Wireless Products: SoC VS. SDR, Part 2

Published on March 7, 2013

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The requirements of a wireless product design should drive the technology and solution. Numerous technology solutions have been optimized in an all on one System-on-Chip (SoC), while a Software Defined Radio (SDR) allows a great deal of flexibility. As we discussed in Part 1, the advantages of SoC designs is standard availability, reduced BOM cost and reduced RF design complicity which results in reduced manufacturing cost. When SoC designs don’t meet the requirements, a designer is left to develop a system with discrete components.

In multi-channel RF systems, hardware defined radio (HDR) implementations require a significant amount of analog signal processing, leading to larger board size, increased analog design complexity, limited flexibility, and RF interference susceptibility. Figure 5 shows a hardware defined radio.

  • High Analog Complexity

  • Susceptibility for RF interference (intermodulation)

  • Limited flexibility

  • Hardware and Software redesign required for additional features

  • DC power increases as features increase

  • High BOM count and recurring cost

HDR Block Diagram


Software Defined Radio

In a ideal design, an SDR radio generally doesn’t have an IF, Modulator, or Demodulator stages as we generally understand those terms: a receive RF preamp feeds directly into an A-to-D converter (ADC), which is connected to a computer DSP/CPU to tune a signal and extract the modulated audio or data. On the transmit side, the CPU and DSP generate the modulation directly, and feed it to a digital to analog converter (DAC) and then to an RF power amplifier.

Do to hardware limitations of CPU, ADC/DAC speed, amplifier compression limitations, some hardware blocks are usually included to reduce to required speed and spurious signals but add demodulation and modulation limitations.

A software-defined radio receiver uses an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) to digitize the analog signal in the receiver as close to the antenna as practical. Once digitized, the signals are filtered, demodulated, and separated into individual channels. Similarly, a software-defined radio transmitter performs coding, modulation, etc. in the digital domain, in the final output IF stage, a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) is used to convert the signal back to an analog format for transmission.

Software-defined radio (SDR) is a radio communication technology that is based on software defined wireless communication protocols instead of hardwired implementations. In other words, frequency band, air interface protocol and functionality can be upgraded with software download and update instead of a complete hardware replacement. SDR provides an efficient and secure solution to the problem of building multi-mode, multi-band and multifunctional wireless communication devices.

An SDR is capable of being re-programmed or reconfigured to operate with different waveforms and protocols through dynamic loading of new waveforms and protocols. These waveforms and protocols can contain a number of different parts, including modulation techniques, security and performance characteristics defined in software as part of the waveform itself.

With a Software Defined Radio (SDR) approach, signal processing is moved to the digital domain—providing various benefits:

  • Low Analog Complexity

  • Less susceptibility for RF interference (less intermodulation effects)

  • Unlimited flexibility

  • DC power does not increase with features

  • Low BOM count and lower recurring cost
SDR Block Diagram
 Discrete components can form the major building blocks of an HDR or SDR which include:
  • Amplifiers (low, medium, and high power)

  • frequency mixers

  • modulators

  • demodulators

  • filters

  • phase lock loops (PLL)

  • transistors

  • diodes

  • voltage regulators

  • couplers

  • frequency oscillators

  • analog and RF switches

  • Analog to Digital Converters (ADC)

  • Digital to Analog Converters (DAC)

  • Digital Signal Processors (DSP)

  • Microprocessors (MPU)



System on a chip radios provide a low cost radio solution path that solve many radio wireless connection requirements. They usually meet requirements for the following applications:


  • Consumer electronics

  • Wireless computer peripherals

  • Wireless gaming accessories

  • Wireless Audio

  • Sport equipment

  • Remote controls

  • Alarm and Security monitoring equipment

  • Smart Energy

  • Industrial Controls

  • Building automation


Software Defined Radios have significant utility for the military, and public services, both of which must serve a wide variety of changing radio protocols in real time.

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 techniques allow several transmitters to transmit and receivers to receive in the same place on the same frequency with very little interference.

An SDR can be reprogrammed with different protocols, operating frequencies, demodulation techniques and still use the same hardware.

One SDR receiver can cover 10 MHz to 1 GHz and with software demodulators become a FM receiver, TV receiver, shortwave receiver, and a multi channel public service scanner.

A credit-card-sized board can be used to send and receive wireless data using a wide range of secure modulation schemes, including quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), frequency-shift-keying (FSK), and Gaussian minimum-shift-keying (GMSK) modulation.

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