The need for increased and improved connectivity, even in rural and hard-to-access areas while mitigating interference, has been an ongoing challenge for operators and enterprises. For much technological advancement, this need is growing at a rapid pace. Examples include autonomous cars, the internet of things (IoT), multicloud services, remote communication and shared spectrum resources. These, and additional examples, depend on higher data rates and increases in the amount and the reliability of stable connectivity. Along with these advancements, projected influxes in devices that require more security over data connections, reduced latency, and increased portability and convenience have led business leaders to recognize the need for innovations in wireless connectivity.
Current cellular towers alone cannot accommodatethe large number of innovations. The hardware-based solutions that cell towers represent are unable to handle the level of flexibility required. However, overhauling the towers would be costly and laborious. Solutions must therefore find a way to best use legacy equipment, both wired and wireless, while accommodatingthe increasing demands on the system.
SDR-enabled Cell Towers
The capabilities and applications of radios have become prolific. Any device that can send or receive via radio frequencies contains a radio. With so many uses, it is no wonder that companies have invested so much time and so many resources into developing new and improved adaptations. One of the most revolutionary adaptations is software-defined radio. Built on flexible architecture, software-defined radios have all the features of radios along with the added flexibility to develop new applications and services, allowing for users to control radio functions with software. This inherent flexibility also allows for one module to address the current and future uses of radio technology. The easy use and low cost of the formulation and distribution of software and firmware updates allow problems in radio environments to be easily and consistently solved, as well as allowing applications to be broadened, making the technology future-proof.
Software-defined radio technology’s capabilities to augment cellular towers and small cell technology have made it an ideal solution for mobile network technology. The solution comes in the form of integrating software-defined radios with available technology. By substituting legacy, complex proprietary hardware systems with a flexible architecture that can provide customer-specific capabilities, cellular providers are much more capable of easily adapting to innovations and developments in the sector. This makes it easier for them to consolidate and simplify their network setup for software-based alterations to technologies and frequencies, rather than depending on expensive and timely installations of proprietary hardware solutions.
By relying on software-defined radios, base stations no longer need to be built on special-purpose hardware and developed with heavy equipment that is expensive to install and operate, necessitating the development of corresponding large towers to propagate cellular connectivity. Instead, software-defined radios are general-purpose, lightweight equipment that have allowed smaller towers with low power consumption to be deployed. This provides users with a better, more concise experience that also includes better coverage. These software-defined base stations are an appropriate fit for applications that demand small size, low power use and impressive frequency agility. Additionally, managing spectrum use at the edges of cells greatly reduces interference and optimizes security to eliminate many of the vulnerabilities associated with a mobile communications system. As such, software-defined radios have become indispensable to the future of cellular network technology.
Software-defined radios have made use of legacy devices, including fiber-optic and microwave links in order to offer users the best and most applicable solution. This offers the possibility for cellular network providers to augment the user experience and better prepare for future developments in the most cost-effective and efficient manner. It also makes software-defined radios well suited to accommodate expected growth in the number of devices on the spectrum.
One of software-defined radio technology’s greatest achievements related to tower technology is in optimizing networks by delivering performance gains, which greatly reduces latency. This is done through the use of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) integrated circuits with low-latency modem IP cores, giving the flexibility to use different modulations and yielding the performance necessary for a given link. These integrated circuits have merged into the software-defined radio architecture, making the technology even more capable. These components not only enable much of the flexibility associated with software-defined radios, but they also greatly reduce latency through parallel processing, which allows them to handle more capacity and the increasing demand for more channels.
When used on both the transmit and receive ends, FPGA integrated circuits greatly optimize channel efficiency and reduce the time necessary to convert signals. The wide bandwidths associated with FPGA integrated circuits permit the transmission and reception of more data while optimizing the overall system efficiency. This configuration is closely related to the demand for cognitive radios that are also enabled by software-defined radios. Cognitive radios make more efficient use of scarce spectrum while making large amounts of spectrum available for future high-bandwidth applications. This advantage has allowed them to deliver wide-area coverage, even in the presence of noise and interference, accurately conforming to overloading. Cognitive radios also more easily reject interference by using adaptive techniques for an improved experience and better communications.
Software-defined radio applications used within cellular transmission technology are not limited to cell towers. They can also be used to augment repeaters with amplifiers to bridge connectivity between base stations. This maintains optimal performance and wireless access in large, dense areas, providing the solution necessary to connect everything. These amplifiers are primarily used to extend coverage. By augmenting them with software-defined radio technology, their functionality can be extended to suit future requirements and base station developments, adapting in the best possible way to the rules and requirements imposed in the area.
Software-defined radio small cells have the potential to transform telecommunications networks, bringing users closer than ever to cell phone tower equipment. The proximity provides a significantly enhanced experience, enabling denser data transmission and significantly extending the range. These nonintrusive devices can easily be integrated with little disturbance by using already erected infrastructure, such as light poles and buildings. This allows small cells to easily be implemented and strategically placed to avoid obstacles that may interfere with wave transmissions. This provides an alternative to cell towers while augmenting coverage that allows users access to high-speed data and urban connectivity without compromising performance.
With the added capacity to be fully mobile, software-defined radios offer an optimal solution for connectivity in case of emergency, incidents involving public safety and warfare. By deploying these small cells, communication service providers can simplify the process of deploying widespread 5G wireless communications. 5G requires much smaller and more numerous cells in order to transmit data at a faster rate while supporting the growing number of connected devices. Requiring a direct connection with the device, this mobile networking technology relies on a short wavelength and high frequency to ensure reliability. Implementing 5G small cells with software-defined radio technology simplifies standardization, reduces the time and cost of deployment, and restricts radio wave propagation as needed — all with the technology being made to last.
Companies that are promising users inconceivable speeds, data to be transferred in real time and increased portability are racing to make this wireless technology a reality. The potential for 5G wireless communications is additionally lucrative because of the host of new technologies it makes possible: IoT, autonomous vehicles, real-time data transmission and others yet to be imagined. Built for speed and mass volume, 5G promises to enhance our lives.
The move to 5G is drawing in closer and faster than was thought believable. With much of the related technology already developed, trials conducted by wireless providers are already taking place in order to enrich the future of wireless connectivity. One of these technological advancements is software-defined radio. Although this technology has been available for years, its capabilities and applications are still being uncovered.
One example is Per Vices’ Cyan. It offers the highest instantaneous bandwidth on the market, the best avoidance of interference from surrounding signals and an impressive 4x 40Gbps QSFP+ of backhaul to handle large amounts of data, making it well suited for the high demands of 5G applications. This software-defined radio has an impressive Intel Stratix 10 SoC with ARM Cortex-A53 MPCore processor integrated within, offering resources for advanced digital signal processing. Moreover, by offering a small form factor, it satisfies the demands of the application. Offering additional support for customization to best suit requirements, companies like Per Vices may soon find their machines in high demand.
Sausan Arebi is technical content writer at Per Vices, which creates high-performance software defined radios for radar, telecommunications, aerospace and more. For more information, visit www.pervices.com.