Test & Measurement Systems for 5G Wireless: Reducing Costs and Complexity with MMICs

Dec. 12, 2017

test measure blog.jpg (Digital measurements devices)Consumers and technology vendors alike are understandably excited about the impending global roll-out of 5G wireless infrastructure. We’re collectively looking forward to 10X faster data rates, with a roadmap to 100X faster speeds and beyond, and network capacity that eclipses today’s connectivity by an untold margin. And while we have some idea of how faster, broader wireless coverage will affect our daily lives, the wide-ranging societal and economic impacts of 5G may be incalculable – albeit not for lack of expert predictions.

Juniper Research forecasts that 5G service revenues will exceed $65 billion globally by 2025. Analyst firm IHS Markit is predicting that 5G will enable up to $12.3 trillion of global economic output by 2035. These are attention-grabbing numbers for sure, and yet they’re arguably less consequential than, for example, the thousands of traffic accidents that may be prevented each year when safety-optimized, 5G-interconnected autonomous vehicles take to the streets.

Irrespective of the measurement methods we employ, the value of 5G will be staggering.

In the meantime, measurement methods are very much top of mind with test and measurement (T&M) vendors tasked with developing next-generation testing equipment tailored for 5G wireless systems. Compared to earlier 3G and 4G LTE deployments, 5G introduces numerous architectural complexities owing primarily to the massive multiple input, multiple output “MIMO” antennae configurations that characterize the sub-6 GHz basestations targeted for 5G mobile wireless deployments.

Where previously a basestation might host between four to eight antennas, a 5G basestation could host hundreds of independent transmit and receive antennas all operating simultaneously – meaning that there’s now hundreds of radio channels to scan and process in parallel, all operating at higher frequencies. Complicating matters, the sheer density and complexity of the antennae configuration can make it impractical to connect the requisite number of cables to emulate and test each channel. Over-the-air (OTA) antenna testing methodologies therefore become increasingly important when testing basestation beamforming capabilities.

The higher data throughputs inherent to 5G are enabled in part via wider bandwidth signals, so 5G testing also requires extreme wideband instrumentation capable of generating and analyzing new 5G waveforms. Test equipment customers typically pay thousands of dollars per MHz of signal generation and analysis capability. As such, T&M vendors are challenged to support wider bandwidths at competitive price points that customers will find palatable.  

MMICS VS DISCRETE COMPONENTS

To meet these challenges, designers of 5G testing systems need RF components that can accommodate extreme multi-channel testing scenarios at broad bandwidths, without adding significant size, weight – and most importantly, cost – to the devices. This requires higher levels of integration, and a new approach to system design that eschews discrete RF components in favor of advanced Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuits (MMICs) that combine multiple functions within a single package.

MMICs by their very nature take a lot of the speculation and complexity out of the design cycle compared to systems built primarily with discrete RF devices, and can therefore enable 5G tester designers to accelerate their time to market and lower their development costs. Providing significant size, weight and performance advantages compared to conventional discrete devices, MMICs optimized for wide bandwidth support enable system designers to squeeze more channels into compact system form factors, allowing for robust 5G testing capabilities whether on the bench or mobile in the field. The design and manufacturing efficiencies achieved with MMICs can translate into lower production costs, yielding cost-competitive, highly integrated 5G testing equipment primed for widespread adoption in the booming 5G wireless infrastructure marketplace.

MACOM’s industry leadership in MMICs and 5G technologies gives us unique perspective on the challenges that T&M vendors are grappling with when it comes to 5G testing systems. For additional information about MACOM’s innovation in MMIC technology for 5G and other applications, click here to read more. 


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