Research powerhouse Imec is touting a new software-defined radio (SDR) architecture that can support multiple wireless standards and enable data rates as fast as 1Gbits/(s). The architecture also has a spectrum-sensing element and smart or cognitive attributes that will allow future products to maximize spectrum efficiency. Imec announced the new architecture at its recent annual Technology Forum
Imec claims that its SDR will be capable of supporting multiple wide-area wireless standards, wireless LAN standards, and broadcast TV standards. The list includes emerging 4G technology LTE (Long Term Evolution), various flavors of IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi), and digital TV standards such as DVB-T/H and DVB-T2.
Imec intends to both enable such wireless links and do so more efficiently from a power perspective. The organization has targeted 2x improvement in power amplifier efficiency and additional efficiency gains via scalable processing and enhanced sleep modes. The efficiency gains will enable the new architecture to target battery powered mobile products such as cellular handsets. Imec will also target small-cell base stations with the architecture.
In addition to power efficiency, Imec is targeting spectrum efficiency. Work is underway on a spectrum-agile analog frontend IC that Imec calls Scaldio 2B. Imec has used prior versions of the Scaldio architecture in earlier projects.
The reconfigurable Scaldio 2B transceiver is being implanted in 40nm CMOS technology and will be capable of operating at frequencies from 100MHz to 6GHz. One key to maximum spectrum efficiency is sensing spectrum availability. The Imec design, for instance, will be able to find and use the so-called white spaces – unused spectrum between broadcast TV channels. Imec has a prototype platform that implements the spectrum-sensing capability.
The second element of the Imec architecture is a programmable baseband called COBRA (cognitive baseband radio). The parallel data-flow architecture can simultaneously handle multiple streams. The design relies on the Adres DSP engine that Imec has used in other projects. The COBRA architecture leverages a multithreaded design and a SIMD (single instruction multiple data) computer engine. The design will also integrate Imec’s FlexFEC processor that handles forward-error correction along with support for a LDPC (low-density parity check) algorithm.
Liesbet Van der perre, Imec program director of wireless communication, said, “With every new generation of mobile communications, we expect more flexibility and more intelligence. Devices that can negotiate and switch between frequencies to optimally use the available spectrum. Devices that switch between standards, choosing the best option depending on location, user environment, and user application. Imec’s COBRA technology is an answer to that need, offering high flexibility combined with the energy efficiency needed in mobile devices.”
Imec will not commercialize the SDR architecture. As the research house typically operates, the SDR work is being accomplished with a roster of partners from industry. The work is being managed under the auspices of Imec’s Green Radio program. Industry participants include Renesas, Panasonic, and Samsung. Moreover, Imec is now licensing the SDR architecture.
Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and is focused on research in nano-electronics. The organization also has facilities in the Netherlands, Taiwan, the U.S., China, and Japan. The research staff numbers more than 1,750, including more than 550 researchers who actually work for industry partners.
Imec has focused its work on ubiquitous embedded computing, healthcare, green energy, and other applications. The organization also serves as an information hub between research universities and commercial organizations. Key partners from the semiconductor industry include Intel, STMicroelectronics, Infineon, and NXP.
About the Author
Maury Wright is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist and industry consultant with broad experience in areas ranging from microprocessors to digital media to wireless to power management. The recipient of numerous industry awards, Wright is a 1978 graduate of Auburn University with a BSEE and a curriculum emphasis on digital design and development with early microprocessors.
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