Network design often takes centre stage in 5G discussions, but developing adequate test and measurement systems will also be a key part of the commercialisation cycle, National Instruments (NI) said in a new report.
According to NI’s Trend Watch 2018 report, 5G test systems will need to expand beyond the physical layer to accommodate both much wider bandwidths and new multi-antenna technologies with beam steering. Doing so means climbing up the frequency scale into the millimetre wave (mmWave) bands and being able to measure performance for each individual beam, the company stated.
However, implementing such shifts can be easier said than done: “For example, system-level over-the-air (OTA) tests must become standard in the 5G ecosystem.”
“Air is an unpredictable medium, and the channel itself varies over time and environmental conditions. Wireless test engineers must isolate the channel in the OTA scenario and control the device on a per beam basis to effectively ‘test’ the device,” it stated in the report.
Another hurdle will be processing all of the data generated by wider bandwidth waveforms and beams in real time. Unlike LTE systems which use 4×4 MIMO, 5G setups being considered by US operators including Sprint incorporate 64×64 MIMO, meaning they can have hundreds of antenna elements functioning at the same time.
NI noted test solution providers will have to embrace software-based systems to expedite the early research phases of 5G as the standards are settled and operators push toward commercialisation: “5G presents a paradigm shift the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and a platform-based approach that is flexible and software configurable will be essential to the development of this ecosystem.”