Nvidia acquired a wireless embedded processor company in 2010-2011 and it was blurry what Nvidia could be doing with it.
Icera was one of the first companies to have developed a Soft-Modem, a SDR – Software Driven Radio. At that time they were doing it in 3G. Nvidia got excited about it, and bought it and integrated it in Nvidia Tegra 4 chip.
Background: What is Software -Defined Radio? How is it different from conventional 3G / 4G LTE modem in phones?
A software-defined radio system, or SDR, is a radio communication system where components that have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, etc.) are instead implemented by means of software on a personal computer or embedded system.
A simple SDR receiver scheme would be to attach an analog-to-digital converter to an antenna. A digital signal processor would read the converter, and then its software would transform the stream of data from the converter to any other form the application requires.
Icera i500 Specs / Features
Icera i500 Soft Modem is an elegant processor that has 8-cores (modem processors). The best part about them is that they’re programmable. They run the entire Modem stack: 3G, 4G LTE stack with all the algorithms available to cut out noise from the signal, handle interference; all of that is done in a programmable way.
i500 is quiet powerful. Each one of the cores is capable of executing 160Giga-ops and 8-cores together can deliver 1.2TrillionOps every second. Its a tiny chip and its more powerful than Core i7 6-core @ 3.4Ghz, which is much larger and power hungry than i500.
Of course, the mathematical calculations it does is very limited to wireless applications, but none the less its quiet powerful at what it does.
SDR (Soft modem) like i500 vs. Concentional Modem
The benefits of Software modem over the conventional LTE modem are apparent: Its so much smaller and flexible. Its nearly 40% the size of conventional modem that uses filters, and other conventional components. This architecture was designed modem technology, because its able to re-use of processor for every stage of the pipeline, it doesn’t have to replicate fixed-function blocks.
Note: ADC/DAC and the RF-to-baseband transceivers are not part of the Tegra 4 or Icera i500 chip.
Because its a software modem, it can achieve functions a conventional modem cannot dream of. The world is not all the same, and every single city and area has different difficulties. When you are in a city filled with skyscrapers, signal is diffracted from all teh sharp corners and LTE modem has to work really hard to combine all those cellular beams to form one good signal that can deliver the throughput. On the other hand, if you’re in a remote area, you’re so far from the tower. There’s one single beam and its weak. S/N ratio is pretty low and LTE modem will have to work hard to extract the meaningful signal out of it.
SDR allows us to OTA download and update algorithms available in the modem, just like your OS and apps, so that newer and finer algorithms are available that can fix connectivity problems in almost all the regions of the world. It only gets better and better with time and at a much faster pace vs. conventional modem.
i500 will launch with LTE UE Category 3 (100Mbps downlink) support, eventually we’ll see an update to UE Category 4 (150Mbps downlink). i500 will launch with carrier aggregation for WCDMA. More on this as it evolves.
i500 will trigger an evolution. Future modems could all prevail if this chip giant gets it right.