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12/8/2005
07:13 PM
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BBN Technologies to Develop Open-Source Radio Software

The software will be used in software-defined radios, which are potentially much more flexible and get better reception than radios where the logic is frozen in hardware.

The U.S. government aims to develop open-source software to improve the performance of software-defined radios in urban environments.

The advantage of software-defined radio (SDR) is that it shifts many of the functions of hardware into software, which can be more easily reconfigured to achieve a desired result. For example, a SDR might be able to pick up a weak transmission by changing signal processing techniques. In essence, SDRs combine the flexibility of computers with variable, long-range wireless networking options.

"By having the SDR flexibility, you're more free to experiment with new modulation methods," explains Greg Troxel, a division scientist at BBN Technologies.

BBN Technologies, a defense contractor responsible various Internet technologies now largely taken for granted, on Monday said that it had been awarded a three-year contract worth over $11 million by the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under its Adaptive Cognition-Enhanced Radio Teams (ACERT) program.

The goal of the ACERT program is to create models, algorithms, and prototypes for distributed radio communication and collaborative awareness for the military. Ideally, future SDR technology will enable military teams to improve communication and coordination between dispersed team members.

Because BBN is working with open-source software, U.S. taxpayers, not to mention the rest of the world, will ultimately have the opportunity to benefit from the company's work.

Some, however, may not welcome these advances. SDRs represent a disruptive technology that have the potential to undermine existing business models. Possible civilian uses for SDRs include the TiVo-equivalent of radio, and cell phones that work without the support of a mobile carrier.

As Eric Blossom -- founder of consulting company Blossom Research, which will be working with BBN, and leader of the GNU Radio project -- explains on the GNU Radio Web site, "Free software for building radios is troublesome to some people."

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