FCC Approves First Software-Defined Radio (SDR)

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced its approval of the first software-defined radio (SDR) device allowed in the United States. The new equipment will allow users to share limited airspace, increase flexibility, and reduce interference concerns. In a move that may prove to be a radio technology revolution, the industry is now beset with pioneering work to find more creative and efficient use of airwaves in order to offer benefits to consumers.

Software-defined radio, sometimes shortened to software radio (SR), refers to wireless communication in which the transmitter modulation is generated or defined by a computer, and the receiver uses a computer to recover the signal intelligence. To select the desired modulation type, the proper programs must be run by microcomputers that control the transmitter and receiver.

However, the most significant asset of SDR is versatility. For instance, wireless systems employ protocols that vary from one service to another – even in the same type of service – whereas a single SDR set with an all-inclusive software repertoire can be used in any mode, anywhere in the world. Software defined radios can change the frequency range, modulation type or output power of a radio device without making changes to hardware components. This programmable capacity permits radios to be highly adaptable to changing needs, protocols and environments.

The ultimate goal of SDR is to provide a single radio transceiver capable of playing the roles of the cordless telephone, mobile phone, wireless fax, wireless e-mail system, pager, wireless videoconferencing unit, wireless Web browser, Global Positioning System (GPS) unit, and other functions, operable from any location.

The FCC’s approval gives the go-ahead to Vanu, a software development company, for a cellular base station transmitter. Vanu’s Radio GSM Base Station, which is based on a HP ProLiant server running Linux coupled with ADC Telecommunications’ Digivance radio subsystem, can support multiple cellular technologies and frequencies at the same time and can be modified in the future without any hardware changes. The technology has the potential to lower costs and provide new flexibility in wireless networks, thereby changing the entire cost structure over time. The first users will be military and public safety officials.