Communications Technologies Strive For Improved Connections

Oct. 15, 2008
Wireless technologies play an important role in the present and future delivery of information to the home, and in a wide range of other communications applications.

Communications systems operators face at least one continuing reality: their customers want ever-improving services even as networks become overloaded with subscribers. Additional subscribers on a wired or wireless communications network benefit the business side of the operation. But as more subscribers are added to a network, its capacity is pushed to its limits, requiring the assistance of advanced technologies, in the form of hardware and software, to increase the capacity without degrading performance. A great many device, component, system, and software developers are contributing to improved communications technologies even as the demands for service skyrocket.

On the device side, Altera Corp. ( recently announced a 10-Gb Ethernet (10GbE) reference design that targets designers using the XAUI communications protocol. The reference design, which successfully passed University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab (UNH-IOL) 10GbE validation tests, leverages the firm's high-performance Arria and Stratix families of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for reliable connections to 10GbE backplanes and networks. The reference design, which can be used for developing line cards and system controllers within network routers, Ethernet switches, and storage systems, is compliant with the IEEE 802.3ae communications standard. It consists of an encrypted design library, detailed 10GbE application note, simulation test bench with test cases, and user configuration graphical-user-interface (GUI) software. The reference design allows designers to quickly implement a wide range of the company's FPGAs into a multi-10GbE system.

Jeff Lapak, the 10GbE Ethernet Consortium manager for UNHIOL, remarked: "Performing testing at the UNH-IOL helps to ensure interoperability with other 10GbE devices and equipment. We worked closely with Altera to test the Stratix II GX FPGAs and their conformance to the standard as well as their interoperability with existing 10-Gb/s Ethernet devices." In addition to being compliant to the IEEE 802.3ae 10GbE standard, Stratix II GX FPGAs successfully passed all the pertinent UNH 10GbE hardware tests, including Clauses 4 (MAC), 31 (Flow Control), 46 (RS), 47 (XAUI), 48 (10GBASE-X PCS), Clause 54 (CX4), XAUI interoperability tests, and optical module interoperability tests with various optical X2 modules. The reference design was verified in simulation and hardware tested in Altera's PCI Express Development Kit, Stratix II GX Edition with industrystandard 10GbE test equipment and CX4 and X2 adapters.

On the component side, Vectron International (, a leading supplier of frequency control and timing products, recently introduced its VSS4 oscillator for spread-spectrum applications in which electromagnetic interference (EMI) must be tightly controlled. The VSS4 oscillator, developed for consumer, commercial, and enterprise applications, maintains EMI levels within US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Part 15 requirements. Through the use of spreadspectrum techniques, energy is distributed across a fairly wide spectrum (compared to conventional clock oscillators) but at low average levels in order to comply with the FCC regulations.

According to Alan Mond, vice-president of Global Sales for Vectron, "Vectron is committed to growing our industry-leading precision oscillator portfolio to meet our customers' changing needs. This dedication to continual product innovation is particularly important to customers in the communications and consumer electronics markets, who are looking to evolve their platforms while meeting stringent industry regulations. The VSS4 spread-spectrum oscillator provides these customers with the stability and performance they have come to expect from Vectron, while enabling them to comply with FCC restrictions." The VSS4 oscillator can be specified from 12 to 168 MHz. It is supplied in a ceramic package measuring 5.0 x 3.2 mm and operates from a +3.3-VDC supply. It has an enable/ disable feature to allow the clock output to be disabled for board testing.

Earlier in the year, the firm announced a clock oscillator based on microelectromechanical- systems (MEMS) technology for high-shock, high-vibration applications. Qualification testing of a 125-MHz oscillator showed no degradation in performance to 30,000g's force in each axis. The clock is available in a 5 x 3.2 mm AFN package at frequencies from 1 to 130 MHz.

Higher up the "design chain," spreadspectrum- radio innovator FreeWave Technologies (, and wireless communications carrier Arcadian Networks ( recently announced that they had developed a 700-MHz radio solution for the energy industry (see figure), just six months after the two companies announced a joint strategic partnership. The new radio solution allows oil and gas companies as well as electric utilities (in the US only) to take advantage of advanced Industrial- Scientific-Medical (ISM) technology in a private, licensed, 700-MHz radio system. Arcadian Networks and Free- Wave will each market, sell, and distribute the 700-MHz radios.

The radios operate in the licensed industrial band at frequencies from 757 to 758 MHz and 787 to 788 MHz. They offer a 30-mile range with clear line of sight and data throughput of 19.2 kb/s using two-level Gaussian frequencyshift- keying (GFSK) modulation and 38.4 kb/s using four-level GFSK. The radios provide error-free communications thanks to a 32-b cyclic-redundancycheck (CRC) algorithm with automatic retransmission. They can be equipped with a variety of interfaces, including RS-422 and RS-232 ports.

Jake Rasweiller, vice-president of engineering and network operations at Arcadian Networks, noted: "The FreeWave radios enhance Arcadian Networks' custom, private, wireless services, with new voice and data capabilities. Providing our customers with diversity of choice, scalable performance, and flexible price-points is an essential element of our service in building out the nation's only mission-critical network devoted to electric utilities and oil and gas companies. FreeWave's 700-MHz wireless radio is a great proof point of this philosophy." FreeWave Technologies spokesperson, Colin Lippincott, added: "The 700-MHz band offers a great solution to those looking for a choice. Now, oil and gas and utility companies can realize the combined benefits of having a private, secure network with the most advanced, reliable and robust radio communications technology of its kind. It opens up applications and opportunities for the companies that want a licensed network and don't want to use or cannot use other licensed options." The boardlevel 700-MHz radios function without need of additional shielding across a wide supply range (+6 to +30 VDC) and can handle operating temperatures from -30 to +70C.

As part of the ever-expanding cellular landscape, market research firm ABI Research ( foresees that smaller cell sites, such as picocells and femtocells, will be a larger part of the initial third-generation (3G) Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular network architecture. These smaller cell sites, although their designs have come after the development of earlier cellular networks, have been available for some years preceding the build out of LTE networks. According to ABI senior analyst Nadine Manjaro, "In most parts of the world, LTE will be deployed using higher-frequency bands. Higher frequencies penetrate structures less effectively than low frequencies, so femtocells and picocells offer an attractive way to compensate for lower indoor signal strength and provide LTE's touted bandwidth. Our forecasts show an upswing in femtocell and picocell penetration that coincides with the expected LTE deployment timeframe."

Projections are collected in a market study simply titled, "Long Term Evolution (LTE)." The study also charts the LTE timeline, strategies of different operators, and migration plans from earlier cellular technologies. In Europe and other regions, LTE will operate in the 2.6-GHz band, while in the US it will largely be found in 700-MHz range. In China, TD-LTE will be most likely be deployed in bands of 1880 to 1920 MHz and 2010 to 2025 MHz, so the need for femtocells may be considered less pressing in those areas.

ABI also predicts the market for Universal Edge Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) equipment will grow rapidly in 2009. In a research brief entitled "Universal EdgeQAMs," the firm notes that strong growth is expected to continue through 2013 to a market size of about 1.5 million communications channels. These universal designs, which reside on the edge of a fiber-optic network, service individual households by transporting network information by means of RF signals.

As ABI Research Principal Analyst Robert Clark offers, "Cable operators faced with growing competition from Internet protocol television (IPTV) seek inexpensive ways to increase bandwidth. While QAMs are more cost-effective than other ways of doing this, many operators have decided to focus in the short term on reclaiming bandwidth by riding on the coattails of the analog-todigital TV switchover. After that transition, operators will move to edgeQAMs as a next step." The first wave of QAM deployment is likely to occur in markets where competition from IPTV is particularly strong, countries such as South Korea, Japan, and France.

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In the home, the market for shortrange communications is expected to grow significantly in the future. According to a recent study, "Opportunities for Wireless & Powerline Controls," performed by market research firm Parks Associates (, the market for wireless and powerline controls will exceed $3 billion in revenues by 2012, up from about $740 million in 2008. The report notes that new applications and consumer demand will increase the installed base for wireless and powerline controls to 60 million by 2012. The study includes such controls product suppliers as Black & Decker, Schlage, Hawking, iControl, and Wayne Dalton with products targeting access control, remote monitoring, and energy management applications.

For example, semiconductor supplier Zilog (, which offers both infrared (IR) and wireless remote controls, recently announced a new control platform incorporating both wired and wireless connectivity interfaces enabling uses with remote access and control through a Wi-Fienabled handheld device. According to Bill Ablondi, director of Home Systems Research for Parks Associates, "the era of electronic home controls has arrived. Technological advancements, the migration to IP-based systems, and the entry of key companies are all driving this market." The report finds entertainment controls, including advanced universal remote controllers, will drive growth in wireless controls. Lighting applications will drive the opportunities for powerline controls. In addition, says Ablondi, "another key application area is remote home monitoring. We expect to see major manufacturers join forces with telecommunications and video service providers to fuel consumer demand for remote monitoring and Web-based security services."

Norwegian module supplier Radiocrafts AS ( developed a compact Wireless-M-Bus RF module for use in automatic meter reading (AMR) and smart meter applications. The Wireless M-Bus standard (EN 13757-4:2005), which specifies communications between water, gas, heat, and electricity meters or concentrators, is gaining rapid acceptance in Europe for new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and smart meter applications.

The company's surface-mountable RC1180-MBUS RF transceiver module includes all necessary shielding and can be supplied in tape-and-reel format for highvolume production. Compliant with the Wireless-M-Bus standard, the module supports two-way communications over 12 100-kHz channels from 868 to 870 MHz at a data rate of 16.384 kb/s. It measures just 12.7 x 25.4 x 3.3 mm. It provides transmit output power to +9 dBm and achieves receiver sensitivity of-107 dBm, drawing 37 mA current from a (battery) voltage supply of +2.0 to +3.6 VDC during transmission and 22 mA current during reception. The module features a one-pin antenna connection and UART interface for serial communications. With quarter-wave antennas, the module can achieve a lineof- sight range of about 500 to 600 m.

The module meets the Wireless M-Bus specification for all S1/2, T1/2 and R2 modes. It is pre-certified for operation under the European radio regulations for license-free use. As Peder Martin Evjen, managing director of Radiocrafts, explains: "By launching the first Wireless M-Bus module, we have again demonstrated our technological leadership in embedded wireless solutions. The emerging AMI market and the new standard have created a huge demand for this product, and the new module is already designed into meters and gateways by our pilot customers." Mark Grazier, manager of Texas Instrument's (TI's) Low-Power RF Developer Network, added: "Radiocrafts is the first company to implement a complete Wireless M-Bus solution based on TI's low-power RF ICs. Radiocrafts' module simplifies design and speeds time to market for customers looking to develop a Wireless M-Bus solution." Modules, along with demonstration kits, are available now.

Finally, in order to test the many emerging communications technology approaches under development, measurement equipment suppliers are attempting to develop flexible solutions based on software-defined signal generation and radio architectures. In some cases, measurement equipment will even be embedded within the communications network to provide continuous performance evaluation and testing. Elektrobit Corp. (, for example, offers software- and hardwarebased test equipment for commercial and military radio-channel testing from 1 MHz through 6 GHz. The firm's EB Propsim FE propagation simulator, for example, offers frequency coverage as low as 1 MHz for high-frequency (HF) radios, but can be extended to the RF range beyond 2700 MHz.

Earlier this year, leading test equipment supplier Anritsu Co. ( was awarded the prestigious 2008 Frost & Sullivan ( Award for Product Innovation in the wireless communications sector for the BTS Master and Spectrum master handheld signal analyzers. The analyzers received the award on the basis of being the first mobile WiMAX handheld test solutions in the industry.

According to Frank Tiernan, Anritsu company president, "Since our incorporation nearly 110 years ago, Anritsu has introduced a number of wireline and wireless products with great success. The introduction of the world's first handheld WiMAX test solutions continues Anritsu's history of product innovation in the wireless market." To choose a recipient, Frost & Sullivan's analyst team tracks all new product launches, R&D spending, products in development, and new product features and modifications. All new product launches and new products in development in each company are compared and evaluated based on degree of innovation and customer satisfaction. Companies are then ranked by the number of new product launches and new products in development.

Agilent Technologies ( recently added to its GS-8800 family of RF design verification and conformance test systems with the model GS-8853 3G RF conformance test (RCT) system. Designed for mobile handset conformance testing, it provide fast measurement speed along with the accuracy and repeatability prescribed by the Global Certification Forum (GCF) for Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) mobile phones.

Rohde & Schwarz (, which marked the company's 75th anniversary this past August, announced its new FSV midrange signal analyzer with optional analysis bandwidth capabilities to 40 MHz. The wide analysis bandwidth allows it to test a large number of wireless standards, from 3GPP LTE to IEEE 802.11n wireless local area networks (WLANs). The FSV is available with frequency coverage as wide as 20 Hz to 7 GHz and amplitude measurement uncertainty of a miniscule 0.4 dB.

Finally, "down under," in Australia, Tektronix Communications (, reported that the continent's leading telecommunications and information services company, Telstra Corp. Ltd. (, will deploy Tek's Unified Assurance (UA) network management suite throughout its broadband wireless network. Telstra uses Tektronix's GeoProbe network assurance solution to troubleshoot its 2G/3G networks and will implement GeoProbe across the high-speed wireless network. Telstra's Next G network provides coverage for more than 2 million square kilometers or about 99 percent of the Australian population. The UA suite provides monitoring capabilities for next-generation communications networks to identify and locate service and network problems in real time.

About the Author

Jack Browne | Technical Contributor

Jack Browne, Technical Contributor, has worked in technical publishing for over 30 years. He managed the content and production of three technical journals while at the American Institute of Physics, including Medical Physics and the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology. He has been a Publisher and Editor for Penton Media, started the firm’s Wireless Symposium & Exhibition trade show in 1993, and currently serves as Technical Contributor for that company's Microwaves & RF magazine. Browne, who holds a BS in Mathematics from City College of New York and BA degrees in English and Philosophy from Fordham University, is a member of the IEEE.

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