Fast changes in the wireless communications domain are revolutionising wireless testing
By EB Bureau
Tuesday, July 10, 2012: The quick developments that are taking place in the wireless communications industry in India are driving growth in the wireless test equipment market. With the increasing number of wireless subscribers, wireless data services, mobile banking, smartphones and social networking apps, the need for testing the devices required for these applications has grown. That, coupled with managing the networks intelligently, has increased the use of test and measurement (T&M) tools. This has not only given impetus to the T&M industry, but has also opened up business and growth opportunities for those in the testing domain.
The communications industry in India is one of the fastest developing sectors in the country and is estimated to become the second biggest international telecom market in the next few years. Currently, the total number of wireless subscribers is 919.17 million (according to a study done in March 2012). This boom has given a boost to the T&M industry in India and is estimated to be one of its prime driving factors in the coming years.
The deployment of long term evolution (LTE) technology will give rise to new challenges like higher data rates. Traffic for mobile data is increasing due to factors like high speed networks; increased penetration of smartphones, laptops, netbooks and tablets; and higher bandwidth that enables the use of newer applications and services. Smart devices have also evolved to the next level and, hence, traffic on such devices is also shifting from voice to integrated voice, video and data. This has created a demand for devices and tools that can test a network’s performance and capacity.
Another driver of the wireless test equipment market is the need to support mobility across different technologies—LTE, 2G, 3G, etc. The rise of location-based services will also drive growth in the test market. A number of technologies come into play for these services, such as Wi-Fi and different satellite technologies. The increase in data rates and bandwidth will drive more demand for wireless test equipment for mobile devices and base stations.
These fast changes in the wireless communications domain are also revolutionising the technology side of the T&M space. Large scale deployments of wireless communication technologies now require more sophisticated service provider networks, which, in turn, require advanced and economical monitoring solutions.
Boost to wireless testing domain
The deployment of the next generation wireless technologies in telecommunications—3G, WiMax, Ethernet, broadband wireless access, fibre to the X (FTTX), long term evolution (LTE), internet protocol (IP) network and convergence concepts —have all boosted the demand for T&M equipment in India. The wireless communications test equipment market is segmented into the markets of base station and air interface testers, mobile station testers, drive testers, cable and antenna testers, and wireless router test equipment.
According to a global report, the global wireless test equipment market generated revenues of Rs 148.8 billion in 2011 and is expected to exceed to Rs 278.4 billion in 2017 with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 11 per cent from 2011 to 2017.
The wireless test equipment market in India has also demonstrated promising growth. Although recent figures are not available, a report by Frost and Sullivan had pointed out that India’s base station and air interface test equipment market generated revenues of US$ 9.29 million in 2011, and the Indian mobile station test equipment market generated US$ 39.98 million in 2011.
“Ever since the evolution of the telecom sector that introduced 3G, broadband wireless access, WiMax, FTTX, LTE, all-IP networks or convergence concepts, there has been an increased demand for test equipment, as the T&M industry plays a very important role in the wireless communications sector. Hence, with the growth of the wireless communications industry, the measurement market will continue to grow in the coming years,” says Sadaf Arif Siddiqui, technical marketing specialist, Agilent Technologies.
After the recession, a drop in procurement was witnessed in 2010, but early 2011 saw a spurt in buying activity. For example, Agilent saw major procurement from equipment manufacturers like Nokia Siemens Networks and Samsung, mobile chipset manufacturers including Qualcomm and Broadcom, and telecom service providers including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone. Rohde & Schwarz, Anritsu, Spirent and Aishwarya Telecom also reported good revenue growth. T&M companies also saw major procurement from government departments and companies procuring general purpose testing equipment. Wireless R&D also contributed 25 per cent of the total procurement of testing equipment.
Despite this growth in the wireless test equipment market, Madhukar Tripathi, manager, telecom sector, Anritsu Pte Ltd, India Branch Office, feels that this growth could have been much more but, “…in India, due to the low cost of the mobile handset and lower average revenue per person, the mobile wireless industry is looking for low cost T&M solutions. Mobile operators are also prepared to invest less on T&M devices and try to save on CAPEX. This pressure leads to lowering the cost of T&M solutions,” he adds.
Need for innovative test devices
The correct choice of T&M devices is essential as it helps wireless operators to maintain time to market (TTM). The utility of T&M equipment depends on the lifecycle of the wireless communications products. Wireless communications systems need research and development (R&D) grade test devices, while the production stage needs stable and faster measurement tools. Adds Madhukar Tripathi, “the field maintenance of wireless networks needs handheld, battery operated T&M devices that can be carried out into the field by an engineer. Getting mains/power in the field is a major issue; hence, field maintenance test devices should have a better battery life.”
The major test devices that are used in this domain include specific protocol analysers, spectrum analysers, signal generators, oscilloscopes, RF analysers, handheld cable and antenna analysers, vector network analysers, etc.
The new wireless technologies are constantly challenging the T&M players to develop innovative tools for testing. Says Sadaf Arif Siddiqui, “Today, the innovative T&M instruments required for the wireless communications industry range from early design and development, through volume manufacturing, to network deployment and service assurance. Our products provide mobile phone designers and manufacturers with increased measurement speeds, improved accuracy and exceptional flexibility for testing mobile devices.”
T&M manufactures are also designing and developing new products with software for automated calculations to meet demand for new wireless communication standards. “IEEE 802.11ac is a new wireless computer networking standard that provides high throughput wireless local area networks (VLAN) below 6 GHz, which includes wider channel bandwidths, more multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) spatial streams (support for up to 8 spatial streams), multi-user MIMO, etc. In order to meet these special requirements, high resolution (100 KHz) spectrum analysers of 8 GHz range, with auto calculations and tracking generator for monitoring channels, is being developed. Also, digital storage oscilloscopes with 200 MHz bandwidth and higher bandwidths to observe real time signals are being used,” shares JK Baldua, director, technical, Scientech Technologies Pvt Ltd.
Although 3G roll out did not live up to the growth expectations of the industry, an increase in 3G subscribers together with the introduction of LTE time division duplex (LTE-TDD) is expected to boost the demand for T&M solutions from operators.
Not only has the constant evolution of networks increased business opportunities and operational efficiencies in the test equipment domain, but existing 2G, 3G products that need to be upgraded to 4G and LTE application requirements also add up to more opportunities ahead for the T&M players.
Opines Sumit Sharma, marketing manager, India, Good Will Instrument Co Ltd, “The test equipment market will continue to grow due to factors like the continuous increase in the number of India’s mobile subscribers. The government’s recent plan to deploy telecom networks in remote areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh will certainly boost the consumption of T&M equipment in this market.”
“Government bodies and private investors entering the wireless communication domain will give a boost to new entrants,” adds Sumit Sharma. Madhukar Tripathi, however, points out, “Growth in the wireless communications domain will no doubt create business opportunities for the T&M players, but since there are already many players in the market, this will lead to tough competition. Growth will, therefore, depend on innovative products, competitive costs and the market scenario.”
In a nutshell, the Indian wireless communication industry has a flourishing future. The pre-set target of the 11th Plan from FY 2007-12 is to provide connectivity to 600 million cellular phones aided by an investment of US$ 74 billion. Moreover, it is estimated that by FY 2012, the profits generated by the Indian communications industry will touch US$ 55 billion against the current US$ 31 billion.
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