Every year since the late 1990s, National Instruments has been presenting its unique NIWeek conference. Held the first week of August in Austin, Tex., NIWeek usually draws more than 3,000 engineers and other technical professionals—as well as several dozen partner exhibitors—to showcase new products and applications. With hundreds of sessions and workshops, NIWeek is a genuine learning experience. This year’s event maintained that tradition, featuring a number of interesting wireless sessions and products of interest.
One major introduction was NI’s new Wireless Test System (WTS). Using PXI-based Vector Signal Transceivers (VSTs), a combination of a vector signal generator and vector signal analyzer, the WTS targets manufacturing test of wireless devices. The WTS can test mobile phones, tablets, data cards, and wireless modules of all sorts. Some standards supported include Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth, GPS, FM/RDS, and LTE-A/ LTE/HSPA/WCDMA/CDMA2000/EDGE/GSM. Its flexibility makes it suitable for testing other wireless standards that may be used in IoT or newer applications. The whole objective of the WTS is to speed up manufacturing test while lowering costs and being future-proof. NI also provides the related Test Executive software, third party software, and chipset vendor tools.
One of NI’s partners, UK-based Cobham Wireless, announced its RF automated test equipment (ATE) system—based on NI’s PXI modular instruments and PXI Maestro test sequencing software. It now supports multi-device fast RF alignment and RF performance verification measurements of small cells. Also included is integrated device control software for Qualcomm Technologies’ FSM99xx based multi-mode enterprise, residential, and metro small cells.
PXI Maestro test software provides an out-of-the-box solution integrating all the sequencing control necessary to measure multiple devices under test (multi-DUT). This provides the ability to test up to four small cells in parallel using a single RF channel (a single vector signal analyzer and signal generator) by the use of novel RF signal conditioning and intelligent test sequencing. This provides for a low cost and fast test solution with industry leading test times. The PXI Maestro small cell capability provides frequency coverage up to 6 GHz for all LTE, LTE-A, and HSPA bands.
Cobham also sponsored a summit on 5G. Senior VP Ian Langley gave an introductory address opening multiple sessions, focusing on small cells and 5G testing. While 5G is many years away, multiple research and development efforts are under way worldwide. Cobham acquired RF test company Aeroflex last year and is known for its intelligent digital distributed antenna system (DAS).
Other new NI products included the latest version of flagship software LabVIEW 2015. This release supports the new products and delivers speed improvements, development shortcuts, and debugging tools to empower developers. New items were added to the CompactDAQ product line such as four- and eight-slot controllers featuring Intel’s quad core Atom processor and a new 14-slot chassis. New CompactRIO (reconfigurable I/O) products were also added to support the growing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) movement.
One of the highlights of the conference was an Internet of Things (IoT) panel. Moderated by Eric Starkloff, NI’s VP of sales and marketing, it consisted of Greg Gorman of IBM, Mark Cudak of Nokia Networks, Paul Didier of Cisco, and DongJin Hyun of the Hyundai Motor Group. Everyone still seemed to agree that we could see as many as 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Yet the discussion was very general. The main issues seem to be security, aggregation (the need for 5G?), interference, costs, and how to monetize IoT. The session was hopeful, but raised more questions than answers. IoT is still a work in progress that virtually everyone seems to be pursuing.
At the NIWeek Academic Forum, NI introduced several new products for college and university instruction. For example, NI added online courseware allowing schools to offer full interactive labs for a basic circuits course based on the popular ELVIS trainer. Also new is the latest version of the Analog Discovery trainer with a USB-powered virtual instrument cluster. Also new are teaching modules based on the USRP SDR wireless prototyping units and LabVIEW Communications software. In addition, a new roboRIO robot controller was introduced. Finally, partner Pitsco showed their TETRIX robot kits for teaching using the myRIO controller and I/O unit.
While NI covers the broad area of instrumentation and data acquisition, each year it offers more wireless- and RF-related test products. Stay tuned for even more.