Test & measurement (T&M) vendors are nothing if not creative. Faced with the very rapid arrival of 5G, they have managed to keep pace with the demands of their network operator and equipment vendor customers and deliver testing equipment and test routines that address pretty much the complete T&M lifecycle.
While a few warnings have been raised about the rush to standardization, deployment and service launch, and the dangers this may be storing up for the future, T&M vendors have seen that 5G momentum is unstoppable and have done their level best to help the industry get ready with networks, services and devices that work properly.
What does this mean in practice? One thing is to adapt what's already there so that it can be used for 5G. This approach includes, for instance, developing frequency converters so that current spectrum analyzers can be used with new spectrum bands in, for instance, mmWave at 28 GHz and 39 GHz. An alternative is to repurpose approaches and kit developed some years ago for testing 802.11ad/WiGig devices at 60 GHz, which has the benefit that equipment is more integrated, smaller and simpler than stacked boxes of converters and analyzers.
A second example relates to testing of 3D beam-forming -- a difficult challenge -- which is being carried out in new ways, such as over the new eCPRI interface rather than at the RF layer (which would be the obvious approach), because the time and cost of carrying out a full suite of tests on systems with complex beam-forming algorithms is not economically feasible.
A practical response to the speed of 5G market development is to front-load the testing process. For instance, some T&M vendors are advocating signal and traffic emulation at the base station design stage, rather than the building of physical prototypes that are then tested in the lab. The argument is that network equipment providers (NEPs) can't afford to make mistakes that would involve having to go back a stage in the development process; lost time will result in costly loss of market share.
Another response to 5G challenges is to forge closer links with operators, NEPs, standards bodies and industry bodies representing the major new users of 5G services, such as the automotive and the factory automation sectors. The purpose of such links is to develop realistic test cases, some of which will be new; ultra-low-latency hasn't been possible in previous generations of public cellular technology, yet it is expected to underpin many new applications.
So the T&M industry is being creative and practical, and it is benefiting from this. There is a very large amount of 5G testing going on right now, and some vendors are expecting 15-20% annual growth in 5G testing revenues during the next couple of years.
The Heavy Reading report 5G Test & Measurement describes the very broad range of test & measurement activity happening now, and how that activity will evolve over the next couple of years as networks start to be rolled out and services are switched on. It describes the specific challenges for testing that are a consequence of 5G -- such as the use of higher frequency bands, denser networks and network slicing -- and reviews the supply side of the market. Finally, this report profiles 11 vendors -- including Anritsu, EXFO, Keysight, Spirent and Viavi -- that provide test solutions developed or used in the 5G ecosystem.
— Danny Dicks, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading