With 5G getting closer, it is the test and measurement industry’s turn to innovate.
How are T&M companies working toward accelerating the adoption of 5G?
5G proposes faster data rates, lower latency, and increased capacity while addressing new use cases. As we draw closer to the December 2017 deadline for 3GPP standardization body to finalize the first 5G specifications, one of the most critical steps is to measure the wireless channel at possible deployment frequencies. Researchers use data from these “channel sounding” measurements to create simulation models that estimate network performance in various scenarios and by varying system parameters to gain a better understanding of the challenges and design tradeoffs. NI is collaborating with leading researchers and telecom giants to make measurements more accurate and reliable while ensuring that the prototyping and testing systems have the capability to process large amounts of data in-real-time.
What are the challenges that test instrument companies face while delivering solutions to the 5G ecosystem?
The initial 3GPP specification drafts for release 15 introduce new antenna concepts with controllable/steerable beams, new spectrum in the mmWave frequency bands, and very wide bandwidths compared to LTE today. In hybrid beam forming systems using phased array antenna technologies for mmWave mobile access, the test equipment must not only step up in frequency to the mmWave bands, but key performance metrics must also be characterized beam-by-beam because of the directional nature of transmission and reception at these frequencies. Additionally, the tested bandwidth with 5G may increase by 50× over a standard LTE channel. At these bandwidths, the test systems must only generate and acquire these wider bandwidth waveforms but must also have the processing capability to process all data. And to make things even more complicated, in an over-the-air (OTA) scenario, these samples must be processed real-time. While there has been much focus and excitement regarding 5G, the challenges that test instrument vendors face delivering solutions to the 5G ecosystem have perhaps been overlooked. It seems clear that FPGAs must certainly be a part of these systems due in part to their software programmability and immense processing capability. With 5G getting closer, it is the test and measurement industry’s turn to innovate.
How do you see the future of wireless communication shaping out with these advancements coming in?
Last year, researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK and Lund University in Sweden demonstrated a 128 antenna Massive MIMO base station prototype (128 receive and 128 transmit antennas) to produce an astounding 146 b/s/Hz spectrum efficiency mark in just 20 MHz of the spectrum. British Telecom (BT), took note of this work and reached out to Professors Mark Beach and Andrew Nix at Bristol to test their massive MIMO prototype in more demanding environments. Instead of a controlled lab, BT sought to test the system in a variety of different scenarios including both indoor and outdoor settings. The Bristol team took their system on the road to BT’s Adastral Park campus where the initial experiments were staged in a large exhibition hall. Collaborations between universities and industry are vitally important to moving innovative research forward, and this work between BT and Bristol is a great example of this type of collaboration to move massive MIMO from theory to reality. Expect to see more of these types of partnerships as we continue down the road to 5G.
How ready is India to adopt 5G technologies seamlessly?
The government and leading researchers from premier institutes such as IITs and IISc are putting in their best efforts to make 5G a reality at the earliest. The government also recently constituted a high level 5G India 2020 forum with renowned experts, professors, and industry associations with the function to evaluate, approve roadmap, and action plans for 5G. Bharti Airtel also recently announced plans of deploying massive MIMO technology in certain locations, which proves that India is not only ready but has taken first steps to becoming a 5G-enabled country.