The number of trials for effective 5G implementation the world over, including India, has been on a constant rise. This is a key reason for an increase in demand for 5G testers in the global market
5G technology is unique in terms of its capabilities as compared to previous communication technologies. It features ultra-fast speed, low latency, large capacity, pervasive connectivity and high reliability. With the inevitability of 5G, such new markets as connected cars, autonomous driving, electric vehicles, mining, intelligent farming, remote telemedicine and virtual reality (VR) are emerging. By utilising the enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) feature of 5G networks, companies can conduct artificial intelligence (AI)-based analytics for a large number of on-site videos captured by fixed and mobile cameras to facilitate precise and efficient operation and maintenance.
Chipset makers, network infrastructure companies, device OEMs and test and measurement (T&M) companies have been heavily involved in research and development of 5G for years. Now the work is coming to fruition as 5G devices will begin to hit the Indian market by 2020. Consumer smartphones and a variety of other devices, from 5G-backed routers and mobile hotspots to the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, will be seen in the market by next year. 5G will play a dual role, of the driver of new disruptive business models and the essential converger of four tech superpowers—mobile, cloud, AI and the IoT.
Need for 5G test equipment
High-speed digital, wireless, aerospace and defense, and automotive companies need integrated active and passive components for such devices as cellphones, satellite communications and 5G base stations, to increase performance and reduce size of end products. These highly integrated devices require highly integrated test solutions that address radio frequency (RF) test challenges while providing advanced functionality and performance. However, testing methodologies have changed—what used to be measured on a single channel over a cable is now moving over-the-air.
Effective 5G testing is essential to optimise signal quality, network throughput and capacity. It is also important to ensure interoperability between user equipment and network infrastructure. To keep up with evolving standards and changing technology, network operators and equipment manufacturers need fast, flexible access to the latest T&M equipment.
Commercial rollout of sub-6GHz 5G networks has begun, and mmWave technology continues to be developed even as this rollout is underway. R&D teams around the globe have been tackling the challenges that are emerging with present mmWave technology, and early versions of 28GHz equipment. Test equipment users need to ensure they have flexible test equipment to both validate their designs now and for the longer term.
Infrastructure developments to support 5G rollout
5G base stations use high frequency bands and have small coverage, leading to the challenge of limited space for multiple sites. Sharing infrastructure and power supply resources with energy suppliers, tower providers and carriers provide physical bases to deploy 5G base stations. Using 5G antenna technology, tower providers can mount multiple types of antennae on one mono-pole tower.
The intent of small cells is to diminish the load on macro cells by augmenting network capacity and provide extended coverage. With the market transitioning to 5G, a whole new spectrum is opening with bandwidth of more than 100MHz available within 2.6GHz to 5GHz range. This additional spectrum will support high data rates and new market opportunities.
Further, higher order multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) is the standard macro architecture enabling higher throughput and data rates.
Traditionally, small cells have been deployed in a 2-transmit/2-receive (2T/2R) MIMO configuration, but with 5G, that architecture will be expanded to 4T/4R for increased throughput. Advanced antenna array architecture and beamforming further help reduce co-cell interference.
By shifting more frequency translation and filtering from analogue to the digital domain, devices like AD9081/2 provide designers with software configurability to customise their radios. The multi-channel MxFE platform meets the needs of other wide-bandwidth applications in 5G (T&M) equipment, broadband cable video streaming, multi-antenna phased-array radar systems and low-earth-orbit satellite networks.
As frequencies increase, so does the amount of electromagnetic interference. To tackle this problem, Heraeus Printed Electronics has developed a silver ink printer that ensures proper functioning of high-frequency onboard chips and their ultra-fast data transmission. The system consists of a special silver ink formula and a manufacturing machine that can apply the shielding. In contrast to sputtering, the protective silver layer is applied to the carrier object with sub-micrometre precision by using printing nozzles. This not only saves material and cost but also leads to much better shielding performance.
Advanced testing and measurement technologies
Measurement results of a device under test (DUT) should not be setup-dependent, which requires calibration for each measurement setup. OTA link adds a significant amount of attenuation to the measurement setup due to free space path loss, in addition to losses from cables and other connected components.
Stable measurement distance and perfect mechanical alignment are crucial for OTA measurement accuracy to avoid attenuation through positioning errors. Calibration information of the OTA test setup is stored either on the measurement instrument or some external software controlling the measurement setup.
There are a few major players in the development of 5G testing services for a 5G-enabled connected world. Some of their advanced testing services are given below.
Testing of location-based service (LBS)
As services become more personalised, location determination technologies will play a critical role. Along with introduction of new satellite location technologies in cellphones such as modernised GPS (L5) and GALILEO, it is critical that LBS performance of mobile devices is verified extensively before commercial launch.
TS-LBS test system by Rohde & Schwarz (R&S), which consists of CMX500 and CMW500 radio communication testers and SMBV100B vector signal generator, covers 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) conformance and network operator test plans for location-based services of 5G NR, LTE, WLAN, WCDMA and GSM.
To calibrate OTA test setups and to carry out OTA measurements, R&S offers a diverse portfolio of vector network analysers, signal and spectrum analysers, and OTA test solutions. Antenna test chambers such as ATS1000 are used for 5G antenna characterisation throughout the process, from R&D to production for both active and passive devices.
Protocol conformance testing
This enables mobile operators, chipset and device manufacturers, as well as test labs to speed validation of new devices, from early design to acceptance and manufacturing. This allows mobile operators to deploy 5G NR in all major 3GPP frequency bands. Keysight’s 5G Protocol Conformance Toolset offers a number of Global Certification Forum (GCF)-validated 5G NR protocol test cases in non-standalone (NSA) mode across both frequency ranges of sub-6GHz (FR1) and mmWave (FR2). It also offers protocol test cases for standalone (SA) mode as validated by both GCF and PCS-Type Certification Review Board (PTCRB).
Keysight’s E5080B, P50xxA series and M980xA series of network analysers deliver the core functionality needed for engineers to perform the required measurements.
mmWave vector signal transceiver (VST)
It addresses the test challenges of 5G mmWave RFIC transceivers and power amplifiers. It combines RF and baseband vector signal analyser and generator with a user-programmable FPGA for real-time signal processing in 5G’s mmWave. National Instruments’ (NI’s) PXIe-5831 VST addresses time-to-market challenges for X-band, Ku-band and Ka-band radar and satellite communications components and systems.
NI’s Semiconductor Test System (STS) includes a multi-site mmWave test STS configuration optimised for 5G power amplifiers, beamformers and transceivers. It lets users perform faster and optimised measurements, inline signal processing and high-speed data transfers.
Analog-to-digital converter (ADC)
Texas Instruments (TI) has introduced an ultra-high-speed ADC (12DJ5200RF) with 8GHz bandwidth, 10.4GSPS sampling rate and low power consumption. This helps achieve high measurement accuracy for 5G testing applications and oscilloscopes, and direct X-band sampling for radar applications.
Radio communication test station
An anechoic chamber is a validated test method to conduct 5G measurements. Optimised implementation of Anritsu’s MT8000A with CATR chamber for beam characterisation and verification significantly reduces overall calibration time, cost and complexity of measurement setup with NSA and SA base station simulation functionality for developing 5G chipsets. It also supports all frequency bands needed during initial 5G deployments—2.5GHz, 3.5GHz and 4.5GHz in FR1 band, and 28GHz and 39GHz in FR2 band.
Surge in demand for 5G testers
The number of trials for effective 5G implementation has been on a constant rise. This is a key reason for increase in demand for 5G testers in the global market. Use of GCF-certified 5G chipsets, modems and modules will ensure reliability of service and successful deployment of 5G communications and the IoT services. This will be critical for all applications, from driverless cars, factory and process automation to augmented, virtual and mixed reality (AR, VR and MR). The market is ready for its first set of 5G devices; however, service providers and network equipment manufacturers will need to keep working on their improvement areas.