Developing and validating practical and cost-effective 5G signal testing methods
The marketing proposition of 5G mobile for consumers is breakthrough levels of user experience, based on vastly superior personal connectivity. For network operators and digital industries, the promise is profitable new opportunities for developing innovative data services. However, 5G is less a technology platform more a performance specification, and many foundational technologies still require considerable development to attain the specifications promised, such as for signal quality. Should 5G fail to meet market expectations, consumers may become disillusioned and industrial investors deterred, so delaying implementation of what might otherwise deliver significant economic and social benefits in Europe.
For device developers, the complexities of implementing 5G specifications present significant measurement challenges. For example, development is still required for massive multiple-input-multiple-out (MIMO) base stations to meet specifications, that might integrate hundreds of antennas per base station to serve much higher densities of nearby connected devices. Prototype 5G devices need to be tested in tandem with such base stations, so if each manufacturer had to develop both technologies, each would face additional costs and device incompatibilities could result. There was also no generally accepted measure of radio signal strength covering the full 5G spectrum, plus a lack of procedures for characterising amplifiers limited the ability of network operators to optimise the energy efficiency of 5G systems.
The project improved metrology for traceable MIMO antenna systems; defined and developed new, more accurate, methods for measuring over-the-air signal quality; and developed traceable test methods for 5G mobile communication devices.
To improve metrology for traceable MIMO antenna systems, three new 5G MIMO testbeds were built, including one providing remote access to mm-wave Massive-MIMO communications signals, so developers could simulate connected or over-the-air device testing from their facilities. Practical and accurate methods to measure 5G signal quality over a wide frequency range were defined, developed and validated. A measurement campaign showed that channel power and error vector magnitude to be useful predictors of Signal-to-Interference-plus-Noise Ratio (SINR), so capable of being used a practical measurement parameter of 5G signal quality. An inter-comparison exercise carried out between project partners tested the provision of non-linear device measurement services.
In June 2016, NPL and Surrey University established a joint facility – the Nonlinear Microwave Measurements and Modelling Laboratories (n3m-labs), dedicated to nonlinear microwave measurements and modelling electronic devices.
The project also led to two follow-on EMPIR projects: Metrology for advanced energy-saving technology in next-generation electronics applications; and Metrology for RF exposure from massive MIMO 5G base station: Impact on 5G network deployment.
With assurance of the validity of SINR 5G signal quality testing provided by the project, Keysight Technologies, the market-leading electronic measurement company, released new options to support this testing approach, including Modulation Distortion software for its PNA-X Vector Network Analyzer. It later released its first signal strength and channel power measurement capability for over-the-air testing, as an upgrade to its N9913A FieldFox Handheld Microwave Analyzer.
The new, more practical and cost-effective, 5G signal testing methods developed in the project have helped accelerate the testing and development process for developing market-ready devices. This will support the competitiveness of Europe’s communications industries, so they can be at the forefront of delivering transformative 5G mobile connectivity for consumers.
Electrical Engineering and Systems Science - Signal Processing
Loughborough Antennas & Propagation Conference 2018
2017 IEEE Photonics Society Summer Topical Meeting Series (SUM)