Imec presents a digital front-end component for low-cost and low-power spectrum sensing, paving the way to power-efficient cognitive radios and networks. The new results support industry’s search for increased flexibility and reliability for their next-generation wireless devices. The accelerated deployment of broadband personal communication coupled with the continuously increasing demand for large data rates results in an increasing spectrum scarcity. A dynamic access to the available spectrum would increase the throughput efficiency significantly. In licensed bands scenarios, dynamic spectrum access would for example allow personal mobile terminals to seamlessly set-up and maintain a reliable wireless connection. In unlicensed bands (e.g. the crowded 2.4 GHz band), it would bring added value to products for which interruptions in the connectivity cannot be tolerated, for safety reasons in a control system (e.g. surveillance camera’s), or for comfort reasons in real-time applications (wireless conferencing, hearing aids,…) as it would improve connectivity even in the presence of many competing and interfering networks.

Picture: IMEC

However, current radio architectures are focused on the reception of a predefined channel, and cannot proceed to a frequency scan operation in a timely, cost- and energy-effective way. Imec’s cognitive reconfigurable radio solutions hold the solution for such next-generation flexible radios, as they enable multi-mode communication and spectrum sensing.

Imec’s new spectrum sensing component was designed as a versatile digital engine to meet a wide variety of use cases, at low cost and low power overhead. The chip, which hosts a dedicated ASIP (application-specific integrated processor), can perform both flexible synchronization and spectrum sensing for high-throughput WLAN (802.11a-n), cellular standards (including the recent 3GPP-LTE), and digital broadcasting standards.

The novel spectrum sensing component connects to imec’s in-house designed analog reconfigurable radio chip (SCALDIO) and imec’s programmable digital baseband platform conceived for 4G seamless connectivity (COBRA). As such, imec’s complete reconfigurable radio solutions enable multimode communication with efficient use of the spectrum.

Imec cooperates with K.U.Leuven and Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the project ‘Essences’, funded by the Flemish government agency for Innovation by Science and Technology, IWT, to conceive even lower power solutions for the future. The strategic basic research project also investigates the possible or desirable sensing capabilities from a business and regulatory point of view. Together with the protocol specialists from Ghent University, the improvements spectrum sensing can bring on the network level are researched within the strategic project ‘Next Generation Networks and Terminals’ and test-lab from the Flemish Interdisciplinary Institute for Broadband Technology, IBBT. Moreover, Imec is dedicated to boost the valorization potential of its sensing technology by teaming up with companies in Flanders that are developing high-tech wireless products.