Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New Trends in The Field Programmable Gate Array Market - Software Defined Radio

The latest trend in radio electronic communication is SDR or "Software Defined Radio". What is SDR? SDR emulates radio hardware and function in computer based software. That is to say that many functions of the radio; tuning, bandpass, filtering and graphic displays are accomplished in software rather than hardware. As these hardware functions are emulated in software, greater computational power is required to accomplish these tasks in real/near real time. Up until recently the SDR market has been limited to advanced military applications such as Joint Stars. However, the market is evolving with the aid of personal computers and FPGA technology. As an FCC licensed amateur radio operator, I recently purchased a new radio tranceiver made by a well known Japanese manufacturer called Icom. The Icom IC-7300 tranceiver is the first implementation of an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) in non-military consumer/ham radio equipment. Such high performance SDR radios now feature "water fall displays", a scrolling graphic representation of spectral data spanning an entire frequency band, effectively providing a "radar scope" like view of radio stations populating the dial. The initial introduction of SDR required a high performance computer coupled to radio transmitter/receiver hardware at cost points higher than traditionally found in the radio tranceiver market. The problem with SDR software implementation in stand alone radios (without a dedicated computer) has been insufficient CPU power to present the user with both the graphic scope display, tuning data and audio in real time. The first delivery of stand alone SDR tranceivers permitted a choice of two modes; a graphic "water fall display", with on screen tuning data, or received real time audio. You had to switch modes to hear audio or see specific display data of interest. To solve this problem, Icom employed an FPGA in the system (an Altera EP4CE55F23I7N Cyclone IV E running at 200MHz) which facilitates simultaneous audio processing and graphic display of this information. With this enablement you can now tune in on a graphic radar-like "blip of interest" (a radio station) instead of moving the tuning dial to see what might be there. The Icom product web site provides a block diagram illustrating the incorporation of an FPGA (scroll down the page) in the transmit and receive circuits. As SDR is more widely adapted among many new products, we will see an evolutionary gain in consumer product cost/performance.

Publicly posted data on The MarketsandMarkets web site estimates the collective SDR radio market to be $16.24 Billion in 2016, and projected to reach $29.12 Billion by 2021. Utilizing 2015 as the base year for its study, MarketsandMarkets further estimates expansion of the SDR market at a compound annual growth rate of 12.39% from 2016 to 2021. For more information on SDR market projections see the MarketsandMarkets web link below.

Acknowledgments and Reference Links

See the Icom brochure link:

MarketsandMarkets public web site data on SDR market sector growth:

Best Regards,

Thomas D. Jay

Semiconductor Industry Consultant

Thomas D. Jay YouTube Channel

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