2021 has been an exciting year for the telecommunications industry: the buzz driven by 5G technology, the early rollouts of high-speed Wi-Fi 6E, the stunning rise of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, and the revolution brought about by O-RAN white-box small cell installations are among some of the most exciting innovations of the year. To take advantage of these upcoming trends, LitePoint decided to hold the "Smart Manufacturing, Quality Manufacturing, Way to Victory" Innovation and Testing Technology Forum in Taipei and Hsinchu on November 9 and 11, 2021, respectively. As a major technology forum held at the end of 2021, a wide range of industry applications and testing solutions were presented at the event to showcase the brand competence of various wireless communication product vendors, as well as accelerate their production and time to market (TTM) to help them seize business opportunities.
Seizing Business Opportunities with the Latest Wireless Communication Technologies
Elvin Ren, LitePoint's General Manager of Sales in Taiwan, India and South East Asia, began the forum by describing LitePoint's development strategy for various wireless testing solutions including 5G and Wi-Fi. To meet the testing challenges and seize the business opportunities brought by large-scale manufacturing of 5G products in 2021, LitePoint's strategy is to help the electronics supply chain accomplish effective mass production through multi-DUT testing, millimeter wave testing, and production line testing with automated test equipment (ATE).
Adonis Lee, LitePoint's Sales Director, discussed how the recent trends of remote work and the metaverse have caused a dramatic increase in the demand for wireless transmission technologies and data bandwidth required for large-scale two-way communications. The trend has created new requirements and markets for various wireless products in the new spectrum used by 5G, Wi-Fi 6E, and UWB, giving rise to previously unseen applications. LitePoint is constantly keeping track of the advancement of different wireless technologies to quickly integrate upstream chip vendors' capabilities and provide faster, simpler, and more cost-effective testing solutions, as to help customers seize the best windows of opportunity for profit.
Latest Developments in the Wi-Fi 7 Era
Eugene Chow, Senior Director of Broadcom's Engineering Technology Department in Asia, started by sharing the latest developments of Wi-Fi 7—a new technology that will debut in the market in 2022-2024, officially known as the IEEE 802.11be standard for wireless networks but more commonly called Extremely High Throughput (EHT). This technology is distinguished by its ultra-high bandwidth. It features a maximum transmission rate of 46.1Gbps delivered through 320MHz bandwidth, using 4096 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) and 16x16 multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology, as well as offering support for multi-link operation (MLO) and multi-RU modes, and compatibility with the 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz bands. Due to cost considerations, Eugene predicted that the main products in the market will use 4x4 MIMO architectures with a transmission rate capped at 11Gbps. Draft 1.0 of IEEE 802.11be was already released back in May 2021, so the official standard is expected to be completed in 2024. Therefore, compatibility testing will likely start around December 2023.
Eugene's presentation focused on several key features of the network protocol, starting with the development of the MLO specs. He explained that Wi-Fi 7 is currently being developed with augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and metaverse applications in mind by leveraging the newly-released 6GHz spectrum. Despite its many advantages, Wi-Fi 7 demands a great leap forward in terms of the quality of service and latency (QoS/Latency), with each device needing to support at least 1Gbps transmission rate. MLO was created specifically to meet these demands.
Eugene's second topic was the use of automated frequency coordination (AFC) to solve spectrum congestion. This works by consulting a spectrum allocation database to find an appropriate spectrum for the geographical area the devices are located in. Since one of the selling points of Wi-Fi 7 is the incorporation of a 320MHz bandwidth, it is likely to focus on the newly-released 6GHz band due to existing sub 5GHz bands being so heavily occupied. However, the allowed spectrum in the 6GHz band is quite limited, so the low power indoor (LPI) context poses many challenges. To overcome these, access point (AP) devices can use AFC to find an appropriate unoccupied spectrum in the 6GHz band to connect to Wi-Fi 7 indoors. AFC requires the GPS location of each AP device to function, so the new chipsets will need built-in GPS support. Eugene said that the relevant protocols and mechanisms will gradually be ironed out by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the technology matures and chip vendors continue to give active feedback on IEEE 802.11be. He concluded that the future development of the IEEE 802.11be product line will offer a lot of opportunities to tap into.
LitePoint Demonstrates Mass-Production-Ready, High-Efficiency Wi-Fi 6E Testing Solutions
Young Huang, Factory Applications Engineer at LitePoint, took the stage next. His talk focused on the challenges of Wi-Fi 6E engineering and mass manufacturing testing, as well as testing preparations going into Wi-Fi 7. The use of the 6GHz spectrum is currently the focus of the market, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further driven the adoption of larger bandwidths. Based on the current Wi-Fi 6 product segmentation, it is estimated that the global Wi-Fi 6E product penetration will grow to an impressive 30% by the end of 2021.
As a result, the market is seeing intense competition in the struggle for dominance in the Wi-Fi 6E chipset segment. Because the 6GHz spectrum will continue to be used in the future Wi-Fi 7 protocol, the Wi-Fi 7 specs in draft 1.0 already include utilization of 4096 QAM and 320MHz bandwidth. Given the multiple overlapping 320MHz channels in the 6GHz spectrum, MLO functions like preamble puncturing can provide Wi-Fi 6 and future Wi-Fi 7 devices with more flexibility in the selection of bands and channels.
Furthermore, in Wi-Fi 7, MLO enables simultaneous use of the 5GHz and 6GHz bands through the combination of different 160MHz channels. For example, although an AP device may only register one media access control address (MAC address), the connection may actually be taking place through either the 5GHz or the 6GHz bands in the port physical layer (PHY layer), depending on which is more stable or faster at that time. Alternatively, bands in both spectrums may also be combined to increase total throughput. Functions like this are designed to solve wireless congestion in public areas caused by a larger number of simultaneous Wi-Fi connections.
The current Wi-Fi 6E already includes BW20/40/80/160 bandwidth options, bridging the likes of UNII-6 and UNII-8 bands, or Channel 119 of BW80 and Channel 111 of BW160. Countries have also set different power categories for the 6GHz spectrum, such as Standard Power, Low Power Indoor, or Very Low Power. Devices providing Wi-Fi connectivity, such as AP devices and routers, need to strike an optimal match between each source component to truly deliver excellent performance in the 6GHz spectrum, a goal with its fair share of challenges. For instance, the 6GHz spectrum covers the incredibly wide 1200Mhz band and components will likely have different performances in different frequencies. Another example would be accurate control of the power spectrum to achieve interference mitigation from coexisting bands within the 6GHz spectrum. All of these need to be supported by reliable testing solutions.
LitePoint's IQxel series solutions, including IQxel-MW 6G, IQxel-MW 7G, and IQxel-MX, are designed to test BW160 and BW320 specs for Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, and the future Wi-Fi 7. Among them, IQxel-MX is a solution that supports all stages from engineering verification to mass production, IQxel-M2X deals with design validation and testing (DVT), IQxel-M8X is for Mobile (STA) mass production testing, and IQxel-M16X is aimed at AP mass production testing. These solutions utilize precise power control capabilities to complete complex testing and are indispensable for testing Wi-Fi 6E devices in the industry.
UWB Precision Distance Measurement Helps NXP Target the Vehicle, Mobile and IoT Markets
The afternoon session was headed by Allen Lee, Senior Engineer at NXP, focusing on solutions and applications of UWB technology. UWB uses time-of-flight (ToF) to determine distance with below 10 cm accuracy, making it highly suited for various security applications such as facial recognition, location-based services (LBS), and device-to-device mutual identification. With the latest trend of security-focused mobile phone applications and smart city applications—such as electric vehicle charging poles, traffic light duration control, crowd flow control, and many other emergent applications—still on the rise, UWB will come to permeate every aspect of life in the future.
Allen said that NXP's UWB semiconductor solution is based on the Trimension product line, which provides security applications for vehicles and mobile devices. For instance, one can use a UWB key to open car doors when one's both hands are occupied. The company's solution also targets other smart home applications such as smart access keys, which are already utilized by international franchise hotels in Taiwan. In the U.S., UWB has also been integrated in distance warning applications in response to COVID-19.
NXP makes it a point to incorporate Bluetooth and near field communications (NFC) technology as backups to UWB, a design choice crucial for battery-powered devices. UWB's precision and security advantages can also be used to detect object distances within or outside of vehicles to trigger corresponding in-vehicle smart applications for an enhanced user experience. In terms of security, NXP's solutions have also acquired complete China Compulsory Certificate (CCC) marks.
LitePoint IQgig-UWB Precision Positioning Solution Perfect for UWB Mass Production Testing
Chris Chao, LitePoint's Manager of the Greater China Application Engineers, took the stage next. He started by commenting on the rapid growth of the UWB market, speaking of how UWB applications have been some of the few to prosper amidst the global economic impact caused by COVID-19. The technology has become a favorite among clients, with the number of UWB projects between Taiwan and China reaching a record high over the past six months in 2021, nearly matching the flourishing Wi-Fi market.
The success of UWB can largely be attributed to the popularity of 3D positioning. UWB can achieve accurate 3D positioning with below 10 cm accuracy using only four sensors. The FiRa Consortium has also proposed three main uses for UWB: hands-free access control services, location-based services (LBS), and inter-device interactive services. UWB's precision positioning functionality and data transfer capability have triggered a surge of versatile applications in the market.
There are three major requirements for UWB testing. First is regulatory testing, which means that the power spectral density needs to be in line with government regulations, such as FCC Part 15 compliance. Second is interoperability testing, that checks whether the software can interact with other software components and systems. The third is performance testing. LitePoint's IQgig-UWB tester is built to meet customer demands, featuring IEEE 802.15.4z specs certification with a complete suite of calibration utilities that cover the 5 to 19 GHz spectrum used by UWB. The tester uses the IQfact+™ ATE mass production assistance software and built-in standard testing functions, which can generate graphical data analysis of testing results through IQramp, making it the best solution for automated UWB measurements. The IQgig-UWB tester has been certified by the FiRa Consortium for PHY layer conformance testing, qualifying it as a standard tester for internationally accredited laboratories.
5G Testing Solution Demonstrates Seamless Integration from Engineering Design to Multi-DUT Mass Production Testing
Alex Hsieh, LitePoint's Director of Cellular Application Engineering in Asia, was the next speaker. His presentation focused on dissecting 5G development trends, explaining that LitePoint first entered the 5G testing solution market in 2017 and generated high revenues from the smartphone-centric 5G market. With the global 5G userbase estimated to grow to 3.5 billion users by 2026, the increasing variety of smart applications available is projected to cause the 5G market to grow to 4.7 times the size of the smartphone market. It is also worth noting that while Internet service providers (ISPs) from the U.S. and China are leading the globe in standalone (SA) 5G, a total of 12 ISPs from around the globe are also planning to adopt SA 5G architecture, setting the scene for even broader application scenarios.
LitePoint's testing solutions cover everything from the initial chip design validation, chip mass production, and communication module testing, to the development, manufacturing, and mass production of the entire product system; all of the testing can be conducted under a single platform. LitePoint offers three main testers: the IQxstream-5G for the sub-6GHz spectrum, IQgig-IF for the 5-19GHz mid-band spectrum, and IQgig-5G for the 23-45GHz high-band spectrum. These solutions cover testing for the complete 5G spectrum, from FR1 to FR2, and use the IQfact5G (chip development testing) and IQfactATM (module development testing) software as ATE aids to simplify the setup of parameters and validate the characteristics of the test object, achieving cost-efficient and time-expedient testing for mass production.
Real-World Testing Solutions Achieved Through Signaling Testing to Ensure 5G Product Quality
Marcus Chen, LitePoint's Factory Applications Engineer, followed up with a presentation on IQcell-5G, a signaling testing solution that checks actual data exchange and transmission in usage scenarios after establishing a network connection. This solution is often used in end-of-line (EOL) testing, user experience validation, and communication product compliance validation to assess connection quality, antenna sensitivity performance, and data transmission performance, as well as for quality assurance (QA) stress testing. The IQcell-5G platform supports FR1-spectrum NSA and SA network testing as well as FR2 NSA networks. As for the corresponding ATE software, it uses IQfact-S as both a test aid and a built-in testing program.
5G Small Cell and O-RAN Testing Systems Unveiled Amidst Booming Growth in the 5G Application Market
The last speaker was Middle Wen, LitePoint's Product Manager, who finished the forum with a presentation titled "The Next Key Deployment in 5G Networks: Small Cell and O-RAN Radio Units". According to him, this is an emerging area with extensive prospective development opportunities for Taiwan's network and server supply chain.
Middle explained that 5G technology has revolutionized telecom room layouts from the 4G era. ISPs are now embracing open-source systems for both efficiency and cost. Industry alliances like the O-RAN Alliance, Telecom Infra Project (TIP), and Small Cell Forum (SCF) have stepped up to set open standards and lead the radio unit revolution using small cell and O-RAN technology.
Elvin Ren, LitePoint's General Manager of Sales in Taiwan, India and South East Asia