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Implementing A Hands On Course In Software Defined Radio

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Digital Communications Systems

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.724.1 - 11.724.8

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Paper Authors


Sven Bilen Pennsylvania State University

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SVEN G. BILÉN (BS Penn State, MSE and PhD Univ. of Michigan) is an Associate Professor of Engineering Design and Electrical Engineering at Penn State. His educational research interests include developing techniques for enhancing engineering design education, software-defined radio, and systems engineering. He is member of IEEE, AIAA, AGU, ASEE, URSI, and Sigma Xi.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Implementing a Hands-on Course in Software-defined Radio

1. Introduction

This paper discusses the implementation of a course in software-defined radio (SDR) technology and systems. The course contains significant computer and hands-on project work in order to implement working SDR systems. Focusing on SDRs provides a method to tie together many of the classes in a typical electrical engineering undergraduate’s curriculum: core courses such as Circuits and Devices, Signals and Systems, Embedded Microcontrollers, and Engineering Electromagnetics; as well as many of the popular elective courses such as Communications, Controls, and Signal Processing. Building a functioning SDR system requires some understanding of all of these topic areas.

SDR is an emerging technology that promises to have a significant impact within the communications and consumer products industries, as well as government (e.g., NASA and DoD). In an SDR system, functions that were formerly carried out solely in hardware (i.e., generation of transmitted signal, tuning, demodulation of received signal) are performed in software, generally via FPGAs and DSP chips. This makes them extremely flexible in that one system can become any of a variety of radio transceivers. The course focuses on the entire SDR system, from receiving/transmitting antenna through the RF section, IF section, to baseband processing. Hence, building a working SDR provides a natural fit as a senior-year elective course since it involves topics addressed in each of the core courses in electrical engineering. In addition, students must take a systems approach to designing the overall SDR transceiver, which provides them with exposure to this important aspect of project development.

In this paper, we discuss the impetus for the course, the course’s goals and outcomes, the material covered, and the integration of the material with a hands-on laboratory component of the course. We finish with some recommendations for others seeking to develop and deliver a hands-on SDR course.

2. Course Impetus

An SDR is a communications system comprised of general-purpose reconfigurable components that are programmed to define its operational characteristics [Mitola, 1995; Buracchini, 2000]. For instance, bandwidth and modulation (SSB, CW, AM, FM, FSK, PSK, QPSK, etc.) are completely determined by programming the reconfigurable parts, not by hardware such as filters, mixers, amplifiers, or other “traditional” components. An SDR may use multiple sampling rates for signal processing: high-speed work is done in an FPGA while the lower frequency work can be performed via a DSP [Benson and Lall, 2003]. A high level schematic of a general SDR system architecture is given in Figure 1 below. In this schematic, it becomes clear that to implement SDRs, a broad skill set is needed.

Bilen, S. (2006, June), Implementing A Hands On Course In Software Defined Radio Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois.

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