Industry Insights

5G Demands End-to-End Design and Test Strategies

2020-06-30  |  5 min read 

It would be an understatement to say that 5G introduces disruptive changes to network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) and component manufacturers spanning the gamut from R&D and quality assurance (QA) to manufacturing. Standards continue to evolve, with 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)'s Release 16 adding new more capabilities to support cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), unlicensed bands, and high frequencies.

To support this technical complexity, NEMs must integrate into 5G base stations sophisticated multichannel antennas covering many frequency bands while reducing latency and adding support for a broad range of machine and user behaviors in base stations.

Engineers must develop novel ways to implement the physical layer in communications systems. They must also verify that their designs comply with the latest 5G standards and meet the expectations of enterprises and consumers.

Achieving conformance with 5G standards requires thorough functional and performance testing spanning radio access network (RAN) and core aspects. It also requires testing with real-world conditions.

In manufacturing, meanwhile, NEMs and component manufacturers must juggle the competing priorities of accelerating time to market while reducing the cost of test. This in itself is nothing new, but the increased complexity of 5G makes it all the more challenging.

NEMs require innovative test strategies to ensure a smooth transition from QA all the way through to volume manufacturing. Addressing all of 5G's many test challenges — including the inclusion of millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies and over-the-air (OTA) testing — is critical.

Component manufacturers, meanwhile, need supreme confidence in the integrity of their measurements. They, too, must accelerate time to market and reduce test costs to remain competitive. Again, this is not a new paradigm, but the increased complexity of 5G really ratchets up the degree of difficulty.

Figure 1: 5G stages for a successful product. 

The bottom line is that the only way for NEMs and component manufacturers to grapple with all of the new requirements and technical challenges imposed by 5G is to adopt design and test solutions that span the entire workflow, including design automation, development, and design verification, as well as conformance and manufacturing test.

Part of adopting effective end-to-end testing is to modify manufacturing test to leverage work done — and data gathered — at each stage of the design-to-manufacturing workflow. Optimizing the transition from conformance test to manufacturing is the critical ingredient for NEMs and component manufacturers to hit tight market windows and ensure profitability. Using the same measurement algorithms across the workflow helps reduce development time by giving engineers higher confidence in their measurement results. Traceability back to design accelerates resolution when issues occur. Adopting common test platform elements is essential for moving network equipment through the workflow quickly. Using common test platform elements also helps with controlling the cost of test for globalized operations.

Component manufacturers have traditionally used different platforms across the workflow, from R&D to design validation to manufacturing. They have also traditionally relied on different form factors in each phase of the workflow. Transitioning to a common user interface across platforms helps minimize learning time.

For network analysis, key performance metrics — dynamic range, measurement speed, trace noise, and temperature stability — matter above all others. These specifications enable component manufacturers to measure their devices more accurately or faster. Leveraging hardware across form factors yields similar levels of performance on key specifications by enabling component manufacturers to achieve consistent measurement results.