radio Peripheral [ Ettus Research, Inc. ] (USRP) uses a USB 2.0 interface, an FPGA, and a high-speed set of analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters, combined with reconfigurable free software. Its sampling and synthesis bandwidth is a thousand times that of PC sound cards, which enables an entirely new set of applications.

In addition the HPSDR (High Performance Software Defined Radio) project [High Performance Software Defined Radio.] uses a 16bit 135MSPS analog-to-digital converter that provides performance over the range 0 to 55MHz comparable to that of a conventional analogue HF radio. The receiver will also operate in the VHF and UHF range using either mixer image or alias responses. Interface to a PC is provided by a USB 2.0 interface.

The project is modular and comprises a backplane onto which other boards plug in. This allows experimentation with new techniques and devices without the need to replace the entire set of boards. An exciter provides 1/2W of RF over the same range or into the VHF and UHF range using image or alias outputs. The HPSDR project is open-source for both hardware and software. A Wiki provides frequent updates as to project progress.

On the low-end (and low-cost): the SoftRock [SoftRock Kit:] kit gives an easy entry into direct conversion shortwave receiver with software-defined demodulation.

Another low cost software defined radio for amateur use is the WonderRadio by SDR Technologies from India [SDR Technologies,India [] ] . This low cost (under $600) radio covers the entire HF amateur spectrum + 6m. SDR Technologies has also developed an improved $1500 version of their basic 1 Watt kit called the Wonderradio Pro that includes a built in computer,speakers and a 10 Watt linear amp (with an optional 100W linear Amp). The complete standalone transceiver requires an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. Both radios use the parallel port and the Flex Radio SDRPro software for control.

ee also

* Digital radio
* SoftRock


The papers presented at the SDR Forum 2004, 2005, and 2006 Technical Conferences are now available on their website.
* [ 2006 SDR Forum papers]
* [ 2005 SDR Forum papers]
* [ 2004 SDR Forum papers] These are useful books:
* "Software defined radio : architectures, systems, and functions." Dillinger, Madani, Alonistioti. Wiley, 2003. 454 pages. ISBN 0470851643 ISBN-13: 9780470851647
* "Cognitive Radio Technology." Bruce Fette. Elsevier Science & Technology Books, 2006. 656 pags. ISBN 0750679522 ISBN-13: 9780750679527
* "Software Defined Radio for 3G," Burns. Artech House, 2002. ISBN 1-58053-347-7
* "Software Radio: A Modern Approach to Radio Engineering," Jeffrey H. Reed. Prentice Hall PTR, 2002. ISBN 0-13-081158-0
* "Signal Processing Techniques for Software Radio," Behrouz Farhang-Beroujeny. LuLu Press.

External links

* [ SDR Europe]
* [ 5000+ Member Softrock-40 Low Cost SDR Kit Interest Group]
* [ Eric Blossom explains Software Radio]
* [ SDR Design and Verification]
* [ OMG Software Based Communication (SBC) Domain Task Force]
* [ Software Defined Radio Forum]
* [ Tools for SDR] A collaborative website about SDR
* [ F4DAN] Some amateur radio SDR projects and resources
* [ Using model-driven engineering, domain-specific languages, and software product lines in developing Software-Defined Radio components and applications]
* [ Evolution and standardization of the software communications architecture]
* [ A Holistic Approach to Designing SDRs for Power]
* [ Software Radio Resource Page] Other SDR projects and resources
* [ Component-based SDR and JTRS-SCA in PocoCapsule] Applying inversion-of-control (IoC) and domain-specific-modeling (DSM) to SDR
* [ SOFTWARE DEFINED RADIO] A briefing paper for the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Security and Defence.
* [ The world's first web-based software-defined monitoring receiver] for 40m and 80m running at the university of Twente, EEMCS, Enschede, The Netherlands.
* [ Alcatel-Lucent Chair on Flexible Radio]
* [ DIY SDR hardware circuits and designs]

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