Traditional radio as we know it has been with us for more than a hundred years. Commercial radio appeared in the 1920s. FM came along some 20 years later. The only other real development has been HD radio and various semi-successful forays into digital audio broadcasting.
Clearly, the industry and the technology is long overdue for a shake-up. And that shake-up role might be night. From Ars Technica:
Traditional radio chips are hard-wired to communicate using one specific protocol. For example, a typical cell phone has several different chips to handle a variety of radio communications: one to talk to cell phone towers, another to contact WiFi base stations, a third to receive GPS signals, and a fourth to communicate with Bluetooth devices. In contrast, software-defined radio hardware works with raw electromagnetic signals, relying on software to implement specific applications.
This makes software-defined radio devices tremendously versatile. With the right software, a single software-defined radio chip could perform the functions of all of those special-purpose radio chips in your cell phone and many others besides. It could record FM radio and digital television signals, read RFID chips, track ship locations, or do radio astronomy. In principle it could perform all of these functions simultaneously. Software-defined radio hardware also enables rapid prototyping of new communications protocols.
Software-defined radio will make it possible to use the electromagnetic spectrum in fundamentally new ways. Most radio standards today are designed to use a fixed, narrow frequency band. In contrast, software-defined radio devices can tune into many different frequencies simultaneously, making possible communications schemes that wouldn't be feasible with conventional radio gear.
Most significantly, the widespread adoption of software-defined radio hardware could undermine the FCC's control over the electromagnetic spectrum itself. Right now, the FCC largely focuses on limiting the transmission frequencies of radio hardware. But this regulatory approach is likely to work poorly for software-defined radio devices that aren't confined to any specific frequency.
It's pretty geeky, but it's worth reading if you're in the industry. Thanks to special science correspondent Rupinder for bringing this to my attention.