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Startup rolls soft PHY core for Wi-Fi

Posted: 16 Jun 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Rick Merritt? EE Times? Silvus Communication Systems Inc.? Wi-Fi chipsets and systems? VHDL software?

A startup spun out of UCLA is developing soft cores for next-generation wireless systems ranging from Wi-Fi to software-defined and cognitive radios.

The first commercial product from Silvus Communication Systems Inc. aims to give a leg up to developers of next-generation Wi-Fi chipsets and systems. The company has developed the VHDL software for a PHY chip that exceeds the requirements of the upcoming IEEE 802.11n standard. The code, running on a Xilinx Virtex-II FPGA, supports a 4 x 4 matrix for multiple input, multiple output (MIMO), the key antenna technology behind the pending .11n standard.

"If you are looking at developing an 802.11n product, our software will get you 90 percent of the way there," said Babak Daneshrad, an associate professor at UCLA and Silvus' founder.

The MIMO decoder that handles the matrix inversion processing is the secret sauce in the software. It surpasses the 2-by-2 matrix support required by .11n while supporting all the modes defined in the standard, including spatial multiplexing and space-time coding.

"Our MIMO technology is the unique bit we bring to the marketplace," said Daneshrad. "We have looked at a number of implementations and are convinced we have value added here."

"There are as many as 8,000 published papers on MIMO, but few of them have gone to the point of presenting a hardware implementation," said David Fogelsong, head of marketing for the startup. The software could help OEMs enable voice-over-Wi-Fi features in handsets, he said.

Software specs

The software comes in versions supporting bandwidths of 5-, 10- or 20MHz and data rates ranging from 1Mbps to 200Mbps. It is agnostic on RF spectrum band support, and it provides an API for third-party media-access controllers (MAC).

The VHDL code, which became available in mid-June, is suitable for fast transfer to an ASIC process. Silvus will reveal only under a non-disclosure agreement how many gates the solution will require per function. Cost of the software could include up-front fees and is based on negotiations.

The Wi-Fi software is also for academic researchers who want to create prototypes of software-defined radios. Using C function calls, researchers can manipulate the PHY chip to support various MAC protocols, feedback and decoding schemes, and other variables. "We have a complete PHY that gives them full open access to all the knobs," said Daneshrad. Researchers currently lack an open PHY to work with for projects such as cognitive and software-defined radios. "They are frustrated because they can't get access to the full MAC and PHY functions," Daneshrad said.

The Wi-Fi code is the first of several "domain-specific acceleration" products the company has planned. Silvus says it will develop a soft PHY core for WiMAX. It is also working on code for a block that will handle interference mitigation.

- Richard Goering
EE Times

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