Wireless connectivity has become a wildly popular feature with end users, resulting in a fast-paced technology push with its attendant proliferation of standards. That is good news for companies wanting to add compelling features to palmtops, laptops, cell phones and a variety of in-home and in-car multimedia products. But the rapid development of features and standards has become a headache for the engineers who have to design whiz-bang wireless features into tiny form factors.
The design community is turning increasingly to flexible wireless architectures to avoid having to build an endless number of radios dedicated to specific features. In this In Focus report, some of the experts looking at the big picture for wireless design-what can be done now and what will be possible in the near term-weigh in with innovative schemes for addressing the problem.
There are two major approaches to wireless design. In the first, brute-force met hod, a hardware component is created for each standard and all of them are crammed into a handset. At the other end of the spectrum is the pure software-defined radio (SDR) approach, which puts big demands on the DSP. As DSPs become cheaper and more powerful, the ideal SDR approach may become an actuality, but in the meantime, designers will be hitting some point in between the two extremes, they say.
Engineers at Analog Devices Inc., for example, are looking at ways to shoehorn software-defined radio into small portable systems. Roman Robles from Motorola Inc.'s Semiconductor Products Sector describes his company's solution, a system based on DSPs that are specially designed for wireless processing. And The Mathworks' Ken Karnofsky believes that an algorithm design that is a complete hierarchical representation of the system offers the best chance for performance improvements.
Wireless design represents an exciting field for IC and software engineers, due to the novel combination of analog a nd digital approaches. Blending such diverse areas of electronic design is a challenge in itself, but doing it on a minimal cost and power budget raises the bar even higher.