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Demand Grows for Innovations in mmWave Test

Compared to 4G, test setups for 5G devices pose numerous challenges that include high-bandwidth signals, greater band coverage, and beamforming devices with no access to RF connectors.

Broadband 5G technology at millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies enables many new data-hungry applications at speeds faster than is possible with wired connections—and for more people than ever before. For end users, this is promising news. However, before you can see these benefits, critical work needs to be done. 5G technology introduces a tough set of test challenges for engineers working on designing, testing, and delivering mmWave 5G devices to market.

Implementing a validation or production test strategy for new wireless standards is difficult—and it’s made increasingly harder by the constant increase in complexity in even newer wireless standards and technologies like 5G New Radio (NR). This includes wider and more complex waveforms, an exponential increase in test points, and restrictive link budgets that require technologies like beamforming and phased-array antennas.

As engineers, you can no longer rely on the test instrumentation you used for 4G LTE. You need to outfit more capable test benches with test instruments that can handle 5G waveforms from 24 to 44 GHz to characterize and test the performance of new chip types. These include multichannel front-end modules, hybrid beamformers, and antenna-in-package (AiP) devices with 8, 16, or more antenna elements. To complicate matters, many of these new chips will require over-the-air (OTA) test solutions because their high level of integration eliminates any accessible RF connectors.

Failing to act quickly and revamp benches for 5G test could leave you trying to characterize, validate, and test new mmWave 5G chips with established, but slow and costly, test technology originally developed for very different industries and applications, such as mmWave radar and aerospace and military systems. Test solutions must be purposefully designed for commercial semiconductor applications, and they must be future-proof because 5G technologies will continue to evolve.

As the wireless industry moves toward building a connected world on 5G, the industry is painfully aware that working with high-bandwidth signals, covering more bands, and testing beamforming devices with no access to RF connectors makes things much more challenging than it was for 4G devices.

As a practical way to give test engineers cost-efficient, reliable, and high-throughput production test setups for 5G devices, National Instruments (NI) designed the mmWave vector signal transceiver (VST) to integrate natively into the NI Semiconductor Test System (STS). 5G mmWave STS configurations support up to eight mmWave VST instruments, with integrated IF capabilities and up to 72 mmWave ports in a highly parallel tester configuration that’s optimized for error-vector-magnitude (EVM) performance.

As product complexity rises and development schedules tighten, keeping on track with every aspect of characterization of testing requires the adoption of rapid, tightly integrated, and software-driven approaches to test and measurement.

David Hall is Head of Semiconductor Marketing at National Instruments (NI).

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