Cognitive radio (CR) is a form of wireless communication in which a transceiver can intelligently detect which communication channels are in use and which are not, and instantly move into vacant channels while avoiding occupied ones. This optimizes the use of available radio-frequency (RF) spectrum while minimizing interference to other users.
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In its most basic form, CR is a hybrid technology involving software defined radio (SDR) as applied to spread spectrum communications. Possible functions of cognitive radio include the ability of a transceiver to determine its geographic location, identify and authorize its user, encrypt or decrypt signals, sense neighboring wireless devices in operation, and adjust output power and modulation characteristics.
There are two main types of cognitive radio, full cognitive radio and spectrum-sensing cognitive radio. Full cognitive radio takes into account all parameters that a wireless node or network can be aware of. Spectrum-sensing cognitive radio is used to detect channels in the radio frequency spectrum.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in November 2008 that unused portions of the RF spectrum (known as white spaces) be made available for public use. White space devices must include technologies to prevent interference, such as spectrum sensing and geolocation capabilities.
The idea for CR was developed by Joseph Mitola at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the United States. Full cognitive radio is sometimes known as "Mitola radio."