Electronic Design

Meeting The 3G Test Challenge

The success of a 3G design will be as good as and heavily dependent upon the available test and measurement equipment. As higher frequencies are used and more complex designs become the norm, the challenge to test equipment will increase. How does one test for compliance of a modern W-CDMA phone? What equipment does one have available that allows testing microwave outputs and data-transmission standards such as GPRS to make sure that all protocols and error rates are met?

Additionally, EMI/RFI testing is a major requirement to meet FCC regulations. Designers will have to search for newer and better test equipment to meet these needs. Signal generators, spectrum analyzers, protocol analyzers, field-strength meters, and other specialized pieces of equipment will be needed. While the cost of this equipment continues to escalate because of its complexity for dealing with multiple frequencies, modes, and protocols, that cost will be a necessary investment in order to achieve successful 3G designs.

Perhaps the most important new pieces of test equipment are those designed specifically for 3G phone and networking testing. Special test sets for GSM, TDMA, and CDMA protocols are becoming available. Protocol analyzers are particularly important to test high-speed packet data functions like GPRS and EDGE. Test-equipment leaders such as Tektronix and Agilent Technologies now have full lines of generic RF test equipment and many new 3G test products.

Typical of the available advanced test gear is Tektronix's K1297 Protocol Tester and K1205 Signaling Protocol Analyzer (see the figure). Both now have software support for the GPRS data-transmission system that's being introduced in 2.5G phones and will continue to be used in some 3G phones. This complex protocol with many interfaces is a "bear" to test. Steve Stanton, Tektronix's product manager for spectrum analyzers, states that "one of the greatest challenges for 3G engineers is testing for manufacturing and testing the multiple standards that will exist."

Other test-equipment manufacturers also are paying attention to the 3G market. One company, TAS, was founded on the principle of creating sophisticated test equipment to meet 3G communications needs. In addition, Credence Systems Corp., a manufacturer of ATE systems for chips, recently purchased Modulation Instruments Inc., a manufacturer of leading-edge cellular handset and basestation RF test systems.

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