Special Report: 5G testing
There are two vital roles for testing in the lifecycle of a technology such as 5G, and both are highlighted in our reports this week.
One is to put an emerging technology through its paces pre-commercially, to establish capabilities and identify problems. From the later phases of the R&D process, to the run-up to commercial launch, intensive testing by vendors, operators, test and measurement (T&M) specialists and industry alliances provides fascinating insights into how a technology may evolve. The first releases of 5G-Advanced standards are at this stage, as are some applications that may come to rely on next generation wireless connectivity, such as Amazon’s drone tests in high frequency spectrum.
The other important aspect of testing comes when a technology is established and working, and relates to interoperability. Successive bids to disrupt the cellular ecosystem have heralded better interoperability between elements from different vendors – to end lock-ins and encourage supplier swaps – as their calling card. Rather than bilateral agreements and tests between vendors, or customized integration projects, they would offer a centralized testing and certification facility. That would enable different certified products to be mixed and matched with confidence and greatly reduce the need for individual operator testing.
That was a key element in the argument for WiMAX, which proposed an independent certification authority and a series of testing labs based on the successful WiFi Alliance model. And the same argument is made by the community currently bidding to reduce the power of the largest suppliers in the 3GPP world, Open RAN. The O-RAN Alliance and Telecom Infra Project have both introduced testing programs, but the slow initial progress highlights just how difficult and complex it is to test and certify cellular systems to the standards required by operators, particularly for heavily loaded macro networks.
Macro 5G is not WiFi, and even if O-RAN succeeds where WiMAX failed, there will still be a strong requirement for testing at every stage of a network’s life, whether conducted inhouse or in third party labs. Test and measurement firms such as Keysight are riding high on the requirements of emerging 5G standards, while taking an increasingly influential role in evolving new open platforms that can achieve the reliability and robustness an operator demands.