A software-defined radio system, or SDR, is a radio communication system where components that have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, etc.) are instead implemented by means of software on a personal computer or embedded system. While the concept of SDR is not new, the rapidly evolving capabilities of digital electronics render practical many processes which used to be only theoretically possible.
A basic SDR system may consist of a personal computer 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 being done in special-purpose hardware. Such a design produces a radio which can receive and transmit widely different radio protocols (sometimes referred to as waveforms) based solely on the software used.
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 radios are expected by proponents like the SDRForum (now The Wireless Innovation Forum) to become the dominant technology in radio communications. SDRs, along with software defined antennas are the enablers of the cognitive radio.
A software-defined radio can be flexible enough to avoid the "limited spectrum" assumptions of designers of previous kinds of radios, in one or more ways including:
- spread spectrum and ultrawideband techniques allow several transmitters to transmit in the same place on the same frequency with very little interference, typically combined with one or more error detection and correction techniques to fix all the errors caused by that interference.
- software defined antennas adaptively "lock onto" a directional signal, so that receivers can better reject interference from other directions, allowing it to detect fainter transmissions.
- cognitive radio techniques: each radio measures the spectrum in use and communicates that information to other cooperating radios, so that transmitters can avoid mutual interference by selecting unused frequencies.
- dynamic transmitter power adjustment, based on information communicated from the receivers, lowering transmit power to the minimum necessary, reducing the near-far problem and reducing interference to others.
- wireless mesh network where every added radio increases total capacity and reduces the power required at any one node. Each node only transmits loudly enough for the message to hop to the nearest node in that direction, reducing near-far problem and reducing interference to others.
Read more about Software-defined Radio: History
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