Quintech Exec on Where Software-Defined Radios Fit in Satellite

A soldier uses a radio with Harris's backpack.  Photo: Harris.

A soldier uses a radio with Harris’s backpack. Photo: Harris.

Quintech Electronics & Communications recently announced that a government contractor will use its matrix switch to test Nexus-4 16 networks to accelerate the development of its software-defined radio (SDR) systems. In an interview with By satellite, David Chan, Quintech’s vice president of sales and marketing, explained why SDR is critical to satellite systems today and the future, and how Quintech plans to position itself with increasing technology and usage.

The future looks bright for SDR as defense forces continue to invest in more sophisticated communications solutions and more satellite operators are targeting digital rather than analog payloads. Research and markets predicts that the SDR market, which is now valued at about $ 16 billion, will swell at an annual growth rate of 12 percent, reaching a value of over $ 29 billion by 2021.

Basically, Chan said, SDR allows network operators to digitize their radio frequency (RF) signals, allowing them to adapt their assets to communicate across different modulation schemes – whether it’s satcom, wireless protocols like LTE or headphone radio protocols via Ultra High Frequency (UHF). “They all have different types of bit sequences and commands to communicate on,” Chan said.

The fixed antenna, which can use only one protocol, is limited by its own hardware and therefore SDRs offer additional flexibility to adapt to situations where one protocol is insufficient. This has proved particularly useful for military operations and emergency services, which rely on stable communication through radio stations to keep users constantly connected.

“If you stick to fixed modulation, given the terrain you are in and the configuration you are in, your signals may not be connected. You want to be able to switch to different modulation, “said Chan, in case there are too many commercial disturbances or if the user has visibility problems and has to switch to a satellite to transmit from above the field. The Quintech matrix switch makes it easy for its customers – SDR antenna manufacturers, for example – to test these different network scenarios.

“This helps automate these configurations so that they can create them almost on the go. This allows [our customers] try everything you can think of before putting it on the field, ”Chan said. “In addition to being able to make these different connections, we’ve built a variable attenuator into each junction that can help simulate signal strength and distance.”

Using the attenuator, manufacturers can perform tests when one node approaches or moves away from another, increasing or decreasing the signal level in a controlled environment. “This way you can do handover tests,” Chan said. “Ideally, you want to know when [the handoff] it’s actually happening … and what’s happening at this point in time. “

Chan sees a big opportunity for Quintech’s SDR-related products. Harrisfor example, has developed a software – defined architectural platform for small and hosted payloads that Iridium used in its next constellation. Anaren currently also produces advanced prefabricated beam for At Eutelsat Quantum satellite, which has a software design.

Like International President of Boeing Space Systems Mark Spivak stressed recently, digital payloads extend the life of satellites because their capabilities can be improved with the advent of new technologies. All it takes, Chan added, is a simple firmware upgrade.

“You are protected from the future because you can change the modulation with a firmware upgrade,” he explained. “We think the longevity of these satellites will go a little further based on the fact that you are no longer stuck in a modulation scheme.”

Chan also pointed out that rigorous tests are needed to ensure that these promising improvements are also backward compatible. “You need to be able to not only test the firmware of existing configurations, but you also need to do regression testing to show that it can work on older configurations at the same time,” he said. “Our products help our customers do as many tests as possible, so when the firmware upgrade gets there, one, it doesn’t break the system … and two, it performs the way you thought it would. . “