The global wireless network initiative, known as 5G, is fundamentally transforming electronic device testing. Current methodologies will no longer be adequate to do the job. 5G is rapidly approaching the testing labs of device manufacturers like a tsunami of change. The promise of 5G will bring with it a multitude of new challenges.
Here are five of the top ways device testing will have to change to meet the new 5G landscape, and how Accel-RF is poised to help manufacturers tackle these issues.
Challenge #1: Significant Increase in Number of Devices
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?
The answer is volume.
The testing difficulty lies in the sheer number of devices that will need reliability verification. The rapid increase in needed capacity will easily overwhelm companies that are not prepared.
The solution from Accel-RF is its offering of fully scalable testing systems. Companies can start with a baseline setup and have the ability to expand their testing capacity as rapidly as needed to keep up with the growing number of 5G devices in the queue.
Challenge #2: Higher-Frequency Devices
A significant portion of 5G active and passive devices will operate in the extremely high-frequency range known as mmWave. Accurately testing components with small operating wavelengths is no easy task. Test fixtures have to be far more advanced to obtain reliable results at the upper limits of the spectrum, where even slight miscalibrations can skew measurements.
Another issue is the non-standardization of device packaging for 5G chips. The technology is barely keeping up with the demand for 5G products, so expect a variety of chip package designs to come on the scene and then get abandoned along the path of development. For many companies attempting to test these devices, every change in device packaging will mean a complete retooling of test equipment.
The benefit of Accel-RF systems is their inherent modularity, which allows for complete flexibility. When a new device or packaging design requires a new approach, only a few inner components of the test fixture are changed out. The base system for stimulus and temperature control and data acquisition remain unchanged.
Challenge #3: Multi-Use Components in an Interdependent Network
While the various individual technologies that will undergird 5G wireless — beamforming, phase shifting, high-frequency switching, etc. — are all proven, having them all work as intended in a real-world network is still new. For the system to function, each device must do its job reliably, and sometimes the same component may have to perform more than one task.
Manufacturers face the challenge of testing each chip they produce for multiple roles as developers work out the casting for the 5G drama. Again, the result is an exponential increase in the need for testing capacity.
Accel-RF's flexible system makes testing each device for each possible use a feasible reality. Manufacturers can also check chips at various points of the process to find ways to improve production procedures to make devices perform better in specific roles. A company's ability to contribute products backed with verifiable reliability data to help support the success of 5G, especially in its early stages of deployment, will help to increase its market share and, ultimately, its success.
Challenge #4: Speed to Market
The 5G revolution will flood the market with a wide range of totally new products. Previously, for the last few decades, electronics testing amounted to checking already highly seasoned technology. Typically, new devices were just enhancements – faster speeds, smaller packages, more power – of components already long in production, and backed with reams of reliability data.
Things change dramatically with 5G. Now, the speed at which a manufacturer can start from scratch and produce a thoroughly tested product approved for mass production will determine its success.
Companies taking advantage of Accel-RF testing equipment's total flexibility will have a head start when racing to get to market. As conditions change and take unexpected turns, having modularity built into testing equipment allows for the agile movements necessary to come out ahead in an extremely competitive market.
Challenge #5: Mass Production For New Applications
All of the uses of 5G promoted today undoubtedly only represent a fraction of what designers will develop after the network deploys. The demand for new functionality will increase the need for faster and easier ways to gather statistical data during the chip manufacturing process. Manufacturers that are producing more chips at higher speed will have to have access to better information on device reliability earlier in the process.
Accel-RF's test equipment allows companies to continuously monitor for any process variation as different wafers move through fabrication. That saves precious time and expense if a certain lot proves unsatisfactory due to an issue in fabrication, as it will be caught before the packaging phase or next level assembly.
Get in The Race To Win With Accel-RF
The standards for 5G are not final, and there is already a frenzy of manufacturing activity. Accel-RF is in the thick of the fray, loaning its extensive experience to help define reliability standards and best practices in the uncharted waters of 5G.
Accel-RF's 5G solution is a modular upgrade that connects to the already proven base testing system. As changes happen with the 5G standards, or with a company's role in 5G deployment, the majority of the testing equipment remains intact, and a customer need only add-on the new 5G-ready system architecture.
So, in the uncertain world of 5G device manufacturing, companies using Accel-RF equipment can still have a measure of proven performance, manufacturing stability, and the demonstrated capability of a mature data-gathering software product. A little peace of mind and solid reliability can be a wonderful thing to have in the unpredictable arena of the coming wave of 5G.