I’ve talked before in this column about what it was like to be the new products editor of an electronics technology magazine back in the early 90s. Because the Internet wasn’t the Internet yet, companies needed to get their word out by doing “press tours”—visiting all the electronics magazine staffs in person—most of us in here in the northeast corner of the US where the major trade publishing firms were headquartered. Test equipment press tour meetings were particularly memorable because they had to lug their newly announced oscilloscopes and such with them and unpack them, plug them in, do a 30-minute demo for me and then pack them up again. The technology to replace all that with a Zoom conference call was far away at that point.
For me, talking with test equipment vendors wasn’t only about the instrumentation products themselves. I quickly realized that makers of test gear had a unique perspective on where electronics technology was heading. In order to keep pace with the speeds of the signals they were testing, these companies constantly had to make sure they had the fastest analog-to-digital converters embedded in their latest and greatest oscilloscopes and analyzers. Moreover, test equipment companies continually serve the market comprised of engineers that research the next generation of any electronics protocol—whether it be a computing serial bus, a wireless protocol or a cellular standard. With that in mind, I made an effort, when these companies came to visit, to get their insights on “what’s next.”
Fast forward to today, and that “forward looking” aspect of test equipment firms hasn’t changed. Exemplifying that, these companies are looking at 6G communications. And while it may seem strange to be talking about 6G while 5G has only relatively recently come online throughout the world, it is the nature of engineering to look ahead to the next thing.
For its part, National Instruments (NI) rolled out a real-time sub-terahertz (THz) software defined radio (SDR) for 6G research as far back as two years ago. The SDR is built on NI’s mmWave Transceiver System (MTS) and Virginia Diodes’ (VDI) radio heads. Using VDI radio heads, the frequency range of the MTS can extend into the sub-THz range. Users can leverage existing software reference designs for channel sounding or wireless communications protocols to create a real-time testbed for 6G research, says NI. In April, NI announced joining ATIS’ Next G Alliance as a founding member. The Next G Alliance initiative seeks to advance North American mobile technology leadership in 6G by building on the long-term evolution of 5G over the next decade.
Keysight Technologies offers a 6G sub-THz R&D testbed demo. The demo showcases Keysight’s R&D wideband millimeter wave testbed which addresses the bandwidth and performance demands for 6G research, says the company. The demo features an arbitrary waveform generator (AWG) to generate a wideband intermediate frequency (IF) which is upconverted to the D or G-band. The testbed can used for 6G waveform prototyping and testing; 6G sub-THz R&D hardware testing and signal generation for both 6G wideband D-band (110-170GHz) and G-band (140-220GHz).
Keysight says it expects that 6G will offer download speeds approaching 1 terabit per second, 1μs latency and unlimited bandwidth. It sees 6G enabling ingenious ways for people to interact with their surroundings, including instantaneous communication, connected robotics and autonomous systems and wireless artificial intelligent (AI) interactions.
In the intro of a whitepaper entitled “5G evolution— on the path to 6G” by Rohde & Schwarz it is pointed out that 5G Phase 1 deployments have started only recently, and releases beyond the Release 15 version 3GPP (5G Phase 1) will continue to tap into the tremendous potential of 5G. However, says Rohde & Schwarz, since a new generation of cellular technology typically appears every 10 years, 6G can be expected around 2030. It says 6G could offer high-fidelity holograms, multi-sensory communications (like touch, taste and/or smell), THz communications and pervasive AI.
The days of routine, in person press tours may be gone, but clearly test equipment companies are still leading information sources when it comes to emerging next gen technologies like 6G.
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE• JUNE 2021 #371 – Get a PDF of the issue