RF Engines gets grant for flexible receiver development

LONDON — Signal processing design specialist RF Engines Limited (RFEL) has secured a £65,000 research grant from the U.K. government for work on a flexible receiver architecture that is reconfigurable “on-the-fly”.

The project draws on RFEL’s RF design expertise in signal processing on FPGAs.

The grant, arranged through the South East Development Agency (SEEDA), also signals a shift in emphasis at RFEL (Newport, Isle of Wight) as it may lead to the development and production of a number of receivers, John Summers, RFEL's CEO, told EE Times Europe .

“We anticipate the research project will go into the development phase,” Summers said.

The architecture will be used to create a portable digital receiver capable of scanning the spectrum from zero up to 5.84 GHz. Typically such devices only extend to 3 GHz but with the expanding use of higher frequencies, an increased frequency range is required.

Summers said the initial application for the receiver would be for wireless infrastructure, “particularly where there is a need for coping with several protocols”. He mentions test and measurement as another application area.

Summers adds there may be future use for the architecture in hand-held media devices that are using an increasingly wide range of RF frequencies for WiMax, GPS, 3G, Bluetooth, Wireless LAN and Mobile TV, where a reconfigurable receiver could provide a more cost effective and smaller solution than a number of dedicated receiver circuits.

Traditionally, radio receivers are designed as a series of discrete building blocks, each addressing specific frequencies, which can add up to a large amount of silicon real estate. This latest architectural approach focuses on the combination of flexible analogue and digital elements in such a way as to allow re-configurability of the complete system for different applications as required, via software/firmware.

The resulting Software Defined Radio (SDR) increases the amount of digital signal processing to move the analogue/digital boundary closer to the antenna, thus reducing the complexity and limitations of the RF front-end.

“Producing small numbers of receivers will represent an element of diversification for us, but will not have any impact on our core activity of developing core IP and customized IP,” said Summers.

“Over the past year or so, companies have been asking us to take our design work to the next stage and provide complete turnkey solutions and prototypes that integrate our firmware designs. We feel the time is right to move one stage further and arrange for small volume manufacturing through contractors,” Summers told EE Times Europe .

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