New Catalysts at Work
The granular QoS needs of today’s app and smartphone-savvy users are driving demand for more sophisticated test sets
The test and measurement (T&M) segment is finally seeing signs of receiving the attention that has mostly eluded it. At least two key factors are likely to make that happen: one, an apps-driven mobile data growth is raising the bar for user experience; and two, the telecom regulator is trying to ensure that the service quality benchmarks are treated in a more sacrosanct manner than they have been so far.
These twin factors alone have the potential to redefine the way stakeholders in the telecom service and supply chains approach their investments in T&M. These stakeholders include, but are not limited to the telcos themselves; the network infrastructure vendors which also are the telecom managed service providers; the various integration and field testing partners; and the growing tribe of handset as well as telecom equipment manufacturers in India.
New QoS needs
While there has been a continued growth in the mobile subscriber base in India, the service providers have not been able to keep pace on the infrastructure deployment front, on account
of various reasons outside the purview of this segment analysis. As a result, quality of service (QoS) issues have at times got escalated to the extent that the sector regulator and even the erstwhile telecom minister got involved.
In a recent report, Telecom Regulatory of Authority (TRAI) criticized telcos for not meeting call drop benchmarks. The telecom body observed that most of the telecom operators barring a few, failed to meet call drop benchmarks in Delhi, where a test drive was done to ascertain the quality of mobile services. The regulatory body even asked for more powers so that it may impose penalties on the erring firms.
Some of the leading telcos have responded positively by stepping up their investments in the networks. This included increased efforts to improve the signal quality and to better calibrate the various network equipment and elements as per the availability and quality of network and spectrum resources in a given telecom service area.
Moreover, as the number of smartphones on the network grows, so does the usage of a wide range of mobile apps. Now, this introduces a QoS requirement for the network which is very different from the erstwhile era when applications were mostly voice- and SMS-based and the devices were mostly feature phones. This is simply because not all apps are made equal, which means that they also have different expectations from the network when it comes to delivering the user experience that they were designed to deliver.
In other words, the network now needs to be calibrated to meet the differing needs of various apps (as opposed to the earlier days when it sufficed to meet the QoS requirements for voice and SMS, mostly that is). Clearly, the QoS game has changed now, and the T&M equipment and skillset requirements are much more sophisticated as well.
To add to the complexity, the number of co-existing networks has also gone up. Service providers need to test the various mobile devices, also on multiple networks such as 2G, GPRS, EDGE, 3G, LTE, LTE-A, Wi-Fi, and so on. T&M is no longer an area where even a small compromise would do.
Vendors in the fray
The key T&M vendors in India include Keysight Technologies, Rohde & Schwarz, Anritsu, National Instruments, Tektronix, Yokogawa India, Spirent Communications, among others.
Keysight Technologies: It revamped its equipment renewal program to provide expanded opportunities for its customers to upgrade equipment. Some of the notable test sets offered by Keysight include the EXM, UXM and Field Fox ranges. The company is positioning the EXM test sets for manufacturing; UXM for design and manufacturing of 4G, 8960 for 3G services and Field Fox for installation and maintenance of RF products. On the LTE-A front, the company was reportedly working primarily with chipset vendors during the year.
Rohde & Schwarz: The Germanybased company is another important player in the T&M space. Its core competency has always been on providing technically advanced solutions catering to the different segments of the market, be it R&D, calibration, production or maintenance. The company’s latest portfolio of solutions boasts of products which are low on capex but high on quality and expandability.
The company recently introduced its SmartMonitor solution for real-time, service quality monitoring, which the company claims can be accomplished on a plug-and-play basis. As part of its offerings to tap into the opportunities that have emerged from the LTE deployments, Rohde&Schwarz launched a conformance testing solution for LTE-U. The company said it also supports 4×4 multiple-input, multiple-output testing with its new Romes drive testing platform, which is also integrated with the newly announced Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphones.
The company has over 9,000 employees globally and recently appointed Christian Leicher as its new global CEO.
National Instruments (NI): NI has announced an early access technology platform for time-sensitive networking, and would be working with the Industrial Internet Consortium and several networking and chipset bigwigs, including Cisco, Bosch Rexroth and Intel, on a new
time-based test bed for IoT networks.
Others: Anritsu has taken a significant step by collaborating with Qualcomm to demonstrate 1 gigabit per second throughput speeds using the latter’s Snapdragon X16 modem, leveraging three component carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO and 256 quadrature amplitude modulation.
Tektronix too is expanding its base in the country. The company’s products and services are used in various applications in diversified industries like computing, embedded systems design, RF testing, and video testing, among others.
India is expected to become the secondlargest market for smartphones, after China, going forward. This ongoing surge in smartphones is expected to further drive the demand for wireless test equipment.
Also, as telcos will continue to migrate from 3G to 4G networks, the demand for T&M equipment will continue to be there, as telcos would be investing significantly in improving their network quality and enhancing their coverage.
The opportunity in the handsets manufacturing segment is also likely to increase as players such as Samsung, Micromax, Intex, Karbonn and Lava grow their local manufacturing capacities. While handsets manufacturing in India is still mostly limited to assembly of semiknocked down components, the degree of sophistication is expected to rise in future as handset vendors move closer to fuller-scale manufacturing within the country.
Local manufacturing of telecom infrastructure equipment is also seeing some tailwinds, thanks to the Make in India program, coupled with demandside accelerators like Smart Cities and the wider gamut of Digital India programs. While gear-making facilities are not as easy to come by as the handset making ones, there still have been pockets of development.
Ericsson has long been present in India, and has manufacturing units in Jaipur, Pune and Hyderabad, among others. The Swedish gear maker is also expanding into manufacturing of other data networking equipment for enterprise networks and data centers. Nokia’s investments in telecom manufacturing are relatively more concentrated in its Chennai plant.
Huawei’s Sriperumbudur unit has been manufacturing equipment for exports to China, Asia Pacific region and the Middle East. Its request for a Domestic Tariff Area (DTA) status to cater to domestic market was also cleared, which paves the way to further step up local manufacturing.
Though in early stages at present, internet of things and machine-to-machine networks are also expected to drive a long-term growth for the T&M segment in the country.