New Chip Eliminates Radio Hardware in Mobile Devices

1-7-2013 6-31-56 PM

The amazing capabilities and shiny displays of current smartphones mask a primitive technology inside.

As reported this week in MIT’s Technology Review, current smartphones are “primitive and inefficient” because they contain a jumble of radio hardware devices inside. The newest phones, for example, contain several modems for processing different wireless standards: 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and near-field communications. Many also have additional processors for video and also for an accelerometer and gyrometer.

Now a startup based in Austin, TX, Coherent Logix, is developing a single processor that can handle all of the above functions. It is controlled by software that can switch between functions in a few milliseconds.

The company calls the technology “software defined radio” (SDR), which “allows the function of a radio to be defined in software, so that it can be upgradeable and reprogrammable, resulting in huge CAPEX and OPEX savings for end users.”

According to the MIT article, chips that process software versions of hardware radio components, such as filters, amplifiers, and modulators, have been around for years. The new Coherent Logix chip, however, can add image and video processing on a single chip while being small and efficient enough to work in a smartphone.

According to Michael Doerr, the company’s founder and chief technology officer, “We believe it’s not enough just to put the radios together and put them in software. To get the most powerful, flexible, dynamic system, you want to tie all the video and photo processing together with the radio processing. Now we have a unique processor that can do that, but it’s a question of getting to the right performance and power trade-off.”

In the article, Doerr said his company has supplied military customers with chips necessary to make sophisticated programmable radios, but the technology has not been ready for the mass market because of its cost, power requirements, and programming complexity. However, the company is now working with one of the top five smartphone makers (it won’t name which) on a handset version to be prototyped by 2014 using a next-gen version of the new programmable processor.

Commenting on the new chip, Jeff Reed, who directs wireless research at Virginia Tech, said it is “game changing” because the new device could potentially put the capabilities of a powerful desktop into a mobile device without significantly increasing power consumption.

While consumers won’t see the new devices for at least a year, Coherent Logix’s new chips are being installed in cell phone base stations, which will gain from similar boosts in programmability and flexibility.

Public Wireless, a vendor that provides base stations for the wireless industry, is using the new chips and said they will remove the need to make a physical visit to each base station when a change in wireless protocol is needed. In recent years, the number of base stations has soared as carriers increase their coverage.

This article was contributed by James Harris, president of WestsidePR.com, a healthcare technology marketing agency.

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