The next three to five years will see cellular operators handling much-increased data traffic, indoor coverage, and smart-grid and other applications. Test-instrument manufacturers know they have to translate these needs into measurement solutions that are scalable to evolve with changing standards and requirements.
According to Anritsu, "A modular approach is needed so that core technologies can be reused for specific test needs. This enhances rapid time to market for test solutions, giving the wireless provider up-to-date measurement capabilities for network planning, maintenance, and optimization." The firm also points to the increased use of automation and reporting, as test equipment begins to provide faster and more accurate measurement data with in-depth analysis and diagnostics. Such capabilities will ideally be able to be controlled remotely.
Test-instrument and equipment suppliers must also respond to the wireless industry's move toward increased energy efficiency. Darren McCarthy, Technical Marketing Manager for Microwave/RF at Tektronix, states, "RF amplifiers are by far the largest consumer of electrical energy in a typical wireless basestation and the device with the most improvements to be made. At the component level, tools such as active harmonic source and load-pull solutions provide the necessary insight on the nonlinear behavior on new device technologies. Working in the nonlinear region is key to achieving the theoretical maximum efficiency of a device. New topologies are being investigated to enable much more efficient amplifier designs."
Test and measurement firms also are preparing to handle demands based on the smart grid. Stefan Loeffler, Product Manager for Digital & Photonic Test at Agilent Technologies, explains, "Consider that an energy company's network' consists of smart meters, combined with a geographically distributed grid of detached power sources (such as privately owned PV panels), energy storage devices (such as electrical cars being charged), and, of course, power plants that supply the necessary base level of energy a state or community uses. It has been found that the volatility of the power supply from PV panels (due to weather conditions) is big enough to put the communications network used to mesh the smart meters into the critical path. Update rates of smart meters need to be adapted to the expected volatility of the energy supply. The long and short of it is: The smart gridif networked through telecommunications infrastructureadds to the existing challenge of today's telecom network infrastructure: higher bandwidths at shorter latency."