IMEC tunes in to software defined radio

A software-defined-radio chip design capable of speeds in excess of 100 megabits per second (Mb/s) is available for licensing from the Interuniversity Microelectronics Center (IMEC; Leuven, Belgium). The design, which is currently being prototyped at a foundry, enables a single baseband chip to use software to dynamically reconfigure its operation for worldwide standard mobile-device bands, including WiFi (802.11n), WiMax (802.16e), mobile TV and the 3GPP LTE (third-generation partnership project for long-term evolution). IMEC, a European design center, is offering licenses to chip makers who want to supply mobile-device makers with a single baseband chip that tunes to multiple bands with software alone.

Software defined radio (SDR) has long been a goal for chip vendors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) alike, since it translates the analog encoding methods for radio-frequency (RF) signals that define the various bands into a digital signal stream that software can manipulate to suit. Today, mobile devices that want to serve multiple bands must incorporate separate chips into their device, but with a baseband SDR chip, all that expense and complexity is handled by software, potentially enabling ultra-small and inexpensive mobile devices to immediately switch between different bands and encodings.

IMEC's design is a multi-core device that harnesses its proprietary architecture for dynamically reconfigurable embedded systems to enable software to define its two separate baseband processors for different bands. A C-code compiler lets OEMs define each core's band in software, and three digital front-end tiles controlled by a proprietary application-specific integrated processor enable sure-fire sync detection, according to IMEC. The chip also includes an ARM-9 core for control and an Advanced Microcontroller Bus Architecture (AMBA) interface to external memory chips.

IMEC's license includes preconfigured intellectual property (IP) blocks and the software that links the system-on-a-chip (SoC) module's memory, as well as the reference platform control software and firmware for IEEE-802.11n, -802.16e and 3GPP-LTE.

IMEC claims the SoC consumes only a few milliwatts (mW) in standby mode, with reactive radio response capable of immediately coming out of standby to receive up to 100-Mb/s data bursts in any supported wireless band. During normal transmitting and receiving operations, that the chip consumes about 300 mW.

Later this year–after the prototype chip is fabricated by the foundry and successfully tested–IMEC plans to build a complete reference design for a wideband SDR transceiver. The mobile software-defined radio prototype will also implement multi-mode forward error correction. IMEC is also working on software for the chip that will demonstrate a complete cognitive radio. (Cognitive radio monitors traffic on available bands and switches its transmission and reception parameters on-the-fly to avoiding interference and to optimize wireless radio band utilization and efficiency.)

The IMEC baseband SDR 400-MHz radio chip consumes 33 square millimeters of die area, houses 6.7 megabytes of memory, has 270 input/output pins and executes 25.6 billion operations per second.

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