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Intel Demos Software Defined WiFi/WiMAX/DVB-H Chip 97

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the all-in-wonderful dept.
Doc Ruby writes "Electronics Weekly is reporting that Intel has developed a new prototype chip for software defined radio. The new chip will be able to handle WiFi, WiMAX and DVB-H digital TV all on the same chip. 'This kind of chip would allow equipment to access the WiFi network in the home, automatically handover to a WiMAX network when you leave the house and also access digital TV on the move, all through one chip.' It's also a proof that the entire class of SW radios that could possibly converge CDMA, GSM and various other radio networks for opportunistic handoffs by a single device, a 'universal radio' that could use content formerly locked into a single radio type."
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Intel Demos Software Defined WiFi/WiMAX/DVB-H Chip

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  • Closed drivers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:23PM (#21677447) Homepage
    And presumably the drivers for this will be closed source because of that dumb FCC rule that end-users shouldn't be able to tinker with wi-fi chips because they are a dangerous radio device.
    • Re:Closed drivers (Score:5, Informative)

      by JK_the_Slacker (1175625) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:27PM (#21677477) Homepage

      No worries, mate. I'm a ham radio op... and a programmer... I'll have an open source control program along shortly.

      Alternatively, I could write support into GNU Radio. [gnu.org]

    • Re:Closed drivers (Score:5, Informative)

      by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:38PM (#21677609) Homepage

      I should point out that I'm almost positive that there is no rule that says this. The companies take that position then try to back it up that way ("well the FCC might pull the device's license if..."). There are valid reasons for this (it would be easy to cause interference for only the purpose of being annoying) and good reasons against (my device means my responsibility, it's an unlicensed part of the spectrum).

      However that only applies to transmitting. The is no valid reason why there would be a problem letting you configure the thing however you wanted to receive things. There are a few little bands that you aren't supposed to listen to, but if the analog part was designed correctly that would be impossible (I don't know if any of those bands are that high up). It would be simple to make it so that it's impossible (without modification of the physical circuits) to get RF though the amplifier unless it is within a little frequency set that the device is allowed in.

      It IS illegal to make a device in such a way that it can be easily modified to transmit on other frequencies (seen with CBs) and I think it may be illegal for receiving too (like to listen into cell frequencies). Note that there is no solid definition on this as far as I know. You can't make it so it's "cut jumper B3 and you're set", but you don't have to go all the way to "install 12 wires, a chip, flash the firmware, hold the radio upside-down and...". Someone who is more familiar with this rules will surely point out the specifics.

      • I refer everyone else to section B of FCC regulations. If you can't Google it, then you don't belong here. :) In short, a device may not cause interference, but it must accept any interference it may receive due to natural or other issues that interfere with/tie into the operation of an EM-based device.

        To put it short, you can receive and listen in to anything you choose to, but to transmit may be a different story. End of simple statement.
      • There are valid reasons for this (it would be easy to cause interference for only the purpose of being annoying) and good reasons against (my device means my responsibility, it's an unlicensed part of the spectrum).
        Isn't that Prior Restraint though? I mean if I want to broadcast speech over the radio, don't I have a First Amendment right to do so?
        • by expatriot (903070)
          No.
        • Sure, of course you have a right to transmit your insane ramblings over licensed or police frequencies! Go for it! Maybe even mess up a few TV stations while you're at it. I'm sure everyone will love you for it. Make sure to mention your name and address.
  • Excellent! (Score:4, Funny)

    by JK_the_Slacker (1175625) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:23PM (#21677449) Homepage

    But the real question is, can I change software modes and nuke a burrito with my wireless card?

    Or, even better, my roommate?

  • by rrohbeck (944847)
    Will it be documented so we can get a FOSS driver?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LWATCDR (28044)
      Short Answer No.
      To get FCC approval these devices will have to be not "modifiable" by the end user.
      • by rlwhite (219604)
        I'm curious to see how long that policy lasts if the Google-backed "any device, any app" proposal wins. The market seems to be headed in that direction with the recent announcements from Verizon and AT&T.
        • by darthflo (1095225)
          The Google proposal is limited to the 700 MHz spectrum being auctioned off. There's not going to be any "any device, any app" going on in GSM/CDMA/FM/Ham/CB or any other licensed bands policy more than there is today.
          Just like today, nobody is going to stop you from building your own or tinkering with pre-built tools as long as you're not selling them and aren't causing any interference. If you are, the FCC is just as probable to come around and "talk" as they are now.
  • Winmodem? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by solafide (845228) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:26PM (#21677471) Homepage
    Will these chips end up like Winmodems? no intelligence in the chip and impossible to get drivers for?
    • That, would be the worst move ever done in the history of computers...
      Once again, history shows historic errors have been repetead time and time again.

      Finally, WTF?? No Bluetooth??
      • Finally, WTF?? No Bluetooth??
        It probably just isn't mentioned. Bluetooth and WiFi are already commonly done on one chip.
        • by vux984 (928602)
          And you can use both at the same time? I just want to be clear on that point. Because a cellphone that can switch from GSM to CDMA etc would be useful... and it doesn't need to do both at once... but I'd sort of expect to do wifi and use my mouse at the same time...
          • I certainly wouldn't like to have a TCP packet lost each time I press a key on my keyboard :)
            • by Fex303 (557896)

              I certainly wouldn't like to have a TCP packet lost each time I press a key on my keyboard :)
              In that case, I suggest you avoid using Comcast for your ISP.
          • Yes, if you buy a laptop (or mobile phone) with WiFi and Bluetooth they'll almost certainly be run off one chip these days.
        • Did you see 2.4ghz? Bluetooth works within roughly the same channel grouping as 802.11b/g. It uses frequency hopping, and in many implementations is good for about 10m so it's somewhat impractical for what they're trying to do. There are other Bluetooth classes that both have a larger range, and also a slightly better data rate. But you don't want them, so I wouldn't worry about the lack of an implementation. Worse: Bluetooth is low-power (hence the short range, incl standby modes, etc) and must be bonded w
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)
        Actually, Winmodems aren't a bad idea per se. They are cheaper to make than full modems, and you don't need to update the hardware much when new modulation standards appear since they are basically a soundcard. Microsoft basically worked out they could make something that hardware manufacturers would like because it was cheap. And rival OS vendors would hate it since the specification wasn't published.
      • The only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history at all.
        [citation-needed]
    • by Chuck Chunder (21021) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:21PM (#21677965) Homepage Journal
      So there's a much better chance that some of the clever people capable of reverse engineering this sort of stuff will make the effort to do so.
      • It has nothing to do with "win"modems or reverse engineering ability. The difference between a good old hardware modem and a "win"modem is that one follows a standard and the other doesn't.

        An external hardware modem is a serial device (standard) that obeys the AT command set (standard). An internal hardware modem behaves like a serial port card (standard) with an attached device that obeys the AT command set (standard).

        The only problem with "win"modems is that there's no baseline standard for talking to an
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jamesh (87723)

          Instead of making 100s of different NICs that all behaved differently and required their own software drivers, NIC makers all constructed their hardware so that it would behave like a NE2000 ethernet card.

          That's almost how it happened. Novell used National Semiconductors sample design for how a bare minimum card based on it's 8390 ethernet controller could be constructed. Then everyone else copied it too. I don't think it was done for compatibility reasons, it just saved you doing design work. It was also p

          • by Erpo (237853)
            Thank you for clarifying the details. Facts are always important. Still, whether or not compatibility was the intended result, the flood of NE2000-compatible NICs is evidence that two devices doing the same kind of job but from different manufacturers can use the same driver.

            Your less direct point about a standardized hardware model preventing efficiency gains is an important one. I think compatibility is more important than performance in this case, but others are of course free to disagree.
          • Oh, and it got worse... the ISA version of the NE2000 was annoying enough, that was just Novell being cheap when they did the original design, since they were more interested in the software end of networking anyway. But whoever thought it was a bright idea to create a PCI clone of the NE2000 should be shot, as there were far better ways of handling things on PCI. The cheap network card I got when signing up for my ADSL line was a RealTek 8390, which is a PCI NE2000 clone with just enough differences to
  • Uh, not quite (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:27PM (#21677485)
    Uh, not quite.

    There are still a few stages in the receiving chain that have to be analog.

    In particular the first few stages of input filtering, RF amplification, and mixing all HAVE to be analog, and delicate, tricky analog at that.

    Someday we may have 5Gig sample/second 32-bit floating-point A/D converters with microvolt sensitivity, but until then radio receivers can't be quite as flexible as the term "software defined radio" implies.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      How much closer can FPGAs get us?
    • by jabuzz (182671)
      I thought we already did, just not a price point, size or power consumption that is anywhere remotely practical for everyday electronic items.

      Sure if you have a couple million dollars to blow on your next particle detector that you are going to stick in front of your billion dollar accelerator, and can take a couple of U's up in a rack that is not going to be a problem. Back in the everyday world it is still a pipe dream.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Forget the lack of an RF front end - this digital chip itself is really no big deal. All three of these standards use essentially the same modulation scheme (OFDM), and require similar hardware in the modem (which is what this chip is). All three standards us modems based on FFTs and IFFTs engines, have similar channel equalization schemes, etc. I don't see how this demonstrates anything new or interesting.
    • by imgod2u (812837)
      Those analog portions can be configurable via digital control. For instance, the filter frequency range of the receive input filter can be configured using programmable registers and a DAC to offer fairly fine-grain control (let's say 32-bit) of the resistance of an RC filter. The RF amplifier's gain can be adjusted using digital controls as well. Mixing can be done using parallel A/D's that sample in lockstep and then digitally mixed and modulated later.

      All of this injects noise of course but if you don
  • Cell Companies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Adambomb (118938) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:30PM (#21677519) Journal
    With a resounding cry of "Ahhhhh crap." from carriers relying on clients using only their devices.

    "You need to replace your phone? well then you can sign a new contract for a discount on our new..."

    "I already have a device to use for it right here....picked it up online, and its not part of your expected sell/refurb/resell cycles. I believe you know what you can do with your contract..."

    Course there will still be the "But don't you want 6 months of unlimited local talking and a discounted rate plan?!", still cuts out a lock in technique though.
  • awesome! (Score:4, Funny)

    by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:31PM (#21677527)
    Now I'll be able to open and close people's garage doors while accessing their wifi, all with one device!
  • by teebob21 (947095) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:32PM (#21677547) Journal
    An integrated 3-protocol chip, if produced for a reasonable price, could be just the thing to spark a new age of computing. Let's compare most "movie-future" computers to this: Easy wireless access almost anywhere you go, plus reception of live digital TV broadcasts. Sounds like the movies to me!! Granted -- the chip doesn't appear to be a ATSC decoder (I could be wrong) so current US broadcasters won't have their digital signals accessible by this chip. Additionally, wireless access in most municipalities is not existent, and most of those implementations just plain suck. At any rate, we need the hardware base to exist before the demand for "quality" municipal WiFi will grow.

    Continue this development, and you may reach the point of having essentially a HTPC on a card, with TV tuning and wireless internet built in. With the new FCC mandates to open up the cable box market, Intel may open the door for competition that isn't a TiVO. And...even if no new companies step up, TiVO would probably be interested in providing Internet and TV via the same box -- something most cable boxes cannot do.

    I also LONG for the day where WiFi chips/cards begin coming standard on motherboards; I prefer a desktop to a laptop any day. That, and I am tired of running CAT5 throughout my house to my multiple boxes.
    • Except it is an absolute pain to run Linux or any other non-MS OS on them, save freeBSD and *buntu, but other then that, its a total pain to work with wi-fi and with the devices being non F/OSS, most distros won't include them. The curse of the winmodem in the modern age.
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)
      LinuxMCE [slashdot.org] already does what TiVo does, and a lot more, by integrating MythTV with home automation, telephony, and all kinds of other stuff.
      • by teebob21 (947095)
        I agree with you there, but the FCC's intent was not to push LinuxMCE. Rather, the separable security directive was intended to open the market for third-party customer premises equipment (cable boxes). After 6 months, no other company has even started marketing a similar device for cable subscribers on the mass market. If this chip and a SDK were released to the public, I can see it finding a home in such a device. The integrated WiFi and WiMax capability adds a feature not available in today's CPE, namely
        • by Doc Ruby (173196)
          The FCC's "intent" (which is always a lawyer's creation derived from what it declared) was to open that tier for competitive access, and to protect it from the competitive advantages of the network retailer. If government "intent" or effective action is to promote a single product, that's called "crony capitalism" at best.

          FWIW, this chip is really designed for mobile devices. Especially because some telcos, like Sprint, are (announced, anyway) switching to WiMAX for 4G. For stationary devices, it's not wort
    • Sounds like the movies to me!!

      It'll sound like the movies to me when I can use it from my flying car.
  • because we all know how well software modems work, right?
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)
      This device doesn't do the DSP or any other transcoding in software. It decomposes the 3 bands' different transcoder HW into components, factors out the redundant ones, then uses SW to just glue together the required signal paths. The work is done by HW. Should work quite well.
  • Sounds great but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by phatvw (996438) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:36PM (#21677589)
    You still have a fundamental problem with radio communications - how to tune the antenna for multiple frequency bands [wirelessne...gnline.com] in a small package. Not an easy task.
    • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:41PM (#21677649) Homepage
      You don't. You put 3 antennas in the device and switch between them. This would be problematic for other things, but in high frequencies the antennas aren't that big. If all three things use nearby pieces of spectrum (say different parts of 2.4 GHz) then you can tune the antenna for the center and put up with the losses for frequencies near the edges.
      • by phatvw (996438)
        Indeed. See the article I linked too. Perhaps Intel will make an announcement about a new antenna switch module to go along with the DSP :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:41PM (#21677637)
    I don't know a lot about them, but I've read that Mid-Tex Cellular uses software defined radios from Vanu, Inc. From what I've read they updated from TDMA (using conventional hardware) to GSM (using quite unconventional hardware) in early 2005. Instead of installing GSM hardware at each site, they installed this software defined radio hardware. So, now they've decided to add in CDMA also for roamers; instead of having to add expensive and specialized CDMA base station hardware to each site, they just add software to the control computers (and, possibly add an extra computer to a site if it needs more processing power.)

              This sounds like something Alltel could use, given in the west they run AMPS, TDMA, GSM, CDMA, and EVDO. (Western Wireless, which Alltel bought, provides the only coverage in a lot of the rural desert, and so they found the more standards they supported, the more roaming money they made... since it's desert, they didn't have problems with network congestion or whatever, so they just decided to run all standards 8-) They run CDMA + EVDO for themselves, and the rest for roamers.)

  • by matt_martin (159394) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:42PM (#21677653) Homepage Journal
    Turn off the TV, I wanna check my email ! (?)
    • DVH-H, like most mobile targeted digital video systems afaik, is not an always-on signal. It's divided into time slices, and only uses something like one in ten slices for any particular channel. This is primarily to allow power savings by leaving the receiver powered off 90% of the time, but it might also allow you to use the same radio for TV and WiFI/WIMAX effectively at the same time.
  • "It's also a proof that the entire class of SW radios that could also possibly converge CDMA, GSM and various other radio networks for opportunistic handoffs by a single device, a 'universal radio' that could converge all wireless device types into a single device that can use content formerly locked into a single radio type." 1) The above is not a sentence. You haven't bothered to say what it proves even as it converges. 2) "SW" radio means short wave. That acronym is already taken.
  • by Inf0phreak (627499) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:04PM (#21677843)
    Why would you want a chip to rule a mall?

    There. It's been a while since I made a stupid joke here. Quota fulfilled for the next couple of months I guess :)

  • by LowSNR (1138511) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:20PM (#21677961) Homepage
    FTFA:

    This provides all the digital signal processing and forward error correction for these three protocols and the area is still comparable to three fixed function Asics
    This isn't really software-defined radio. Software-defined implies that the protocol level processing (i.e. DSP, FEC, etc.) are performed in software or firmware rather than in silicon (and hence changeable on the fly). While it is a pretty neat chip that has the potential to ease the convergence of these wireless standards, software radio it's not.
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)
      "Software Defined Radio" isn't a precise term. It means "the least HW processing, the most SW processing" designed for flexibility in tuning multiple frequency bands and other (mostly protocol) features. This device is defined by SW running on it which band and protocol it's working in. It's a few steps beyond the trivial case of just switching among a few dedicated all-HW radios with a config signal. It decomposes the 3 band/protocol radios into components, factors out the redundant ones, and glues them to
      • by LowSNR (1138511)
        Software-defined radio is broad, but I wouldn't say that it is imprecise. True, the operating mode of the chip can be changed, but the set of protocols that the chip understands (WiFi, WiMAX, and DVB-H) is not. Your assertion that there is SW running is not really correct either. There is no "software" per se running on the chip. It is just a collection of many finite state machines run in parallel to demodulate and decode the RF input. These state machines are immutable at runtime, so this is really j
        • This should be not forgotten: What is Software? A set of instructions executed to obtain a result.

          While the term SDR is broadly used on the article, it just means the hardware(radio chip) is delegating the decision making to a piece of software... Not necessarily end-user level software.

          This device is just a chip, unless we live in 1970s cartoons you can't install a chip on a computer. You need a controller board which works on the same protocol as the devices comm bus on the motherboard. And this contr
        • by Doc Ruby (173196)
          As someone else pointed out [slashdot.org], the SDR Forum would call this device an SDR [sdrforum.org].
      • by mako1138 (837520)
        The SDR Forum defines tiers [sdrforum.org] of software-ness. I've seen the terms used in the literature, so it's somewhat accepted.
    • Of course they're software-defined radios - just over a narrow class. All those standards are OFDM modulation (well, except for .11b, but other than that...). Once you have an engine that can do the data rates of 802.11n and the OFDM subcarriers of Mobile WiMAX, everything else is just changing over-the-air parameters and frame structures. And in terms of modifiable, it's unlikely the radios could go out of the assigned frequency bands, and given the state of the highly optimized engines in these chips, you
  • ...but the biggest hurdles are more political than technical.  You mean you want to have music contect streaming all loosy-goosy on the whatevernet?  Can't have that!
  • WiFi+WiMax+Bluetooth+3G.
    This is the real need.

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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