SDR Market Booms as Updates Get Easy

03-10-2020 |   |  By Paul Whytock

The SDR (SDR) market is rightly described as booming with a current value of around €20billion and is going to hit €32billion in another ten years’ time.

Driving this rapid market expenditure are several key factors. Firstly, and perhaps the simplest to appreciate, relates to our mobile phones. When industry standards or operating systems change our phones can very often be updated automatically. Imagine a scenario whereby with every update you had to go out and buy a new handset. Unthinkable right?

Greater Performance

So why can’t such a concept apply to wireless radios? Well, now it can. In essence, SDRs have traditionally been designed using digital signal processors (DSPs). Still, the demands for greater performance and flexibility from all the market applications which are feeding the financial boom means DSPs increasingly cannot cut-the-technical-mustard, and programmable FPGAs are becoming a more popular option.

So what are the application markets that are driving the development of SDR forward?

Research by research analysts MarketandMarkets has come up with the answers on that. They say demand for advanced communication systems to replace legacy equipment, increasing spend on tactical communication and adoption of SDR for telecommunication infrastructure are the major market drivers for SDR systems.

The commercial sector is predicted to register the highest growth in the SDR market and is expected to continue growing during the next five years. It is primarily driven by the development of telecommunication and transportation applications which are easily upgradeable and provide high data transmission rate.

The frequency band UHF segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR during the same period.

Based on frequency band, the SDR market has been segmented into HF, VHF, UHF and other bands. UHF is one of the fastest-growing areas of the SDR market.

On the basis of platform type, the land segment is estimated to lead the SDR growth because of its use in military applications. Land platforms are incorporating solutions for interoperability, with other service radios. 

Mobile Network Connectivity

The new generation SDRs incorporate, a wideband networked waveform with the ability to provide mobile networked connectivity across the battlefield while also providing compatibility with the current waveforms used in defence forces.

By territory, The Asia Pacific, SDR market, is projected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period.

A further opportunity is the increase in demand for next-generation IP systems as it can increase profitability by offering customers a range of IP network products across the systems that bring new services to the market faster, reduce transaction costs, and enhance the end-user experience. 

Next-generation highly front-line mobile communications are tending to move away from the high-power single line of contact methods towards the more power economical mesh system, where more operators are linked together using a multi-node mesh system. 

These systems are less susceptible to single points of failure, and communications packets can find the best route to the destination based on traffic levels and available system bandwidth.

An SDR can be flexible enough to avoid the limited spectrum assumptions of designers of previous kinds of radios in several ways.

Minimal Interference

Spread spectrum and ultra-wideband techniques allow several transmitters to transmit in the same place on the same frequency with minimal interference. These are 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 receivers can reject interference from other directions.

Cognitive radio techniques are applied where each radio measures the spectrum in use and communicates that information to other cooperating radios so transmitters can avoid interference by selecting unused frequencies. 

Alternatively, each radio connects to a geolocation database to obtain information about the spectrum inhabitants in its location and adjusts its operating frequency or transmit power so as not to cause interference to other wireless services.

Reduced Interference

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, and extending battery life in portable equipment.

Various technological advancements have helped improve SDR capabilities by ensuring connectivity in various terrains. 

Various technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), time-division multiplexing (TDM), satellite communications, cellular, tactical radios, SCIP cryptographic devices are used. However, Wi-Fi and WiMAX can lead to various compatibility issues. For example, the use of multiple types of modems has led to interoperability related issues. This is due to the difference in protocols as vendors tend to add their value-added protocols based on the application requirements of each unit.

Design acceleration

German embedded software specialists N.A.T. have recently developed products ranging from building block components to complete application-ready systems including application software.

This range of SDR products enables wireless network developers to speed and simplify their application development and deployment, claims the company.

The N.A.T portfolio includes an individual radio frequency (RF) card in the F form factor (NAT-FMC-SDR4) to turnkey, field-deployable 19in rack-mounted systems (N SDR-FLEX) with application software and sample projects. Applications include wideband receivers for scanning and direction finding, wideband transmitters and 4G and 5G network test equipment.

Proof-of-concept setups including custom waveforms and beamforming, sensing techniques for cognitive radio, remote radio heads (RRH) for phased antenna arrays are also available.

The optional 5G (3GPP rel.15) package enables private wireless network applications such as wideband LTE/5G base station and radio units as well as narrowband cellular IOT (cIOT). The N.A.T. turnkey systems available off-the-shelf, named NAT-SDR-FLEX, include all the hardware and software needed to build these applications with scalability from eight to 72 channels, or more using multiple systems.

SDRs have typically been created with digital signal processors (DSPs) providing the core processing power. Increasing performance demands and the rapidly evolving market means DSP-based SDRs have design limitations which N.A.T. has overcome by using flexible, programmable FPGAs. 

To simplify and accelerate the development of FPGA-based SDRs, N.A.T. has invested in software support packages and documentation. This offering goes beyond the basic board support packages, drivers and operating systems to include libraries, sample projects, sample application software and application notes to support developers.

The heart of the N.A.T. SDR portfolio is a modular AMC board, the NAT-AMC-ZYNQUP-SDR which combines the Analog Devices large

bandwidth RF-transceivers (ADVR 9009) and a Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+TM FPGA with an integrated quad-core ARM processor. This board can be configured with different RF front end and front panel I/O by choosing N.A.T.’s FMC-boards with the required functions. SDR properties such as the number of RF channels, filtering and control IO for external RF, can be integrated into the platform by selecting from FMC building blocks. N.A.T. can also collaborate w customers to develop custom mezzanine cards with special functions.


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By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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