[Sorry, published this post early, final version below]
A couple of years ago I was at an IEEE technology conference and heard a presentation on software defined radios (SDR). At the time, it was focused on military applications where a number of different radio frequencies were used by different organizations. The military and other services wanted a single piece of hardware with DR, to talk over any frequency band that was currently being used.
Over time I heard nothing more about this technology until today when I read a ARS Technica article on an SDR startup company Per Vices and their Phi SDR. We have recently posted on OpenFlow and its software defined networking this takes that flexibility and applies it to radio.
Looking at the hardware it still primarily for hobbyists and engineers, with a RF daughter card, computer card and the main box. It’s available as a PCIe card or comes in a kit. But it’s a start.
Not to much today but if it can be shrunk and become more widely available, any smartphone could be a multi-network phone right out of the box. Signing up for ATT, Verizon, Sprint and others would be as easy as toggling a setting and letting the SDR do the rest.
More to come
Not only that, but with SDR, that same smartphone could act as an AM/FM/shortwave radio, multi-band walki-talki, even it’s own radio station for any and all frequency bands. Not to mention including a WiFi hot spot, BlueTooth, RFid, and NearField transceiver just as easily the other bands, all in the same mobile phone without any specialized hardware other than the shrunken RF gear.
Currently the iPhone and other smart phones require separate hardware technology and at best only do some of this. But with SDR and appropriate RF gear, all this could be done over the same hardware, all within the smart phone itself and it could be just as easy as changing a setting. I could see a radio station app in my future when SDR is here.
I have often wondered why smart phones don’t form a mesh network with the phones closest to a cell tower offering telcom access and the phones farther away using closer ones as a sort of on/off-ramp. One reason for no mesh support is that it would take more phone processing and energy to do it. Without any compensation who would volunteer their phone to do it. But with SDR, standardized protocols could be developed together with mobile micro payment options which would allow phone users to be compensated for providing mesh services and everyone gains.
Open source radio
Of course the other thing is that with SDR, the radio logic is now open source and could be tweaked to do just about anything an engineer wanted to do. This would really open up the radio spectrum to all sorts of new possibilities.
The FCC and other regulatory agencies might have some concerns about this. But if some spectrum could be set aside for these sorts of experimentation, I am sure the world would be better off for it.
Per Vices compares themselves to Apple and it’s Apple 1 which was just a computer card with no software for hobbyists to play with. Given where they are today it certainly is an apt description.
They just need to take it to the next step and make the Apple II version of SDR. A complete package, with software and hardware where any person could construct their own radio. Then the next step is to create the Macintosh of radios where everyone could use it for radio services and they could conquer radio.