What, when, where – the move to 5G

We recently attended the MWC in Barcelona. It is clear 5G is going to happen; it is just not clear on when it will arrive, and what it will actually consist of when it does.

5G Progress

In terms of when, some industry players stated 5G will be earlier than 2020, while others stated later than 2020. Those that ‘want’ it earlier, justified it as ‘the technology that is being used is well understood’; i.e Defense/Mil/Aero have used these technologies, in most cases having either invented or made the technology(ies) viable to manufacture and deploy – albeit in smaller quantities and much higher price points and footprint than what the consumer market for Wireless can support.

Those that want it to happen are the equipment and chip companies. The operators on the other hand are split. In the US, Korea and Japan, they are sufficiently capitalized or able to go to the debt or equity markets to raise the $250B+ it would take for the 5G build out. Europe is a different story, with over 120 operators, too much fragmentation, will likely holdback capital for investment.  When looking at the investment levels, it is interesting to look at the 4G status. There is still significant runway for further LTE deployment.  Not only will there be further deployment to increase the current penetration of LTE worldwide (Main 4 economies in Europe are only around 50%, US is better at around 80%. Asia has the highest rate of penetration with some countries in the mid or high nineties), but there is still significant improvement can be gained by the implementation of Rel-13 and Rel-14. Rel-12 which includes Carrier Aggregation is still not that widely used and this was released over 2 years ago. According to Liberty Global, Releases 13 & 14 will push the data rates beyond 500Mbps.
Even with the headroom available in LTE, most of the industry heavy hitters were exhibiting their 5G technology. Companies like Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia on the infrastructure side and Qualcomm, MediaTek and Intel on the chip side of the business. Exhibitions and demonstrations showed massive MIMO in both sub- 6GHz and the 28GHz bands with beam forming. The focus around 28GHz had the major operators talking about their “Test Benches” with their 5G Pre-Standard deployment.

The Automotive space, IoV or V2X; Vehicle to Vehicle, Vehicle to Pedestrian, Vehicle to Internet/Infrastructure, etc was pervasive in most all talks and in almost all booths. This is driven by the belief that the vehicle platform can bear the cost of IoV investment, while adding huge value. Example cited was: In 2013, 1.25M fatalities with 20M-50M injuries and an economic impact of $518B. The Autonomous Vehicle are seen a key to reduce these ‘accidents’ and requires big emphasis on Radar/LIDAR/Camera and the ability make sense out of these “sensors.

At the regulatory level, FCC policy in the USA is to use a ‘light touch’ and will strive to ensure unparalleled choice and competition, therefore FCC will set rules to maximize investment in 5G. The investments in the core and not just handsets and base stations.

No 5G discussion would be complete without some commentary on IoT . IoT is so much bigger than just Smart City or Smart Vehicle. The terminology used is that the 4th wave is taking place:

  • Wave 1: Mainframe Computing
  • Wave 2: PC Computing
  • Wave 3: Cloud Computing
  • Wave 4: Ambient & Cognitive Computing

IoT is Wave 4 and will encompass Drones and Robotics.  Edge nodes will be on these devices to take physical info (sensors), digitize and analyze to allow for decision making; Robots on farms, Drones checking out pipelines/basestations/etc.

As an example of real world results in “ambient and cognitive”; measure the environment, process the measurements in the context of desired outcomes and then take actions steps to reach those desired outcomes based on the ‘ambient’ conditions measured (Plan/Do/Check/Act).  Using this approach, IoT/Robotics on farms can cut water and fertilizer and weed killer usage by up to 90%.

Chip Manufacturers

So, how is this all playing out at the chip manufacturers? Below is a sampling of what some of the larger players were exhibiting:


Booth had a24GHz Radar targeted at exterior lighting. The use model is when a car approaches, the light comes on. When a person approaches a light comes on. If the expert system running the lighting/radar system detects that a vehicle and a person are approaching each other, the light will begin to flash to ‘warn’ of impeding accident.

Infineon also had a 60GHz radar implementation, which is used for Gesture Recognition. The 60GHz has fine resolution and is meant to allow for fine control of an interface vis-à-vis gesture recognition (GR). Finally our smart phones, or touch screens for that matter, can now become fingerprint free with GR.


Were demonstrating some of their designs being used in some of these trials; 28Ghz and 3GHz RF and MPU/FPGA. The 28GHz contains TxRx die, ABP die, PA die in MCM. All in a CMOS process. These ICs are 2×8, 4×4 and 8×8 MIMO. Exhibitors;
SK Telecom: 5G Fixed Wireless 28GHz with Qualcomm, Intel and Samsung IC. 800MHz IF, 192 antenna with 4×4 MIMO.


Showed fixed wireless at 28GHz using Qorvo PA/ABF. Showed a toy car moving back and forth, getting a beam-formed signal to/from a basestation.


One showcase in this booth was the Snapdragon 835 and dynamic anttenna matching; branded TruSignal. They had a 4G 5MHz wide dual carrier aggregation signal that was delivering 11Mbps for a streaming video signal. Then they turned on the “TruSingal Software” (dynamic antenna matching) which then boosted the data rate to 33Mbps. Note that this is a Rel-13 implementation; 1/10 of the of the CA using 100MHz IF capacity. Remember what we said about LTE runway.

What does this mean for test and measurement

From a test and measurement perspective, the focus was very much on the engineering and development labs. The main players we saw were Keysight, National Instruments and Rohde and Schwarz. All 3 demosntrated some form of Over the Air (OTA) testing. The major bands shown where at 28GHz and 70GHz. Included in these demos were how to calibrate OTA transmit attennas and manage much higher IF bandwidths.

National Instruments (NI) also  conducted  as session led by Leif Johansson, Principle Engineer Market Development RF & Comms for NI. They started the session with a video with key opinion leaders: Amitava Ghosh. Nokia Fellow and Head of Small Cell Research, Ted Rappaport of NYU Wireless Founding Director, Professor Mark A Beach of Bristol University (key research university in 5G Radio/MIMO/Antenna). The video also featured their chief architect (Ian Wong) and RF/SDR Director of Product Marketing, James Kimery.  Although not really relevant when looking at the challenges of HVM testing of 5G IC’s, the video and presentation was informative nevertheless. NI talked about the four 5G Vectors:

Massive MIMO  | mmWave | Multi RAT (GFDM/OFDM) | Adv Wireless Network; SRD, NFV, CRAN

Conference takeaways

The four days added context to all the information we at Xcerra are being exposed to on 4G and 5G and WLAN, IoT/IoV. LTE has significant runway with Rel-13 being implemented and Rel-14 getting ready to be released: These two releases will unleash >> 100Mbps sustained data rates, even into the Gbps range, along with LTE-LAA for IoT/IoV.

5G will happen, and like some of the other companies serving a different part of the 5G food chain we at Xcerra have started “test beds”  and programs to help our customers qualify their 5G content, positioning Xcerra as the leader  in 5G ATE space . When this will result in meaningful spend for 5G ATE tooling? Well, it depends on who you listen to. It could be 2020 or it could be as far out as 2023 before  any meaningful 5G  ramp.

We encourage you to join the discussion on 5G. Here are some initial questions. Please feel free to comment on any of them.

  1. Are you or your company involved in 5G technology development?
  2. What do you see in terms of deployment?
  3. When do you expect meaningful volumes of your 5G devices?
  4. What do you include in your 5G product/device portfolio?
  5. What are the test challenges you see with the introduction of the new 5G technologies?

Contact your sales rep to arrange for meetings on your 4G and 5G test needs. http://ltxc.com/contact-support