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Interview
"NI has been at the forefront of revolution of ‘smarter’ test systems by offering modular hardware & software platforms "
 
Raghunandan N V, Technical Marketing Engineer, National Instruments 
 
Q. Future trends or new technologies that will drive the test instrument market
Ans. Smart devices like smart phones, consumer electronics, smart wearables etc. are posing a challenge for the test engineers because they often include a wide-variety of sensors, support a host of wireless & connectivity standards, leverage software &hardware computing while operating on low / ultralow power consumption. The need to test the infinite permutations of sensor, battery, computation and communications technology in devices both large and small against frequent software updates requires a ‘smarter’ approach. Built on the “customer knows best” philosophy, NI has been at the forefront of revolution of ‘smarter’ test systems by offering modular hardware & software platforms that seamlessly integrate and provide to flexibility of software designed test instrumentation while leveraging the advances of Commercially-of-the-shelf (COTS) technologies. NI’s PXI portfolio includes IOs ranging from DC to milli-meter wave; high-throughput data transfer bus based on Gen 3 PCI Express bus interfaces; sub nanosecond synchronization with integrated timing and triggering; the power and productivity of the LabVIEW and TestStand software environments. Software designed instrumentation supporting FPGA based custom personalities, modular hardware based instrumentation supporting high bandwidth streaming are some of the trends & requirements driving the ‘smart’ test instruments market today.
 
Q. Opportunities and Challenges for Test & Measurement in pre 5G Era
Ans. Modern wireless systems today utilize RF test instruments which support wide bandwidths while having the ability to scale to future standards like 5G. Multi antenna & MIMO technologies require modular and flexible instrumentation that can scale from testing single-antenna devices to 8x8 MIMO devices and beyond. Finally, with wireless radios expected to cost a fifth of what they do today, future test equipment must be able to dramatically reduce the cost of test.  

In 2012, NI introduced a new instantiation of this “customer knows best” philosophy with the Vector Signal Transceiver (VST). Featuring a user-programmable FPGA and revolutionary RF measurement performance, the VST delivered unprecedented speed and insight in a single PXI device at an exceptional price. Not surprisingly, it rapidly became the best-selling PXI instrument ever while redefining RF instrumentation in the process. To exemplify ‘smarter’ and to provide unrivalled performance that meets both the current & scales for future requirements, NI launched the second-generation VST i.e. NI PXIe 5840.  With 1 GHz of instantaneous bandwidth, it’s ideally suited for a wide range of applications including 802.11ac/ax device test, mobile/IoT device test, 5G communications design and test, RFIC test and radar prototyping. And though it features wider bandwidth, better measurement performance, extended frequency range, even more instrumentation capability and a larger FPGA for more advanced customization and signal processing, one thing hasn’t changed: engineers’ ability to make it whatever they need it to be.

As the world’s researchers race to define 5G, it is becoming increasingly clear that just bettering the spectral efficiency of a 4G-based network is not enough to deliver the data rates, latency, and capacity necessary for the three high-level 5G use cases (Figure 1), defined by 3GPP to provide ubiquitous, instantaneous mobile broadband data. Testers supporting upcoming 5G standards will require very high bandwidth instruments which also double up as precise measurements equipment to delivers high performance the scales requirements keep evolving in the pre 5G era.

 
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