The ratification of the 5G New Radio (5G NR) standard is widely recognized as a milestone for the industry, but it is definitely not the end of the standardization process. The road from documentation to implementation is long and rocky, and no one knows that better than the engineers who test wireless infrastructure before it is ready for commercial launch.
“The early stage of the standards are just brutal,” said James Kimery, marketing director for wireless research at National Instruments. Kimery’s team works with carriers and infrastructure suppliers to bring to life the documentation that now defines 5G.
“It is a multimillion word document with a lot left to interpretation,” said Kimery. “It’s only when you actually implement them and see these things working on a network that the standard becomes real.”
Although National Instruments doesn’t sell wireless infrastructure for commercial deployment, the company does create hardware and software for all parts of the radio access network in order to help commercial vendors test their solutions.
“In terms of having a complete 5G solution, I think that we are pretty close,” Kimery said. “We have a complete solution all the way from base station to device and all way from the physical layer up the protocol stack.”
Kimery said his company has been able to progress quickly because it is working closely with Samsung to prototype and test 5G solutions. Samsung is currently using NI’s 5G end-user equipment in its tests, and NI is also providing diagnostic tools for Samsung.
“I think from now until the end of the year it is going to be a lot of fun,” Kimery said of his company’s work with Samsung. The partners are moving into field trials now in several locations, and Kimery thinks the results of these and other trials will help refine the 5G standard.
Kimery said National Instruments has plans to test its solutions on two of the top four U.S. carrier networks, working alongside its vendor partner. The company also remains committed to a number of lab tests, including interoperability tests.
“We are starting to do a lot of interoperability device testing, so now our 5G lab is turning into an interoperability test lab,” Kimery said.
To date, much of NI’s 5G testing has been in millimeter wave bands, but now the company is seeing more demand for sub-6 GHz devices. Some chip companies are working on solutions that support both millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz bands. The 3GPP addressed both of these in the 5G NR standard, and both are expected to support 5G deployments in the United States.