Testing new ground

Wireless surveys the testing and measurement scene to find out how new technologies and trends are changing the marketplace

Testing new ground

A brief survey of key players in testing and measurement (T&M) has highlighted a number of interesting developments.


Gone are the days when T&M in the mobile communications arena merely required a lab engineer to sit in front of a sine wave oscillator. Vendors are now taking a more heuristic approach, taking elements other than RF into consideration. Plus, there is a small but growing shift away from the traditional habit of selling purely to equipment vendors and operators, instead moving towards targeting business and public bodies - particularly government organisations. One clear pattern that emerges from our industry survey is that the T&M vendors are united in concentrating their efforts heavily towards LTE and LTE Advanced above all other radio technologies. Findings have also shown that spending in the R&D sector has held up despite the recession.


There are a wide range of opinions on where the major demand for wireless T&M is coming from. Asked if any of its customers are public bodies or commercial enterprises rather than equipment vendors or mobile operators, Dominic Rowles, business development director with LTE testing specialist Anite, says: 'Our core business is with commercial mobile network operators and handset vendors, which are gradually moving towards LTE. Some private (such as oil) and public service organisations are beginning to look further into the 'closed loop' TETRA system, which has its own T&M ecosystem. Anite doesn't currently play in this space.'


Chris Larmour, chief marketing officer with Actix, says demand from outside the industry is limited - occasionally a public regulator or university. He adds: 'It's extremely rare to have a non-operator as our customer since most commercial companies hire specialists to provide a T&M service.'


Yet, Jonathan Borrill, marketing director with Anritsu, recognises this new trend. 'When there is a new wireless licence, or frequency band, or technology deployment then government regulators/licensing authorities are always acquiring field measurement equipment to check coverage, rollout, interference and contamination issues,' he explains. 'We saw this for 3G and now it is happening for LTE and the new 2.6GHz band in Europe. Also, the move to license W-CDMA in the 900MHz spectrum has stimulated this need.'


LTE: the hot topic

Almost universally, T&M solution providers say their current focus is on LTE and LTE Advanced. 'LTE is the hot topic of the moment,' comments Bill Burrows, a business development manager with Aeroflex. According to Othmar Kyas, CTO with Tektronix Communications: 'The smoke has cleared and LTE has emerged as the winning technology. UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) and WiMax will remain niche technologies, while UMB (Ultra Mobile Broadband) was stopped by Qualcomm in November 2008. Operators and equipment manufacturers have opted to develop 4G technology only once.' Nonetheless, Chris Larmour believes: 'LTE demand has accelerated markedly; mobile WiMax has faded sharply; and fixed WiMax has a future in developing markets.'


Anite's Dominic Rowles also admits: 'Besides LTE, the only other sector we're concentrating on is WiMax. With so many different types of RF, in T&M there's a move away from simply optimising performance customers to avoiding clashes with other technologies,' says Alejandro Torrecilla, marketing manager for test systems with AT4 wireless. Co-existence between different technologies is rapidly becoming more important. For instance, new generation devices implementing LTE or WiMax together with traditional cellular technologies (2G or 3G) need to ensure correct operation of devices,' Torrecilla says. The issue is that the 3GPP is standardising some tests for multi-tech devices (such as selection, reselection and handover between networks) in cellular networks. 'However, the testing methodology for devices implementing alternatives - like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi - is still immature,' Torrecilla argues. Plus, in the regulatory field, there are discussions over how collocated transmitters can affect safety as well as health requirements, in terms of Specific Absorption Rates (SAR) of electromagnetic fields in the human body, he warns.


However, in some markets, potential WAN interference problems could surface. One US network operator (Verizon) has recently licensed additional spectrum for LTE in the 700MHz band. This is very close to an emergency services frequency. A spokesperson for Willtek revealed that to avoid any serious communication problems caused by the base stations and the antenna system, the emitted signals are frequently checked against Passive Inter-Modulation (PIM).


FM

Jim Allen, leader for the UK wireless team at Agilent Technologies, points out that there's one wireless technology that is frequently overlooked - FM. Once just used to listen to radio stations, it has recently mutated. Whereas FM RX (receive) is traditionally used for listening to FM radio, there are now handsets that offer FM TX (transmit) - playing out downloaded music for reception by car radios. Allen also reveals that NFC is another technology for which his company will be providing equipment. The ability to buy goods from vending machines - such as train tickets - via NFC will provide a testing challenge, especially with the UK's forthcoming 2012 Olympics.


The lines between Wi-Fi and other wireless technology will also start to blur, according to Chris Roeckl, VP for marketing with AirMagnet. 'We see the coming together of wireless WAN and wireless LAN technologies in the long term, with customers in the public and private sector relying on WWAN (Wireless Wide Area Networks) where it's impractical to leverage WLAN technology.' Roeckl is also seeing considerable uptake in 802.11n technology which, he says, represents the next wave of innovation in the WLAN arena. With 11n, customers can replace wired networks and enjoy greater reliability and performance compared with previous technologies. Naturally, being able to test 802.11n is an integral part of the rollout.


Femtocells

While the market for femtocells might well be in its infancy, the testing and monitoring of femtocells is set to become extremely important. That's because the femtocell combines the resources of the mobile network operator with those of enterprise networks. They improve cellular coverage but are actually sitting on the IT department's LAN. Yet customer expectations for the quality of the connection will be very high, according to Othmar Kyas.


He points out that femtocells won't just be deployed for 3G networks, they'll also play a crucial role in 4G networks to enable bandwidth growth and provide operators with cost-efficient bandwidth. Given that the femtocell itself is located in the customer's premises, this gives rise to challenges that are entirely missing from traditional radio networks. Naturally, Tektronix Communications believes it has an answer with its own monitoring products.


A move away from straight hardware test to a more comprehensive test method is being driven in LTE's case by SON (Self Organising Networks). With SON, network optimisation is being made automatically at the base-station using live reports from users' handsets. The test data could be fed into an automatic system rather than delivered back to a lab engineer for analysis. Anritsu's Jonathan Borrill reveals: 'At the very least, this handset data must be matched to th

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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