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4G World: The Chicago Fall Classic Returns

October 27, 2010
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According to the 4G World™ web site - “this yearly conference and exhibition is the largest event in the world covering the entire ecosystem of next-generation technologies that enable the mobile Internet revolution, including mobile network infrastructure, advanced devices, applications and content.” The show’s organizers are reporting that more than 8,000 professionals attended.

This conference always attracts some heavy-hitting speakers from the highest levels in the telecommunications food chain. This year’s talks covered areas such as backhaul strategies and core convergence for all-IP mobile network architecture, operational strategies in the restricted and unrestricted bands, 3.65 GHz band business case and “There’s more to LTE Advanced than ‘1 Gbps Peak Data Rates’”.

While the exhibition space seemed to be slightly smaller than previous years, the floor traffic was respectable and steady. I also noticed that a number of companies have opted to meet their customers and prospects in private rooms; therefore, it may be somewhat misleading to judge a show by the number of booths in the exhibition hall. From the microwave space, 4G World attracts leading microwave backhaul solutions, as well as antenna, cable, and test and measurement equipment providers.

Prior to the show, our friends at TriQuint sent out a list of Frequently Asked Questions on “4G and Future Directions in Cellular Wireless Standards.” Although they weren’t exhibiting, the paper is informative (and timely), so I’ve included a few excerpts below as a quick primer on 4G.

The major 4G standards are Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX (also known as 802.16m). LTE commitments are the logical extension for organizations whose current systems are UMTS / 3GPP based. LTE is favored by organizations that hold paired frequency spectrum allocations. WiMAX commitments tend to come from organizations that hold unpaired frequency spectrum allocations, although there is significant interest in the time division duplex version of LTE (TD-LTE) here as well.

Generation changes in wireless communications generally have to do with both the data rate and architecture of the system infrastructure. It is safe to say that each new generation enables higher data rates, lower latency and new applications relative to the previous one. One major change is that 4G systems use a packet infrastructure rather than traditional telephone architecture.

The most significant changes are new frequency bands that have been opened to support the 4G services. The most well known examples are in the “Digital Dividend” bands where former analog TV channels have been refarmed for 4G services. Other changes are wider bandwidths, more complex modulation and the usage of spatial diversity (MIMO) to improve data rates.

A TriQuint Power Amplifier used in the NI Demo Booth

4G World Exhibition

DragonWave

The front of the hall was dominated by Nokia Siemens Networks and microwave backhaul equipment manufacturers – DragonWave and Exalt. Therefore, when the show opened on Tuesday, my first meeting was with Alan Solheim, VP of Corporate Development with DragonWave. (Actually we did have an appointment). Solheim talked about the company’s recent acquisition of Axerra Networks Inc., a leader in pseudo-wire technology with a product portfolio that allows carriers to address the increasing need to carry legacy TDM traffic over a packet-based network. The addition of pseudo-wire products will strengthen and complement DragonWave’s packet microwave products, resulting in a converged solution that delivers TDM and packet services over a single packet network that can operate over both microwave and fiber backhaul. The new product portfolio will strengthen DragonWave’s solution for existing 2G and 3G networks and their evolution to 4G packet architectures, diversify their product portfolio and allow the company to pursue new customers. Solheim claims the acquisition makes Dragonwave the only pure-play microwave backhaul provider with pseudo-wire capability.

Polaris

My next meeting was with Aditya Saraf of Polaris Networks, a leader in software test solutions for Telecommunications and Wireless Networking. Polaris Networks was started in 2003 by a group of former Agilent Technologies employees with a focus on Networking Protocol Software and Wireless Protocol Test Tools. Since then, Polaris Networks has actively helped both start-up and established companies in developing products for wireless networks. Headquartered in Massachusetts, Polaris Networks provides software engineering services in leading-edge networking technologies, including the IEEE 802.11 (WiFi), 3GPP LTE, IEEE 802.16 (WiMAX), RFID (EPCglobal), Power Line Communication (HomePlug) and AdvancedTCA standards.

Polaris' LTE Functional Testers test the entities of EPC and LTE eNodeB on the network side. They test the correctness of implementation of the equipment in line with 3GPP and other standards. The Functional testers are designed to verify the behavior of the Device Under Test by creating different test scenarios of control message exchanges. The test tools test the mandatory requirements of the Layer 2 and Layer 3 protocols as well as the optional features. Their product portfolio includes eNodeB and MME functional testers.

Polaris Networks also offers a family of LTE Network Equipment Emulators as a low-cost alternative to LTE Equipment Manufacturers to replace real devices (eNodeB, MME, S-GW) during product development and system quality assurance phases. These LTE Network Equipment Emulators include all the network interfaces and implements all the communication protocols required for a network equipment to operate in an LTE/SAE network. Together, these emulators allow testing in a variety of network topologies thereby allowing effective utilization of lab equipment, reduction in capital expenditure and ongoing support costs associated with a test lab.

Omnitron Systems Technology Inc.

Founded in 1992, Omnitron Systems Technology of Irvine, CA designs and manufactures media converters, Carrier Ethernet demarcation devices, CWDM multiplexers and fiber-optic access products. I met with Abel Tong, Omnitron’s Vice President of Marketing, who introduced me to the company and its Network Interface Device products. The simplest NIDs are essentially a specialized set of wiring terminals. These will typically take the form of a small, weather-proof box, mounted on the outside of the building. The telephone line from the telephone company will enter the NID and be connected to one side. The customer connects their wiring to the other side. A single NID enclosure may contain termination for a single line or multiple lines.

In its role as the demarcation point, the NID separates the telephone company's equipment from the customer's wiring and equipment. The telephone company owns the NID itself, and all wiring up to it. Anything past the NID is the customer's responsibility. To facilitate this, there is typically a test jack inside the NID. Accessing the test jack disconnects the customer premises wiring from the network and allows the customer to plug a "known good" telephone into the jack to isolate trouble. If the telephone works at the test jack, the problem is the customer's wiring, and the customer is responsible for repair. If the telephone does not work, the line is faulty, and the telephone company is responsible for repair.

In September the company introduced their HybridNID that enables the delivery of carrier-grade Ethernet services across multiple-operator networks with value-added revenue from independent SLA verification, an industry first. With the iConverter HybridNID installed at the customer premises or cell tower, both a Service Provider and Wholesale Operator partner can securely manage, provision and monitor the Ethernet service.

Possible iConverter Hybrid NID service configuations

Tong said, “The HybridNID will accelerate the deployment of off-net services. Now, any service provider will be able to extend Carrier Ethernet services off-net and have a fully carrier-grade demarcation device to ensure the delivery of that service.” Omnitron’s iConverter HybridNID provides a single platform that delivers the Ethernet service via one demarcation point and clearly defines the responsibilities of each service provider. The HybridNID automates provisioning which reduces the time required to install equipment and activate services. Today 4 % of cell sites are serviced by Ethernet. This is expected to go to 50% by 2013, according to Tong.

BridgeWave

Amir Makleff is the President and CEO of BridgeWave Communications, a supplier of wireless gigabit solutions, including point-to-point wireless bridges. He spoke to me about the company’s history and current focus. Founded in 1999, the company delivers highly-reliable, cost-effective high capacity wireless solutions for mobile, carrier, service provider, enterprise, and government metro Ethernet networks, including municipal and military applications. Initially, the company was involved in the LMDS market but has refocused on very high frequency E-band (80 GHz) point to point.

Long distance links require the use of lower licensed frequencies, e.g. 6 or 11 GHz, while short-haul links in the 18 to 38 GHz range can provide highly available services with transmission rates approaching 400 Mbps in a single RF channel. The 80 GHz frequency band offers highly reliable, multi-gigabit transmission at a comparable cost to 18-38 GHz alternatives.

In the 80 GHz frequency band, an unprecedented 10 GHz of bandwidth is allowed, far exceeding the spectrum allocations in any given lower licensed frequency band. The bands 71 to 76 GHz are paired with 81 to 86 GHz, yielding 5 GHz of spectrum in each direction. Both the US FCC rules and European CEPT Recommendations provide for flexible channel sizes of up to the entire band allocation in each direction. The vast amount of bandwidth available in the 80 GHz band makes it ideal for offering multi-gigabit transmission rates without requiring the use of high-order modulation.

With regard to products, Makleff discussed BridgeWave’s new high-capacity, full-rate gigabit millimeter wave (60 GHz and 80 GHz) FlexPort µWave, the first licensed microwave product line capable of true line-rate GigE connectivity in a single all-outdoor unit and without the need for data compression. According to Makleff, BridgeWave's move into the microwave space demonstrates its commitment to providing carrier-class, high-capacity solutions for next-generation mobile backhaul.

Tempest Telecom Solutions

Jessica Firestone is the CEO of Tempest, a woman-owned telecommunications company, that supplies, installs and repairs wireless and wireline communications equipment for telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Verizon and wireline carriers such as Qwest Communications. In a field that is largely male-dominated, Firestone enjoys what she does and she is good at it. “I find telecommunications is very fast-paced, technical. It’s exciting.” In five years, Firestone has grown Goleta-based Tempest Telecom Solutions from a four-person startup to a 100-employee firm with operations across the country. Tempest currently pulls in about $30 million in annual revenue.

With its eye on speed and capacity, Tempest is on the cutting edge of LTE and WiMAX deployments for nationwide carriers. “There’s a lot of work that goes into 4G rollout and making that work,” Firestone said. “There’s going to be the need for more and more bandwidth.” On the flip side, continuing to cater to the sometimes-neglected legacy networks offers a niche business opportunity. “Because all the manufacturers are focused on the new stuff, the data, there’s going to be a growing need from the older networks,” Firestone said.

I also spoke with Jason N. Hamm Vice President of Service Operations. Hamm is responsible for the continued expansion of the Field Service Operations, including project execution, resource planning, financial management and the regionalization of the organization for true national coverage. According to Hamm, the company is staffed with experienced and qualified technical, field, installation and repair specialists, and stocked with the most advanced 4G equipment on the market, capable of providing turnkey microwave solutions or stand-alone services like fiber/site preparation, cell site and antenna upgrades, PIM and sweep testing, or designing and installing custom 4G solutions.

Agilent

This year, Agilent moved back into the exhibition hall from the private demo room they had in 2009. I met with Joe De Pond, General Manager of Mobile Broadband Operation, Microwave & Communication Division. Knowing that I have a technical audience, De Pond handed me off to Sr. Wireless Application engineer, David Barber who walked me through their main demo stations. Agilent has been very busy enhancing their products and Barber was more than happy to demonstrate and explain many of the new features ("ah ha" moments) in the products on display. First we looked at the latest generation of Agilent’s 89600 Vector Signal Analysis (VSA) software. The new 89600B software provides R&D engineers performing signal and modulation analysis with a window into what’s happening inside their complex wireless devices, the VSA tool lets designers see the “why” behind signal interactions, making it is easier and faster to find and fix their toughest signal problems. This software was also on display at EuMW, but this may have been the first opportunity to see it at a North American trade show live.

Specific 89600B features that allow engineers to achieve this outcome include the following.

ο A 20:20 trace/marker capability -- helps pinpoint problems with arbitrary arrangement, sizing and assignment of up to 20 measurement traces at once. Signal performance is evaluated with up to 20 markers per trace and trace-to-trace coupling. These capabilities mean engineers can create and change a view to meet their needs.

ο Multi-domain digital persistence and cumulative history displays -- help capture and analyze short-lived signal events. The digital persistence display and its trace shadow features aid analysis of repeated transients in R&D. The cumulative history trace is color-coded based on frequency of event occurrence and supports longer-term capture and analysis of infrequent or random events. Both new traces work in the frequency, time and modulation domains.

ο Custom OFDM analysis -- enables analysis of proprietary or pre-standard signals. Users configure the 89600B’s proven OFDM analysis tools using a straightforward file and menu-based approach to signal parameter entry, eliminating the “is this measurement right?” question often created with custom tools.

ο Enhanced LTE analysis -- supports the evolving LTE standard. Engineers can now view pre-antenna beam forming signals, evaluate the lobes and nulls of the composite signal and compare them to antenna-range tests with a new antenna-pattern trace.

We also took a look at the new X-Series signal analyzers. The Agilent MXA and EXA signal analyzers delivers wideband signal analysis and measurement capabilities. These capabilities include 40 MHz bandwidth CCDF measurement; burst power measurement; QPSK EVM measurement; IQ waveform measurement; 802.16e OFDM modulation analysis; and other complex digital modulation analysis.

A new 25-MHz bandwidth option for the CXA signal analyzer specifically addresses the wideband signal analysis requirement in low cost R&D and consumer electronics manufacturing. For test environments requiring even wider bandwidth, the highest performance Agilent PXA signal analyzer offers up to 140 MHz of bandwidth.

A new digital IF (DIF) design feature in the MXA and EXA signal analyzers expands analysis bandwidth to 40 MHz. It also adds an enhanced digital processor with deeper capture memory, up to 2 GB, and real-time error correction to accelerate IQ acquisition. The faster measurement speed ensures engineers have the speed their measurement tasks demand, as well as the flexibility to choose the X-Series analyzer that provides the best balance of cost and performance.

The X-Series signal analyzers now offer the following two additional capabilities for device under test (DUT) stimulus-response measurements.

 An external source control capability on the CXA/EXA/MXA signal analyzer that supports the Agilent MXG N5181A/N5182A signal generator. This support enables the most flexible stimulus-response measurements of components or devices by leveraging the powerful functionality of the MXG signal generators.

 A built-in tracking generator (up to 6 GHz) on the low-cost CXA signal analyzer that ensures the most cost effective and fastest solution for component characterization in low-cost, high-volume test environments.

Anritsu

David Bolan of Anritsu Co. was demoing the MS202xC/ MS203xC VNA Master™ series of handheld vector network analyzers. These VNAs provide the performance and capabilities of numerous benchtop instruments in a single highly-portable analyzer, offering the broadest frequency range of 5 kHz to up to 20 GHz in a handheld VNA, fast sweep times, waveguide support, and advanced time domain capabilities. The series can be used by RF/microwave engineers to conduct system maintenance and interference hunting in a variety of aerospace, defense, wireless backhaul and general-purpose applications.

The MS202xC/MS203xC VNA Master series are the premier 2-port full-reversing handheld vector network analyzers. Fully configured, the VNA Master has the versatility to conduct many popular measurements that currently require a laboratory grade VNA, scalar analyzer, vector voltmeter, power meter and spectrum analyzer. Smart software is optimized for installation and maintenance applications, including cable and antenna analysis, transmission measurements, phase matching cables, interference hunting, and general purpose spectrum analysis.

Bolan also showed off the MS272xC Spectrum Master series which lets users monitor and measure spectrum in the field. This instrument has a fast sweep time of 27 seconds for a 43 GHz span with a 30 kHz RBW. With excellent phase noise performance of -100 dBc/Hz at 10 kHz offset at 1 GHz and dynamic range of 101 dB, accuracy was not sacrificed for speed. The handheld spectrum analyzers was designed with a broadband preamplifier to have high sensitivity of -159 dBm at 1 GHz and -145 dBm at 43 GHz to detect small signals.

The MS272xC series is also designed with an assortment of applications to test the RF physical layer, making it easier than ever for field technicians, monitoring agencies and engineers to monitor over-the-air signals, locate interferers, and detect hidden transmitters. Five models, with high-end frequency coverage of 9, 13, 20, 32 and 43 GHz, respectively, are available in the new family.

It eliminates the need to carry heavy benchtop spectrum analyzers into the field to measure signals above 20 GHz, such as those used in microwave backhaul applications. To further lighten the load, the MS272xC Spectrum Master is integrated with a spectrum analyzer, and can be ordered with a channel scanner and interference analyzer to conduct all common field measurements, eliminating the need for multiple instruments. A number of 3G/4G options can be easily incorporated into the handheld spectrum analyzers to measure LTE, HSPA+, W-CDMA, CDMA/EV-DO, GSM/EDGE, TD-SCDMA/HSDPA and WiMAX signals.

National Instruments

David Hall of National Instruments was on hand to demonstrate his company’s forthcoming NI LTE Measurement Suite, which operates with PXI RF signal generators and analyzers. Designed for testing 3GPP LTE wireless components, subsystem components and mobile stations, the software-defined test system consists of new NI LTE Measurement Suite software, the NI PXIe-5663E 6.6 GHz vector signal analyzer, the NI PXIe-5673E 6.6 GHz vector signal generator and a PXI chassis and controller.

Test engineers can use all of the system’s hardware to test previous RF and wireless standards as well as LTE and other next-generation standards. According to initial performance results, the LTE test system can achieve modulation accuracy measurements (RMS EVM) as low as -48 dB and perform automated measurements up to 3X and 5X faster than traditional instrumentation. The NI demo illustrated the system’s capabilities for both generating and analyzing live LTE signals supporting physical layer measurements including adjacent channel power (ACP), transmit power (TxP), error vector magnitude (EVM) and others.

The NI "Scorpian Robot", prowling around in front of their booth striking at visitors' feet, was an amusing distraction as I chatted with Dave about their new PXI-based VNA. This extremely small form-factor VNA is ideal for production microwave testing.

Aeroflex

Aeroflex did not introduce any new products at the show, but they were on hand to talk about the TM500 LTE test mobile. This extremely popular test set is designed to address 3GPP LTE (3G Long Term Evolution) network infrastructure development test and rollout. The TM500 LTE’s extensive Layer 1, Layer 2 and higher layer test features provides complete visibility into even the lowest layers of the radio modem by generating the detailed diagnostic data needed for engineers to verify the required functionality and optimize network operation and performance.

The TM500 LTE incorporates test, logging and measurement features at all layers of the protocol. This includes advanced MIMO tests to verify that the network appropriately handles the MIMO related signaling and correctly applies the MIMO modes, which can be realized with or without the need for an external fading simulator.

Graphical displays and charts give a visualization of the signal quality and the system status enabling engineers to quickly characterize and isolate problems. It is also possible to override signaling, or even force data corruption, to enable simulation of abnormal conditions in order to test the system response and robustness or expose difficult problems.

The TM500 LTE also supports full local or remote automation of test scripts, which is essential when building extensive and repeatable testing. The test script configuration tool enables the easy generation and management of scripts that can then be initiated manually or by an executive test entity. It is also possible to alter parameters in real time to extend test coverage across a wide range of different configurations used in a live system. This enables early detection of software bugs that may not otherwise be found until much later in the development cycle when diagnosing and rectifying errors is typically much more expensive.

HXI/Renaissance

Dave Russell of HXI/Renaissance told me that his booth activity was steady and strong through most of the show as a number of attendees came over to take a look at the company’s GigaLink HD 2.970 Gigabit HD-SDI Wireless link. The GigaLink HD is engineered to transmit and receive uncompressed production quality HD-SDI video signals. The radio link performs at 2.970 Gbps (2 x 1.485 Gbps), seamlessly extending physical connections to the video camera. The GigaLink HD operates at Layer 1; exactly the same as fiber optic cable. This ensures the absolute lowest latency of any SMPTE 292M/SMPTE 392M radio. The compact design has a link range of up to 500 meters, and true full-bandwidth SMTPA 292M / 372M throughput, the GigaLink HD radio platform is the perfect choice for remote broadcast locations. GigaLink HD is the only FCC approved unlicensed full bandwidth transport solution for SMPTE 292M and SMPTE 372M (dual channel), which may explain for the heavy booth traffic. Sometimes all you need is an outstanding product to get people into your booth.

Rohde & Schwarz

Between EumW, Electronica, (upcoming in November) Wireless Congress 2010 and 4G World, Rohde & Schwarz has had a busy trade show schedule this fall. In Chicago, I caught up with Shauheen Soofi, sales engineer who was pleased to talk about the company’s two new oscilloscopes that cover bandwidths from 500 MHz to 2 GHz – the R&S RTO and RTM. The RTO combines high signal acquisition and analysis rates with outstanding fidelity.

According to R&S, conventional oscilloscopes are blind most of the time during an acquisition cycle. While the oscilloscope is saving, processing and displaying data, errors occurring at the test point go undetected. The influence of blind time is most critical at the highest sampling rate. For example, when measuring at a rate of 10 Gsample/s and with a recording length of 1000 samples, conventional oscilloscopes are blind for 99.5 % of the acquisition cycle. This equates to a signal acquisition rate of 50 000 wave¬forms per second. The ¸RTO is built around a highly integrated ASIC capable of running multiple parallel processes, which radically reduces blind time. This results in analysis speed of one million waveforms per second. Highlighting this instrument at 4G World, is another indicator that the microwave oscilloscope market is hot.

The company has also launched a new version of R&S ROMES, a comprehensive drive test solution for LTE. The software accesses data from the R&S TSMW LTE scanner and the LTE USB test terminal. When performing drive tests for network optimization, test engineers are able to measure the transmission rate and transmission quality at the test point. The LTE test terminals have multiple antennas and support multiple input multiple output (MIMO) transmission technology.

Field tests and first rollouts of LTE networks are currently underway in many countries. LTE networks are already up and running in Sweden and the USA, for example. As a result of the rollouts, installers and operators of LTE infrastructures and their service providers now need to be able to check the data throughput and transmission quality of the new wireless communications networks.

Times Microwave

Bogey Klobassa (not pictured), Director of Protection Technologies at Times Microwave Systems was proudly displaying his company’s Times-Protect™ Smart-Panel™, a revolutionary concept in shelter and base station entrance panels. The Times-Protect™ Smart-Panel™ provides for highly desirable single point grounding while eliminating the expense and potential incorrect installation and weatherization of external grounding kits. The traditional internal lightning protector trapeze as well as an external copper master ground bar is eliminated with this design. The completely weatherized Times-Protect™ Smart-Panel™ accommodates any shelter wall thickness and is supplied with all the necessary installation hardware as well as a heavy duty copper internal master ground bar and a low inductance ground plate. The panel is constructed of powder-coated heavy duty aluminum and is available in both 12 and 24 port designs and either type N or 716 DIN bulkhead mount configurations. A copper version is also available. All designs can also accommodate EWG, Cat 5 data, DC or Fiber entry ports.


Editor David Vye with Times' Paul Tusini.

While considerably smaller than CTIA or Mobile World Congress, 4G World continues to be a strong conference and exhibition and a great opportunity to see the latest in 4G network and test solutions.


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