5G COMMUNICATIONS INCREASE TESTING VOLUME AND COMPLEXITY
The advent of 5G, the 5th Generation of global wireless connectivity, exponentially raises the bar on testing requirements for manufacturers. Not only is the number of devices to be tested increasing dramatically, but the operational bandwidths are in the uncharted high-frequency ranges.
This all-new ambitious standard for wireless communication will require the creation of vast amounts of reliability data for devices that have not yet been deployed. Competition is fierce in this market, and profit potentials are often razor-thin. To keep up and survive in this fast-moving 5G push, manufacturers must rapidly develop device testing programs that are cost-effective and accurate.
Accel-RF provides solutions with its fully integrated, automated, turnkey testing systems. These testbeds are flexible enough to help companies meet the demand of accurately determining RF and DC performance degradation and life expectancy for chips in a wide range of 5G applications.
RELIABILITY TESTING 4G VS. 5G
The move from 4G to 5G represents far more than an evolutionary step in technology. 5G is more like a revolution. 4G LTE is the last logical step in wireless networks built primarily to serve cellular phone customers. And while the current wireless technology will act as a convenient stepping-off point, what is coming next is entirely different.
Along with a vastly improved wireless phone delivery system, 5G will affect many more aspects of life – wireless internet, IoT, IIoT, VR, AI, AV, and the list keeps expanding. So what is the significance of all these 5G uses to manufacturers?
Here are five of the top ways reliability testing will have to change to meet the new 5G device landscape and how Accel-RF is poised to help manufacturers tackle these issues.
- SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN NUMBER OF DEVICES
- HIGHER-FREQUENCY DEVICES
- MULTI-USE COMPONENTS IN AN INTERDEPENDENT NETWORK
- SPEED TO MARKET
- MASS PRODUCTION FOR NEW APPLICATIONS
WHAT 5G MEANS FOR DEVICE MANUFACTURERS
Devices that make up the 5G infrastructure will operate via radio waves at frequencies ranging from around 26 GHz to 60 GHz. Much more than a simple upgrade to the existing wireless networks, 5G will provide services in three significant areas: Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).
The 5G ecosystem presents a vast opportunity and an extreme challenge for designers and manufacturers. One pillar of the problem is the sheer volume of devices that will require testing. The operational frequency of eMBB, the scheduled upgrade to today’s 4G service, will be in the millimeter-wave (mmWave) portion of the spectrum. Signals with this extremely short wavelength cannot travel long distances and are easily absorbed by obstacles. To provide adequate coverage, 5G developers will place base transmitters in tightly arranged patterns throughout cities.
As the new standard progresses to include expanded URLLC and mMTC capabilities, IoT’s full realization comes into being. Smart Cities, V2X autonomous driving, and many other 5G network dependent technologies will continue to drive the need for more device reliability. Since there are so many links in the 5G chain, each one must function flawlessly to keep all of the systems running smoothly.
This situation puts a lot of pressure on device manufacturers and designers. Fortunately, Accel-RF provides innovative and cost-effective solutions for testing 5G devices on a large scale. Our proprietary fixturing designs enable test technicians to quickly and effectively get power in and out of devices while simulating operation at mmWave frequencies.
5G BEGINS WITH BEAMFORMING
The approaching footsteps of 5G new radio (NR) are no longer in the distance. Deployment of the technology is beginning now. For 5G to work, the passive antennas of LTE will give way to a new breed of phased array antennas that make the backbone of the new wireless network, beamforming, possible.
Creating this armada of electronically steerable antenna arrays is no simple task. It requires the latest (and often not thoroughly tested) chipsets on the market.
Beamforming, simply stated, is the precise steering of tightly controlled radio signals through electronic rather than mechanical means.
For beamforming to work on the scale required for 5G, the electronic modules will need to operate at frequencies with wavelengths measured in millimeters (mmWave). Millimeter-wave active antenna array electronics must control the need for rapid signal direction changing, which is only achievable through electronic antenna steering.
The semiconductor device technology developments that 5G beamforming requires brings a new standard in testing areas. 5G device testing brings a difficult challenge at extremely high frequencies with large bandwidths under diverse power supply delivery, accommodating power losses over connection paths while handling almost no tolerance for error.
Whereas LTE worked by discerning and selecting an appropriate cell station, 5G will work by discerning and selecting an appropriate signal beam. In the LTE architecture, the cell stations were centralized sites of large base station amplifiers and antenna towers for directional signal routing. In the mmW 5G architecture, a base station is a decentralized local radio hub. The network will be made up of many more base stations covering much smaller areas or equivalently a very small microcell area. The need for numerous close-proximity base station equivalents will drive drastic changes in the system architecture and implementation.
Accel-RF’s accelerated performance characterization testing systems are ideally suited to meet the evolving 5G network’s challenges. Since the systems are fully modular and easily configurable, manufacturers can scale their testing environments as needed. The base system that provides temperature control and DC bias is field-proven and performance verified for 5G semiconductor technology. As the 5G RF standards continue to develop and change, the user only has to update the modular RF subsystem of the Accel-RF equipment. This modular approach permits the manufacturer to keep up with newer requirements of the 5G evolution.
Dive Deeper: Four Considerations for Testing 5G Beamforming
HOW RELIABILITY TESTING SOLVES THE 5G DESIGN PUZZLE
In addition to relying on a far greater number of individual transmitters to function, the 5G network itself is an interdependent design. If one part fails to do its job, the perceived performance of the whole suffers. To help ensure reliability, designers typically opt to place multiple amplifiers within each transmitter chip. If one amplifier within the phased array fails or starts to degrade, the device switches to another one. This system of self-backups accomplishes excellent dependability, but it significantly complicates chip design and testing.
Within the tightly compacted parameters of an IC package, especially in a device operating in the high RF realm of mmWave, any addition of circuitry can potentially affect performance. Migration of molecules between sandwiched metallic layers, more significant heat generation, or unpredictable component interactions at high frequencies can all contribute to failure or degraded operation of an IC device.
Another consideration is, as the 5G network matures, designers will tend to want to add more functions to each device. Packing functionality this way improves options for companies to multipurpose their designs and opens up new markets for uses for 5G that will undoubtedly develop after deployment.
To keep up with the development of 5G, chip manufacturers will rely more on reliability testing and device characterization earlier in the design process. As designers add redundancy, new capabilities and combine multiple devices into single packages, a robust testing program lets them know well in advance of mass production exactly how the changes affect performance.
IMPORTANT RELIABILITY PARAMETERS OF CONCERN
DC Bias Current
Active semiconductor components require a DC power supply to operate. The DC bias voltage and current levels are critical parameters as the power dissipation of each active element will contribute to temperature rise and drive overall efficiency.
RF Output Power
The RF output power of an amplifier drives the overall capabilities of a transmitter. The saturation level and how the output power of a device compresses with input power is used to determine which applications and systems are suitable for that device.
The ratio of RF power delivered to a load relative to the input power. How gain changes and compresses as these levels rise and approach saturation is critical to designing systems for any RF application.
Ohmic Contact Resistance
In semiconductors, this is the intrinsic resistance through the metalized terminals of the device into the channel or junction. A physical change in the ohmic contacts, which can be an effect of metal migration, can change the resistance and impact the electrical performance of a device.
IMD occurs when two signals are present in a nonlinear system, such as an amplifier. The frequency harmonics of these two signals mix and create 2nd and 3rd order intermodulation products. Measuring and mitigating these distortion levels are critical for communication applications.
Commonly referred to as “jitter”, phase noise is the random fluctuations of the phase of a signal source. It is present in oscillators and digital clocks and can have detrimental effects on a system where frequency conversion takes place. A signal with high phase noise can end up occupying more of the spectrum than intended and introduce error.
This is a critical parameter in all Receiver designs. The Noise Figure must be low for a system to be sensitive enough to detect and process weak signals. Low Noise Amplifiers (LNA) are typically the first element in a receiver and are designed to minimize Noise Figure.
For amplifiers in RF applications, this represents the relationship between the input power and the output power of a device. At low input power levels, linearity is uniformly quantified by the gain. As input drive increases, the device gain compresses as the device saturates and the linearity characteristics change.
Switching Response Time
The rise and fall time of RF switches used in high-frequency applications can set limitations on the bandwidth and other key aspects of a system. When used in a phased array, the switching speed can limit how quickly the beam can be steered, for example.
This represents the ability of a source, such as an oscillator, to maintain a constant frequency output. Outside influences such as temperature and change in bias voltage can lead to drift and affect frequency stability. Stability in communication systems is required so that a signal does not drift outside of its designated band.
The Commercial Wireless Industry, like the Telecommunications Industry, is a fast-moving and rapidly changing industry. The distinction for Commercial Wireless from Telecommunications in respect to markets served is the speed at which the wireless market will shift based on technology enablers. What demonstrates this is the cell phone market. The telecommunications sector of the mobile communications market has more to do with the base station and central equipment and the wireless market sector has more to do with the handset or user equipment. The user equipment is less expensive to purchase and shifts more easily with technology whereas the central or infrastructure equipment has a longevity of service driven by cost recovery and difficulty of infrastructure build-out. Another distinction in the Commercial Wireless Industry is the fact that it is more “application” driven by the end-user and the Telecommunications Industry is more “network” driven by the provider of the service.
Reliability testing requirements for the Wireless Industry are driven by:
- Negative user-experience driven by lack of service reliability.
- User perception of sub-performance to expectation level (value).
- Performance consistency from unit to unit for effective deployment across a highly competitive market.
- Performance consistency from unit to unit for effective deployment across a globally regulated network.
TESTING WITH WCDMA
The testing solutions from Accel-RF are flexible enough to cover the many possible configurations of 5G device designs. Developing ways for manufacturers to meet testing standards while maintaining adequate ROI is what sets Accel-RF apart from other testing equipment providers.
For example, Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) testing is a spread spectrum technique used by 5G systems. Accel-RF test equipment supports this application by using off-the-shelf power meters that can measure peak power and peak-to-average ratio. The Accel-RF software supports the ability to test multiple devices and distinguish the effects of class AB operation, class C operation, or class A operation on performance when driven with a WCDMA signal.
The test records measurements made using the power meters along with bias voltages and currents to monitor the device degradation rate. This test configuration represents an extremely cost-effective way for manufacturers to test their 5G designs to the level required by the new standards. The software provided records reliability and end-of-life statistical data and helps to format it for easy sharing with customers, investors, and other stakeholders.
CONFIDENCE TO MOVE FORWARD
Accel-RF leads the way in test development for the new generation of GaN and SiC semiconductors that are powering a substantial portion of the 5G device market. By designing software-powered testing solutions that allow customization, Accel-RF ensures device developers have the flexibility they need to meet the standards of the transitioning 5G landscape.
The new wireless infrastructure represents a complete re-imagining of the who, what, where, when, and how we communicate. With 5G technology, the world will soon experience:
- Faster Data Rates: Users can expect speeds of between 100 Mbs to 10Gbs.
- Larger Capacity: 5G will support 100 times more devices and 10,000 times more traffic within the same geographic area than current capabilities.
- Lower Latency: Round-trip transfers of data will feature <1 millisecond delay times.
- Better Coverage: A reliable wireless signal will be available nearly everywhere on the planet.
- Increased Energy Efficiency: Designers expect battery life on some devices to last up to ten years.
Part of Accel-RF’s mission is to work with organizations, such as JEDEC, that determine what the final standards of 5G will entail. By staying abreast and contributing to the evolving standards, Accel-RF remains uniquely qualified to help guide companies in creating test solutions. Access to a quick, customizable and affordable means to test devices can help companies rise to the occasion of supplying the chips needed by 5G.
Explore New Test Parameters in the 5G Ecosystem
Developers engaged in design and production throughout the 5G landscape face unique challenges in the area of testing and validation. 5G represents a host of layered technologies combined in new configurations that demand intricate, yet scalable testing techniques.
Download our latest 5G Reliability Testing White Paper to learn more about structuring your testing strategies in the 5G ecosystem.
Download Making the Cut in the Fast-Moving World of Commercial Wireless
Learn why reliability testing will be the key to success in the rapidly-changing 5G market.