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Industry insights: 5G NR Standard Calls for the Anatomy of a New Test Era

5G NR standard call for the anatomy of a new test era. In this regard, the industry standard organizations, 3GPP and IEEE.., all have the common consensus.

3GPP (The 3rd Generation Partnership Project) has announced the completion of the Release 15 specification for 5G New Radio (NR). It consists of a standalone version and a non-standalone version that can operate simultaneously, and both are forward-compatible with future 5G standards. This brings forth another day of reckoning for the design and development of test solutions that can keep up with the breathtaking pace of 5G innovation. These test and measurement solutions allow engineers to develop accurate signal propagation models and thus help expedite the design process at the chip, device and network levels.

The NR standard encompasses new concepts and technologies that include new radios, frequencies and the ability to direct signals at users. That inevitably demands new test procedures that characterize 5G designs while the standards continue to evolve.

The dilemma is how to quickly identify test challenges and continuously improve test functionality in a timely manner as 5G standards evolve, especially when there’s still more work to be done regarding 5G infrastructure, chips, modems, phones and antennas. Moreover, alongside the evolution of the 5G standard, the wireless industry has to manage millimeter wave (mmWave) adoption as well as control the cost of new test and measurement solutions.

The transition from 3G to 4G was smoother because of similarities like frequency coverage, signal propagation and other engineering parameters. However, while the new NR standard leverages the legacy LTE channels in its non-standalone version, mmWave frequencies will be used as the data pipe to provide high-bandwidth services.

And everything changes at higher frequencies, including beamforming, over-the-air (OTA) testing and propagation losses. First and foremost, the use of mmWave frequencies will inevitably lead to far more complex radios than currently being used in LTE designs. That, in turn, translates into new test challenges relating to higher carrier frequencies, wider bandwidths, advanced antennas and OTA measurements.

How do test professionals maintain economic efficiencies while creating test and measurement solutions for the new version of the 5G standard? How can they develop new test methods for speedy deployments of new 5G technologies built around the NR standard? Especially when the early NR networks are going to be deployed with dual connectivity while operating in multi-standard and multi-band modes?

Moreover, new devices and radio access technologies will be added as the 5G standards evolve. Amid all this uncertainty, billions of dollars of investment are at stake, and what’s required is globally accepted conformance and certification processes that can economically validate 5G systems and test the emerging 5G equipment.

So it’s imperative that platform-based test solutions are employed to deal with quickly changing 5G design landscape. This will simplify adding test use cases for the new versions of the 5G standard. Additionally, a platform-based approach will allow engineers to reuse the same measurement investments in multiple phases of the 5G design cycle.

A new era in wireless communications has kicked off with the arrival of 5G NR standard, buckled up a series of new test methods and platforms.