Although wireless communication is in vogue across most industries today, wireline cables still play an important role in the telecom industry. With the good-old copper wires gradually losing their sheen owing to signal losses, much more efficient optical fibres are paving the way for development in the telecom market. And so is the case with test and measurement equipment as well.
The market scenario
A few major test and measurement players such as Keysight, Rohde & Schwarz and National Instruments have gradually exited the wireline test equipment market either by discontinuing the manufacturing of these equipment or by selling their existing portfolio to a third party. On being asked about the reasons, these companies cite that wireline test equipment are becoming obsolete with industries switching to wireless technology.
At the same time, there are companies which are now leading the show in wireline test and measurement. These include the likes of Anritsu, INVAS technology, VIAVI and EXFO. The wireline market is still active and constantly needs innovation—explained Neeraj Dhawan owner of INVAS Technologies.
Google had set up Google Fiber division in the year 2009 in select units of the USA (Kansas City) to provide broadband Internet services, home phone services and television services. This was a major hit during the trial phase itself and was later launched in 2012. The service is active till date.
Neeraj Dhawan, shared that one of the largest Indian telecom service providers is planning to provide 1Gbps speed in suburban areas of Mumbai using fibre optics, thus creating plenty of scope for wireline test equipment. “Copper wires are being replaced with these optical fibres by service providers like MTNL and Airtel,” said Dhawan.
“Manufacturers are also coming up with upgrades in wireline test equipment,” added Madhukar Tripathi, senior manager, marketing and channel sales, Anritsu India.
As the interest has shifted from copper wires/coaxial cables to fibre optics, test and measurement players have introduced upgrades and even new equipment in the market.
Dense wavelength-division multiplexing tester. Data-hungry applications like video-streaming demand increased bandwidth. Thus, dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) technology is gaining popularity in the market because it multiplies the data carrying capacity of optical fibre by 72 times using C band. The number of channels increases beyond 100 using L and S bands. Before DWDM came into existence, wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) and passive wavelength-division multiplexing (PWDM) were used.
Now, DWDM has made its way into testing of metropolitan area network (MAN) and mobile backhaul applications. Experts explain that a single fibre can carry several hundreds of wavelengths. DWDM combines and then transmits multiple signals simultaneously at different wavelengths in a fibre. This increases the physical capacity of a medium. DWDM instruments thus smoothen the working of and services provided by optical fibres.
Internet protocol tester. This is a new concept in the fibre optics field. As optical fibres are laid out over long distances, there is a high probability of data losses or errors in data packets, which may delay the process. If there is no testing for data efficiency, the fibre optics would be an expensive loss to customers. It is like having a LAN setup in a place where the user is not able to avail all the services smoothly due to the poor fibre optics connection or quality. Manufacturers are using IP tools to measure the 100Gbps speed. While in mobile applications, the speed has increased from existing 2Mbps to 10Gbps.
IP testers relay exact issues and deformities in a network. These check networks mainly for accuracy, latency and bandwidth. Basically, IP testers check the stress and reliability of an optical fibre due to high-speed data travel and network, respectively. These tests ensure minimal interruptions during voice-over calls or video chats.
As optical fibres can support speeds up to 100Gbps, these can be stretched to major cities and long distances. Using these test equipment has become all the more crucial as the government has now come up with a set of protocols that follow international standards related to quality of optical fibre, interoperability issues and, above all, upgrading the speed of data carrier packets.
Optical time-domain reflecto-meter. Tripathi emphasises on the usability of optical time-domain reflectometers (OTDRs), which are used to detect faults or break-points in optical fibres. Over time, OTDRs have become compact and hand-held devices for multiple applications. There is also a change in the source, display and control panel. Earlier, OTDRs used to support dual wavelength, but now these support four wavelengths at a time. Tier 2 fibre certification requires the use of OTDR for testing the performance and quality of the fibre length and linked components like cables, connectors and splices.
There is also an upgrade in OTDR operation as it now supports the cloud. So engineers can locate faults in the fibre without any hassle or wastage of time.
Dhawan cites a project where a centralized monitoring system gave the details of fibre health condition during Commonwealth Games in Delhi. This was done at Network Operation Centre (NOC), where digital map of Delhi was displayed on a big screen. Any breakage or degradation was graphically displayed on the map as well as coordinated through GPS, reducing the downtime of the networking.
Dhawan claims that some giant service providers also have centralised monitoring systems in place.
Optical spectrum analyser. Optical spectrum analysers are used during optical cable production and design. These have a spectral resolution of around 312MHz and perform scanning with full resolution in a second’s time. These are connected using the USB or Ethernet ports.
To sum up
While wireless communication has become the buzzword, wireline technology continues to play a pivotal part, thus giving wireline equipment market plenty of scope to evolve and innovate.