Research in new ways to improve current communication systems is growing exponentially. Flexibility, cost-efficiency, power-efficiency, self-organisation, re-programmable, upgradable – these keywords pop-up everywhere. Also, each quarter brings new, higher performance processors that consume less power and flexible RF-ICs that can be re-programmed. At the center of all these improvements is software-defined radio (SDR).

It’s quite clear that the future of communication is to be defined by software. As per the IEEE group (P1900.1), the pure definition of SDR is as follows: “Radio in which some or all of the physical layer functions are software defined”. Clearly, many currently deployed radio systems meet this definition: MIL/AERO radios, GSM-CDMA-LTE small cells, public safety radios, etc.

All this being said, what’s the difference between adaptive, cognitive, and intelligent radios?

  • Adaptive radio: An adaptive radio can monitor its own performance as well as modify the associated parameters in order to constantly adapt and achieve the most efficient communication link (the quality of service, or QoS).
  • Cognitive radio: Cognitive radios provide a step further in complexity compared to adaptive radios. A cognitive radio is aware of its environment and state of operation (e.g. localisation, RF spectrum usage, and local regulations). A cognitive radio can make behavioural decisions by constantly comparing and analysing its environment against the radio objectives and possibilities in order to maximize the communication link’s QoS.
  • Intelligent radio: Intelligent radios are cognitive radios that are capable of self-learning (often related to the concept of “machine learning”). Self-learning radio provides the end-user with the possibility of increasing performance even further by performing self-adaptation to meet cognitive objectives and by making decisions based on experience.

How are they are all linked together?

The relationship between SDR, adaptive radio, cognitive radio, and intelligent radio is shown in the following diagram:

SDR development platforms

To assist in research and application development, Nutaq offers the following SDR development platforms:

  • PicoSDR: A small table-top, dynamically tunable, MIMO SDR solution. A QAM-64 MIMO OFDM reference design is included with the hardware. For information, see
  • ZeptoSDR: An agile SDR solution comprised of the Zynq-based Zedboard and the Nutaq Radio420S, which also supports GNU Radio. For information, see


Related blog posts

See the following blog posts for additional information: