Every electronics project requires test and measurement. But as the industry demands devices that are always getting smaller, faster, and more powerful, your old oscilloscope might not keep up. Test and measurement companies are responding with new equipment to meet these challenges, especially the issues presented by the growing wireless market.
As vice president and general manager of Agilent’s Microwave and Communications Division, Andy Botka has his eye on these trends. He also has a front-row seat in Agilent’s latest venture, Keysight, which will take Agilent’s T&M business and spin it off into a new company focused on electronic measurement.
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LF: What is the general business climate for the T&M business today?
AB: The climate is fast-paced and highly competitive. Our customers’ product life cycles continue to shorten, a result of the rapid development of enabling technologies and the competitive pressures in consumer markets. T&M vendors need to respond quickly, typically while standards are still evolving. At the same time, today’s products are increasingly complex, often with multiple transceivers per device, while the market demands that selling prices are maintained or even lowered.
T&M solutions are shifting somewhat because customers increasingly want to optimize test for a particular application. Traditional bench-top signal generators and analyzers are still strong sellers, especially when maximum performance or frequency coverage is needed. The demand for modular solutions is growing in applications that require a predictable test routine optimized for speed, such as high-volume manufacturing. And, specialized solutions are increasingly needed to handle very complex, specific standards. Applications software and dedicated products such as handheld spectrum analyzers and one-box testers address some of these needs.
LF: What are some of the main drivers for new products in your business?
AB: Customer needs and industry trends are the primary influencers for all new product development or enhancements to existing products. In addition to the constant demand for quality and price/performance value, some of the challenges driving new test requirements in communications include:
• Increasing bandwidths (both single- and multi-channel)
• Increasing operating frequencies: New technologies are being deployed at higher frequencies to avoid interference with other technologies sharing the already crowded RF spectrum and to take advantage of smaller antenna apertures.
• Increasing signal complexity and channel counts: MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output), beam-forming, multi-user schemes, diversity, complex protocol, adaptive systems such as cognitive radios.
• Signals and systems that use multiple frequency bands, simultaneously
In aerospace and defense (A/D), sophisticated communications and radar systems are requiring higher performance in fundamental areas such as displayed average noise level (DANL) and phase noise, as well as the ability to identify intermittent or transient signals in real time.
It’s worth noting that some of today’s commercial communications technologies (such as spread spectrum) began in A/D applications and are now migrating back as the A/D engineers adopt commercialized technologies such as LTE and sometimes modify them before deploying them.
LF: What was the impetus for spinning off the T&M business from Agilent?
AB: To address the question I need to take you back a few years. Our separation from HP, as Agilent, in 1999 was a business and technology move to further grow a company focused on measurement. Since then Agilent has clearly evolved into two distinct investment and business opportunities. Consequently we are now creating two separate and strategically focused companies to allow both to maximize their growth and success. As separate companies, the management of each will be able to focus on their own businesses and customers and use their resources to grow in their marketplace and accelerate solutions for customers.
LF: Tell us something about the new Keysight business and its focus.
AB: Keysight Technologies will concentrate solely on the electronic measurement industry, focusing on its test and measurement customers. As the world leader in test and measurement we currently hold the number one position in our industry segments of wireless data ecosystem; aerospace and defense; and industrial, computers, and semiconductors. The new company will include the entire portfolio of Agilent electronic measurement products.
LF: What percentage of your business is related to wireless?
AB: Agilent’s Electronic Measurement Group serves the industry segments noted above. The wireless data ecosystem or communication segment comprises 34% of the business.
LF: Name three of your toughest T&M development challenges today.
We find that our challenges are typically a direct function of our customers’ challenges:
• Keeping up with new and developing standards to meet market windows: We must deliver test solutions and get critical engineering feedback very early, often using early engagement approaches such as “first look” or beta software. The solutions must then evolve quickly as standards change and specific customer needs for analysis and measurement displays are identified. They evolve further to support design validation and volume manufacturing phases, sometimes using different RF hardware platforms.
• Increasing the value of products: As customers strive to reduce their cost of test, they demand higher value in their test equipment. We do this by supporting the growing bandwidths and operating frequencies while hitting the right points in price and performance; reducing cost of ownership through high reliability, complemented by a three-year warranty; (and) providing functionality as options and upgrades that enable customers to maximize asset utilization through reuse or redeployment.
• Taking the complexity out of test: With consumer demands of anytime, anywhere connectivity at ever-higher data rates, system complexity is increasing while the available RF spectrum is constrained. As our customers’ are designing systems that include higher-order modulation, multi-format support, and advanced antenna techniques, they need test solutions that handle these complex tasks, while keeping that same complexity manageable at the user and programmer level.
LF: What new technologies do you see greatly impacting your direction for new products?
AB: High-performance data converters, for example ADCs (analog-to-digital converters) and DACs (digital-to-analog converters), are being combined with digital signal processors such as ASICs and FPGAs to achieve new levels of performance and functionality. Examples include the progression from analog to digital IF (intermediate frequency) filters and the analog modulators to digital ones, at increasingly higher data rates and wider bandwidths.
LF: What are some of the key T&M issues customers are bringing to you today?
AB: Customer issues typically revolve around a few fundamental areas: time-to-market, efficiency in test time/cost, and design complexity.
• Keeping up with emerging standards while maintaining 2G and 3G functionality: Time-to-market with the newest technologies can influence the success of our customers. As customers work to support multiple technologies, they are not only looking to reuse test equipment, but also existing infrastructure.
• Improving speed and efficiency in the transition from R&D to manufacturing: This transition can be complex, involving significant changes in the optimal hardware and software approach.
• Measurement throughput, or more generally, reducing the total cost of test, is an ever-growing issue for very complex devices that include multiple radios and interfaces, while maintaining the same price point for consumers.
Increasing Design Complexity
• To support the increasing data download speeds demanded by consumers, device complexity continues to increase: We must help our customers implement advanced techniques, such as LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation, MIMO, digital pre-distortion, and envelope tracking, on accelerated schedules and at reduced costs.
LF: Do you offer any products related to testing the seemingly endless number of serial interfaces?
AB: For high-speed digital serial interfaces, we provide solutions that cover the whole product design life cycle starting with simulation tools, all the way to the hardware electrical and protocol layer validations. The simulation tools provide circuit and physical-level modeling to shorten the prototyping phase and optimize design performance. The electrical layer tools, which include an oscilloscope, pattern generators, a bit-error rate tester, and a network analyzer, used together with advanced software analysis provide deep insight into the physical-layer performance of the hardware design. Next, the protocol tools with traffic generation and analysis capabilities ensure proper hardware communication and error recovery.
LF: What are the basic trends for bench-top instruments? Modular production test products?
AB: High-performance bench-top instruments continue to be well suited to R&D where customers have unbounded and unpredictable measurement requirements. At the same time, modular solutions are well suited for manufacturing test where there are bounded test requirements and specific test plans. There are always exceptions, however, and because Agilent offers both form factors we have the unique opportunity to focus solely on our customers’ test needs and provide the best solution no matter the form factor.
Building on that, our measurement science and applications software are common across bench-top instruments and modular products. This is unique to Agilent and benefits the trend toward very fast design and manufacturing cycles that require a high degree of operational efficiency. Leverage of the same algorithms and/or software such as X-Series applications and Signal Studio software can ease these transitions in whatever heterogeneous equipment environment our customers find most productive.
LF: Does the Internet of Things or machine-to-machine (M2M) movement affect you, and if so, how?
AB: Inexpensive, short-range, low-power communication solutions, often provided in the form of wireless networking, are spreading all over the place. It’s a different challenge than that of previous generations of wireless products, but just as difficult. Designers need to optimize for different scale, power consumption, cost, and other tradeoffs. The engineering emphasis shifts somewhat toward perfecting designs for manufacturability and high yield with more limited testing. This can result in a larger investment in the design phase so that less is needed in manufacturing.
LF: What one new thing would you like readers to know about Agilent/Keysight?
AB: Customers can expect the same team, same organization, resulting in continued innovative technology and high-quality attention to their needs. The customer support transition will be seamless.
Our legacy is one of contribution. We make a significant impact on the security, dependability, and connectivity of the world. We will maintain leadership in focused technology standards bodies and will continue to make advances in measurement science. We will continue to innovate with new form factors and cross-platform solutions.
I see our new company, Keysight Technologies, increasing its contribution to our customers by continuing to pioneer measurement technologies and solutions that anticipate their future challenges. I see us maintaining our key strengths, but reinventing ourselves with a more focused business model 100% suited to the needs of electronic measurement and customer success.
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Andy Botka is vice president and general manager of Agilent’s Microwave and Communications Division (MCD), which provides signal analyzers, signal generators, and one-box testers for the wireless and aerospace/defense industries. He began his career in 1987 with Hewlett-Packard Corp. as an applications engineer supporting high-frequency component test solutions. He has held a wide variety of positions at HP and Agilent over the past 25 years.
In 1992, he became product manager for HP’s Microwave Instruments Division (MID). In 1995, he moved to Hong Kong for two years to manage marketing for MID throughout Asia. After his return from Asia, he held senior management roles, including solution-planning manager, product planning manager, and R&D manager for the signal sources, signal analysis, and component test business areas within Agilent’s Electronic Measurements Group. In 2007, he was named vice president and general manager of the Signal Sources Division.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California at Davis. He also has taken executive education coursework at Harvard Business School. In 2012, he completed the Stanford Executive Program.