Multi-standard RF-to-digital converter helps software defined radio drive home its benefits

A RF-to-digital converter that harnesses advanced radio frequency (RF) and digital silicon technologies to bring software defined radio to the global automotive industry has been introduced by Microtune, Inc.

For automotive manufacturers, software defined radio (SDR) represents a revolutionary approach to in-vehicle car entertainment, connectivity and multimedia. The MT3511 RF MicroDigitizer enables them to flexibly deliver the most popular consumer features AM/FM, digital radio, CD audio, MP3 playback, navigation, as well as connectivity for iPod, SD card, USB and Bluetooth by using common hardware that is configurable, scalable and upgradable via software. SDR solutions change 'infotainment' business, design and manufacturing models. The technology offers car makers a global radio platform, increased design flexibility, substantial cost-efficiencies and a future-proof migration path to new standards and enhanced features.

The MT3511 is a key front-end component in the SDR architecture. Based on Microtune's next-generation, highly integrated RF MicroDigitizer architecture, the MT3511:

  • Is a specialized, automotive-grade RF-to-digital converter optimized to work with generic, high-performance digital signal processors (DSPs) and multimedia processors to enable the SDR solution.
  • Combines the functions of a state-of-the-art RF tuner and an advanced analog-to-digital converter in a single miniature chipit receives and tunes a broadcast signal from a car antenna, and then converts the signal from analog to digital format for processing in software by a DSP or multimedia processor.

  • Supports world-standard AM/FM, HD Radio technology, digital radio mondiale (DRM), and weather band. It replaces multiple hardware-specific components in today's radio subsystem with a generic hardware platform that reduces design complexity, time-to-market, time-to-qualification and costs.

“For decades, leading automotive manufacturers and Tier-1 suppliers have used Microtune radio and TV tuners to migrate compelling consumer-class entertainment to the car,” said James Fontaine, President and CEO of Microtune. “We are now introducing a single-chip RF-to-digital converter that will help drive software defined radio throughout the auto industry as a practical mainstream technology. The MT3511 will be a key enabler for the future of in-vehicle audio and multimedia, while it fuels growth and opportunity for our company across the worldwide automotive entertainment markets.”

“Software defined radio has been the holy grail of the automotive industry,” said Paul O'Donovan, analyst, Gartner Research. “While car makers have been eager to deploy the SDR concept, the baseline hardware technology required to navigate commercial cost sensitivities and the stringent automotive quality and manufacturing requirements has not been available. Modern multimedia or DSP processors are now increasing in computer power, allowing the complete processing of radio signals in software, while providing the necessary connectivity features. SDR applications also demand a new kind of front-end technology, such as the MT3511, that can receive and digitize radio broadcast signals across the fast-changing signal environment of the moving vehicle.”

The MT3511 is characterized by high RF-to-bits performance, a high level of integration, low cost and very low profile. With its high sensitivity, high linearity, and configurable, fully autonomous automatic gain control circuit, the MT3511 is engineered to deliver stable, clear digital intermediate frequency (IF) signals. It offers the system designer the flexibility to configure solutions for even the most challenging reception environments, while enabling high-quality radio sound and multimedia within the SDR system.

As a key feature, the MT3511 is optimized to work in the digital domain of the SDR architecture and supports on-board designs with minimal external components. The device is engineered to support block-oriented processing, and combined with a patented approach for generating a manageable data rate, it frees the microprocessor to focus on other tasks, including display, connectivity, traffic management and GPS. In effect, the MT3511 enables the microprocessor to manage its resources more effectively and efficiently, a key factor in overall SDR performance.

Other features include:

  • Very low phase noise
  • Fully-autonomous tuning-control engine
  • Integrated high-performance 16-bit ADC with self-calibration and digital error correction

  • Automatic data synchronization for FM phase-diversity applications.

The MT3511 is the first member of the Automotive RF MicroDigitizer family, and future products will support new digital standards with even higher levels of integration. A complete technical description is provided in the MT3511 Product Brief.

As with Microtune's other automotive products, the MT3511 is engineered to operate in the harsh vehicular environment, meeting the unique challenges of temperature and long product-life times as compared to consumer products. Developed to meet stringent automotive specifications, it supports temperatures from -40 to +85 degrees C, and is designed to be qualified according to the requirements of the Automotive Electronics Council (AEC) Q100.

Availability and Pricing

The MT3511 is currently sampling to key customers and is priced at $3.50 in volumes of 100,000/year.

Related link:

MT3511 Product Brief

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