As applications continue to grow, so does the number of available wireless devices, resulting in ever more complex requirements and designs. As people demand more and more data, hardware designs are moving toward wider bandwidths, higher frequencies, and more channels, while software needs to provide greater flexibility and reduce time-to-market.

Whether prototyping new wireless technologies in the lab or evaluating systems in a real-world environment, software-defined radios (SDRs) provide the ideal solution to ensure performance and design goals are met.

This article introduces the NI Ettus USRP X410 and its applications. This Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) is designed to address the new advanced wireless needs of commercial communications and defense applications, both in the research phase and in the deployment phase.

The Evolution of Wireless Prototyping

Faster deployments and the ability to adapt quickly will be key in rapidly changing applications such as drone defense and signals intelligence. We need commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems with robust RF and signal processing capabilities, but an open platform is also required in order to support flexible enhancements and protect against various threats. For deployment scenarios, the small, lightweight, low-power (SWAP) SDR enables a mobile, portable solution.

Commercial wireless communication testbeds and prototypes often need to deal with multiple frequency bands and standards for cellular and wireless connectivity. Keeping pace with new wireless standards such as 5G means developing and testing software IP on capable hardware, often with the help of over-the-air (OTA) wireless prototyping, to demonstrate everything from new encoding schemes to advanced MIMO Technologies such as output (MIMO) systems are in line with expectations.

A new generation of software radio

Ettus Research and NI have jointly launched a new generation of high-performance SDRs, the first of which is the NI Ettus USRP X410. It combines the best of NI and Ettus Research into a single radio, supporting not only popular open source tool streams including USRP hardware drivers (UHD) and GNU radios, but also LabVIEW software. Built on the Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ RFSoC, the NI Ettus USRP X410 features high-performance RF transmitter and receiver hardware to provide NI’s most powerful SDR to date. RFSoCs are integrated with data converters (ADC/DACs), laying the foundation for embedded processors and programmable FPGA technology. Quad-core Arm processors support stand-alone (embedded mode) or host-based mode and run your application from an external host.

Figure 3. The NI Ettus USRP X410 integrates hardware and software for prototyping high-performance wireless systems

An open platform for future innovation

The Programmable Logic Component of Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ FPGAs has twice the FPGA resources of other USRP products, provides high-throughput digital signal processing (DSP) and hardened IP cores such as on-board Soft Decision Forward Error Correction (SDEC) -FEC) and digital upconversion/downconversion (DUC/DDC) cores. SD-FEC is particularly effective for 5G prototyping and can be used for real-time low-density parity-check (LDPC) encoding/decoding, one of the most computationally intensive operations in 5G. In a pure FPGA design, SD-FEC logic can span multiple large Virtex-7 FPGAs. Therefore, incorporating it into silicon as a prebuilt core saves a huge amount of space and development effort.

The NI Ettus USRP X410 provides full support for the popular RF Network-on-Chip (RFNoC) framework, making FPGA acceleration easier through software application programming interfaces and FPGA infrastructure. It helps you get up and running quickly, allowing you to focus on value-added IP. You can seamlessly integrate host-based and FPGA-based processing into your applications through the GNU Radio GUI, C++ or Python. The RFNoC block library for common functions such as Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) and Finite Impulse Response (FIR) filters is a good place to start. You can then add your own IP blocks to the modular architecture using your preferred hardware description language (HDL).

In addition to the system’s FPGA fabric, the Xilinx UltraScale+ RFSoC is equipped with four onboard application processing units (APUs) and two real-time processing units (RPUs) to provide support for applications that require an onboard embedded operating system for standalone operation .

Figure 4. Simplified block diagram of the Xilinx UltraScale+ RFSoC showing the onboard APU and RPU for applications that require an onboard embedded OS for standalone operation

RF hardware for expansion

With a frequency range of 1 MHz to 7.2 GHz, the NI Ettus USRP X410 can handle not only the sub-6 GHz traditional RF band, but also the recently opened Wi-Fi 6E unlicensed band of 5.925 GHz to 7.125 GHz. With 400 MHz of instantaneous bandwidth, you can take advantage of wider channels, enabling channel bonding and carrier aggregation for higher data throughput. The RF front-end architecture employs superheterodyne two-stage conversion below 3 GHz and single-stage conversion above 3 GHz, coupled with filtering and power level control, to transmit and receive high-fidelity signals.

The NI Ettus USRP X410 combines four transmit and four receive channels into a compact ½-rack 1U form factor, making it versatile and easy to transport to support field testing and operations. Each channel is independent of each other, which means each channel can be tuned to a different frequency for frequency division duplex (FDD) applications or to simulate multiple signals simultaneously. These channels are also fed through an internal oven controlled crystal oscillator (OCXO, which can be calibrated to within 50 ppb), an internal GPS designated oscillator (GPSDO) for time stamping, and a 10 MHz reference and pulses per second (PPS) generated for synchronization. With more channels, multiple devices can be synchronized by importing an external reference clock and using PPS generation, which requires precise time alignment such as massive MIMO.

With wider bandwidths and more channels, moving large amounts of data in and out of the radio can become a challenge. To address this, the NI Ettus USRP X410 features two configurable quad small form-factor pluggable (QSFP) ports that take advantage of dual 10 GbE or dual 100 GbE onboard. Additionally, the radio includes a PCI Express x8 Gen 3 port with transfer rates up to 8 GB/s.

Figure 5. Block diagram of the NI Ettus USRP X410 showing its RF and digital capabilities

Summarize

The powerful performance of the NI Ettus USRP X410 provides an ideal platform for your new innovations. Combine this software radio with the software toolchain of your choice to fully meet your needs with outstanding functionality and flexibility. Whether you’re researching 5G and beyond, or deploying systems to mitigate evolving threats, the NI Ettus USRP X410 accelerates wireless device prototyping.

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