Executive Interview: Kailash Narayanan, VP and GM of the Wireless Test Business, Keysight Technologies
The speed with which 5G has moved through the development cycle the past couple of years has been surprising. What’s your assessment of the state of 5G as we end 2018?
I feel I speak for all within Keysight in stating we are very excited about the opportunity and the state of 5G technology. The speed at which the industry has moved speaks to the demand regarding the aspirations of 5G and the innovation applied to meeting the demand. Like any new generation, 5G will start with introductory deployments and scale as the practical issues get worked out. I am very pleased to see the first 5G production networks going commercial, and we are very happy to have enabled this early success.
How do you compare the maturity of 5G technology between the sub-6 GHz (FR1) and millimeter wave (FR2) bands? What are the primary technical uncertainties to be demonstrated as systems in these bands are deployed?
I envision 5G as more than just the deployment in two different sets of frequency bands. To make 5G “mature” requires not just new radio technology, but a completely different approach to how the radio access network (RAN) and core networks operate, particularly with flexibility, latency, capacity and reliability. The air interface will be updated as well, but the system will need to be fully embraced to realize the 5G vision.
Regarding frequency range FR1 versus FR2 maturity, it is clear to us as a design and test solution supplier, there is more complexity with FR2. While there will be FR1 and FR2 deployments, FR1 deployments will be easier. This should come as no surprise, since the industry is much more familiar with frequencies below 6 GHz for mobile communications.
The key challenges in FR2 are around ensuring mobility and a reliable connection given the high gain antennas necessary — while maintaining appropriate economics.
For FR1, even though the industry is familiar with these bands, the 3.5 to 5 GHz bands present new challenges for managing link budget. The uplink can be over 15 dB worse than the downlink at 3.5 GHz; antenna and interference management technologies are key, ensuring smooth operation in the mid-bands.
As you said, 5G reflects the development of new technologies from the air interface through the network architecture. What new test and measurement capabilities are required for 5G compared to prior generations?
The breadth of technologies needed to enable 5G means that pursuing our business opportunity impacts a very large portion of Keysight’s offerings. In some cases, the capability needed is not new, but it had to be deployed in a new way: for example, the development of relatively high performance millimeter wave capabilities that meet the economics of the commercial wireless industry. This includes managing a much wider baseband, as well as the necessary data rates and signal processing capabilities.
We also had to develop systems which allow emulation of live networks for both non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) versions of 5G NR for both FR1 and FR2. This means development and implementation of a full protocol stack coupled with the radio emulation system, an economic way to translate the system to the FR2 frequency range, and the development of over-the-air (OTA) measurement systems for a much more mainstream use model — all of this applied to tools for the commercial wireless development and deployment ecosystem.
We also developed new simulation and design software to accommodate these new frequencies and the necessary antenna systems. Keysight developed a network testing capability to enable validation of virtual core functionality and, ultimately, network slicing. Our high speed digital solutions have become faster to address the demands of the wired and fiber-optic parts of the network.
These are just a few examples of what we have accomplished to enable the wireless industry to prepare for 5G.
It seems the initial emphasis in Release 15 — at least the publicity surrounding it — has been on much faster data rates. 5G’s proposed benefits also include low latency (the ultra-reliable low latency communications use case) and connecting billions of devices for internet of things applications (the massive machine-type communications use case). What additional test and measurement challenges do these use cases pose?
Reliability and low latency have demands from the physical layer up through the application layer.
First, we must generate and analyze the signals in the new self-contained sub-frame structures over the air interface. We assist customers to ensure the lower layers of the air interface protocol stack behave properly, based on new low latency and high reliability signaling. It is also essential to analyze customer networks with next-generation drive-test and virtual drive-test tools to ensure network and user equipment (UE) behaviors match the designs and the standards.
Next, we must validate RAN and core network capabilities to ensure the protocols, loading and scenario analysis show appropriate performance. Lastly, it is likely the applications are tested to ensure operators can live up to service-level agreements with new latency and reliability conditions.
We are closely tracking upcoming 3GPP releases to address these next set of challenges.
Early in 5G’s development, Keysight identified this as a significant growth opportunity, and you’ve been very active collaborating with many companies in 5G R&D. Describe the big picture of your strategy, what you’ve contributed and what you’ve learned.
As a leader in previous generations of mobile wireless communications, we knew early on the key elements of technology, product and solution innovation had to be closely linked to the work and timing of industry leaders. The industry is global, developing myriad new technologies, and involves commercial enterprise, policy and standards bodies and research institutions. Therefore, we partnered with leading entities in each of these areas, around the world, and across the range of necessary enabling technologies. This is a challenge given the scope of effort, so we took full advantage of our comprehensive portfolio and the depth of expertise of our global team.
It is demanding but very exciting to work with world-class organizations across the wireless industry in pursuit of being first and bringing complicated technologies to market. Engaging early means dealing with many variables that are constantly changing — the need to assess, make recommendations and drive the execution of plans amidst uncertainty.
We also learned how things must evolve going forward and developed the necessary relationships and credibility to deliver what the industry needs to make 5G a commercial reality.
How have your acquisitions, Anite and Ixia, enhanced your 5G strategy?
These were strategic moves specifically aimed at growing our portfolio and enabling a more comprehensive approach to the market and our customers. In both cases, people, technologies and market penetration nicely complemented our existing capabilities and offerings, to provide a very efficient way to grow in the market.
More importantly than the access to Anite's and Ixia’s portfolios and market penetration, Keysight joined with two groups of amazing people, who have deep expertise, to pursue these opportunities as a global team. With these acquisitions, we enabled a complete portfolio of solutions covering the entire protocol stack across both the wireless and wireline sides of the communication ecosystem.
Looking into your crystal ball, do you see the momentum that has propelled 5G to several highly publicized deployments accelerating next year beyond limited geographic deployments in a couple dozen cities? Or do operators and equipment manufacturers need some time to evaluate network performance and subscriber satisfaction?
As with previous major mobile communication generations, we see the industry investing for the long haul. The dollars spent on spectrum, equipment, cell deployment sites, network deployment, tools and new technology are too big to be “testing the waters.” This industry is anxious to expand the use model of mobile communications, and the innovation we see is stunning.
Of course, there will be technical challenges as well as policy and business model issues, but the resilience and innovation in this market are there because of the opportunities. 5G has the power to transform society in more new ways than is fathomable.
Our role is to be ready with the tools needed to design the systems from early research through deployment and optimization, from the physical layer up to the application layer and across the breadth of technologies required to make all this work.
Going back to the massive machine-type communications (mMTC) use case, the cellular community has developed standards for serving IoT applications within LTE and 5G (i.e., NB-IoT and LTE-M). There are also competing, stand-alone standards for IoT use cases, such as LoRa and Sigfox. What is your view of this bifurcated market, and how is Keysight supporting IoT networks?
The diversity of applications and business models is a challenge because it means we must provide solutions across a broad range of standards and use models. Like all challenges, this is also an excellent opportunity to play across much of the market. In some ways, multiple standards mean we can maximize our breadth of capability, which allows us to play across the entire market. Once again, providing tools for design and test of these systems and engaging with market leaders means success.
To me, perhaps the most exciting thing to see is the growing number of use cases in machine-type communications, everything from low data rate and low duty cycle connections — parking meters, smart meters, asset trackers — to very high demand applications like transportation, finance and medicine. There is a lot of room for success across this range of applications and capability.
Tell us about your background and how you came to this role at Keysight.
I completed my bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering and my master’s in computer science. The dual engineering combination propelled me to look for career opportunities in the telecommunications industry. My master’s thesis was on mobile computing, with an emphasis on minimizing wireless messages between the mobile and the network for improved battery performance.
Furthermore, I heavily utilized Hewlett-Packard test equipment in college, and it was a dream come true for me to join HP. As the test and measurement business of HP evolved into Agilent and then Keysight, I had the opportunity to work in multiple business units. However, I found the wireless business sector to be challenging, cutting edge from a technology point of view, and it provided the opportunity to work with top companies in the world, which gave me professional fulfillment.
Reflecting on the technological changes you’ve seen during your lifetime, how well do you feel society is “managing” technological change. How might we improve?
It is hard to imagine the world without the technological advances and innovative business models that have been implemented over the last 20 years. Society is doing a fine job and is aggressively adopting newer technologies. Think about Amazon, Google Maps, Netflix, smartphone applications, social media, Uber and Tesla. Technology is transforming the way we live and how we do things. The internet has made technology access easy across the globe.
Technology education in universities has intensified, leading to a more tech-savvy populace. The millennial generation is entrepreneurial and keen on becoming early adopters of technology. The purchasing power of many countries across the globe has increased. These factors are allowing us to adopt newer technologies at a faster rate for the betterment of society.
Of course, the process will have complications, depending on unique applications and local laws. If we continue to promote global investment, education and collaboration, society is sufficiently self-regulating to manage through these advances.