A radio is any kind of device that wirelessly transmits or receives signals in the radio frequency (RF) part of the electromagnetic spectrum to facilitate the communication or transfer of information. In today’s world, radios exist in a multitude of items such as cell phones, computers, car door openers, vehicles, and televisions.
With the exponential growth in the ways and means by which people need to communicate -data communications, voice communications, video communications, broadcast messaging, command and control communications, emergency response communications, etc. – modifying radio devices easily and cost-effectively has become business-critical. Software-defined radio (SDR) technology brings the flexibility, cost efficiency, and power to drive communications forward, with wide-reaching benefits realized by service providers and product developers through to end-users.
SDR is “a radio in which some or all of the physical-layer functions are software-defined,” per the Wireless Innovation Forum (formerly the SDR Forum). Software-defined radio (SDR) is a radio communication system where components that have been traditionally implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, etc.) are instead implemented by means of software or firmware operating on programmable processing technologies.
These devices include field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), digital signal processors (DSP), general-purpose processors (GPP), programmable System on Chip (SoC), or other application-specific programmable processors. The use of these technologies allows new wireless features and capabilities to be added to existing radio systems without requiring new hardware.
Traditional hardware-based radio devices limit cross-functionality and can only be modified through physical intervention. This results in higher production costs and minimal flexibility in supporting multiple waveform standards. By contrast, software defined radio technology provides an efficient and comparatively inexpensive solution to this problem, allowing multimode, multi-band, and/or multi-functional wireless devices that can be enhanced using software
Software Defined Radio – Benefits:
Radio functionality is provided through software rather than hardware.
• Software applications provide waveform generation and processing, encryption, signal processing, and other major communications functions.
• Programmable and able to accommodate various physical layer formats and protocols.
• Multiple software modules allow implementation of different standards in the same radio system.
• Flexibility of incorporation of new functionality, without need to upgrade or replace hardware components.
• Decreased maintenance costs, due to radio receivers being reconfigurable over-the-air.
For Radio Equipment Manufacturers and System Integrators, SDR Enables:
• A family of radio “products” to be implemented using a common platform architecture, allowing new products to be more quickly introduced into the market.
• Software to be reused across radio “products”, reducing development and maintenance costs dramatically.
• Over-the-air or other remote reprogramming, allowing “bug fixes” to occur while a radio is in service, thus reducing the time and costs associated with operation and maintenance.
For Radio Service Providers, SDR Enables:
• New features and capabilities to be added to existing infrastructure without requiring major new capital expenditures, allowing service providers to quasi-future proof their networks.
• The use of a common radio platform for multiple markets, significantly reducing logistical support and operating expenditures.
• Remote software downloads, through which capacity can be increased, capability upgrades can be activated and new revenue generating features can be inserted.
For End Users – from business travelers to soldiers on the battlefield, SDR technology aims to:
• Reduce costs in providing end-users with access to ubiquitous wireless communications – enabling them to communicate with whomever they need, whenever they need to and in whatever manner is appropriate.
Software-defined Radio Applications
Wide SDR applicability is based on its capability to change radio parameters (such as power levels, radio frequency bands, radio channel bandwidths, waveforms, etc.). This technology is ideal for various industries including health, telecommunication, aerospace, automotive and oil and gas. Vehicular networking and cognitive radio are classic examples of real-world applications of SDR technology.
As a proven technology today, it enables provisioning of new services in wireless cellular communications networks, such as: 5G, support for radio systems/receivers with Single Antenna Interference Cancellation (SAIC) technique, various monitoring systems, IoT (Internet of Things) health technology solutions, Wireless Body Area Networks (WBAN), generation of different waveforms, medical applications such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMRS) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and deployment of aerospace and satellite communications systems in higher, not so crowded frequency bands.
Software radios have significant utility for the military and cell phone services, both of which must serve a wide variety of changing radio protocols in real-time. The ubiquity of 4G handsets and emerging 5G standard has propelled SDRs, and future requirements of the Internet of Things (IoT), promise to again increase the volume of SDRs by another order of magnitude.
SDR technology is advancing rapidly, and so is its popularity in use across different fields. In the future, experts predict that SDR platforms will become indispensable for digital radio and TV broadcasting, video streaming transmissions, multimedia services availability, monitoring systems and all other novel radio applications.
One of the fields that has been significantly impacted by this technology is networking. The flexibility and performance of SDR technology makes it suitable for building dynamic, efficient and highly secure network components. In traditional networks, dedicated hardware devices are used to interface wired and wireless networks. Hardware-based networking devices are a costly option because it is difficult to upgrade them. SDR technology allows implementation of network devices that can be upgraded without modifying existing hardware. The versatility of the SDR paradigm also allows smooth reconfiguration of networks and efficient spectrum access. In addition, its flexibility enables network devices to operate seamlessly on different communication protocols and frequencies. Examples of network functionalities that can be implemented using the SDR paradigm include routers, firewalls and load balancers.
The flexibility and reconfigurability of SDRs allows implementation of interoperable radio devices. These devices can serve as radio bridges and are suitable for joining two or more heterogeneous networks. SDRs for use in interconnecting networks employ frequency hopping among other techniques to ensure secure and uninterrupted communication.
SDRs are versatile and can be programmed to broadcast below the noise floor. Employing this technique can help to further boost the resilience of software-based radio bridges against traditional attack mechanisms. In terms of security, SDR-based networking devices can offer better performance as compared to traditional hardware-based bridges.
Military requirements and SDRs
Tactical radios are inherently designed military to enable radio communications in areas not covered by telecommunications infrastructure and provide robust connectivity between all units in the battlefield and in all types of extreme environmental conditions. They are typically designed to transfer any kind of information, whether it is voice, picture, video or other kinds of data.
With the pace of battle and extremely quick changing scenarios warfighters face today, the need for immediate switching and real-time situational awareness demands SDRs in every domain – air-ground-space-maritime – all working together as one cohesive communication to provide multi-domain capability. Software Defined Radio (SDR) has become a major focus of military organizations since many years. It is recognized as an optimal solution capable of shaping more flexible and powerful tactical radios that traditionally relying on single channel radio communications technology with limited performance.
There are generally two kinds of military radios: hardware centric/purpose-built radios (PBR), and software defined radio (SDR). It’s also important to note that PBRs are designed for a very specific CONOPS (concept of operations) or mission. These cannot be easily adapted or modified to the dynamic environments that the warfighter may encounter and would require redesign or re-manufacturing to accept new technology. Software defined radios, on the other hand, provide multi-functional capability including waveforms, embedded cryptology, and greater internal processing power that yields real-time communication around the battlefield.
“Most purpose-built solutions are optimized for size, weight, power and performance but are significantly more expensive and time consuming to design and produce,” Paul Mehney, a spokesman for the Army’s program executive office command, control and communications-tactical, said in an email. “ SDRs can receive upgrades by changing the software load, enabling the radio to run multiple waveforms or accept new ones. That will enable the Army to acquire new radio technology as it emerges without having to buy additional equipment or start a new program,” he said.
The Army operates in an evolving threat-based environment that requires upgradeability that is limited by a hardware defined solution. Software defined radios allow for less complicated waveform upgrades and do not require costly hardware changes as we incorporate electronic warfare hardening and cyber protection. A key aspect of the radio is that it allows for upgrades to include advanced waveforms and other means of addressing growing electronic warfare threats, Smith said. “Instead of having to change out hardware with changes in threat or changes in technology, we’re now able to do this with software squirts … much like you draw down and upload software into your [cell] phone right now,” he explained.
Software Defined Radio – Related Technologies
SDR can act as a key enabling technology for a variety of other reconfigurable radio equipment commonly discussed in the advanced wireless market. While SDR is not required to implement any of these radio types, SDR technologies can provide these types of radio with the flexibility necessary for them to achieve their full potential, the benefits of which can help to reduce cost and increase system efficiencies:
Adaptive radio is radio in which communications systems have a means of monitoring their own performance and
modifying their operating parameters to improve this performance. The use of SDR technologies in an adaptive radio system enables greater degrees of freedom in adaptation, and thus higher levels of performance and better quality of service in a communications link.
Cognitive radio is radio in which communication systems are aware of their internal state and environment, such as location and utilization on RF frequency spectrum at that location. They can make decisions about their radio operating behaviour by mapping that information against predefined objectives.
Cognitive radio is further defined by many to utilize Software Defined Radio, Adaptive Radio, and other technologies to automatically adjust its behaviour or operations to achieve desired objectives. The utilization of these elements is critical in allowing end-users to make optimal use of available frequency spectrum and wireless networks with a common set of radio hardware. As noted earlier, this will reduce cost to the end-user while allowing him or her to communicate with whomever they need whenever they need to and in whatever manner is appropriate.
Intelligent radio is cognitive radio that is capable of machine learning. This allows the cognitive radio to improve the ways in which it adapts to changes in performance and environment to better serve the needs of the end user. These types of radio – adaptive radio, cognitive radio and intelligent radio – do not necessarily define a single piece of equipment, but may instead incorporate components that are spread across an entire network.
Software Defined Radio Market
The software-defined radio market size is projected to grow from USD 11.4 billion in 2020 to USD 14.5 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 4.9% from 2020 to 2025. Key factors expected to drive the growth of the software-defined radio market include increasing adoption of a software-defined radio in telecommunications and various technological developments in SDRs. The rising demand for software-defined radios in vital communication systems utilized for critical missions in space and aerospace sectors will positively influence the market growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant damage to the economic activities of countries across the world. The manufacturing of software defined radio systems, subsystems, and components has also been impacted by the pandemic. Although the manufacturing of software defined radios for military applications is of prime importance, disruptions in the supply chain have halted manufacturing for the time being. Resuming manufacturing activities depends on the level of COVID-19 exposure, the level at which manufacturing operations are running, and import-export regulations, among other factors. Although companies may still be taking in orders, delivery schedules might not be fixed. According to industry experts, defense departments are focusing more on sectors that are of high importance to national security. Countries in North America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific have maintained a considerable growth in their defense spending during the pandemic, contrary to countries of other regions.
Military communication and homeland security & emergency management are the key applications showcasing greater demand for different types of software-defined radios. Some industry experts have noted that the pandemic has not affected the demand for software-defined radios, especially for military applications. In order to maintain adequate law and order, law enforcement agencies are working with additional forces, thereby not affecting the overall demand for software-defined radios in defense applications across the globe. Companies such as L3Harris Technologies (US), Leonardo S.p.A. (Italy), BAE Systems (UK), General Dynamics Corporation (US), and Elbit Systems (Israel) have received contracts for the supply of software-defined radios to defense forces between January 2020 and July 2020.
The requirement for communications systems for several types of missions being carried out by defense forces, space agencies, and government authorities has been changing rapidly over the years. The software defined radios (SDRs) developed a decade earlier have come to be mostly inadequate to support the diverse nature of operations in the current communication systems. The earlier radios were heavy and massive (in weight and size) and, hence, do not meet the mobility-related requirements of troops stationed in adverse and difficult terrains. These mobility-related requirements, as well as the implementation of communication concepts, have contributed to the demand for lighter and more agile SDR systems.
The chances of a security breach are high when installing or loading a new software in an SDR unit through an over-the-air update. There is a high possibility of unauthorized and potentially malicious software getting installed on the specified platform. The process is similar to the installation of software on laptops or personal computers, where the prevention of any malicious functions is required.
Concerns related to unlicensed codes restrict the market’s growth owing to the potential for compromising the security of the users’ assets along with threats to the communication capability of the devices. Such security concerns will create a barrier in the sales growth of communication systems, including software defined radios. Thus, security concerns act as a key restraining factor for the software defined radio market’s growth.
Companies are focusing on intensifying their profitability by offering consumers a wide range of advanced IP radio systems, owing to their increasing demand across the globe. The sales of such products will also provide new or enhanced services to the networking industry while at the same time reducing transaction costs and further enhancing the end-user experience. Next-generation frontline mobile communications also tend to shift away from high power single line contact methods towards “mesh” systems with low power, which enable more operators to be linked together by means of the multi-node mesh systems. Such systems have low susceptibility towards the failure of single points and are also capable of self-healing, thereby enabling the communications packets to find the best transfer route based on available system bandwidth and traffic levels. These next-generation IP radio systems will subsequently provide opportunities for the usage of advanced SDRs.
Challenges: Interoperability between disparate communication technologies
Multiple technological advancements have improved the capabilities of software defined radios, ensuring connectivity in numerous terrains and contributing to increased situational awareness. The utilization of multiple technologies, including time-division multiplexing (TDM), voice over internet protocol (VoIP), satellite communications, cryptographic devices, tactical radios, cellular, SCIP, Wi-Fi, and WiMAX, has resulted in several compatibility issues. The installations of various types of modems in a communication network have also resulted in interoperability-related issues, owing to the variance in protocols as vendors add their specific value-added protocols as per the mission requirements. Several Army Warfighters Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) units, along with combat support divisions, procure such modems and related products to suit their platforms or architectures. Variance in the network infrastructure can also turn into an impediment owing to the inability of dissimilar protocols to interconnect with each other.
Based on platform, the land segment of the software defined radio market is projected to witness the highest market share during the forecast period
In terms of platform, the software defined radio market is segregated into land, airborne, naval and space. The land segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period. The land platform segment covers the use of software-defined radios in military and commercial applications. The land segment includes fixed unit installation and mobile unit installation. The rising requirement of SDRs used in military vehicles and cellular stations is expected to support the growth of land segment in the upcoming years. One of the military software defined radios for land platform was developed from the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program in the US.
Based on component, software segment is projected to witness the highest CAGR owing to increasing focus on defence equipment upgradation across the globe
Based on component, the software defined radio market has been segmented into general purpose processor, digital signal processor, field programmable gate array, application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), amplifier, convertor, software, and others. The software segment is expected to grow at a higher CAGR owing to the rising implemtation of software to increase compatibility of software defined radio systems with new communication standards. Software defined radios have the advantage of upgradability, thus reducing their replacement costs. They can be easily upgraded to support new communication standards, by downloading new system files using the software in their operating systems. The upgrades make software defined radios adaptable to new communication standards and military waveforms.
The North America market is projected to contribute the largest share from 2020 to 2025 in the software-defined radio market
The US is the largest market for software-defined radios in the North American region. The country has been the pioneer in software-defined radios since 1990s. The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) is a program initiated by the US for the development of the Software Communication Architecture (SCA). Such programs support the development of advanced software-defined radios. In February 2019, Collins Aerospace, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp., was awarded a contract worth over USD 406 million by the US Army for the ARC-231A radio system for airborne platforms. The contract, which will be executed over the next five years, includes upgrades, production, and support for up to 5,000 radios.
Major players based in North America for the software-defined radio market include Northrop Grumman Corporation (US), L3Harris Technologies, Inc. (US), Raytheon Technologies Corporation (US), General Dynamics Corporation (US), National Instruments (US), and FlexRadio (US).
Key players in the software-defined radio market consist of well-established, financially stable manufacturers of software-defined radios, such as Northrop Grumman Corporation (US), Thales (France), Elbit Systems Ltd. (Israel), Raytheon Technologies Corporation (US), L3Harris Technologies, Inc (US), General Dynamics Corporation (US), and BAE Systems (US). These are the key manufacturers that secured software-defined radio contracts and launched products in the last few years.
Northrop Grumman to Rapidly Develop Open Architecture Radio for US Air Force
Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has been awarded a contract to develop and demonstrate a Software Programmable Open Mission Systems (OMS) Compliant (SPOC) radio terminal for the U.S. Air Force. Northrop Grumman’s SPOC solution will provide the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center with an air-to-ground and air-to-air communications capability across four radio frequency waveforms: Link-16 CMN-4, Common Data Link (CDL), Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) and Multi User Objective System (MUOS).
This development defines the Air Force’s next generation radio approach. “Our solution for SPOC provides a mature hardware and software development kit that allows the Air Force to rapidly develop and prototype innovative communications solutions from any provider on an open architecture networking terminal that can be quickly taken into flight test and production,” said Roshan Roeder, vice president, communications, airborne sensors and networks division, Northrop Grumman. “With the Air Force taking responsibility for developing the airborne communications network infrastructure for the Advanced Battle Management System, SPOC radio will allow the Air Force to rapidly develop, test, fly and iterate.”
Northrop Grumman’s SPOC open architecture networking terminal offers numerous benefits to the Air Force customer, including opening the F-35 communications, navigation and identification (CNI) system to third-party developers, ownership of Link 16 development, sharing of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information over a common data link, and Mobile User Objective System beyond line of sight capability.