The world today is on the cusp of amazing innovations made possible by new commercial technologies. 5G communications, advanced batteries, power management systems, and sophisticated software including various forms of artificial intelligence will enable virtual and augmented reality, self-driving vehicles, remote surgery, smart factories and cities, and other innovations yet to be conceived.
To get there, however, the technologies and the applications built on them must be validated – for performance, quality, reliability, usability, and in many cases, the interoperability that is required to comply with standards.
Consider, for example, the 5G communications technology that will enable the next generation of mobile broadband applications and more. It makes use of higher frequencies, multi-element antennas, advanced modulation formats, and more complex protocols throughout the stack.
Developing and validating this technology requires new measurement solutions – new hardware, new software, new calibration techniques, and new services.
The need goes beyond the wireless part of the network too, because the “wired” infrastructure (in reality a mix of copper and optical connections) must also be transformed to meet the requirements for more data, from more devices, at ever-faster speeds, all the time.
To get a sense of this latter aspect, we can think about the 1 terabit per second (Tb/s) data links that are currently in development. That’s 1000 gigabits every second, which seems like a massive amount of capability. And in some ways it is.
Such a link could transfer the entire content of a very high quality 2-hour 4K movie in about two minutes. But what about even higher resolution video formats, 3D, and interactive use cases?
What about millions and then billions of simultaneous users with rising expectations for instantaneous performance?
Reflecting on these factors helps us appreciate that 1 terabit per second links, while important and needed advancements, are merely one step along the path of ever-increasing capability.
How are wireless and wired communications technologies validated?
It requires measurement solutions that have even higher performance than the systems they are testing. That’s a tall order, and it’s achieved in part through proprietary capabilities not available in the commercial markets.
My company uses an in-house semiconductor facility to produce indium phosphide and gallium arsenide chips and multichip modules that enable many of our core products.
We also design our own analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) and digital-to-analog converters (DACs). These technology blocks enable products like our UXR-series oscilloscope, which processes data across its four channels at an overall rate of 10 Tb/s.
It can be used to validate new commercial technologies like those 1 Tb/s data links, and certain parts of coming 5G wireless technologies as well.
Other advanced products can emulate next-generation wireless networks and devices in the lab, ensuring they will function correctly when placed into service.
Still others help network equipment manufacturers and operators deploy and optimize new networking technologies, including technologies focused on network security.
Proprietary hardware capabilities are only part of the equation.
The role of software of various types in validating new technologies has grown dramatically.
That 10 Tb/s data stream inside the oscilloscope must be processed and distilled into information and ultimately insight for the user.
To that end, software is used for advanced calibration, signal processing, and analysis and visualization. The software inside the instrument alone amounts to over 1 million lines of code, and additional software comes into play via related application packages.
Network and device emulation solutions require extensive amounts of software to implement the protocol stacks and execute the thousands of scripts used for conformance testing.
Machine learning algorithms are inside some of these solutions, to help automate the process of identifying patterns and locating events of interest, for example errors that occur too infrequently to be noticed manually.
All this software requires software developers, and in the test and measurement industry as in so many others, software staffing has risen significantly.
The number of software engineers at Keysight is up 83% since our inception as an independent company 6 years ago, and software engineers now represent two-thirds of our R&D talent mix.
As we look to add even more value by connecting and accelerating the new product development workflow, from design and simulation, to prototype validation, to volume manufacturing test and the optimization of fielded products, the role of software will increase further.
New communications technology such as 5G is a ready example of how advanced measurement solutions are accelerating innovation, but it’s far from the only one.
The transformation of automobiles from internal combustion engines to hybrid and fully electric powertrains, with progressive levels of autonomous driving capability, presents another landscape of multiple new commercial technologies requiring thorough validation.
Batteries and charging systems must be tested for safety and reliability, sensors must be verified under a range of operating conditions, and autonomous driving systems must be assessed both in the lab and on the road.
The amount of electronic and software content in these next-generation vehicles is stunning, and with it comes a need for new measurement solutions, again including more and more software, plus new services to help customers who may not be deeply familiar with all the new commercial technologies they are harnessing for their vehicle designs.
Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing, and other new technology realms including those related to medicine and disease detection provide still more examples of the overall pattern: advanced measurement solutions enable new technologies which are then incorporated into transformative innovations for the world.
It’s certainly an exciting time for anyone developing, applying, or using new technology today.