1303 Insight

Mobile Data Is Key Driver for Test Business

For the last few years, the drive for mobile data has spurred on innovation at Agilent Technologies’ Microwave & Component Division, according to vice president and division general manager Andy Botka speaking during a phone interview. Botka, who joined what was then Hewlett-Packard in 1987 as an applications engineer supporting high-frequency component test, said the desire for 24/7 access to mobile data “has really driven an aggressive shift in the way equipment is utilized both in R&D and manufacturing.” Most of the demand comes from the consumer side, he said, although he sees similar requirements arising in aerospace, defense, and public-safety areas.

Andy Botka

Time to market is critical. Consumers want new products now, and Agilent’s customers want to ship sooner to begin extracting profit from their R&D investment. Agilent’s goal, Botka said, is to support customer success with solutions that allow them to quickly gain insights into their designs, minimize risk, and rapidly achieve high manufacturing volumes.

Botka cited the X-Series signal-generator platform as an example of an innovative instrument that is evolving to meet customer needs. In the last year, he said, Agilent engineers have significantly improved parameters such as phase noise and modulation quality. At the same time, he said, Agilent continued to improve its signal analyzers to measure complex signals quickly without instrument-related impairments.

Botka said that he and his peer division general managers have profit-and-loss accountability for the businesses they run, but he added that a lot of drivers are not unique to a product line. Each division maintains its own R&D and other functions, but in addition, he said, “We have common technology development areas funded by all the divisions, and then the output of those technology organizations can be used by any division.” The co-development effort, he said, also helps the company focus on emerging areas not directly addressed by traditional product lines.

As customers’ systems and devices become more reliant on software, Botka said that, across divisions, Agilent’s test equipment mirrors that trend. Agilent’s goal, he said, is to offer hardware platforms in various form factors—such as portable, traditional benchtop, and modular—that software can augment. “We develop robust, high-performance hardware that we can modify using software to get new solutions to market much more quickly and much more gracefully,” he said.

“A great example of that,” he continued, “is the product we introduced on Feb. 8—real-time spectrum-analysis capability on our PXA signal analyzer.” The PXA is the highest performance member of the X-Series family. The new software-enabled capability, Botka said, lets Agilent come to market with a new product while enabling existing PXA customers to upgrade to full RTSA capability, which will allow them to detect short-duration transient signals while continuing to take advantage of the 75-dB spurious-free dynamic range over the entire 160 MHz of demodulation bandwidth of the instrument.

The approach, said Botka, represents “not an end but a beginning for us in terms of entering the market where transient signal analysis will become more and more common. You can expect that as we enhance our platform, this type of analysis and visualization capability will continue to evolve and be available to our customers through software upgrades.”

While the PXA serves as an example of Agilent’s approach to benchtop instrument platforms, the company also offers other form factors. Botka cited the FieldFox Spectrum Analyzer as an example of the company’s portable instruments. It operates to 26.5 GHz, runs on low power, is robust and watertight, and can be augmented with software. In the modular area, the company offers a line of PXI instruments—a recently introduced one being a vector signal generator. In addition, Agilent produces a high-bandwidth arbitrary waveform generator in the AXIe form factor.

Botka sees a continuing drive for more data. He said that during an International Microwave Symposium presentation a couple of years ago he noticed from his own children that teenagers were using data much differently from people of their parents’ generation. “You have an entire generation worldwide that really takes it as a birthright to have unlimited bandwidth,” he said.

“Challenges continue to get more complex, and companies like Agilent that are well versed in underlying technology and have history of being able to create breakthroughs are well positioned to take advantage of that,” he concluded.   

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