5G, the next generation of mobile networks, is going to make a paradigm shift toward a user- and application-centric technology framework, with the goal of flexibly supporting three important use case families:
- Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), supporting the ever-increasing end-user data rate and system capacity
- Massive machine type communication (mMTC), ensuring cost-efficient and robust connectivity among billions of devices without overloading the network
- Ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC), opening up an entirely new use-case family by supporting new requirements from vertical industries, such as autonomous driving in automotive, remote surgery for eHealth, cloud robotics for Industry 4.0, and the like.
These use-case families require new technology – from components and chipsets to assembled user devices and base stations – that challenge product development. Moreover, these also come with their own technology challenges. Network and end-user equipment developers have been making steady progress in addressing these challenges over the last few years, but critical to the successful rollout is the development of test and measurement equipment that enables developers to evaluate the performance and standards compliance of this new equipment in the lab, in production, and in the field.
Therefore, to get 5G equipment to market quickly, efficiently, and economically requires T&M vendors to work closely with both the top-tier equipment makers and the standards authorities to resolve their own sets of technical challenges, and provide a complete spectrum of T&M solutions that are both fit for purpose and have a low cost of ownership.
Right test solutions for 5G
The solutions to 5G testing challenges are both evolutionary and revolutionary. Since both 4G and 5G are based on OFDM, existing equipment designed for 4G can often be upgraded, in some cases just with software, to make it suitable for 5G. This is the case with signal generators and spectrum and signal analyzers from leading, established T&M equipment vendors, like Rohde & Schwarz that design in this future-proofing in order to reduce not only development costs for themselves, but notably also the total cost of ownership of their products for their customers. In other cases, hardware evolution is required. This is the case for example with vector network analyzers, which are now required to have true multiport test capabilities to support Massive MIMO.
Where evolution of existing T&M equipment or designs is not feasible, however, technological revolution is required. A clear example in this category is a consequence of the introduction of new frequency bands. The need for low path loss and small size lead to highly integrated PCBs that include antennas, amplifiers, and analog phase shifters. As a result, RF connectors are no longer available. This means that over-the-air (OTA) test solutions have to be rolled out to replace existing conducted measurement methods.
With the introduction of mMTC and URLLC in particular, 5G facilitates a whole new range of applications from automated driving to IoT and cloud robotics. This broadens the field of test and measurement to encompass additional requirements, such as safety and security, where reliability, deterministic low latency, authentication, and encryption are critical.
Clearly 5G test and measurement is a complex and rapidly evolving topic. Successful T&M equipment suppliers will need to build on their success and experience in 4G, evolving the software and hardware where feasible to minimize costs both for themselves and for their customers, and working together with customers as a solution partner to enable quick market entry of the customers. Taking an active role in driving the new standards from within the standards bodies, particularly the 3GPP, is providing the advanced insight that will also facilitate early market access.