The StarLab Multi-Probe testing antenna from Microwave Vision Group takes wireless and 5G testing to new levels.
Continuing with the development of its “Little Big Lab” range of compact and portable antenna testing equipment, Microwave Vision Group (MVG) is using the end of 2019 to showcase the latest in its StarLab line-up at the Antenna Measurement Techniques Association (AMTA) event in San Diego.
With over 15 years of regenerative development, the most recent StarLab product is the result of MVG continually developing its products to meet the antenna testing and measurement requirements of a number of different industries, including automotive, aerospace and defence.
Performing both passive antenna and OTA (Over The Air) measurements, its measurement speed has improved with every new model and its typical dynamic range has evolved to fully support WiFi, LTE and the 5G protocol.
Designed specifically for the telecom, aerospace and defence markets, the third-gener-ation model (StarLab 50 GHz) was initially released in 2017 and superseded its predecessor in order to meet the measurement requirements of 5G high-frequency and millimetre-wave antenna testing. The earlier second-generation model (StarLab 650 MHz -18 GHz) is more aligned towards consumer electronics and telecom industries. The use of such equipment has enabled manufacturers such as Parrot Drones to be able to give preference to actual measurements rather than simulation in order to optimise the design and integration of its antennas.
Commenting on the rise in lab-based antenna testing technology, Arnaud Gandois, Managing Director for MVG Industries says, “The research and development of new and regenerated products is now a vital area of investment for manufacturers, driving the need for testing and measurement devices which are highly-accurate, fast, easy to use and most importantly compact enough for a laboratory environment.”
Gandois goes on to say that throughout the product development stage, designers need the ability to test multiple components in a range of different configurations, quickly and accurately, allowing them to make materials, specification and design changes efficiently enough to ensure a fast time-to-market.
“We are continually evolving our StarLab technology in line with 5G testing challenges which include the usage of higher frequency bands and the absence of physical connectors. It is a compact and portable system for in-lab OTA testing and with three generations of product now in the range, we are able to offer our customers the right StarLab technology according to the products and antennas they are testing,” he says.
The StarLab 50 GHz multi-probe antenna test system is designed specifically to meet the testing challenges of 5G antennas. It measures several parameters of frequencies from 650 MHz to 50 GHz including gain, directivity, beam width, efficiency, radiation pattern, TRP (Total Radiated Power), TIS (Total Isotropic Sensitivity), EIRP (Equivalent Isotropically Radiated Power) and EIS (Effective Isotropic Sensitivity). It operates on antennas sized 45cm diameter or less.
Test for 5G beam forming system
For system level architects and industry test engineers, the availability of 5G has been long waited, allowing more data to be transferred at faster speeds. Unlike previous generations of telecommunications standards, 5G NR (New Radio) mmWave uses dynamically-steerable beams which maximise connectivity by directing as much of the signal toward the device as possible.
These steerable beams are created by phased array antennas and their associated electronics which need to be calibrated and measured in a large number of configurations through advanced OTA tests to ensure connectivity is optimised.
5G technology company, TMYTEK’s product, BBox, fulfils this beam forming function as a development kit built for 5G NR mmWave antenna designers and protocol/algorithm developers. Such systems save time for research groups and product developers who would otherwise need to build up complex circuit systems to achieve the same result.
Because of the crucial nature of its role in the development process, TMYTEK needed to ensure that it was as robust and effective as possible and so approached MVG to work with them on testing BBox using StarLab.
According to Ethan Lin, Vice President at TMYTEK, by the time the company approached MVG, it had already done some simulation testing as well taking part in a number of collaborations with various universities and research organisations.
“Although this was useful at those early stages, we needed to meet the commercial requirement of a faster development cycle and for this there was the requirement to engage in a more efficient and stringent testing regime to provide proof of concept,” says Lin.
Lin goes on to explain that whilst the self-built chambers of universities and research institutes provide an effective testbed, equipment setup and measurement can often be laborious and time intensive, taking anywhere up to hours per test.
“In the case of the MVG’s StarLab 50 GHz, the speed of testing, flexibility and easy-to-use post-processing software makes it one of the most attractive OTA testing options on the market. Tests that were taking us up to 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete at research institutes were completed in 15 minutes or less. As a result, we completed 12 different phase and amplitude configurations of our BBox within four hours, a feat that would be near impossible to achieve elsewhere,” he says.
Testing the BBox
During the testing of the BBox, a set of measurements were performed to obtain the radiation pattern of a 5G NR mmWave phased array under pre-defined configurations.
The DUT (device under test) was a model BBox Lite, consisting of a 4 channel Front-end system in the 28 GHz band, including Phase Shifters, Amplifiers (Tx/Rx), and a 4×1 patch antenna.
The beam forming capabilities were verified by performing radiation pattern measurements for different presets (0° / ± 10° / ± 15°/ ± 25°). Pointing directions and gain were processed using the MVG WaveStudio software bench.
The results confirmed the performance of the BBox and gave valuable insight into the product, significantly speeding up its development process.
Nicolas Gross, Application Director at MVG, worked closely with the team at TMYTEK on the project and believes that both organisations have a strong belief in the ability of 5G to transform the world around us.
“For those developing 5G, having both an effective beam forming option and the ability to perform credible and effective testing is essential,” he says.
5G Beam Forming
The demand for Massive MIMO and the use of array antennas make beam forming a must-have for RF front ends. However, the expense and time cost of implementing beam forming is high. For this reason, the world’s first beam forming development system BBox was tailored to 5G developers to meet their beam forming needs
The BBox development system is highly modularised, making it flexible and suitable for various development tasks with the availability of individual modules according to actual needs which can significantly reduce R&D costs.
The modules are made up of several building blocks including the AA-Kit, ΦA Box, BB Switch, UD Box and BB Brain.
The BBox is suitable for antenna design, RF device testing and baseband developer use. It can also play an important role in production line testing such as beam profiling and beam direction testing.