Many companies, including Qualcomm and Quantenna, are not waiting for the final draft of the new Wi-Fi standard to start manufacturing chips. That is why test equipment suppliers have started to sell software tools that not only let engineers fiddle with the unfinished standard but that can also be reprogrammed as new drafts are released.
On Tuesday, National Instruments became the latest company whose software can generate the complex waveforms of the 802.11ax standard, as well as characterize and validate products using it. The toolkit is an upgrade for a vector signal transceiver that plugs into its modular PXI test equipment.
The software follows the release of other tools from Keysight and Litepoint, which troubleshoot many of complex and advanced features of the 802.11ax standard. The technology, which is scheduled for standardization in 2019, is unique for copying the same self-organization and modulation techniques as 4G. The technology is also known as orthogonal frequency-division multiple access or OFDMA.
It coordinates multiple antennas to beam multiple streams of data into devices simultaneously, resulting in lower power consumption, higher capacity, and downloads over 10 gigabits per second. It will provide better coverage in places with lots of mobile devices and connected sensors, like apartment buildings and office buildings.
Already, Quantenna announced two antenna chips that match the first draft of the 802.11ax standard. Qualcomm also unsealed plans for two modem chips, one for routers and access points and the other for consumer gadgets like smartphones. The chips will start sampling this year.
But the standard’s complexity places a burden on front-ends and wireless modules, as well as the test equipment used to validate products. National Instruments’ toolkit generates and analyzes 802.11ax waveforms, including multi-user OFDMA and multi-user multiple-input multiple-output, a concept also known as MU-MIMO. The software handles systems with up to 8x8 antenna arrays.
But the initial software is just the beginning. Over time, National Instruments hopes that users will update the test software to meet new version of the Wi-Fi standard. The vector signal transceiver that runs the tools can be reworked via a field programmable gate array or FPGA chip. The transceiver can also be linked to PXI chassis, which let engineers choose parts to build custom tests.
“As the standardization and evolution of 802.11ax continues, engineers require a software-centric test approach that can keep pace with the latest standard features and challenging new test cases,” said Charles Schroeder, National Instruments’ vice president of RF marketing, in a press statement.
For now, the new software tools lets engineers generate trigger frames to test real-time device response and make pre-correction and relative center frequency measurements. National Instruments’ transceiver also makes error-vector-magnitude measurements – a vital metric for the performance of digital radio – better than -50 dB.