Friday, August 23, 2013

SmartSDR Roadmap

In a bold move Flex Radio have published their development roadmap for the Smart SDR software through to October 2014 with 25 keynote features.

If you're a Flex Radio Support Community member you can get this here.

This roadmap provides interested parties with a much clearer picture of when certain promised features are to be delivered.  It's bold of course because it can immediately cause reactions related to the relative priorities of features and it also sets up external milestones on which they will be judged.  Nevertheless, this is a good move to keep the early adopters faithful and confident, particularly as they start to build a solid history of delivering on or before time.

No doubt they have thought quite hard about these commitments and will have tried to build in some buffers and a chance to over-deliver.  Even though "road map" can often mean 'provisional plan, subject to change', in this case I think they understand the need to build and maintain confidence with their existing customers and the market.

For their Signature Edition customers (essentially their 'kickstarters'), Flex have committed to two years of SmartSDR updates for free - these software updates normally being subject to an annual subscription after the first year.  This published roadmap essentially indicates to the Signature customers how the software for which they have arguably prepaid will be rounded out in the first year, delivering all the key promised features.  At the end of this period, with all the essential features in the bag, Signature customers will then have a single year of included support remaining - hopefully to see lots more exciting developments that transcend the foundational features and really confirming the value proposition.  This is certainly the time that I'd expect to see Flex really hitting their stride with the sheer potential of the platform as a "radio appliance" and learning how to leverage even more from the considerable hardware assets in the 6x00 series.

It's difficult to guess at what sort of headroom might exist in the radio itself for the key signal processing and control logic that must reside there.  We're told there's some designed-in headroom and it's invariably true that engineers learn how to be more efficient and performant with given general-purpose hardware resources.  So no doubt some capacity will be recovered with optimisation over time, and there's also the possibility of features being swapped in and out dynamically (e.g. overlays, modules) when certain mutually exclusive or combinatorial choices exist.

While we've yet to see how this openness will play out, I'm very happy to see that Flex seem to be serious about continued dialogue with their customers and having as open a development process as possible.  Although SmartSDR is not itself an open source product, this is the next best thing.  Actually, coupled with at least an open API, this could be the very best thing (open source isn't a panacea when it comes to fast, directed, innovative development).  Letting Flex concentrate on producing a superlative radio core and appliance 'operating system', while allowing others to integrate with and extend this externally, seems like it could be a great recipe once the software reaches its 'minimum viable product' level.  Flex's open roadmap concept, if it is continued and made meaningful by reliable deliveries, could be a huge differentiator.  Once the delivery of the foundational features is done, this would be radically different to the experience of being a customer of one of the big established radio manufacturers - where there are seldom any real feature upgrades to a radio and certainly never any discussion of future plans.

In other news, we're told to expect another small software bump soon.  It seems like the one after that will contain some important changes to signal processing that Adam and I are interested in ahead of the next set of bench tests.

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