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Software-defined radio gains ground

Don’t you wish all your wireless needs could be met by one source? Many of us do, and some of us are doing something about it.

Scientists at Bell Labs are hard at work on software-defined radio (SDR), which is software that modifies hardware to accept all wireless comers. A chip armed with such software could enable switching from Wi-Fi to GPS to GSM/GPRS/EDGE and even tune in to radio and TV stations. That idea is being put into practice at Bell Labs, where researchers are designing base stations with the varied functionality. Portable devices are next on the list.

On the market now are some devices that can switch between cellular and Wi-Fi needs. Those devices don’t exactly utilize SDR, however.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about SDR, according to the researchers, is the ability to upgrade the base stations (and, later, handheld devices) remotely. Unlike current configurations, which require physical changes to be made to the hardware in order to take advantage of software enhancements, SDR allows upgrades via software updates. Because the software is the brains of the operation without being fully integrated into the hardware, the entire device can become a new version of itself with only a software update. That means faster and better service for customers and, by extension, more business for business.

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