Internet of Things (IoT) is about connecting billions of devices to the Internet. It is also about machine learning and monetizing data. Data can deliver value and more data can deliver more value. It is estimated there will be more than 30 billion things or smart objects, the building blocks for IoT, everywhere and always connected.

Ongoing advances in the technologies enabling the IoT are giving way to a wave of new and unimaginable applications for both the consumer and enterprise markets. At the same time, software and services, hardware, and connectivity are evolving rapidly. To fully leverage these advances, IoT devices designers and developers need tools and solutions to help them overcome the complex design and integration challenges, thus enabling their fast and successful development and deployment of IoT devices.

The proliferation of wireless technologies across industries and the need to support complex IoT have created a vast market for novel test and measurement (T&M) instruments. Managing highly connected IoT devices can prove time consuming and expensive without an appropriate test plan. There are rich opportunities in the IoT wireless technologies market for vendors that can offer systems with greater modularity, customization, and software design to aid cost-effective upgrades.

Devices based on these wireless technologies must be characterized, compliance-tested, and checked for quality before reaching an end-user. This level of testing requires highly flexible and customizable test systems that can facilitate automation and cost-effective upgrades.

The global T&M market for IoT wireless technologies is expected to grow at an 11.6 percent CAGR from 2015 to 2020. T&M technical enhancement is moving toward supporting a high-volume production environment and field testing, able to obtain ultra-wideband signals and get data from several integrated wireless devices in parallel for faster multisite test outlines.

From basic social infrastructure to the creation of new value through IoT, safe and secure networks that are easy to connect to anytime and anywhere is vital to a sustainable society.

Measurement Challenges

Significant opportunities will emerge from the RF, MW, and high-speed digital test segments. More signal generators will be needed than function generators and signal analyzers will see higher demand than spectrum analyzers owing to their vector capability. In power meters, complex signals will drive peak power-meter adoption over average power meters.

IoT presents design challenges - some similar and many different from those with smartphones. To serve the diverse nature and needs of IoT applications, numerous wireless technologies and standards have emerged. Varied networks are able to support applications ranging from simple battery-powered sensors to high-bandwidth, mission-critical services for autonomous cars. Devices like a smartphone supporting cellular and non-cellular radio interfaces like NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and LTE. The fact that there are so many standards available for IoT presents a measurement challenge. These standards have many different physical layers, each of which has its own unique RF test requirements. Further complicating matters, each physical layer can potentially support multiple modulation schemes. As an ever-growing number of devices support multiple standards, testing these devices becomes all the more complex.

  • Optimizing and guaranteeing power consumption is a theme for many IoT products. In some installations, battery life may be committed through a service level agreement (SLA) contract. If a product has been designed for a 10-year battery life with bits per day of data exchange, how many over-the-air software updates can be budgeted in the life of a product? A software update could use months of battery capacity. Too many over-the-air updates to resolve defects and security issues could compromise battery life commitments.
  • Network settings can also have a significant effect on battery life. Developers want to understand which settings compromise battery life so that proper network configurations can be used to get specified battery lives.
  • What happens if the cellular network is down? Does the device search repeatedly for the network draining the battery? If the cloud server behaves in an unexpected way and due to a defect polls repeatedly for data, does the device handle well or respond and drain the battery? If the cloud server is down, does the device try to connect and drain the battery or exceed data contract limits?
  • Radio design also needs to be optimized. Good RF and antenna design is needed to get the benefit of deep in building coverage from 164 dB link budgets. Poor RF design can sometimes be masked by the excellent coding redundancy built into technologies like NB-IoT. Making a receiver work hard to decode a weak signal though is a further burden on battery life.
  • Smartphones are closed systems. Designed carefully once, many thousands are produced and each can be the same.
  • IoT applications are more diverse. A well-designed module may be used in many different applications - each possibly with a different antenna, some with a plastic-enclosure, some metal, some on top of buildings, some under the ground, next to girders, next to concrete, or around a person. Designers need to make sure that their products are robust and able to meet customer expectations in a variety of operating environments.
  • Smartphones are designed to include cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi radios. IoT modules may be integrated into products and gateways that include a variety of different standards at a range of frequencies. Designers need to ensure that interference and intermodulation effects are well understood, anticipated, and tested.
  • The cost of failure means that stability and longevity for IoT devices often needs to be much better than smartphones. Products need to be able to run for years unattended without the need to manual reboots. They need to be able to recover themselves when exceptions occur at any point in the software stack. Authentication and cyber security features need to be tested and upgraded. The most secure development approaches today will be defeated in coming years meaning that security patches need to be anticipated. Remote software updates are needed to fix defects and patch security.
  • Each radio and device type will need to follow a specific set of downstream acceptance and production tests. Cellular devices will need to pass certification tests from GCF or PTCRB; many operators have their own acceptance test plans. All devices will need to pass some level of regulatory testing depending on frequency band and region. Many system integrators will run their own acceptance tests to select modules for their systems. As devices move into production, manufacturing test processes ensure that quality is maintained for each device shipped to downstream integrators and customers.

An economically efficient test system provides a core platform by isolating functional components for modulation, demodulation, data movement, and processing. This platform can be paired with appropriate extension to reach the frequency of choice. Such a design allows investing in components that scale across frequencies. It also mitigates the cost associated with serving various applications and accounting for the uncertainty while offering fully conformant test capability.

Modular platforms will continue to lead the charge in test and measurement by providing cost-effective, technology-flexible solutions for the growing complexity of applications using high-frequency technologies.

With heavy investment in research for IoT and the remaining uncertainty around the frequencies that will emerge to support this rollout, it is clear that the challenges manufacturers face today will only grow in scope. Savvy organizations will plan test strategies early through close partnerships with vendors that can offer flexible test platforms supporting long-term product strategies.

Imran Baig

Application Engineer

Keysight Technologies India Pvt. Ltd.

Keysight provides a broad range of tools that accelerate a product's progression from the lab to the production floor on to installation and maintenance. One key benefit of this approach is that the product feedback across the entire lifecycle is based on a shared understanding of the measurements that determine a product's performance.

For designing and simulating new devices. As Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more pervasive, design engineers will face important challenges - maximizing power efficiency, managing electro-thermal effects, and dealing with greater electromagnetic coupling as designs become more compact. Additional hurdles include evaluation and selection of the best technology mix as well as integration of subsystems and verification of performance relative to industry standards.

As design complexity increases, circuit simulation becomes more difficult. Keysight electronic design automation (EDA) software addresses the challenges inherent in communication systems, especially IC and PCB design and simulation for 5G, 802.11xx, BLE, ZigBee, Wi-SUN, and more.

Additional EDA tools from Keysight include Advanced Design System (ADS), Momentum, Harmonic Balance, Circuit Envelope, Ptolemy, GoldenGate Silicon RFIC simulator, and EMPro 3D EM simulation environment. Leading companies across many industries are using these solutions to design, develop, simulate and manufacture RFICs, MMICs, RF modules, boards, and systems. As the design moves from simulation to reality, completed device modules can be substituted into the simulation - real measurements or hardware-in-the-loop replace virtual tools, enabling developers to compare simulated and actual performance. As designs are completed and prototypes built, Keysight's range of lab-grade test equipment ensures measurement continuity.

For measuring and analyzing IoT devices. In the design phase, bench-top instruments such as the X-Series signal analyzers offer high performance, general-purpose capabilities such as swept-tuned spectrum analysis, and comprehensive functionality for signal analysis and troubleshooting. The 89600 VSA software is a tool for digital modulation analysis, and it runs on more than 45 Keysight measurement platforms. In R&D, design validation, and manufacturing, Signal Studio can be used to create custom and standard-compliant test signals for wireless communications formats including the IEEE 802.11 variants, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Wi-SUN.

In addition to these products, a variety of our most recent solutions and configurations are well suited to the development and manufacturing of IoT devices. They include M9420A VXT PXIe vector transceivers, EXM wireless test sets, UXM wireless test sets, T3111A NFC conformance test systems, N6780 Series Source/Measure Units (SMU), and cost-effective RF test solutions.

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