SAF Spectrum Compact for 5G Network
5G networks are here. US carriers are all moving ahead with their 5G network rollouts. Verizon currently has more than 10 cities turned up and planning to go live by the end of 2019. Early user testing shows promising yet mixed results. Watch WSJ’s Joanna Stern entertaining and informative review on the service 🡥.
Joanna’s video and accompanying article point out many technical challenges carriers and handset manufacturers will face. I will focus more on the carrier side as it more relates to millimeter-wavelength (24-40 GHz) base station deployment. The wide channel bandwidths at these frequencies are key to achieving the promised data rates of 5G. The challenge is that these frequencies are easily attenuated and blocked by almost everything we encounter in the real world: glass, moisture, wood, brick, concrete, foliage, and more, as Ms. Stern points out.
For many decades the US carriers have operated in frequencies that range from 600 MHz to 2.7 GHz. The propagation characteristics of these signals are well known, and in all but the toughest network quality issues of service can be managed remotely from a network operations center (NOC).
How well do the carriers understand millimeter waves?
As these deployments current live tests have shown, I think the answer is not all that well. To grow new networks to maturity, the contractors and carriers will have to do extensive physical layer testing and evaluate the frequency coverage on the ground. I don’t believe there’s any way around that.
Various tools on the market can be used for a walk and drive physical layer testing for this type of work. Some criteria for evaluating this gear should include the functionality, size, form factor/weight, and cost, not necessarily in that order. The established players in this market offer fully-featured toolsets that range from somewhat portable to quite uncomfortable and cost anywhere from $50k-$150k per toolset.
This pricing isn’t unfair, considering the wide-ranging capabilities of these spectrum analyzers. Given the need for extensive physical layer testing, often requiring technicians to walk a sector, the form factor and cost of these toolsets will prove daunting. Much of the functionality found in these tools will rarely if ever, be used.
How expensive Spectrum Analyzer Kits are?
Most of these kits require an operator to wear a heavy, large backpack or chest harness. For extensive testing, this is very hard physical work on the operator. In urban areas, the setup can draw a lot of bystander attention ranging from curiosity to outright concern. Lastly, if the cost for each kit is $75k, the cost to equip 30 network engineers is stunning, over $2M!
The World’s First Handheld Microwave Spectrum Analyzer
SAF Tehnika developed a smartphone sized 24-40 GHz spectrum analyzer named Spectrum Compact to solve this specific problem. Spectrum Compact packs all the essential features needed to perform physical layer testing. The original concept was designed specifically for tower work, so a comfortable and lightweight form factor was a key design consideration.
It powers up and is ready to measure in a matter of seconds. The analyzer works well in a variety of conditions, including rain and extreme temperatures. For post-processing analysis, the onboard recording can retain hundreds of hours of data. The UI is intuitive and simple to learn.
To top it all off, the tool and all the required accessories cost a fraction of what the other solutions do, enabling the carriers and their contractors to do more with their capital investment.