Reference designs represent the ultimate "how-to" guide for engineers in need of fresh ideas. Although generic by nature, a reference design is usually a complete implementation of a wireless product, providing an engineer with a "legal" opportunity of reverse-engineering a proven layout or IC bias configuration. Of course, the reference design is generally based upon IC products from a single supplier, and it does not include open "slots" for evaluating ICs from other vendors. Still, the circuitry has been optimized for a specific set of ICs, and has been thoroughly tested for reliable operation with those semiconductors.

Who can benefit from studying a reference design (other than the vendor trying to sell the design's ICs)? Basically, any wireless engineering designer tasked with developing higher-level (board-level and beyond) solutions can learn something from a reference design that can be directly applied to a design problem or modified for use with the same set of ICs or devices from other suppliers.

Reference designs and their accompanying documentation are an important part of a total wireless engineering education. Unfortunately, they are often ignored as educational tools. They have been omitted from presentations at "serious" technical conferences, including the Wireless Systems Design Conference and Expo (formerly the Wireless Symposium & Exhibition). But beginning with the 2003 event, the Wireless Systems Design Conference will not only include reference designs, it will feature reference-design presentations as a key component of the technical program.

Already, suppliers of semiconductors, including such respected firms as California Eastern Laboratories and Fujitsu Microelectronics, have expressed interest in offering presentations on reference designs, including DSP boards, GPS Rxs, and WLAN systems.

Basically, each reference-design presentation will pack a great deal of information into a half-hour. Each presentation will offer attendees a chance to travel through a design layout, examine a bill of materials (BOM) for the additional components required, review test procedures for the reference design, and discuss details of the design with the presenter. A moderator will be present to discourage companies from turning these technical sessions into sales presentations.

Ideally, a full technical track on reference designs would cover a wide range of wireless applications, including Bluetooth, digital radios, DSPs, GPS, PCS handsets, RFID designs, WLANs, and even UWB transceivers. Design engineers involved with wireless reference designs are potential presenters, and are encouraged to e-mail their ideas for a presentation to this editor at jbrowne@penton.com.