- Buyers Guide
Wireless Trends to Look for at MWC 2013
What technologies will increase capacity and address the network constraints that are a reality with the ballooning demand for data and video services? How soon will test equipment and RF modules be needed to support the rollout of LTE and other 4G services? What infrastructure changes will be needed to increase capacity and how will those affect testing needs? What other network options are available to address these challenges?
This year Microwave Journal asked some of the leading test & measurement and semiconductor device manufacturers what they think will be the hot topics and key technologies for GSMA Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona. Participating on the test & measurement side are Agilent Technologies, Anritsu and Rohde & Schwarz. On the semiconductor device side are articles from RFMD, Skyworks and TriQuint Semiconductor.
The number of cellular bands is ever increasing and having a world phone with all the LTE bands plus compatibility with older generation networks becomes a challenge. Supporting all these bands in a small form factor also consumes more and more power. What are some of the solutions to reduce power consumption while still reducing the cost and size of RF modules? The device manufacturers will address this challenge along with ways to increase integration and improve time to market, including key trends in passive and active solutions for future handsets.
These are some of the challenges and questions that will be answered by these leading companies in the RF/microwave industry aswe look forward to Mobile World Congress 2013. As you will read, there are some definite trends that each company mentions and key technologies to watch out for next year.
More Data, More Antennas and More Cells
The explosion of data traffic will continue in 2013. One of the main concerns for mobile operators is to optimize the use of the available frequency bands. It drives the industry to continue rapid deployment of new technologies and network infrastructures to face the ever growing need for greater capacity. There are three areas of focus that will challenge the industry in the coming year.
LTE-A & Carrier Aggregation
2013 will see an acceleration in development of LTE-A and carrier aggregation techniques. Wireless equipment manufacturers and chipset manufacturers will face more and more complex RF tests to develop further modems supporting those techniques. To address these challenges, there is a need to test components with an LTE-Advanced downlink and uplink signals compliant to the 3GPP Release 10 standard. Signal generation software must generate up to five component carriers simultaneously in both contiguous and non-contiguous carrier configurations and to place them anywhere within the modulation bandwidth of the signal generator — up to 100 MHz. For analysis, the LTE-Advanced application needs to support carrier aggregation for both FDD and TDD, UL and DL and contiguous and non-contiguous allocations. So test software needs to provide for analysis of up to five component carriers simultaneously and independent measurement setup for each component carrier, including varying bandwidths, for individual component carriers (CC).
LTE Infrastructure Volume Deployment
For network development, 2013 will see a massive LTE infrastructure deployment which will lead to a growing demand for system capacity enhancement tests (MIMO OTA testing, MIMO beamforming, WiFi fallback) and LTE conformance tests.
Operator Acceptance and Roaming
Each operator has dedicated requirements and a feature set on the LTE network that need to be addressed in mobile device testing. Moreover, in 2014, all LTE devices will need to go through certification and GCF and PTCRB in order to ensure roaming capability between all service providers. Agilent is addressing these compatibility requirements with a product line that delivers RF, RRM and protocol certification with the most integrated and cost effective product platform on the market.
On the user equipment side, the future test challenges in the LTE Releases 9, 10 and 12 includes energy saving, battery drain and user profiling. Agilent provides solutions such as interactive functional test (IFT) software with an automated and simplified interface to qualify and characterize battery drain and user profiling that meets operator acceptance criteria and allows mobile device power management unit optimization.
Microcells, Picocells & Metrocells
Finally the third challenge next year is to increase capacity while reducing cost. There will be a growing use of microcells, picocells and metrocells. Those cells will need to be produced at a much lower cost than traditional ones and the test in manufacturing will need to be much faster. The challenge here is to perform more and more complex RF tests in less time and with lower cost than in the past. Vector signal generator (VSG) manufacturers need to increase the speed of testing to achieve lowest cost of test. Through exclusive baseband-tuning technology innovation, Agilent VSGs have enabled frequency and amplitude switchin
g speeds as fast as 10 µs.
Getting More Capacity
At MWC this year, Anritsu expects strong interest in measurement solutions addressing manufacturing and field testing, as LTE networks and devices become more prominent worldwide. Anritsu also expects attendees to look for test instruments that address a growing concern – Passive Intermodulation (PIM).
Rel 8 current deployments are focused on tuning and optimizing data rate throughput, managing coverage expansion (interference issues), and handovers. In addition, voice services (VoLTE) and supporting technologies like SRVCC will have a major push. On the applications side, the company expects to see the launch of new services that really begin to use LTE features such as capacity, peak rates and low latency.
Carrier aggregation offers up to 300 MB/s download rates, but importantly, allows operators with several small frequency band licenses to aggregate them together to offer customers high capacity and higher data rates. The other key technology is enhanced Inter Cell Interference Co-ordination (eICIC) to help interference in “full coverage” deployments. Currently, most LTE networks are “hotspot” coverage, and do not provide full coverage with no requirement for legacy networks to fill the gaps. When LTE is used with full coverage, interference can be a problem. This enhanced technology will reduce the problem and help operators provide full coverage.
Anritsu’s LTE Signaling Tester has call-based LTE Advanced Carrier Aggregation testing capability. It can be used with its Rapid Test Designer (RTD) to create automated measurements, execute multiple test cases continuously, and generate test reports automatically. Also for LTE is another Signaling Tester that supports multiple formats, including LTE, W-CDMA, GSM/(E)-GPRS and CDMA2000. Optional VoLTE test capability has been added, with an internal CSCF server capable of authenticating and establishing loopback VoLTE calls, as well as providing the capability to select various server responses, including ignore and reject.
Vector signal generators today can generate test signals based on all leading technologies, including LTE and LTE Advanced, as well as W-CDMA/HSPA, CDMA2000, GSM and PDC, WLAN, Bluetooth® and ISDB-T. Anritsu’s spectrum analyzer/signal analyzer is also well suited for multiple standards, as it offers advantages in measurement speed, dynamic range and ±0.3 dB (typical) total level accuracy.
Offload and carrier WiFi are also key words being discussed. These are first steps in Heterogeneous Networks (Het Net), together with a big push for Home NodeB/picocells to help operators manage network capacity, and offload data from a 3GPP network to a WiFi network without affecting the user quality or experience.
To measure LTE and WiFi – as well as all other major wireless signals – in the field, some test and measurement manufacturers offer handheld analyzers. Anritsu’s PIM analyzer incorporates patented Distance-to-PIM™, which shows the location of PIM problems within the antenna system, as well as distance to external PIM sources outside the antenna systems. Also available is a cost-efficient tool for tower contractors, installation and maintenance contractors, and wireless service providers to ensure optimum deployment, installation and maintenance of wireless networks.
LTE Will Rule But Don’t Forget 3G
Rohde & Schwarz
By mid-2011, the number of operators investing in LTE technology rose to 338 in 101 countries. Although growth was concentrated in U.S. and Asian markets, European (e.g., German) operators are also pushing on their LTE network deployments with the goal of reaching nationwide coverage. At roughly the same time, LTE became a true 4G technology according to the ITU definition. By adding features summarized in 3GPP Release 10 – also known as LTE-Advanced – the technology achieved IMT-Advanced performance requirements. The dominant feature of LTE-Advanced is carrier aggregation that provides a means of driving data rates up to 1 Gbps. The real driving force behind carrier aggregation, however, is to obtain much more efficient use of the fragmented spectrum allocations available to operators. Commercial introduction of carrier aggregation will start by the end of 2012. It will undoubtedly be a popular subject for many demonstrations at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona 2013. This includes carrier aggregation testing solutions from R&S, which will be focused on R&D applications.
Although LTE has become the most popular technology, there are still plenty of improvements being added to 3G, mainly for data services based on HSPA. Therefore, achieving efficient operation of multiple technologies in heterogeneous networks remains a critical challenge. Data consumption will continue to grow exponentially and this will drive the development of strategies to move specific types of data services to WLAN on top of 3G/4G networks. This requires a closer integration of WLAN in mobile communication systems because the goal is to route mobile traffic based on the type of service that originated it. A particular operator, for example, may want to supply video services via LTE and e-mail services via WLAN whenever possible. This development will underscore the need for testing solutions that provide all relevant technologies and all required test scenarios – preferably in a single test device to shorten test time as much as possible. This is another important trend to look for at MWC 2013.
In addition to the need to verify that the technology is working as expected, there is the continuous trend to judge the performance on application layer. Network operators mostly care about their customers. Customer experience is just as important as verifying that a certain data rate is achieved. The discussion about how best to support voice-over-LTE – a technology that relies on packet switching – is a good example. Luckily, voice quality has been well understood in mobile communication since the early days of GSM and that makes testing voice-over-LTE a bit easier. On the other hand, video will be the main service driving data rate consumption. Its quality metrics are not nearly as well understood, particularly when the goal is to predict the end user’s experience in a varying environment (for example, watching a YouTube video in a car in contrast to IP TV at home). Furthermore, there are several Internet services that people have become accustomed to using almost habitually. We are already well aware of social networking and online gaming, for example, but new applications will undoubtedly emerge. Consequently, the service experience as judged by a customer will matter more and more even though it may well be translated into KPIs like data rate, latency and (signaling) capacity.
The continuing strong growth in the smartphone and tablet market as well as M2M applications are the main drivers of the company’s business for testing products in development and production. Although the economic situation in Europe must be taken into account by all multinational companies, Rohde & Schwarz is an independent company with a strong global presence.
Efficiency, Global, Mobile Broadband
Key themes during MWC 2013 will likely be that mobile data usage continues to grow as rapidly as expected and mobile data creation is definitively on the rise. Additionally, cloud-based services will be larger than ever, providing access to streaming content, along with the security and convenience of not having files resident on an individual mobile device.
Consumer market demands inevitably have an effect on the RF platforms that suppliers create, and the combined changes ongoing in the cellular space are the most impactful seen over the last decade of cellular market growth. The RF-related topics most prominently displayed at MWC 2013 will be carrier aggregation (CA), envelope tracking (ET) and antenna control solutions (ACS).
The consumer’s insatiable demand for data consumption is driving the rapid adoption of LTE at mobile operators (MO) across the globe. As discussed at past MWC events, the fragmented nature of LTE frequency bands across the world forces a tremendous increase in cellular RF content. With these LTE bands present, the mobile operators’ aim is to maximize their operating frequency allocation to serve increasing consumer needs. CA helps address this MO need by maximizing utilization of available LTE frequencies. On the surface, CA is simply using the current frequencies in a different way; in practice, a highly complex CA implementation requires switch and filter innovation to effectively manage new functionality with minimal size and battery current penalty. Various solutions for CA, from discrete to highly integrated, will be prominent at MWC 2013.
Mobile devices are increasing their data creation capability — both video and picture — which has an RF impact by placing renewed emphasis on the efficiency of transmitting data up to base-stations. Unfortunately, the migration to higher order modulations (HOM) such as LTE to support higher upload speeds, combined with the move to multi-band power amplifiers, is having a negative influence on current consumption. ET has been discussed as the best way to lower current consumption, but remained an investigative technology — until 2013, when it becomes real. Multiple ET solution providers and multiple ET implementations will be available and leading the discussion on the ever-present topic of cellular RF current consumption reduction techniques.
The trend that will have the most dramatic impact on RF is the proliferation of cloud-based services. Increased demand for mobile download drives the need for receive diversity, MIMO, and CA technologies, while the increased need for upload extends the need for ET solutions to counter the increased transmit current consumption and perhaps extend battery life. In a mirror example, RFMD has an up-and-coming innovation in RF, which has a broad, positive impact on the ability to provide the best quality of service (QOS) for consumers — antenna control solutions. ACS, which includes the well-publicized antenna tuning technologies, seeks to provide much improved RF performance in the face of changing environmental conditions, such as antenna mismatch, and multiple antennas configurations, all while providing OEMs the ability to optimize antenna loading for both receive and transmit. Consumers should see direct impact of CA, ET and ACS though improved QOS and longer battery life.
Business, regardless of the market, is driven by consumer demand, and MWC 2013 promises to be rich with solutions and innovations for the RF industry.
Put it all in One Small Module
Skyworks believes there are several important trends that mobile device manufacturers will be looking for at MWC 2013. These include higher levels of integration, envelope tracking and carrier aggregation.
With regard to higher levels of integration, manufacturers are seeking ways to incorporate all popular 2G, 3G and 4G bands, as well as switches and filters, into a single module for an unprecedented level of integration and carrier coverage. These types of solutions will enable customers to design country-specific versions of a phone using the same printed circuit board (PCB) and simply changing several other components. In other words, no PCB change is required to offer multiple versions of the same model. This integrated approach will significantly reduce the amount of required design resources, enabling OEMs to utilize a single core design team to simultaneously release multiple handsets for multiple markets.
Manufacturers will also be seeking solutions that condense multiband power amplifiers (PA) and high throw switches along with all associated filtering, duplexing and control functionality into a single, ultra-compact package in an extremely small area. At the same time, they will require best-in-class linearity and power added efficiency (PAE) for smart RF integration — equating to significant board space savings, ease of implementation, performance and time-to-market advantages.
Envelope tracking, which improves the efficiency of PAs carrying high peak-to average-power-ratio signals, is yet another important trend. The drive for OEMs to attain high data throughput within limited spectrum resources requires the use of linear modulation with high peak to average power. Unfortunately, conventional fixed-supply PAs working in this environment have low efficiency. Opportunities remain, however, to improve the PA efficiency by varying the amplifier’s supply voltage in synchronism with the envelope of the RF signal.
Finally, given the need to achieve high data rate solutions that boost transmission bandwidths versus those that can be supported by a single carrier or channel, or carrier aggregation, this will be another topic of discussion at MWC. By using LTE advanced carrier aggregation, it is feasible to use more than one carrier and augment the overall transmission bandwidth.
Are Brick Phones Making a Comeback?
The first cell phones were roughly the size of a two-liter soda bottle and weighed two pounds. They offered less than an hour of talk time, and the cellular radio required hundreds of RF components. It is absurd to think we would carry such unwieldy contraptions today, but as next-generation smartphones become increasingly complex, phone engineers face a daunting challenge: trying to squeeze ever more functionality and bigger batteries into sleek, lightweight form factors without compromising performance.
As multimedia applications like video streaming drive demand for faster connections through LTE and 802.11ac networks, RF content is increasing significantly. High-end super phones house a growing number of cellular and Wi-Fi bands to support 2G/3G/4G voice and data services, as well as global roaming. Because smartphones operate within the world’s crowded RF spectrum, they also require more and better performing filters to ensure a satisfactory user experience.
TriQuint is taking on this design challenge to simplify RF design and optimize performance by providing more capability in less space for their customers. They have made significant advancements in miniaturization, power efficiency and system performance leveraging active and passive process technologies to integrate the growing number of puzzle pieces into a few tiny modules — while conserving precious battery life.
TriQuint is seeing high demand for multi-band, multi-mode power amplifier modules (MMPA) so OEMs can support numerous cellular bands in less space. This gives them a common RF footprint to limit the proliferation of regional phones and speed design time. By streamlining their bill of materials, they can reduce costs and offer more affordable phones to spur greater adoption.
In addition to highly integrated amplifiers, TriQuint is seeing significant demand for filters. The filter market is expected to grow 10.5 percent annually, reaching $1.7 billion in 2016, driven by the adoption rate of WCDMA, LTE and Wi-Fi. SAW filters are a mainstay in today’s smartphones, while BAW technology provides the only feasible means to meet the most demanding requirements for many LTE and Wi-Fi co-exist filters.
As the company’s engineers collaborate to optimize the RF front-end, TriQuint’s operations and manufacturing teams are making packaging innovations to deliver better products faster. Newer technologies such as flip-chip use copper ‘bumps’ to replace wire bonds, which speeds assembly and improves performance along with wafer level packaging that enables smaller RF solutions with reduced height to help reduce cost and size.
TriQuint increased its manufacturing capacity by 40 percent in 2011 to support the one billion annual smartphone shipments forecast by 2016. TriQuint will utilize its integration capabilities to reach further and faster, to prevent the return of the brick phone.