With the growth in 5G and the proliferation of new wireless connectivity options, coupled with the increase in the number and types of connected devices, wireless testing to ensure the safety and efficiency of our cellular networks has become an integral part of network development.
I spoke recently with Rex Chen, Director of Business development and product management for LitePoint, a major wireless testing company. Prior to LitePoint, Rex earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science and worked with Qualcomm and Intel.
With the rise of 5G, operational technology teams are coming up with new business requirements in fields such as industrial automation, whether that automation is about implementing robotics on the factory floor or implementing predictive analytics using AI and ML or computer vision. Rex spoke about the level of assurance OT needs from their network. 5G brings in multiple factors and characteristics that are necessary, such as throughput and latency. Testing can become challenging given the number of parameters – whether it’s a manufacturing or logistics environment, the number of devices that are connected, the environment itself in terms of what other technologies are being used within that space, the kind of building such as whether it’s made of concrete or other materials, and what spectrum is to be used.
The Evolution of Standards
One observation that Rex made was on the evolution of standards. With 5G, for example, there was 3GPP release 15 and then release 16, and as the standard evolves, there will be more features and functionality. That impacts wireless testing, as you will have more complex test scenarios, more bands testing, and more carrier aggregation, in which you need to ensure that the required throughput characteristics can be met.
Testing in Mixed Environments
Moving forward, the market will start seeing an acceleration of networks that use both Wi-Fi and cellular components. Testing these environments can be challenging. For example, if there is a fixed wireless access (FWA) device that’s using 5G on sub-6 GHz from outside, while in an enclosed environment, there’s Wi-Fi 6 and 7. The standard for both Wi-Fi flavors and 5G support is greater than one Gbps, but what if that’s not being achieved in practice? In that case, testing needs to be done to determine where the actual slowdown is occurring. And what if, next, you add in mmWave? End-to-end testing will be required that will determine the weak link.
The Number of User Devices is Growing
The sheer number of devices, both for users and automation, is growing significantly for enterprises as well as consumers. One area in which LitePoint is seeing growth is in the FWA devices, or CPEs (customer premises equipment), that are being used in rural areas. They don’t require a service person to come out and install for you – they’re essentially plug-and-play.
Words of Wisdom For CIOs
Rex had three suggestions when asked if there was advice he would give to enterprise CIOs from a strategy perspective to ensure their wireless network is ready. One, take a long-term view of your wireless network. Think three, five, or even ten years out. Two, make sure that as you hit your performance metrics, you have enough focus on test quality, which should definitely be essential to ensure your actual devices can meet your end-to-end requirements. Third, be agile. Have the ability to adapt. For example, with 5G, you might initially have a sub-6 GHz network, but as your data needs grow, your network will need to evolve. Technologies change, and you have to be ready to change as circumstances dictate.
To learn more about 5G and security, listen to the podcast hosted by Ashish Jain, CEO and Co-founder, PrivateLTEand5G.com and KAIROS Pulse.