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Small-Cell Development is Key to a Successful 5G Infrastructure

May 7, 2021
Small cells are crucial for mobile operator 5G network deployments, enabling increased coverage, high data rates, and low latencies. We talk with Rex Chen of LitePoint about some of the things the company is doing in that space.

The most important aspect of our modern Cloud-based IoT-oriented society is the infrastructure required to sustain it. For all the wireless wonders that abound today, they rely on a lot of wiring behind the wainscoting. Establishing, managing, and maintaining the wireless infrastructure is vital to the continued functioning of the Internet of Things as we know and expect it to be.

Development and deployment of that infrastructure is multi-tiered and -faceted. The modern RF airways are superhighways in the sky, relying on proper lane and traffic management to prevent complete chaos. Within the 5G infrastructure, small cells are crucial, providing increased coverage and uniform 5G user experiences, as well as maintaining high data rates and low latencies.

Addressing the emerging 5G small cell market and accelerating 5G deployments in outdoor metropolitan and indoor enterprise locations, LitePoint, a provider of 5G test solutions, announced it has signed an agreement with Qualcomm Technologies to support LitePoint’s development of 5G test solutions for the Qualcomm 5G RAN Platform for Small Cells (FSM 100xx).

A Comprehensive Solution

LitePoint’s IQgig-5G is a fully integrated, versatile, multiband, millimeter-wave (mmWave), and non-signaling test solution and the first of its kind to support all 5G FR2 frequencies within the 23-45 GHz frequency range. All signal generation, analysis, processing, and RF front-end switching are self-contained inside a single chassis. The one-box design makes it simple to set up, use and maintain in order to achieve reliable measurements.

Enabling small-cell waveform generation and analysis for 5G radio technologies, provides an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), and allows for real-time RF parametric analysis for small cell products. The Qualcomm 5G RAN Platform for Small Cells (FSM 100xx) is the industry’s first 5G NR solution for small cells. The 10nm solution supports both sub-6GHz and mmWave spectrum bands.

This platform is designed to support original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to reuse both software and hardware designs across sub-6GHz and mmWave products. To take a deeper look at this development and the role of small cells in 5G development, we spoke with Rex Chen, Director of Strategic Business Development at LitePoint.

EE: Radio has been a fundamental part of society since Tesla developed the core technologies and Galvani implemented them. But for a long time, radio was considered more of a public good and a niche asset. Now applications for wireless have become mainstream, and we're adding new applications every day. Where would you say, Rex, where the tipping point came, where wireless became a critical infrastructure commodity?

Rex Chen: I think the tipping point where it became a commodity was when we transitioned from analog to digital. In particular, I would say it really got started around the 3G era, when you had clear voice communications and an actual device to carry with you to make a call anywhere, any time. I think that started the momentum of wireless and seeing how powerful it is and has become prevalent. It's become a part of society, and part of our everyday usage.

There are businesses that are developed on top of wireless systems that would not otherwise survive today without it. A good example would be something like Uber, right? It's an app, sits on your mobile device, and it entirely relies on the wireless communication to identify where a person is located at any point in time. Being able to communicate and request a service that they need and to get a ride to go somewhere. I think even though it's a crowded space, we're still in the early innings of how this can really transform industries with 5G.

EE: Now there’s a challenge to ensure that we can provide these services. Because it places demands on the equipment, the precision. Right? It's like having a soda fountain, each of the flavors better be in their own pipe.

Rex Chen: It's certainly crowded. I think the idea of where the wireless system used to be, I think you mentioned earlier, kind of a very tight-knit or closed-loop asset, is now kind of moving from that kind of central base concept into the edge or open-loop concept.

EE: Excellent point. What are your observations on that? Now that it is becoming decentralized and digitized and almost like a part of the web?

Rex Chen: I think a variety of things can happen. Look at how the media is transforming itself today. You have YouTube influencers, you have documentaries or films that are not from the core mainstream. I think what you'll see in these wireless networks is also kind of the similar path. Where you still have your core network infrastructure, but as it kind of moves and decentralizes, you'll have these smaller, mini base stations, what we call small cells, that are going to be prevalent in places that are high density, metropolitan areas.

The emergence of O-RAN also known as open radio access network, is another good example of how a closed loop system is now opening up and allowing white-box vendors to participate in different layers of the network stack and lower the cost for operators to deploy new wireless infrastructure in the market.

I think these new technologies moving from the core to the Edge and becoming more transparent are just some display of where we are going in the future.

EE: Because this announcement with Qualcomm directly impacts development of small cells, why don't you put it into context of what you just explained? Considering the importance of small cells within the context of the Cloud, and the importance of precision performance to make sure that you stay "within your lanes." So how does this announcement with Qualcomm impact the development of small cells?

Rex Chen: This announcement with Qualcomm directly impacts the OEMs building these small cells, helping accelerate products getting out in the market faster. The reason it's able to do that is because a lot of the test metrics and methodologies are highly dependent on the chipset inside the product. So this license agreement between LitePoint and Qualcomm inherently speeds up OEMs that use Qualcomm small cells (FSM 100xx) to get the end device tested in production faster and it really helps the entire ecosystem moving forward.

EE: Let's talk about the designers involved in the deployment. How much hand-holding are you willing to offer? What kind of engineering support can you provide people who want to maximize and optimize this?

Rex Chen: I think there are a couple of angles to look at. For some OEMs, they want to be able to have the ability to manage production, not just the actual device, but all the software and tools involved. For others, they are looking for already-existing optimized software solutions that are vetted by industry standards. What we do besides working with the chip makers here is also offer not just the test instrument hardware, but all the software involved and the ability to turn on certain knobs and optimize those test methodologies.

How do you actually optimize, for example, your test time? That requires understanding what is underneath the hood in the system software and what tradeoffs or compromise can be made between quality versus time. That tradeoff has a direct impact on the bottom line of how much it costs to get a product out in the market. The collaboration with Qualcomm has been going on for many years in our cellular technologies and connectivity product, but this is kind of the next step forward.

The area where small-cell plays, it's going to have a more and more important role in the future for these mobile operators to deliver higher data rates, lower latencies, and better performance. We are at the center stage of that enablement, in particular areas where there's high density, metropolitan cities, or enterprise environments, indoor corporate spaces, campuses, and facilities. The ability to get these small-cell base stations in a faster time with better cost structure is really enabling the industry and ecosystem at large for the 5G evolution.

For more information on LitePoint’s 5G testing solutions, visit

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