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Gearing up to embrace 5G

Anticipating the challenge from the deployment of 5G new architecture across the ecosystem, the T&M vendors are gearing up with new field-testing solutions.

The year 2019 will be remembered as the year 5G got serious, going from a few initial test networks to reach millions of users in dozens of markets across the globe.

The need for equipment to test the 5G ecosystem at the chipset, device, network layer, and application layer levels will rise as 5G networks continue to proliferate throughout the key global markets. The global 5G testing equipment and solutions market is estimated by Frost & Sullivan to reach USD 2 billion by 2024, expanding at a CAGR of 11.5 percent. The Asia-Pacific region leads the 5G testing market; it is not only home to South Korea, which first rolled out the network, but also houses many semiconductor manufacturers who play a vital role in the 5G ecosystem. The test equipment market in APAC will witness a CAGR of 3.5 percent through 2022, with market revenue growth increasing to nearly USD 1.3 billion, compared to about USD 1 billion in 2017. The region’s strong growth for the test market is mainly due to the governments’ ambitions and strong investments in communication infrastructure in Asia-Pacific, and offers the highest growth rate among the countries that test equipment manufacturers operate in.

The next generation is now beginning to have a marked effect on the mobile network-user experience, and this is expected to snowball over the next few years as 5G becomes increasingly ubiquitous and hundreds of millions of users upgrade. For 5G to come alive, every stakeholder across the entire 5G value chain needs to reengineer their infrastructure to make them 5G compliant – this begins from the 5G-compliant chipset and then goes on to cover 5G-specific devices and networks. Solutions that can validate the many components across the value chain will, therefore, gain significant traction in the years ahead. These would include a variety of radio frequency (RF), digital, and semiconductor automated testing equipment, among others.

Since virtualization as well as network security will also form a crucial piece of the 5G network, equipment and solutions, which can address those issues, will also be important. Fiber-optic testing equipment, which is nascent, should experience a significantly higher degree of growth than any other testing equipment. This is due to the integration of fixed wireless access networks, consisting of high-density fiber-optic networks, which should increase significantly, hence propping up the demand for fiber-optic testing equipment.

Vendors update

The deployment and maintenance of complex 5G network architecture presents new challenges across the entire ecosystem, especially for T&M players as the new complexities introduced by 5G demand a network that cannot fail. This increases dependency on the test and measurement equipment throughout the complete network lifecycle. In this vein, the T&M vendors are introducing field-testing solutions, focusing on simplicity and automation.

Keysight Technologies has recently collaborated with the security vendor Riscure to step up security for a highly connected 5G world. The partnership, which will combine Keysight’s testing and visibility solutions with Riscure’s suite of security test tools, aims to advance the development of secure and resilient 5G networks, devices, and services. The combination will rely on its 5G emulation capabilities, so that customers can better assess their risks and figure out how to protect their 5G assets. The vendor has launched a broad range of industry-leading end-to-end test solutions, including chipset and device solutions, network-buildout solutions, network-deployment solutions, and test lab-management solutions.

Viavi Solutions has recently launched OneAdvisor ONA-800 to support its aggressive roll-outs happening this year. ONA-800 is designed to meet the evolving needs of service providers, field technicians, and contractors, as they scale 5G infrastructure. It allows cell-site technicians to test fiber, RF, and CPRI/Ethernet from a single instrument, replacing multiple independent tools (OTDR, CAA, Fiber Scope), and significantly reducing the total cost of ownership. Leveraging the heritage of this instrument portfolio, the company has combined the expertise of all into a single modular platform in an ultra-portable form factor, designed to allow a distributed workforce to address multiple network technologies from site to site.

EXFO Inc. has introduced Nova Adaptive Service Assurance (Nova A|SA), an intelligent automation platform enabling mobile network operators to deliver ultra-reliable, high-quality service experience in a 5G world. The product automatically provides the right data at the right time to make sense of big data swamps, and reveal previously invisible little data on individual user experience. The platform integrates the relevant layers, domains, and data sources, including from third parties and EXFO’s own portfolio of service-assurance solutions. Another platform, Nova SensAI, is a real-time automated assurance solution that acts as the central nervous system for the platform. It uses machine learning to analyze the relevant network layers, and provide operators with a comprehensive view of service performance.

5G Site Testing Solution (5G STS) from Rohde & Schwarz bundles test tools for gNodeB site-acceptance and troubleshooting. The solution provides the industry with an integrated package of proven test equipment that combines all the necessary functional, RF, and signaling tests for 5G installation and troubleshooting. The 5G STS comprises the R&S TSMA6 receiver plus the R&S TSME30DC downconverter, the handheld network troubleshooter QualiPoc Android, and the R&S Cable Rider ZPH analyzer. With the 5G STS, field service engineers benefit from automated channel detection (ACD) to automatically configure the receiver with the correct measurement settings rather than to manually enter them into the in strument.

Anritsu is 5G-ready for both SA and NSA, meaning operators can assure all slices, all industry verticals, and scale up for massive device density. Enterprise customers can plan their business, supported by deterministic SLAs, while operators can assure those services, having a view of each slice and all slices to optimize their network resources. The company’s NFV closed-loop automation enables virtualized infrastructures adjust automatically to dynamic network conditions, and triggers actions to reduce troubleshooting costs and time. Increasing complexity in networks should not hinder operators in offering exciting new slices of services to their customers.

Some challenges ahead

A key challenge for testing vendors is the sheer cost of their equipment that their end-users have trouble contending with. Another challenge that end-users have is the lack of a solution that is truly end-to-end. Testing vendors try to address the high cost of their test equipment via different asset-optimization services, which would enhance the degree of usability of the test equipment. In addition, testing-equipment providers have acquired other smaller testing vendors that have the missing test pieces, so as to offer a complete test solution.

Way forward

As India gets set to embrace 5G, the upgradation of telecom technologies is bound to disrupt test processes. Moreover, the current focus on customized test equipment is driving the overall market, as most of the low-end T&M equipment is now available with control options. Users demand customized equipment with multiple functionalities into a single instrument as per their requirements. Demand for customized equipment with multiple functionalities is the prevailing trend , observes a Frost & Sullivan study.

An increase in the Indian government’s investment in R&D and many new initiatives like Digital India and Smart Cities Mission present a high opportunity for T&M equipment. And, telecom constitutes 33 percent of the USD 220-million, poised at a CAGR of 10.2 percent over the next 3 years. 

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