The software-based modem concept has been mooted for many years as the solution to address the proliferation of wireless standards, and yet the architecture has not emerged as a widely deployed technology. There are some well known examples of software very successfully displacing hardware in specific applications, such dial-up modems and MPEG decoding, and these validate that concept’s commercial viability. With the recent emergence of innovative reconfigurable RF silicon integrated circuits (ICs), and the rapid evolution of highly capable, portability-centric microprocessors in consumer electronics devices, software-based modems now have the opportunity to make an impact as a viable solution to low-cost wireless convergence.

CellPhone Live-TV Tuner Software ModemWith latest multi-core multi-standard processors, the software modem architecture can be successfully leveraged to address the challenge of enabling broadcast TV and radio content reception on a personal computer (PC) platform – at a price the consumer is willing to pay and the manufacturer can afford to deliver.

The enduring importance of broadcast lies in the fact that is the most efficient way to deliver live media content such as sport and news to multiple users simultaneously and with infinite user scalability. Additionally, broadcast is well served today by free-to-air content globally. By offering broadcast reception – in conjunction with, and complementary to, cellular and IP-based technologies – CE device manufacturers can offer consumers the ability to enjoy content on-the-go.

Software Modem

The concept of software modems is based on Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology. The concept of software modems is elegant in its simplicity: certain modem blocks traditionally implemented in silicon hardware are instead realized in software as algorithms. If these algorithms can be made efficient enough to run on a processor already existent within a device platform, the software-based modem approach can realistically deliver converged connectivity, and multi-media content anywhere.

Today’s consumer processor platforms are multi-core, and support complex mathematical and signal processing functions; in short, they are ideally suited to software modem implementation. Intel x86-based CPUs, ARM multimedia-centric processor cores, and other graphics and processor architectures now have ample capability to support software modems.

Note also that many modern and PC and portable devices are now incorporating combinations of CPUs, applications processors and graphics processors (GPUs). This combined processing power can be deployed in such a manner – including processing offload from CPU to GPU – to ensure the most efficient resource utilization.

By combining a software modem with a reconfigurable RF transceiver, consumer and PC device manufacturers can implement a platform strategy (“one product, all geographies”), and thereby realize a step-change in product cost.

Broadcast reception applications such TV, radio and GPS are ideally suited to implementation with a software modem architecture. The software modem is the only viable architecture to deliver consumer cost goals for converged wireless content delivery on portable consumer electronics (CE) devices.