by Nigel Chapman, Director, Business Development, AceAxis
Over many years working in cellular communications, we have rarely seen an era when so many aspects of the industry are in a state of flux as at the present time. With the industry striving to meet overwhelming demands for more data at a lower cost, and with ever more complex requirements for new services and capabilities like ultra-low latency, let us spare a thought for the role of test in the “perfect storm” that is 5G. Even though the final details of 5G are still under discussion, a few things are becoming clear.
Without adequate test we do not have cellular networks; without cost-effective test we will have inadequately-tested networks, and everything that implies. And yet a strange paradox has been growing over the years within the sector of the test industry that serves telecoms. While the equipment we deploy is being sold at increasingly lower cost with improved capabilities, a significant proportion of the test equipment used to validate network equipment has been steadily going up in price. Clearly at current rates of progress we will reach a point where the cost of test equipment becomes one of the biggest challenges in the development of cellular equipment.
Fortunately there is an answer, and this centers on breaking down the problem and making better use of the technologies available today. In the first instance, to test something we have to generate a stimulus and/or gather data. Today we are seeing powerful, low-cost SoC (System on Chip) silicon solutions that allow a high level of integration of processing, programmable logic and analog circuitry in a single device. These SoC solutions allow a high degree of flexibility for the target sensor application.
Acquisition of data is only part of the solution: clearly if we need high quality displays and MMI interfaces to process and display the test results, then many benefits from a low cost sensor are lost. Again the solution is out there already; the world is full of low-cost, very high quality display solutions perhaps best epitomized by a tablet or smartphone. Utilizing the computing power of the cloud and the fast interconnectivity which we have all now become accustomed to, completes the technologies needed to offer low-cost, high quality test solutions.
As always with change, there is some resistance within the industry centered on the belief that you cannot achieve the same accuracy, resolution, or real time processing with such an approach compared with what is available from conventional test methods. However these concerns can be addressed, as is generally the case when driven by an urgent need for a step change to remain relevant to the customer. Perhaps the bigger issue is that this approach implies that we need to move from hardware-intensive box-based solutions focused on a CAPEX sale toward a “test-as-a-service” model, focused on software and integrated silicon solutions. The challenge is not technical but commercial, and how the industry adjusts to new business models.
At AceAxis we firmly embrace the concept of new test strategies and the need for new test insights within these test solutions. AceAxis is developing a suite of products that offer new test insights to support the testing of filters, antennas and radios using these technologies we have identified, to support test in the factory, field, R&D lab and repair center.