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Keysight: Taking 5G beyond the smartphone

Keysight says it has supported the development of about 75% of 5G devices

Pandemic notwithstanding, the march toward 5G is so far continuing at a rapid clip across the industry, with new networks launched since the beginning of the year, a surge of available devices and continued progress toward Standalone implementations.

Keysight Technologies began investing in 5G early, and RCR Wireless News spoke with Satish Dhanasekaran, president of Keysight’s Communications Solutions Group, for perspective on how 5G, and Keysight’s strategic approach to the technology, have evolved.

“Keysight first began working on 5G in 2013; it was pre-standards, and all the work we did was to set up our platforms for this inflection. Traditional thinking in the design and test industry was that it was too early,” said Dhanasekaran.

“Our view of 5G transcends the technology-centric view,” he continued. “Even though technology is at the

Satish Dhanasekaran, president of Keysight’s CSG

center of what we do, we have a broader vision – that 5G will enable the connectivity fabric of the new digital economy. Our position has played out in many countries of the world that are mandating stricter latency and reliability requirements across their nation-wide networks. The unprecedented crisis caused by coronavirus is surfacing the need for the capacity and performance of these networks. We are even getting a preview of new use cases, such as remote diagnostics for the medical industry, that will help keep our courageous first responders, doctors, and nurses safe through this pandemic.

“That vision has been building, and had we had Mobile World Congress this year, we would have started to see not just smartphone devices increase—as we were expecting—but also a significant uptick in activities related 5G use cases beyond the smartphone.”

Dhanasekaran said that Keysight’s solutions have supported the development of around 75% of the several hundred 5G devices that have already been announced, from early in the design process to the validation and conformance phases.

“This year’s MWC would have been about showcasing 5G at scale,” Dhanasekaran added.  “We had planned launches of many new design and test solutions that are currently enabling our customers’ emerging needs. Many of these solutions were developed with software intellectual property that Keysight has acquired through its purchases of Anite, AT4 Wireless, Prisma, and Ixia. Those additions,” Dhanasekaran said, “have really enabled us to offer a complete stack solution for our customers. Keysight is unique in its ability to offer solutions to the entire communications ecosystem – from chipsets to devices to network equipment manufacturers to service providers and enterprises such as automotive. 5G upgrades the technology stack of all the companies in the ecosystem and our solutions offer these companies a time-to-market advantage.”

Dhanasekaran said that the end-to-end approach enables Keysight’s solutions to become what he called the “connectivity glue.” In the case of an automotive company exploring 5G for vehicles, he explained that company may want to conduct certain 5G technology tests, but it would also be working with a chipset manufacturer and a module maker.  “We’re uniquely positioned to connect that workflow, which offers a compelling time-to-market advantage not to mention reduced project risk” he said, and even though MWC 2020 didn’t happen, Keysight is “currently helping customers realize these benefits in the marketplace.”

Keysight has recently launched solutions including LoadCore, which simulates real-world subscriber models for a Standalone 5G Core (5GC); benchmarking tools for 5G device performance assessment before such devices go to market; a new signal analyzer with millimeter wave support, for design validation and manufacturing; plus a security operations platform and testing for validation of open Radio Access Network radios, among others. The company saw record growth in the first quarter of this year, driven in part by its investments in supporting the growing 5G ecosystem.

For all the list of recent product releases, however, Dhanasekaran says that Keysight’s products only define so much of what the company does. “We see many innovators building their IP to differentiate their offerings for the long run,” he said. “Our solutions offer this advantage, because our platforms are designed to customize our products and capabilities to better address our customers’ specific needs.”

One project that he highlighted was Keysight’s work to create the industry’s first commercial 5G security testbed, leveraging its broad portfolio to do so. “We have the capability to emulate a 5G network in the lab. We combine that with our user-equipment (UE) emulation capability, which means we can, using our software-defined radio platform, emulate the traffic from 1000’s of 5G devices (UEs) running on a network with live channel conditions in a lab. Now, combine all of this with our Ixia network security toolkit, which enables us to emulate different traffic patterns that simulate real-world vulnerabilities,” Dhanasekaran said. That test bed is receiving broad customer interest, as engineers are preparing the world with more secure communications systems, he added.

“5G standards improve security issues that existed with 4G networks. But the threat surface in 5G systems is much larger because you could have billions of connections of machines on the network and a much wider variety of use-models. How do you look at the attack surface and identify where the vulnerabilities are coming from? How do you simulate that in a lab so that you understand how your 5G system will behave? This is a major challenge that is getting more attention. Up until now, there has been no way to characterize it – to measure it. Keysight decided to solve that problem.”

Asked about Keysight’s perspective on Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology, Dhanasekaran said that there is a “considerable amount of innovation remaining in the spectrum space.

“From the work that we have done, we see huge economic value in implementing dynamic sharing of spectrum,” he continued. “This is particularly important as mobile network operators work through the transition from legacy to new technology. Operators with significant spectrum committed to LTE have to gracefully manage the transition from 4G use to 5G use of that spectrum. You can imagine this will vary, even by community, over time while 5G user equipment becomes more available and 5G-related use-models evolve over time from being novelty to mainstream. The 3GPP’s dynamic spectrum sharing standard allows for real-time adjustments of a single 20-megahertz channel between LTE and 5G use. The system can make decisions on how much spectrum to devote to each depending on what types of UEs are active in the system and which use-models prevail. Are there technical issues in deployment? Operators will have to work with [network equipment manufacturers]to ensure schedulers make the most efficient use of their spectrum, but I think resolving such challenges is part of the innovation we see. Re-farming of spectrum, allowing for dynamically moving between 4G and 5G, will be very valuable to many operators who have already invested heavily in developments of existing 4G spectrum.”

Whether an operator chooses to go with DSS or tackles the 4G/5G transition a different way is dependent on their overall strategy, he added. “It’s all about an operator’s strategy for a particular region and technical deployment, what maximizes their average revenue per user, and what gives them the most flexibility on the network,” Dhanasekaran said. “I don’t know that DSS will be the default condition everywhere.  We have collaborated with a number of customers globally, including Qualcomm and Samsung, to help design this capability with robustness. “

In its testing tools, Keysight is already supporting the shift toward Standalone 5G deployments. Asked about his views on when the industry is likely to move in that direction, Dhanasekaran said that “Rel-15 standards are ready, so it can be done.  But I think a realistic roadmap for the industry means that NSA with a 4G core is a good starting point for most operators.” But, he added, “For use cases beyond the smartphone, Standalone becomes a necessity. It simplifies network topology, the realization of benefits of network slicing and much better latency amongst other attributes. However, depending on the operator’s strategy and business outlook, they may sequence technology deployments differently.”

But the largest early deployments thus far are sub-6 GHz and NSA-based, and he estimates within the next 18 months, “we will see a bigger push to SA.” However, he acknowledged that the pandemic has injected an element of uncertainty in 5G progress.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an open question on how this global disruption will impact 5G adoption,” Dhanasekaran said. “We are under an unprecedented medical, economic, and political situation that is playing out around the world, and our hearts go out to everyone that is impacted. At Keysight, we have directed our resources to help our customers in essential services such as healthcare along with taking proactive steps to keep our teams globally safe. In our view, this is an opportunity for the technology industry to do more to help global communities. 5G adoption can help medical, manufacturing, and financial industries with many innovations for remote, flexible communications. It can help the global economy because many of us are dealing with connectivity issues with prolonged working from home. Governments of the world may seek to accelerate 5G adoption to help fast-track the recovery process.”

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