GSMA Mobile World Congress 2015 broke records with more than 93,000 attends from 200 countries. The first day started off with a bang as NXP and Freescale announced that they plan to merge (even after all of the other consolidations in the RF semiconductor market). They did state that NXP would divest their own high power RF business and retain Freescale’s RF segment to avoid regulatory issues.

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CMRI“5G” was the word in Barcelona as many companies are now talking about it and including demos in their booth. One interesting example is China Mobile’s tile approach to 5G where they are using transceiver “tiles” (currently 2 channels but going to 8 soon) in an array that can be shaped to blend into the environment and produce massive MIMO arrays.  They plan to deploy them on the sides of buildings and other structures and can be arranged in the shape of Chinese characters as shown in the demo (see video gallery).

There is a lot of controversy in discussing the future of 5G since it is not defined yet.  With planned deployment starting in 2020, most agree that the goals are 1 to 10 Gbps speeds to the users, 1000 times the bandwidth per unit area, connection capacity for the millions of devices expected from growth from the Internet of Things (IoT), 1 msec latency and large reduction in energy use. Of course, high reliability and better coverage are also expected. But will we need that kind of performance for everything and how practical is it to have this kind of performance?

The test & measurement companies are leading the charge on enabling 5G proto-typing as we saw platforms from Keysight, R&S, National Instruments, Anritsu and Cobham/Aeroflex being demoed in their booths. They all have developed flexible test setups that allow system designers to evaluate things such as massive MIMO, different modulation schemes, mmWave transmissions and more. Channel sounding setups are also being developed as displayed at Keysight demonstrating who was displaying a mmWave system operating to just over 60 GHz. One noteworthy demo was the R&S 4 component carrier aggregation demo which seemed to be the only one doing 4 components (several companies had setups for 3 components which is considered advanced).

But we must not forget that we are still rolling out 4G LTE and there will be many improvements to 4G LTE and LTE-A which will move us toward 5G performance goals. Another current issue is the convergence of WiFi and cellular and how that will work its way out. WiFi has come a long way and has much high data rates compared to cellular and off loading can be done to relieve bottlenecks.

The other hot topic was IoT/M2M (machine to machine communications). From smart cities to the connected home to vehicle-to-vehicle communications, there were demos everywhere. Examples were Vodaphone’s smart city and Ericsson’s V2V Volvo that avoids collisions. Wireless medical applications and remote monitoring also promise to be a large market.

Handset Device Trends

The latest from the handset RF module companies seems to be a 3 level approach.  Both Qorvo and Skyworks now offer a highly integrated single module approach, another solution set with separate modules for each of the major sets of bands (high, medium and low) and another offering with a limited level of integration for maximum flexibility.  The flexibility of the multi-module approach allows manufacturers to react faster to changes in the market while minimizing component cost.  The highly integrated module is full featured so allows high level smart phones to have fewer parts for a fast world-wide rollout but costs more and reduces flexibility.

The competition to the multi-chip module approach, that uses the best technology for each place in the radio chain, is the single chip CMOS solutions. To date, only Qualcomm and Peregrine are offering these products commercially but it does not appear they have penetrated the market very much at this point. Qualcomm does have a few design wins but has found a place in the lower cost handsets versus the upper end that they were targeting.  Peregrine demonstrated integrated envelope tracking and antenna tuning in their new design that looks very promising.  It will not be in production until later this year so we will see how it does in the marketplace.

Microwave Journal editors visited most of the major RF test/measurement and semiconductor companies and provided a review of their products below.

Test & Measurement Companies

Anite featured the Virtual Drive Testing Toolset, an automated, lab-based performance and interoperability test solution for cost-effective assessment of mobile devices and network infrastructure. The toolset uses data captured in the field to build tests that replay drive or indoor test routes by emulating real-world RF network conditions in a controlled laboratory environment.

Offering a complete end-to-end solution the Virtual Drive Testing Toolset allows users to either utilize real network infrastructure or deploy a simulated network through integrating the Anite 9000 network simulator. The solution enables mobile operators as well as device, chipset and network equipment manufacturers to control the device under test from a single, easy to use graphical user interface, conducting real-time diagnostics monitoring, logging test results and analyzing test data.

AnritsuAnritsu demonstrated live tests of a mobile handset operating at the latest 450Mb/s peak data rate, and of experimental 5G waveforms as well as featuring a cloud-based connected car system for fleet tracking developed by the University of Hertfordshire, UK with the help of Anritsu’s network simulation technology. The ME7834LA and ME7873LA versions of the company’s GCF certification platforms for conformance testing of mobile handsets support the 450Mb/s data rate offered by Category 9 user equipment running 3x Carrier Aggregation (3CA) technology. The MS2830A signal analyzer, which provides a platform for the generation and analysis of candidate 5G waveforms, ran live tests of signals from devices implementing the latest experimental 5G modulation schemes (see video gallery).

The connected car demonstration showed a car’s diagnostics system connecting to the cloud via a simulated LTE network environment provided by the MD8475A mobile network simulator. An application in the cloud enables a fleet manager on any internet-connected device to view the location and operating parameters of any vehicle in the fleet in real time.

Cobham Wireless, formerly Aeroflex wireless business unit, demonstrated a number of new developments in 4G LTE-A network test, IP network and NFV system service validation, and the development of algorithms for a 5G air interface. The proposed 5G air interface algorithms developed by Cobham Wireless were demonstrated by Razieh Razavi from the 5G Innovation Centre in Surrey, UK (see video gallery).

The company demonstrated the ability of the TM500 network tester family to verify the performance of a multi-RAT (LTE and WCDMA) network, using an array of real User SIM (USIM) cards connected to multiple test user equipment or mobile devices. TeraVM, the company’s IP traffic emulation and performance validation solution was shown deployed on to a number of NFV systems, where it is used in the validation of the performance of NFV infrastructure and key Virtual Network Function technologies.

KeysightKeysight Technologies participated in a joint demonstration on next-generation 5G wireless communication systems as part of the 5G collaboration project with China Mobile Communications Co. Ltd. Research Institute (CMRI). The demonstration focused on large-scale antenna systems based on CMRI's new SmarTile unit. In the demonstration, the signal quality and multi-channel beam-forming capability of large-scale antenna systems was measured and validated with Keysight's multi-channel analyzer and 89600 VSA software (see video gallery).

On its booth Keysight demonstrations focused on the high-performance design and test solutions required to address increased peak data rates with multiple technologies. This included carrier aggregation, enhanced use of multi-antenna techniques, and enhanced uplink for next-generation wireless devices in R&D and manufacturing. The latest updates to the E7515A UXM wireless test set enable it to handle the challenges of the latest LTE-Advanced evolutions, such as 4CC, 256 QAM, and UE categories 11 through 14.

The T4000S-series wireless systems offers RF, RRM and PCT conformance and design verification test, including LTE-A test cases and CA band combinations, while the

E6640A EXM wireless test set can handle the latest manufacturing test challenges, such as WLAN MIMO and LTE-A CA testing. The company demonstrated 802.11ac, 160 MHz bandwidth, and 4x4 True MIMO testing, showing how the EXM can generate and analyze high-throughput formats.

For Narda Safety Test Solutions the focus was the NRA RF remote analyzers: These 19 inch rack mount devices analyze RF signals up to 6 GHz in the frequency and time domains, and exhibit receiver characteristics at the same time, thanks to a new high frequency receiver section. The latest RX version has been equipped with an RF module that has been specially developed for low phase noise and low intrinsic interference. There are two models available: NRA-3000 RX (9 kHz – 3 GHz) and NRA-6000 RX (9 kHz – 6 GHz). The analyzers can yield spectrums comprised of up to 600,000 frequency points with time resolutions as fine as around 30 nanoseconds. Unusually high channel bandwidths can be captured with the intermediate frequency bandwidths of up to 32 MHz. With software, users can freely define up to 500 channels or frequency ranges to be monitored.

NINI previewed a new Wireless Test System (WTS) that couples the company’s PXI Vector Signal Transceiver and multicore processing technologies to deliver, what is claimed to be industry leading test speeds that reduce the cost of manufacturing test for devices such as mobile phones, tablets, data cards and modules. The WTS features support for the latest wireless standards from LTE-A to 802.11ac, advanced switching topologies for multi-site and MIMO test, and easy-to-use software that contains native chipset support from vendors such as Qualcomm and Broadcom.

Also featured was the LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite, which combines software defined radio (SDR) hardware with a comprehensive software design flow to help engineers prototype 5G systems. Wireless prototyping was previously undertaken by separate design teams using disparate design tools. The LabVIEW Communications environment enables the entire design team to map an idea from algorithm to FPGA using a single high-level representation. LabVIEW Communications is optimized for the SDR platform with a hardware-aware design environment that provides control of physical configuration, hardware constraints and system documentation in a functional software diagram. This adds the flexibility of the hardware to the software, which gives designers access to all components in the SDR platform (see video gallery).

RandSRohde & Schwarz had two separate booths – one focused on testing technology with the other addressing mobile network testing. The R&S CMW500 wideband radio communication tester was on display with new features including the first RF tests for LTE-Advanced downlink carrier aggregation with four component carriers. To support developers in their research activities surrounding 5G mobile networks the company offers a test setup for wideband applications in the millimeter-wave range. The solution consists of an R&S SMW200A vector signal generator and an R&S FSW signal and spectrum analyzer in combination with an R&S RTO oscilloscope. When equipped with the R&S FSW-B2000 option, the R&S FSW provides an analysis bandwidth of 2 GHz. The R&S FSW67 model additionally allows signal analysis in the frequency range up to 67 GHz (see video gallery).

The company has also expanded the analysis bandwidth of its R&S FSW high-end signal and spectrum analyzer to 2 GHz by introducing the new R&S FSW-B2000 hardware option. This test solution enables R&D users to demodulate extremely wideband signals and analyze them in detail. It is claimed to be the only instrument on the market that combines such a large analysis bandwidth with a frequency range up to 67 GHz.

Rohde & Schwarz and Prisma Telecom Testing have completed RF tests for LTE FDD four component carrier aggregation (4CC) in the downlink, including 2x2 MIMO. Presented to the public for the first time the solution consists of two R&S CMW500 wideband radio communication testers, the R&S CMWC controller and PrismaUeSIM multi-terminal simulator. Each R&S CMW500 generates two component carriers with 20 MHz bandwidth and 2x2 MIMO. The entire setup is able to provide a downlink data rate of 600 Mbps – the performance required for tests on 3GPP category 11 (Cat11) devices (see video gallery).

Rosenberger showcased its new broadband passive intermodulation site analyzer for multi-function on-site tests and measurements of active and passive elements - whether outdoor or indoor systems, RF or fiber optic. Claimed to be the first multi-function Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) and RF PIM site analyzer the instrument features PIM detection over CPRI and offers exchangeable filter units. The plug-and-play modular and broadband design with exchangeable band filter units ensures high flexibility and is future-proof, reducing risks of obsolete equipment in a world of high demand for additional frequency spectrum.

A highlight for SAF Tehnika is the Spectrum Compact handheld RF spectrum monitoring tool for 6-11 GHz, 10-17 GHz, 17-24 GHz and 24-40 GHz. A standard kit includes the spectrum analyzer, an RF cable and a waveguide adapter. The waveguide adapter itself can be used as a low gain antenna. Just by pointing it towards the transmitting radio, the Spectrum Compact will detect and visualize the incoming signal. The instrument is compatible with any manufacturer’s antenna and the company also provides a set of handheld horn antennas for use with Spectrum Compact as an additional interference detection accessory in case a parabolic antenna is not available onsite.

Semiconductor Device Companies

The biggest news of the show in our RF world was the announcement at the opening of the show thatFreescale and NXP would merge. The acquisition of Freescale by NXP would result in about a $40 billion giant semiconductor company with about 80% market share in the high power RF market.  No one expects this to get approved with such a dominant market share so NXP stated they would divest the NXP RF power business (either by sale or spin out of a new company). The new company will still have a dominant position in the automotive and embedded electronics markets where healthy grow is expected.

FreescaleFreescale was showing off some of their first commercial GaN products including a Doherty amplifier operating from 2110 to 2170 MHz with 30 W of power and 55% efficiency.  The device has a useful operating range of about 1800 to 2200 MHz showing the broadband nature of GaN with a peak power of 160 W. They also featured a 5 W plastic packaged small cell amplifier with about 40% efficiency operating from 2300 to 2690 MHz with a peak power of 60 W.  Finally, they were also featuring their Digital Front End that includes both DPD and RF power functions so that new designs can be quickly realized without having to engineer the whole radio chain (see video gallery).

With E-Band links having gained momentum Infineon has developed a 70-80 GHz FDD radio frontend based on its E-Band BGT70 and BGT80 transceiver chipsets. With their advanced SiGE:C technology these millimeter-wave transceivers are highly integrated and housed in eWLB packages. The RF frontend reference design has two RF modules mounted on a compact motherboard. The RF module is designed on RO3003 PCB and the transistors (differential to single ended, differential to waveguide) have been optimized to achieve minimum losses on board. The motherboard has analog differential I-Q interfaces, baseband filters, receiver gain control, XMC4200 Infineon processor, control circuitry for de-biasing the power amplifier and DC/DC converters for the power supply.

Qorvo expanded its RF Fusion™ family of RF Front End that combine best-in-class power amplifier efficiency, filtering and duplexing, and cellular switching to deliver high performance and enable a single scalable source for the entire cellular front end. Qorvo's newest RF Fusion solutions integrate all major transmit and receive RF functionality from the transceiver to the antenna in highly integrated high-band, mid-band, and low-band placements, enabling complete frequency coverage. The solutions deliver high performance and integration to help OEMs quickly migrate to 4G LTE/TD-LTE/LTE-A and Rel-12 carrier aggregation- (CA-) capable devices.

They also introduced RF Flex™, the newest addition to Qorvo's family of highly integrated 4G LTE RF front end solutions. Qorvo's RF Flex front end solutions provide best-in-class performance and regional customization to improve the performance and simplify the design of 4G smartphones and tablets. The first products in the RF Flex product family include multi-band PA modules and transmit modules designed for the rapidly growing mid-tier segment of LTE smartphones, particularly in China. The PA modules and transmit modules can be paired with the Company's best-in-class portfolio of SAW, TC-SAW, and BAW filters, to enable customers to flexibly scale and optimize solutions for China domestic and regional operator requirements.

Skyworks announced that its SkyOne® Ultra, the newest addition to its SkyOne® platform, has commenced volume production in support of several next generation smartphones. The SkyOne® Ultra is a highly integrated solution that is optimized for envelope tracking, solves harmonically-related carrier aggregation challenges and delivers high power added efficiency. SKY78041 and SKY78042 - hybrid, multimode multiband front-end modules that support 2.5G, 3G/4G and CDMA handsets and operate efficiently in GSM, GPRS, EDGE, WCDMA, HSPA and LTE modes. The SKY78041 leverages integrated duplexers for Bands 8, 12, 20, 26 and 29 targeting Europe, North America and Korea, while the SKY78042 leverages integrated duplexers for Bands 8, 12, 26, 28a and 28b targeting Latin America, Australia and China.

Skyworks also announced that its SkyOne® Mini front-end solution is enabling several new smartphone launches. SkyOne® Mini, a derivative of the SkyOne® platform, specifically addresses the growing demand for value and performance oriented solutions in the LTE market by delivering the full functionality of the highly integrated SkyOne® devices but at a reduced cost and size. SKY78070, SKY78071 and SKY78072 - hybrid, multimode multiband front-end modules that support 2.5G and 3G/4G handsets and operate efficiently in GSM, GPRS, EDGE, TD-SCDMA, WCDMA, HSPA and LTE modes.

They also launched their next generation diversity receive modules (DRx) for LTE smartphones. Skyworks' newest DRx modules improve receiver sensitivity and data throughput, deliver high levels of integration in a small footprint and provide the flexibility to support multiple antenna configurations. From single-feed, broad band antennas to advanced multi-feed antennas addressing carrier aggregation, these solutions allow customers to select the optimal configuration for their platform requirements.

NXP was also buzzing with the merger news but not a lot of details are available yet. The logic to divest NXP RF power businesses instead of Freescale was because they have control of it business now so can proceed with divesture plans as opposed to Freescale that would have to wait until after the merger was complete. NXP was featuring Gen 9 LDMOS with 50% efficiency (8 dB backoff) – that is overall lineup efficiency that includes the driver, amplifier and isolator. Currently, GaN is mostly utilized for military applications with plans to penetrate the basestation market in the future. They were showing off various designs like 720 to 916 MHz, 1.9 to 2.2 GHz with 2.6 GHz designs in process.  They are working on a 12V process for small cell applications at 1.8 to 2.2 GH and 45% efficiency.

Peregrine announced that itsUltraCMOS Global 1 technology makes a single, global SKU possible – saving 4G LTE mobile-device manufacturers. With this new collaboration between Murata and Peregrine, every component required for one SKU would be available from a single company.. This UltraCMOS Global 1 Initiative will accelerate LTE mobile-device manufacturers’ transition to reconfigurable RFFE designs, which accommodate the world’s 40-plus LTE bands on a single chip. One of the biggest advantages is its ease of tunability for LTE device manufacturers. RF engineers have to manually solder and tune the RF front end through a process known as discrete duplexer matching. This manual process could take anywhere from two weeks to one month—time that delayed the device’s introduction into the market. Global 1 replaces discrete duplexer matching with a sophisticated tunable matching network that optimizes the PA match across the band. With Global 1 and its supporting software, an engineer can simply plug in the device and use the software to tune the RF front end within a few hours. Additionally, the device remains reconfigurable and can be tuned to another frequency or band to meet market demand.

The PE56500 is a fully integrated, reconfigurable 3G/4G cellular RF front-end (RFFE) solution that includes a multimode, multiband (MMMB) PA, PA tuning, post-PA switch and antenna switch in a single package. It has three monolithic MMMB linear PAs divided into low, mid and high band paths that cover 690–915 MHz, 1710–2100 MHz and 2300–2700 MHz, respectively. Each of the three paths contains a tunable inter-stage and a final tunable matching network to optimize the performance of the multi-mode PA to the operating cellular band. The PE56500 is configured through a MIPI RFFE v1.1 compliant digital interface. This enables tunable matching and bias optimization for optimal linearity and efficiency tradeoff. The configurable RF and bias minimize phone variations due to mode, frequency and production tolerances. The Global 1 PE56500 is expected to be in volume production in late 2015.

WiSpry has long had high performance tunable MEMS devices but has realized that the best performance is only achieved by optimizing the whole system.  Therefore they have been proto-typing a tunable front end that includes the antenna and tunable filter. They showed a nice demo of tenability over the entire range of cellular devices from the low end of 700 to 960 MHz up to the 1500 to 2700 MHz range. The whole system only has .5 to 3 dB loss for both transmit and receive. They stated that it is actually better to have a somewhat poor antenna that they can tune into selected frequencies.  If it works well at one frequency, the device and only push it over a limited range but if it does not receive well at any frequency, it can be tuned to receive at a wide range of frequencies.  This might be the way to solve the filter proliferation issue that seems to be driving cost and area in the mobile handset these days with so many bands of operation. It could also eliminate the duplexer and switches.

Radio & Mobile Backhaul

Kathrein showcased several development projects, including an antenna system with a pioneering design, highly compact dimensions and optimized wind load. The system simultaneously covers two low band ranges (698-960 MHz) and two high band ranges (1695-2690 MHz). In another development project, mobile communication filter technologies such as combiners and DTMA are integrated compactly behind the antenna, providing benefits such as simplified mounting and improved design.  The company also presented a new solution for wireless fronthaul between buildings. The system operates in frequency ranges from 60 GHz, enabling data transmission rates of up to 10 Gbit/s.

MIMOtech showcased the Janus AirDuplex™ range of ultra-high capacity microwave backhaul radios that are claimed to challenge traditional assumptions about capacity and bandwidth. Using a patented technique called Air Division Duplexing (ADD), which combines MIMO and full duplex transmission, the Janus AirDuplex achieves data rates of up to 1Gb/s in a single 28 MHz channel, and 2Gb/s in a 56 MHz bandwidth. It addresses the challenge of an escalating need for Carrier Ethernet data throughput against the limited microwave spectrum available to operators. It is suitable for small cell, microcell and macrocell mobile deployments for a range of technologies including LTE/LTE-A and potentially 5G.