Long Term Evolution (LTE) is leading the 4G charge into a new era of mobility, changing our lives with innovations that transform everyday items into informational devices. Today’s mobile users are no longer confined to traditional services like voice and text messaging. Most are web surfing, e-mailing, video-conferencing, and accessing productivity tools via their mobile devices.
However, LTE brings new testing and certification challenges. What can manufacturers do to overcome these hurdles?
The mobile revolution
With the advent of social media and interactive online platforms, users of mobile phones and devices are demanding faster connections and increased bandwidth. This demand has already seen data applications surpass voice as the application of choice.
A report from research firm ABI Research shows that mobile data traffic is continuing its rapid increase, forecasting that overall global 4G traffic will have a CAGR of 147.5%, compared to 3G traffic, which has had a CAGR of only 69.6%.
LTE is not just about blazing data speeds, as it ushers in a whole new world of bandwidth-intensive M2M (machine-to-machine) applications. A report from Berg Insight anticipates that the global machine-to-machine market will soar to 359.3 million M2M cellular connections by 2016. For example, one of the biggest automotive companies is already planning to integrate LTE chips within vehicles to provide real-time data on engine performance.
Beyond the West, some of the major companies in the Middle East are now also investing in M2M. For example, the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO) is running a project to develop an integrated digital oil field system that will provide real-time communications between the many wellhead sensors and the centralised control centre.
Fighting for bandwidth
In the USA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocated bands previously used by analogue TV. Carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon are operating on the 700 MHz band, while other US operators are also using the 1800MHz band.
In Europe, the situation is even more complex. Plans are currently underway to close down analogue TV and allocate its 800MHz band for LTE service. This has already occurred in the UK, and has raised concerns about the possibility of interference with Freeview channels that use frequencies very close to those allocated to LTE. Ofcom, the UK regulatory agency, has acknowledged that there will be some interference problems, especially with short-term devices such as alarms that are also close to the 800MHz band.
The 2600 MHz band has already been allocated in Europe. However, some impatient European network operators have joined forces to free up the 1800 MHz band for LTE use in some markets including the UK and Germany, further complicating an already complex situation.
As different frequencies have been allocated for 4G services around the world, this has resulted in a fragmented global market, creating a challenge for mobile device manufacturers. In reality, many phone manufacturers will be compelled to produce phones with certain specific bandwidths due to the limited capacity of their plants and cost efficiencies. For example, a manufacturer may have to produce several versions of one model just to accommodate the different frequencies that the carriers will be able to secure in each country.
For consumers, it means that getting an LTE phone from their preferred carrier may not be an option and will also impact their ability to use roaming services across geographies. It will also impact the services of telecommunication carriers and consumers in the long run.
The LTE Achilles’ heel
Historically, the mobile phone testing process has taken three to four weeks. Despite many of the recent phone models containing up to 40% more RF transmitters, device manufacturers still expect the entire test programme to be completed within the same timeframe so that they can meet product launch targets.
The process to demonstrate a device’s compliance with all applicable regulations and industry standards requires certain specified tests to be carried out, and the results may also need to be checked and verified by an accredited certification body. This can be done in several ways, including on-site testing by a manufacturer’s own staff, testing at local laboratories followed by liaison with the local certification body, or at a test centre where there are project managers and certifiers who can organise and carry out the entire process under one roof. The latter is often seen as the most time and cost efficient option.
In addition, field tests and trials need to be conducted based on accepted standards. The tests must also take into consideration the geographical regions or markets (US, Europe, and Asia) and if there are special requirements or regulatory considerations.
The safety and interoperability of a device, its immunity to interference by electromagnetic fields, and its lack of interference with other devices are also key for effective testing and certification. Aside from these, one of the core requirements is that the device functions correctly (interconnection, roaming etc.) with the different mobile networks across the globe.
The emergence of mobile phones supporting LTE is just the first step of the 4G revolution. As it becomes more ubiquitous, new LTE-based devices and innovations will enter the market, continually altering the way we communicate. In some industries, such as automotive and broadcasting, this is already happening.
However, these technological advances will still rely on robust testing and certification services. In today’s connected Internet era, a design misstep or missed testing deadline can mean the end to months of preparation and expected financial bottom lines. In fact, testing and certification may become the Achilles’ heel of the LTE revolution as not having the right testing and certification partner in place could pose significant business risks.
With time to market pressures for device manufacturers, and the complexity and time constraints involved with LTE testing and certification both increasing, it is vital for manufacturers to choose the right test partner. It is imperative that they have the facilities capable of carrying out the testing and certification process on time, and also have the wealth of expertise required to provide the best advice and services.
Why choose TÜV SÜD
TÜV SÜD is a leader in LTE regulatory testing and certification and has invested a significant amount of financial and technical resources specifically for LTE. Part of this investment was for the acquisition of new test equipment capable of simulating a complete LTE network, thus providing comprehensive LTE test capabilities to cover various markets, including the European Union, Japan, USA and Canada.
To better serve global firms, the company has test centres in the UK, US, Singapore, Japan and a core hub in Hong Kong. TÜV SÜD can also project manage the entire testing and certification process locally, in the appropriate language and time zone – all factors that save time and cost.
TÜV SÜD’s strong expertise and worldwide test and certification facilities can help to mitigate the manufacturing risks associated with LTE. As a tester, certifier or both, the company aims to ensure that tomorrow’s LTE leaders stay competitive today.