As consumers link cell phones, iPods, and a growing number of devices to their car’s sound system, radios are rapidly transforming into more complex head units. When telematics, intelligent transportation systems, and other wireless technologies are added to the mix, the receivers in these head units may evolve to software-defined radio (SDR).
SDR lets a single device pull in multiple frequencies and protocols, eliminating the need for separate devices for each format. Basic radios have expanded from AM and FM to HD radio and satellite radio. That number grows rapidly when telematics is added to the mix. The technology will rely on a range of 3G and 4G cellular technologies to receive signals.
The Intelligent Transportation Systems features that are part of the U.S. government's IntelliDrive initiative will add more options to the mix. When it eventually moves from labs to the highway, IntelliDrive will use DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) for time-critical messages, while relying on other links for less-demanding messages.
That is prompting chipmakers to ramp up their efforts in SDR. NXP Semiconductors has been touting its Embedded Vector Processor as an SDR engine for more than a year. Though the need for SDR has been minimal to date, the company predicts that things will change rapidly once cellular providers shift from 3G to 4G networks.
“From 4G onward, there will be a lot more software-defined radio,” said Lars Reger, Vice President of Automotive Business Development at NXP. “One module will be able to handle a range of telematics and vehicle-to-vehicle protocols as well as HD radio, satellite radio, and other formats.”
Microtune Inc. recently got into the contest, unveiling its MT3511 RF MicroDigitizer. That chip combines the functions of an RF (radio frequency) tuner and an analog-to-digital converter, receiving and tuning broadcast signals from an antenna. It then sends digital data to a DSP (digital signal processor) or multimedia processor that processes the signals in software.