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A collective blog from the experts in measurement and design, discussing the latest tools for circuit-level modeling through system verification for general RF/microwave, 4G and 5G communications and aerospace/defense applications. Learn about these applications and the EDA simulation software, test and measurement equipment and techniques behind state-of-the-art RF, microwave and high speed design.

What’s next in wireless? The path from 4G LTE to 5G

October 17, 2017

With the 5G technology evolution on the horizon, you can feel the momentum, excitement, and even tension building in the wireless industry.  3GPP is accelerating the New Radio (NR) standard and mobile network operators are fast-tracking their deployment plans.  Mobile data demand continues to grow rapidly and new device categories, such as virtual reality and augmented reality headsets, connected and autonomous cars, and cloud-based artificial intelligence-enabled home assistants, are gaining traction and are poised to take advantage of new 5G infrastructure.

Although massive machine type communications (mMTC) is taking a backseat to enhanced mobile broadband (eMMB) in the initial 5G standard, operators are deploying new cellular IoT technologies, such as NB-IoT and CAT-M, yielding new business models to more industry verticals.

Opportunities abound as do challenges. To unleash the 5G business potential, chipset and device engineers must overcome significant challenges in the technology evolution and revolution: millimeter-wave (mmWave) propagation and channel modeling, wideband calibration, antenna complexity, 3D beamforming, over-the-air (OTA) measurements, protocol optimization for peak data throughput, digital interface capacity, battery life; the list goes on.

These 5G challenges and innovations require rigorous testing with state-of-the-art electronic test and measurement systems that will be used for design, simulation, test and analysis at mmWave frequencies. 5G market leaders across the globe rely on Keysight's experience and expertise in RF and protocol test to speed up the delivery of the latest technologies.

Collaborating Globally to Realize 5G Technologies

The list of technical issues in realization of 5G is not only long but also complex. Teamwork is necessary to get all the answers. Operator trials around the world are demonstrating promising results and continue to progress towards commercialization.  The path to 5G is forming through the 4G evolution and pre-5G activities.  While there is the inevitable concern about the “killer 5G use-case,” we see multiple ideas evolving over time:  from stand-alone fixed wireless access for the home to non-standalone mobile access with interworking between traditional LTE networks and the new 5G standard.  In addition, regulators are opening new spectrum between 3 and 5 GHz for mobile wireless applications. 

Industry leading chipset vendors have publicly announced 5G modem solutions that will support NR at both sub-6 GHz and mmWave as well as legacy cellular formats.  That breadth of new technology, the addition of legacy technology, the mix of use-cases, and the range of carrier frequency and bandwidth is a huge map of complexity. Collaboration is necessary for success. 

Recently, Qualcomm utilized Keysight 5G test solutions to test their 5G chipsets and help them accelerate their commercialization strategy. For more details about this collaboration, view Keysight Technologies Selected by Qualcomm for 5G Test Solutions.

Enabling the Fastest Path to 5G

Being first and best in 5G depends on tools that let you explore new signals, scenarios and topologies. Test and measurement vendors are developing 5G test solutions that enable deeper insights as development of the standard evolves.

Here is an overview of some of the latest 5G test solutions from Keysight:

  • SystemVue provides simulation libraries for 5G test that enable engineers to explore new signals, scenarios, and topologies.
  • Test systems for channel sounding, new waveforms and wideband mmWave systems
  • High performance oscilloscopes that provide gigabit digital views into time and frequency domains
  • The 5G Protocol R&D Toolset addresses diverse global spectrum requirements and efficiently prototypes advanced 5G protocol features (both for pre-5G and 3GPP 5G NR), including beamforming at mmWave frequencies and non-standalone use cases. Implementing and validating the new capabilities of NR will be particularly challenging given new capabilities like flexible numerology, channel codes, and management of active antenna systems (AAS). 

To develop 5G test solutions, it’s imperative that R&D and application engineers from T&M vendors work closely with the visionaries and innovators in the wireless industry to achieve the elusive breakthroughs that advance technology. Together, these groups of individuals develop standards and identify the optimal way to test them. For example, Keysight experts are actively working with governing standards bodies such as PCI-SIG, USB IF, JEDEC, MIPI Alliance, CEI OIF, 3GPP, IEEE, ITU etc. to define the wireless and digital industry standards for the future.

What’s Next?

The tone of recent public 5G events is a glorious mix of hype, amazing technology, and anxiety about how best to succeed in this industry. It is up to us on the technology side to be ready for the innovative business ideas that will fully utilize the 5G network. 

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