The 2016 Mobile World Congress (MWC) broke attendance records and attracted governments, leading CEOs, the cream of industry and visitors from around the globe. It was a hotspot for innovation and a springboard for new technologies that will impact people’s everyday lives worldwide, now and into the future. International editor Richard Mumford and technical editor Gary Lerude attended the event and share their views on the issues impacting the mobile ecosystem, the technology being developed to address them and the role of the microwave industry.
Taking on a grand scale at the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona from 22 to 25 February, the 2016 Mobile World Congress broke all records and likely a few budgets as attendance surpassed 100,000 for the first time in the event’s history, an increase of more than six percent over 2015. Emphasizing its position as the mobile industry’s premier event, with a global reach and a global impact, MWC 2016 attracted visitors from 204 countries.
The Fira Gran Via and Fira Montjuïc venues featured more than 2,200 exhibiting companies showcasing cutting edge products and services and occupying 110,000 net square meters of exhibition and networking space. As expected, the event was the focus for product launches that set the standard and drive trends for the mobile industry.
Such trends and how they can be accommodated and advanced formed the agenda of the GSMA’s Ministerial Programme that ran alongside the main event, bringing together governments, regulators and industry leaders to discuss the specific regulatory issues relating to the development of mobile communications around the world. This forum also drew record attendance, with delegations representing 137 countries and 31 international organizations.
For those seeking inspiration and a glimpse into the wide mobile communications market, the conference programme comprised 48 in-depth track sessions and 12 keynote sessions, featuring keynotes with CEOs and senior execs from such organizations as China Mobile, Ericsson, Ford Motor, Huawei, Intel, Mercedes, Qualcomm and UNICEF. Anyone looking at Facebook would have seen that Mark Zuckerberg was again on hand to proffer his opinions.
The pace at which the mobile telecommunications industry is evolving makes precisely defining the trends and predicting the timing difficult, if not impossible. However, having all of the major players in one place and under one roof — actually several roofs — at one time offers an opportunity to talk to innovators at the forefront of technology, gauge opinions and take stock to see the "wood for the 5Gs" and to gauge whether addressing carrier aggregation will be more like carrier agitation! That's why MWC is billed as an industry-defining event.
5G and its fraternal twin, the Internet of Things (IoT), were the major technology themes of MWC. Think of 5G as a unified wireless network that will connect virtually everything to the cloud. That's the view of Ulf Ewaldsson, Ericsson's CTO. To realize this vision, Ericsson has defined six use cases for 5G to guide the definition and development of the 5G network architecture. These encompass low power and low data rate sensors to low latency, haptic applications to high bandwidth video streaming. To support such a wide range of uses, Ericsson sees a single 5G network that is adaptable, able to configure itself into numerous "slices" optimized for the user's need (e.g., high bandwidth, low latency).
It's rare that a day passes without at least one announcement of companies, universities or standards bodies collaborating on 5G R&D. Ericsson stated they have 15 industry pilots and partner relationships with 20 customers — likely more by now — and that's probably typical of the major network equipment manufacturers. Responding to this volume of R&D and the opportunity to collaborate and gain influence, if not share, everyone in the ecosystem wants to play. Ironically, this frenzy is likely to get ahead of the standards bodies, who are slated to complete the 5G standards in 2020. Expect to see "pre-commercial" deployments long before then, notably at the 2018 Olympics in Korea.
For those not consumed by 5G, virtual reality (VR) generated some buzz at the conference. One of the moderated sessions explored the "virtual reality opportunity," asking whether VR is a market opportunity. With VR technology maturing, will it enable viable business models for consumer and enterprise markets? Among the VR demos at the conference was Samsung's unveiling of their latest marquis smartphone, the Galaxy S7, with Gear VR. The launch event concluded with the appearance of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO. Facebook spent more than $2 billion to buy Oculus, creator of Gear VR.
Companies from across the globe, covering the complete mobile communications spectrum, — from infrastructure hardware to mobile apps and accessories — demonstrated their latest innovations. Those particularly active in the RF and microwave sector were the test and measurement (T&M), semiconductor and chipset and infrastructure equipment manufacturers.
Test & Measurement
Anite featured its virtual drive test solution that uses network signaling and RF propagation log data, captured in the field using drive test tools, to recreate a realistic mobile device performance testing environment in the laboratory. It leverages a wide range of Anite IP and products, including the Propsim F32 Channel Emulator, to create a highly innovative field-to-lab solution for cost-effective benchmarking of mobile devices.
The company has introduced simulated network support to its Virtual Drive Testing (VDT) Toolset, enabling users to cost-effectively benchmark mobile devices in a controlled laboratory environment. As an example of its application, a major Chinese mobile operator selected the VDT Toolset to verify mobile device performance on high speed trains.
Anite also highlighted a new, more powerful measurement field unit, the Nemo Explorer-4, part of its broader Nemo Autonomous measurement solution. The solution consists of a Nemo Explorer-4 measurement field unit, containing four devices, a Nemo Commander for remote control and Nemo analytics solutions for reporting and analysis.
Anritsu demonstrated a range of products and technologies for the latest 3GPP and IoT developments and network deployments. For mobile infrastructure, these included T&M solutions supporting
- LTE-A to LTE-Pro (3GPP Rel 14 and 15)
- LTE-A Pro scaled to 1Gbps
- 5G experimental waveforms
- mmWave measurements
- over-the-air (OTA) and massive MIMO testing at the air interface.
Anritsu also featured T&M solutions for RF and CPRI, optical transport network for new C-RAN deployment and SDN and NFV transport network implementation, configuration and maintenance. The company is also addressing the increased test requirements for both ultra-high speed broadband and enhanced machine type communications (eMTC), showing the latest UE technology running on the leading MD8430A/RTD test platform and the unique applications and connectivity testing methods of the MD8475A.
For IoT applications, Anritsu presented its connectivity solutions, including the MT8870A Universal Wireless Test Set, the MD8475A Application Tester (Network Simulator) and MasterClaw (Service Assurance Platform) for addressing emerging IoT test, manufacturing and deployment, as well as the RTD/MD8430A device test platform, which can verify use cases and troubleshoot the integration of chipsets and wireless modules into IoT systems.
Cobham Wireless announced the next generation of the TM500 network test system, which has the capability to emulate tens of thousands of machine type communications (MTC) devices, also known as M2M devices. This enables network operators and infrastructure suppliers to validate 4G cellular network performance to support IoT connectivity.
The TM500 can evaluate the effect of connecting large numbers of low-power, low-complexity user equipment (UEs) for MTC applications on the network. The TM500 is already used by all the major infrastructure suppliers to validate their networks under realistic usage and loading scenarios. By continuing to innovate with new 3GPP features, the TM500 aims to stay ahead of market need, empowering network operators to prove network performance under real world usage conditions, before the availability of actual device hardware.
Keysight Technologies demonstrated several 5G and 802.11ad solutions, including multi-channel mmWave OTA testing with the S-series oscilloscope and M1971E waveguide mixers. Quasi-optics radio propagation at 73 GHz offers the advantage of using remote heads with standard baseband equipment.
An M9703A digitizer, M8195A AWG, SystemVue W1462 FPGA architect and W1906 5G library were combined to create a system for real-time beam forming measurements. The solution provides eight channels of wideband stimulus and measurement in a single five slot AXIe chassis. Modulation analysis and beam weighting algorithms developed in SystemVue and deployed on the M9703A FPGA use the integrated design flow in the SystemVue FPGA Architect.
Keysight also demonstrated the UXM wireless test set, achieving 1 Gbps end-to-end data testing with higher order MIMO and carrier aggregation. The system is capable of high speed downloads of LTE-A Pro signals, using three component carriers with 4x4 and 2x2 MIMO. The test set also handles 1.6 Gbps data rates with four component carriers and 4x4 downlink MIMO. Combining two UXMs will support five component carriers.
Also demonstrated was the UXA signal analyzer, which provides wideband 5G and mmWave generation and analysis, with an analysis bandwidth of 1 GHz at up to 50 GHz.
Narda Safety Test Solutions highlighted the IDA 2 handheld portable interference and direction analyzer and the NRA-6000 RX remote analyzer. The IDA 2 is a complete all-in-one measuring system that is tailored precisely to efficient source localization. It is a direction finder with the qualities of a receiver in a handheld format. The instrument now has I/Q analysis that allows users to reliably locate such signals. The instrument records the I/Q data in real time and saves up to 250,000 I/Q data pairs without compression, i.e. without loss of data.
With a frequency range from 9 kHz to 6 GHz, the NRA-6000 RX analyzes all RF bands, from TETRA through GSM, UMTS, WiMAX and LTE. The instrument can be quickly and economically integrated into practically any measurement environment for signal monitoring, thanks to its Ethernet interface and ASCII plain text remote control command set. Large quantities of data can be transmitted rapidly in binary format.
National Instruments (NI) highlighted a system for testing, prototyping and optimizing the new LTE unlicensed (LTE-U) and license assisted access (LAA) access technologies. Because both LTE-U and LAA use the 5.9 GHz unlicensed ISM band to augment cellular spectrum, LTE-U and LAA capable devices must equitably share the channel with Wi-Fi (802.11a and 802.11ac) equipment.
The real-time test bed includes an FPGA-based LTE physical layer in source code, allowing different LTE-U and LAA scenarios to be tested, evaluated and potentially augmented to increase data rates. Based on the NI USRP RIO software-defined radio and the LabVIEW Communications System Design suite, the NI test bed is a ready-to-run system. It requires the following components: LabVIEW Communications System Designs, LabVIEW Communications LTE Application Framework, configurable LTE-U and LAA reference software and two USRP-293R FPGA-based software defined radios.
Rohde & Schwarz demonstrated generation and analysis for broadband applications in the mmWave range. R&S says the R&S SMW200A is the first vector signal generator (VSG) capable of producing an internal modulation bandwidth of 2 GHz up to 40 GHz, implementing a basic test setup without additional baseband sources. The R&S FSW signal and spectrum analyzer and the R&S RTO oscilloscope enable a 2 GHz analysis bandwidth up to 85 GHz.
R&S also demonstrated the generation and analysis of 5G air interface candidates using all possible formats: orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), universal filtered multicarrier (UFMC), generalized frequency division multiplexing (GFDM), filter bank multicarrier (FBMC) and filtered OFDM (f OFDM). The R&S SMW200A VSG allows users to easily generate these 5G air interface candidates, while the R&S FS-K196 vector signal analysis software expands the capabilities of spectrum and signal analyzers by adding modulation measurements for UFMC, GFDM and f OFDM waveforms.
Additionally, the company outlined their channel sounding solutions. The R&S TS-5GCS combines the new R&S TS 5GCS channel sounding software with the R&S FSW signal and spectrum analyzer and R&S SMW200A VSG. This system lets users conveniently measure channels in the new centimeter and millimeter wave frequency bands. Users can select the analyzer and generator based on their channel frequency and bandwidth requirements.
Rosenberger says their new PIM Site Analyzer α is the first to enable PIM detection over optical CPRI as well as the traditional RF measurements. The plug-and-play modular and broadband design spans 700 to 2700 MHz, with exchangeable band filters to ensure high flexibility and "future proofing" for upcoming bands.
Portable, with a rugged design and 12-in touch screen readable in sunlight, the PIM Site Analyzer α generates a CW signal (no pulse) and measures antenna isolation , DTF (VSWR versus distance, PIM versus distance) and VSWR/return loss. It provides increased safety and simplified handling in the workplace; a cancellation function shows potential improvement of PIM values.
Semiconductors & Mobile Front-Ends
While newly-formed Ampleon did not exhibit at MWC, CEO Reinier Beltman flew in to meet with customers and discuss the company's strategy. Formerly the high performance RF segment of NXP, Ampleon was sold to the Chinese investment firm JAC Capital, a prerequisite to NXP's acquisition of Freescale and their RF power business.
Beltman said that JAC Capital's intent in buying the business is to grow it; accordingly, they will be increasing the R&D investment. Cellular base stations, with their demand for LDMOS power transistors, generate most of Ampleon's revenue; however to grow and diversify, the company is expanding product development for aerospace and defense and nascent RF energy applications. They are also expanding their LDMOS technology platform to GaN.
Read Beltman's earlier interview with Microwave Journal.
Ethertronics is expanding their active antenna solution for Wi-Fi to now address the LTE market. They announced two RF switches that enable beam steering when integrated with the antennas in the mobile phone. The antennas can either be provided by Ethertronics in an integrated module or designed by the customer.
The EC686 switch was designed for best-in-class Ron, covers 100 MHz to over 3 GHz, and has a control interface that meets Qualcomm's MIPI protocol. The shuntless, SP4T architecture ensures low loss and supports antenna tuning. The second switch, the EC646, has the same architecture and frequency coverage and was optimized for applications constrained to very small board area.
MACOM inconspicuously met with customers to discuss their full portfolio of technology and products for wireless infrastructure.
After years outlining their GaN on Si strategy, the company unveiled a family of GaN on Si power transistors designed specifically for the base station market. The first two products in the MAGb series provide impressive performance: the MAGB-101822-120B0S covers 1.7 to 2.2 GHz and delivers 160 W peak power, 74 percent efficiency (without harmonic tuning), 19 dB gain and over 200 MHz video bandwidth. The MAGB-101822-240B0S doubles the output power to 320 W peak, with 72 percent efficiency and 19 dB of linear gain.
Beyond BTS power amplifiers, MACOM discussed their small-signal products for the base station; MMICs for backhaul radio, spanning 7 to 86 GHz; and optical transport products for fronthaul and backhaul.
It seemed strange to see Paul Hart in the NXP booth. Formerly the general manager of Freescale's RF power business, he and the rest of Freescale were acquired by NXP, while the NXP RF power business was sold to JAC Capital to avoid likely anti-trust objections to the NXP-Freescale deal.
Paul is pleased to be part of NXP, saying NXP is more of an RF company than Freescale was. In addition to the LDMOS and GaN power transistors from Freescale, NXP has a strong small-signal portfolio based on their SiGe process technology.
NXP intends to grow the RF power business, and, like Ampleon, they are pursuing RF energy applications. Paul noted the differences between the customers and maturity of the infrastructure and RF energy markets. Unlike infrastructure, the typical RF energy customer has little to no understanding of RF. In addition to hitting a very aggressive price point, companies like NXP will have to make it very easy for the customer to design in and use the power amplifier.
Qorvo had a strong showing at MWC this year, as the first combined RFMD/TriQuint products hit the market (designated by a QM part number). These new products reflect the blending of TriQuint's SAW and BAW filters and HBT PAs with RFMD's SOI switches and low cost China assembly and test operation.
For marquis smartphones, the company introduced three new integrated transmit/receive front-end modules for cellular and one for Wi-Fi, all part of the Fusion portfolio. For regional phones, Qorvo introduced their third generation family of front-end modules, including single and dual antenna transmit modules and two multiband PAs.
The company claimed numerous design wins, including 11 in the Samsung Galaxy S7, launched at MWC, and more than a dozen for various Wi-Fi products. Qorvo also announced joining 3GPP as a "guest delegate," giving them a seat at the table — or at least in the room — to keep abreast in the development of the 5G standards.
Sivers IMA, a new member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, launched its next-generation V-Band converters. Like the recently launched E-Band converter, it is based on the company’s proprietary SiGe ICs and is suitable for small cell radio links and T&M equipment. V-Band is generally license free, and this new converter and its underlying technology support data rates up to 10 Gbps.
Skyworks had a more muted presence at MWC than in prior years; however they made three significant announcements:
- SkyBlue™, a technology enhancing both the power and efficiency in LTE amplifiers and achieved with a simpler implementation than envelope tracking
- SkyOne® Ultra 2.0, an RF front-end, comprising three LTE modules, that provides all the functionality between the transceiver and antenna — 22 bands in less than 240 sq mm
- LTE Category M (Cat M) reference design, developed with Sequans, that combines Skyworks' half-duplex RF front-end module with Sequans' new Monarch LTE Cat M single chip.
As part of their corporate strategy to help operators increase the capacity of their networks, CommScope is improving the performance of their antennas to support the densification of the network — whether from the cell tower to the cell phone or along the point-to-point backhaul link.
For mobile access, CommScope sees the U.S. market — where cell towers tend to be more widely spaced — starting to densify to add capacity. Moving from three to six sector antennas is usually the first step for operators, since it is more cost effective than deploying small cells. Europe, where cell towers are more closely spaced, hasn't seen the same capacity crunch, although it's coming within a few years.
For point-to-point radio links, as the distance between antennas shrinks, off-axis performance (i.e., sidelobe levels) can limit data rates and antenna placement. CommScope's Sentinel antennas were developed to address this issue and meet ETSI Class 4 requirements. Off-axis sidelobe levels are 15 dB better than antennas meeting the more widely used Class 3 requirement.
Kathrein featured Street Connect, specially designed for use in environments with a high density of buildings. Developed in conjunction with operator Swisscom, the cover on the antenna is extremely robust, so the system can be installed on roads with "heavy goods" traffic.
Another innovation is the LTE compensator for optimum connectivity in vehicles; it compensates for signal quality losses and automatically establishes the best connection for maximum data throughput between a mobile device and the network. The LTE compensator is compatible with all common network operators, frequency bands and standards.
For indoor mobile communication, Kathrein presented a technical extension of K-BOW. A recent winner of the German Design Award, this solution is designed to ensure adequate capacity in indoor environments such as hotels. With an Ethernet interface, K-BOW can establish a Wi-Fi infrastructure.
Ceragon says the company is the leading independent supplier of "best of breed" point-to-point radios, serving mobile backhaul, public safety and private networks such as utilities. Covering 4 GHz to E-Band, their radios are recognized for high capacity and low latency. Internally developed frequency reuse technology allows antennas to have only a 15 degree angle of separation, rather than the typical 90 degree requirement to avoid interference. Ceragon developed their own baseband modem and RFIC chipsets to achieve the desired radio performance. Their systems offer an upgrade path to increase capacity, which accommodates an operator's changing needs as data traffic increases.
The FiberAir IP-20C was among the radios displayed at MWC. It's an all outdoor unit that is mounted with the antenna. The radio's spectral efficiency achieves 2 Gbps over a single 56 MHz channel, and it supports all radio bands from 6 to 42 GHz.
Ericsson occupied what seemed like a city block within one of the halls at Fira Gran Via. Coffee and food complemented the numerous hardware displays, providing nourishment for those tired of wandering around. Arguably, the most interesting display was Ericsson's 5G test bed. The radio design uses 64 element (8 x 8) arrays with active beam steering and 800 MHz of bandwidth at 15 GHz (available spectrum in Sweden). The MWC demo comprised three 8 x 8 transceivers, one acting as a base station, one as a fixed subscriber and one as a mobile subscriber. As the mobile subscriber moved along a track, the system's active beam steering switched beams to maximize the power and data rate. When the two subscribers were physically separated, the combined data rate was above 20 Gbps, often near 25 Gbps. When the mobile subscriber approached the fixed subscriber, reducing the spatial diversity, the data rate dropped to around 14 Gbps.
Having demonstrated the concept, Ericsson is iterating the design for pre-commercial trials in the U.S., Japan and Korea. The design will be scaled to 28 GHz to use available spectrum in these countries. Ericsson noted that the same system concept can be applied to mobile bands below 6 GHz, although the lower bandwidth in these bands will restrict data rates.
ip.access showcased the E60 LTE Access Point, which is a high-end, wall mounted enterprise access point targeted at larger buildings. Supporting up to 32 simultaneous users, the design is multi-band, with initial variants to support the U.S. (Bands 2, 4, 5, 13 and 17) or Asia/Europe (Bands 1, 3, 7, 8 and 20). Both models feature 2x2 MIMO and achieve an indoor range of up to 250 m.
The S60 is the company’s first 4G/LTE SOHO access point. Designed as a freestanding product with a fully plastic enclosure, it is aimed at higher volume, lower cost applications, such as small offices and retailers. With 20 MHz LTE bandwidths and handling up to 16 simultaneous users, the S60 is available in various frequency bands, including 3.5 to 3.7 GHz, which supports the new U.S. "citizen’s broadband" shared spectrum.
Featured, too, was the new 4G access control gateway, a fully virtualized, high availability solution incorporating a security gateway (Sec-GW), network orchestration system (NOS) and an LTE home eNodeB gateway (HeNB-GW). This gateway provides mobile operators with a single interface between their existing core network and all LTE small cells.
The MulteFire Alliance held a briefing at MWC to explain the objectives of the alliance and the planned network architecture.
The gist of MulteFire is a Wi-Fi like service operating on the 5 GHz unlicensed band and using the LTE standard instead of 802.11xx. A MulteFire operator doesn't need cellular spectrum, since it uses the unlicensed band, so it can readily be deployed in large venues (e.g., malls, stadiums, airports, apartment buildings). Why MulteFire rather than Wi-Fi? It will offer LTE services such as VoLTE and is claimed to operate "better" with large numbers of users.
Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson and Intel are heavyweight members of the alliance, so the development of the ecosystem seems to be covered. However, whether MulteFire is perceived to offer sufficient value to be widely adopted remains to be proven.