Electronic Design

The Technology Behind Communications Technology

What are the enabling technologies behind the communications revival? It should be obvious, but if communications isn't your specialty, then you may have overlooked these key developments:

1. Semiconductor processing: Smaller feature sizes down to 90 nm now and tumbling to 65 nm in the near future. This permits higher data speeds, higher-frequency (microwave) analog RF circuits, larger systems on a chip (SoCs), and lower power consumption.

2. Digital signal processing (DSP): Faster chips with clock speeds up to 1 Gbit/s now permit almost any analog process to be implemented like filters, equalizers, modulators and demodulators, mixers, and so on.

3. Faster analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters: DSP is viable only if fast ADCs are available. Sampling rates from 160 to over 250 Msamples/s are now available, with higher rates coming.

4. Software-defined radio (SDR): More and more, wireless transceivers are morphing into fast special processors. With faster ADCs, the radio will eventually become a DSP chip with an antenna.

5. New antenna technology: Smart antennas can steer the beams of RF to improve gain and coverage while mitigating noise and interference. Multiple input, multiple out (MIMO) is being used to increase wireless data rates with parallel datapaths.

6. Standards: They are slow to develop but essential to interoperability internationally.

7. Regulation: Government regulation of spectrum space and all telecommunications services has a severe impact on communications. Despite the government's goal of deregulating, it still maintains control, limiting what can be done. In some cases, regulation spurs development as designers try to overcome the sometimes dumb policies and restrictions of the regulatory bodies.

TAGS: Digital ICs
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