2009 was a rough year for the test and measurement (T&M) industry with the economy taking its toll on capital expenditures. The most recent casualty seems to be Keithley, which has sold its RF test product line to Agilent Technologies and is refocusing its business on energy-efficient related devices and materials.
Overall, though, manufacturers of test equipment for electronic design applications have weathered the storm, realigning their businesses with the reality of the market and continuing to launch innovative products to cater to the evolving needs of their customers. While economic conditions are improving slowly, their focus on innovation remains strong, and electronic design engineers can expect more from their suppliers in 2010.
Network traffic is expected to increase exponentially over the next few years, as communication service providers aim for a personalized service experience. With mobility gaining importance, the mobile phone industry is required to keep pace with new equipment that would be best positioned to utilize the entire benefit of infrastructure built with new-generation technologies.
The communications industry will bounce back, with support from new technologies such as 3G Long-Term Evolution (LTE), next-generation optical access, wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM), and carrier Ethernet. Thus, the need to develop and test handsets to meet the extreme performance requirements these networks demand will accelerate due to increased deployments of LTE networks. Test solutions will handle increased data rates of up to 326 Mbits/s and provide scalable channel widths, higher spectral efficiency, and MIMO capability as well as low latency.
Semiconductors have always enabled the introduction of more innovative products in the test-equipment market. 2010 will be no exception. Customized chipsets that are required for intelligent consumer and commercial devices offer substantial design capability, and T&M vendors stand to gain considerably from implementing them in their products.
Presently, the market is moving slowly toward onboard FPGAs and programmable logic devices (PLDs) and away from the generation of ASICs and systems-on-a-chip (SoCs). This will enable inline signal processing, which is expected to improve customization and flexibility during the product design stage.
Multicore processors’ foray in the mobile space is likely to prove challenging to T&M vendors in 2010 and beyond. Also, proprietary algorithms in data-converter products are expected to be significant in improving performance.
Additionally, an important factor that governs the growth of a concept or technology is cost. The declining prices of analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) have provided scope for redefining the ways products such as data-acquisition (DAQ) devices are built. In the future, the low prices of ADCs are likely to allow individual channels in a DAQ system to have their own ADC. Moreover, in the same space, the integration of signal conditioning features on DAQ devices is bound to continue, resulting in improved accuracy and ease of use.
Wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth along with USB 3.0 are likely to increase the bit rate of DAQ solu-tions in many applications in aerospace and military end-user markets. Devices enabled with LXI are more likely to be Class A-compliant, as a scalable architecture allows the delivery of distributed measurements to multiple devices for data synchronization, improving the performance of the systems.
Wireless sensor networks (WSNs) permit real-time access to a vast amount of data in DAQ applications. They are now enabling significant improvements in process environments where they are being implemented. Smart energy and renewable energy systems are a couple of the emerging sectors that will benefit. As such, test-equipment vendors that provide solutions capable of addressing the wireless segment are expected to benefit the most.
Other areas with considerable potential include biotech, bioelectronics, nanotech, and new materials. They are likely to make an impact in the next couple of years, bringing about the next wave of innovations. Surely, the T&M industry can leverage technologies that will translate into additional benefits to end users.