EB (Elektrobit) Pushes the Standards of Channel Emulation
Janne Kolu joined Elektrobit, Finland, in 1999, where his activities have included channel-modeling research and radio-channel emulator development projects. He received his MSc degree in physics from the University of Oulu Finland in 2000. Kolu has contributed to EU COST projects and also to 3GPP standardization work. At EB he has held several different positions related to the development of advanced radio-channel-emulation tools.
MWJ: For those who might not be familiar with Elektrobit (EB), briefly outline the company’s origins?
JK: EB was founded in 1985 in Oulu, Finland by Juha Hulkko (a current member of the Board of Directors) and Veikko Hulkko. The company started its wireless technology focus in the early 1990s – ahead of its time for wireless device, infrastructure and tester markets. Experiencing strong growth and internationalization from 1995 onwards, EB entered the European, US and Far Eastern markets. When it acquired the German 3SOFT GmbH company in 2004 EB entered the automotive software market.
Elektrobit Corporation has been listed on the NASDAQ OMX Helsinki since 2002 and EB’s net sales in 2011 totalled €162.2 million (approx. $174 million).
MWJ: What are the different business sectors within the company?
JK: Today, EB operates in two different Business Segments: Wireless and Automotive.
The Wireless business operations are organised around strong radio competence. Traditionally, EB offers development services for the wireless communications markets. In the Test Tools business, the company has long experience in developing high technology products, with the EB Propsim radio channel emulator product family being the core of the business. The recently launched EB Propsim F32 complements the product offering and further strengthens the company’s position as the technology leader in the radio channel emulation market.
Currently, EB also has products for tactical communications and electronic warfare for the defence and security markets. These products include Tactical Communication IP networks, Voice Over IP phones, a Jammer Platform and a Signal Intelligence sensor solution. EB also provides special terminal/handset products to authorities and different governmental organisations, especially in USA.
EB's Automotive Software Business has established itself internationally as one of the most important suppliers of embedded software solutions for the automotive industry. In addition to the development of products, it also specializes in services and consulting for the automotive industry, supplying implementations of serial software solutions for a broad range of AUTOSAR and FlexRay, Infotainment, Navigation, HMI and Driver Assistance systems. EB continues to invest in feature integration and development tools so that the in-vehicle devices get to market more quickly and ship in volume sooner.
MWJ: Are these divisions independent from one another or are there areas of common overlap and cooperation between them?
JK: The Automotive and Wireless Business Segments operate separately and are independent from each other. Within the Wireless Business Segment all businesses are based on strong radio competence.
MWJ: As the VP of the Test Tools division please explain briefly EB’s history in radio channel emulation tools?
JK: The first Propsim product was launched in 1995 and this kicked-off a long and successful business. Since the launch of the first Propsim, EB has continued to develop new versions for different market requirements including GSM, UMTS, HSPA, LTE and even LTE-Advanced. From the start the strategy for the business has been to be the forerunner in radio channel emulation tools and typically EB has been the first to launch products that meet new market requirements.
One particular example is the launch of the EB Propsim C8 Multichannel Emulator, which was introduced to the market in 2001 and even then was already a MIMO capable radio channel emulator. The launch of Propsim C8 established EB’s position as a technology leader and standard setter in radio channel emulator product sector.
MWJ: Has the brand’s continued presence and evolution been important for the Test Tools division?
JK: Today,our Propsim brand is well known in the wireless community and this is obviously important for EB. As a provider of high-tech measurement tools the company has had the opportunity to work with all industry leaders. However, maintaining our leading position in the marketplace means that we always have to be up-to-date with the latest technology. Many of our customers value our knowledge, which has also been beneficial internally for EB’s other wireless business. The Test Tools business provides EB with advanced insight into upcoming wireless technologies – giving the company the advantage of being able to create the next level of testing competence – something that EB is also able to leverage internally.
MWJ: Microwave Journal readers will have seen the in-depth Product Feature on the new F32 in the May 2012 issue but please outline its main features and significance in the marketplace?
JK: EB Propsim F32 will set the new standard for channel emulation. We are confident it outperforms all the existing channel emulation solutions in the market due to extremely high channel density in one compact rack design. It offers four times more channel emulation capacity compared to existing solutions on the market! As it is scalable it enables users to start testing at the low end of the scale!
End users require more and more capacity to smoothly use applications such as mobile Internet, You Tube, emails or HD video streaming. The LTE standard is designed to fulfil data needs, especially with regards to MIMO and other multi-antenna technologies such as beamforming, which play key roles in achieving the data rate targets of up to 100 Mbits in downlink direction. These multi-antenna technologies create an increased demand for channel capacity and in complex setups even 32 channels are required. In LTE and in LTE-A, the number of channels needed will explode! We must be prepared for such increased demands on bandwidth.
Current solutions for real multi-channel testing can be cumbersome, error prone and complex to use. EB Propsim F32 was designed to help wireless infrastructure and device customers to perform affordable testing for LTE while boosting product development. EB’s customers want to develop better products with decreased time-to-market and with the introduction of EB Propsim F32 we are committed to help them achieve those targets.
MWJ: Looking more generally at wireless testing issues, what would you say are the major advantages of performance testing?
JK: The term performance testing refers to testing where the purpose is to find out the performance limits of the product. 3GPP standards define conformance test cases, which set minimum performance requirements, for example, for LTE technology. Every vendor planning to launch a product in commercial networks has to comply with these requirements. So, products need to meet the conformance criteria but ‘standard testing’ does not answer the question: “How good is my product?” There is tough competition in the wireless device market and in practise device developers must know the performance limits of the device, otherwise they cannot know where they stand with respect to the competition and where improvements can be made. The ability to measure and improve product performance is vital tools for wireless product vendors if they want to stand out from the crowd and win the trust of their customers.
MWJ: Over-the-air (OTA) testing has been a hot topic. Explain its fundamentals and how it is evolving?
JK: Over-the-Air testing has been a hot topic in the industry for the last year, mainly because of the multi-antenna technology in LTE. Traditional conductive testing neglects the antenna effects completely since the antenna is bypassed during testing. This did not have significant impact in single antenna systems, but for multi-antenna devices it has now become an issue and ignoring the effect of the antenna will distort the results heavily.
Therefore, EB designed a MIMO OTA test solution based on an anechoic chamber and a radio channel emulator. The idea is to send a test signal from a standard communication tester to an EB Propsim channel emulator, which adds all necessary channel impairments to the signal. The signal is further routed to multiple antennas inside an anechoic chamber where specifically built probe antennas radiate the signal to the device placed in the middle of the chamber. One of the great advantages of the EB MIMO OTA test solution is the capability to test the full end-to-end performance of the mobile device. It is also simple to use – any phone can be tested without any modifications to the phone. Over-the-Air test systems help device vendors to design LTE products that can deliver the capacity not only in the lab, but also in live networks. Operators can use the Over-the-Air test method to benchmark different mobile phone brands and models. Selecting the models that perform well in live networks ensures customer satisfaction and minimizes the churn rate.
This anechoic chamber method with a radio channel emulator is already in use in different labs around the world. One of the great features of this approach is the scalability. The test system can scale from a normal single cluster setup to a multicluster setup and further to a 3D setup, depending on customer requirements. Today, the focus is on the 2D single cluster and multi-cluster setup where model signals can arrive either from one direction or from multiple directions. Currently, EB is also working with 3D setups, which will be the next phase in MIMO Over-the-Air testing.
MWJ –What are the challenges in testing 4G LTE base stations?
JK: I think one of the challenges is the overall complexity of testing today. In order to build up a test setup for base station testing requires cross technology skills from lab engineers. They generally need to master a huge range of different test equipment. Our mission is to make complex testing easy and minimize testing time for our customers. It is critical that test solutions are intuitive to use and lab engineers do not need to spend long hours learning how to use the equipment. This was one of the key design targets for EB Propsim F32 and I think we succeeded in this task.
MWJ: How important is research and development to the Test Tools division?
JK: I believe that most of our success in the Test Tools business is based on strong research and development competence, which must be maintained if EB is to achieve its goal to be the forerunner in radio channel emulation tools. The company actively participates and contributes to international research forums and standardization organizations to stay up to date with the latest technology trends.
MWJ: Has the economic downturn meant that EB has had to adapt its approach to new product development, meeting customers’ needs etc?
JK: In general companies in the wireless industry are always facing fierce competition. As part of EB’s annual strategy process, we spend time defining how to differentiate ourselves from the competition. A common denominator for all our wireless business is strong RF design know-how. We want to further enforce this competence and differentiate EB from others who just provide SW design services and products.
There have been major changes in the telecom sector during the past year. In EB we made big changes and now with a strong RF focus we are in good position in the market.
MWJ: Does EB have a worldwide presence and are their specific regions where it is particularly strong or where it plans to expand?
JK: Today,EB has about 1,600 employees, with most located in Finland and Germany. Overall, the company has business operations in seven different counties worldwide. Specifically in the Test Tools division, EB’s presence and market share in the Asia-Pacific region is strong with continued growth potential. We are also strengthening our position in North America due to the increased opportunities we see there.
MWJ: What are your short term and long term goals for the EB Test Tools division?
JK: With the recent launch of EB Propsim F32, we will focus on introducing this new product to our customers. Another short-term goal is to introduce the F32 to the defence and security markets. This new product is also a perfect match for testing MESH/MANET networks, which are typical in the defence industry. EB Propsim F32 offers the option of extending the frequency range to be from 30 to 2,700 MHz, which facilitates the testing of field radios in the defence industry.
In the long term, we will continue expanding our radio channel emulation tools and related applications.