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Multi-DUT PXI cuts small cell manufacturing cost

Posted: 10 Dec 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:small cell  Multi-DUT testing  PXI  base station  RF verification 

Because base stations expect to receive signals at a time they dictate, one must ensure tight synchronization between the DUT and the signal generator for base station receiver tests. Base station designers can simplify manufacturing tests by providing an output port and a corresponding trigger signal to indicate the start of a frame or similar temporal structure. Then, the signal generator aligns its transmission timing with the DUT's trigger without any need for a time-consuming and error-prone synchronization procedure between the base station and the test equipment. A multi-DUT base station test set should provide input ports for the trigger lines of all DUTs and/or switch between them.

Multi-DUT with PXI
Setting up a multi-DUT test set is relatively straightforward to do with a modular platform such as PXI. "Modularity" in this context refers to a user-defined selection of components where each component – called modular instrument – has a specific purpose. With modular instrumentation, engineers can match test capabilities to their needs much better than with a "one-size-fits-all" traditional instrument.

PXI/PXI Express is one of the most common platforms for modular instrumentation. Since its invention in 1997, PXI has developed into the most prevalent modular instrumentation platform, with over 1,500 modules available from more than 70 vendors. Using PCI bus technology, PXI offers high bandwidth and low latency data transfer to and from instruments, helping to improve test speed.

Example modular instruments include RF signal generators, spectrum analyzers, and – relevant to multi-DUT testing – switches. PXI switches and combiners achieve high analog quality and high density – and are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of the actual measurement instrument.

One of the most significant benefits of PXI multi-DUT testing is the measurement speed allowed by the PXI platform. Here, the combination of a high-speed data bus (PCI express) and highly capable signal processing technologies (multi-core processors) enables PXI instruments to perform most measurements three to ten times faster than traditional instruments.

Conclusion
Driven by demands for improved network capacity, small cell deployments are becoming increasingly popular with network operators. Consequently, small cell base station vendors are required to increase their manufacturing test throughput and to lower their cost of test. Higher test throughput and lower test cost require new test approaches in the wireless infrastructure industry. Multi-DUT testing helps engineers to improve test equipment utilization and, in turn, throughput and cost.

PXI offers many benefits for small cell testing and its modular architecture lends itself well to the multi-DUT approach. TestStand is a test executive that provides features such as multi-threading and auto-scheduling to make use of the hardware capabilities.

Setting up a multi-DUT test stand is not for free – it takes some additional hardware, perhaps software upgrades, and test designers must exercise more care in writing their tests – but the speed and throughput benefits far outweigh the slight increase in upfront effort.

About the author
Thomas Deckert is a Senior Systems Engineer at National Instruments.


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