Role of Communication Extenders in 6G Testing

Feb 26, 2024

The validation of the concept lies in its practical implementation – this underscores the importance of 6G testbeds in advancing towards the upcoming era of wireless networks. Since the inception of mobile telecommunications, the evolutionary trajectory of wireless communication technology has been nothing short of rapid over the last four decades. The advent of 6G is poised to elevate mobile communications to unprecedented levels, transcending conventional cellular devices and applications.

The consideration of wide bandwidths at mm-wave frequencies for 6G opens up avenues for the transfer of massive data volumes, surpassing the capabilities of current 4G and 5G networks. Within this spectrum, communication extenders emerge as pivotal components in 6G testbeds, facilitating the essential function of frequency up/down conversion.

Advancements in research for 6G wireless networks introduce cutting-edge technologies designed to support novel applications and enhance the energy efficiency of the network. Testbeds play a vital role in validating these innovations under more realistic conditions. 

Key Aspects of 6G Testbeds and Industry Response

The development of sub-terahertz communication, a cornerstone of 6G, relies on a comprehensive understanding of electromagnetic wave propagation properties. Research on channel propagation measurements above 100 GHz becomes essential in this relatively unexplored frequency range, where propagation is influenced by human bodies, vehicles, and environmental conditions like rain. The refinement and validation of existing 5G channel models become imperative to accurately reflect environmental impacts, emphasizing the crucial role of innovative and precise THz measurement instruments in advancing 6G research.

A flexible test environment remains critical for 5G signal generation and analysis research, addressing a myriad of real-world scenarios. A 'testbed' is defined as an experimental environment where tests can be conducted over real propagation channels, utilising real hardware, and potentially operating in real-time. Its primary functions include complementing and strengthening theoretical work by validating concepts in more realistic conditions 6G testbeds emerge as the necessary infrastructure to facilitate research and testing of candidate technologies and architectures as well as evaluation of 6G use cases.

The mmWave Test & Measurement industry is actively responding to the demands of 6G THz communication, providing both existing and novel measurement and testing solutions for signal generation and analysis. This industry contributes substantial expertise in test and measurement, offering innovative solutions that pave the way for the next generation of wireless communication. Notably, research activities predominantly focus on the D band, currently considered one of the most promising frequency candidates for 6G.

Key characteristics of these testbeds include the ability to facilitate various mm-wave research, offering large bandwidth, incorporating off-the-shelf and/or custom components, providing independent transmitter and receiver functionalities, ensuring easy user access, enabling real-time extensions, and maintaining scalability to meet future requirements.

Testbed Categories: Addressing Real-World Scenarios

6G Testbeds can be distinguished by their scope and intention and a typical 6G system architecture could exist out of several connected edge computing nodes (core network), which coordinate one or multiple contact service points (access network) and perform joint signal processing. To delve into the distinct challenges posed by 6G research, encompassing varied scales, aims, and performance metrics, we categorize different testbeds based on their scope and intention. Figures 1-3 provide an overview of these diverse stages, accompanied by a common architecture.

PtP Communication Link Evaluation Testbed

Figure 1. PtP Communication Link Evaluation Testbed

6G operation at mm-wave frequencies necessitates an in-depth examination of point-to-point (PtP) link functionality to assess emerging hardware architectures, like reconfigurable tile-based antenna arrays. This phase of the testbed facilitates the exploration of various beamforming architectures, including analogue or hybrid approaches, as well as the investigation of antenna positioning and layout at both the base station (BTS) and user equipment (UE). Considering the potential proximity of users in the near-field, there is a need to develop and test novel wavefront designs in real-world scenarios. PtP mm-wave communication experiments fall within this testbed category. Furthermore, this stage allows for the exploration of new fronthaul technologies aimed at connecting the distributed access network and core network.

Channel Sounding Testbed

Significant distinctions arise among microwaves, mm-waves technology. The sub-terahertz and terahertz (THz) range introduces unique challenges for semiconductor components, necessitating additional channel-sounding campaigns to formulate novel channel models tailored for even higher frequencies.

Figure 2. Channel Sounding Testbed

Real Life Signal Processing Testbed

The transition to a distributed deployment in 6G demands innovative methods to address the geographical dispersion of signal processing resources and the densification of networks. A comprehensive 6G testbed must encompass both offline and real-time signal processing capabilities. Offline processing involves recording data over a specific time interval for subsequent analysis, providing the flexibility to develop and assess a diverse array of signal processing algorithms. Conversely, real-time processing facilitates system measurement and testing in rapidly changing environments. Moreover, the signal processing testbed (refer to Fig. 3) can serve as a system-level tester for hardware solutions related to specific function blocks, including digital signal processors, data converters, and communication extenders.

Figure 3. Real-life Processing Testbed

Unlike channel sounding testbeds (refer to Fig. 2), real-life signal processing testbeds (refer to Fig. 3) do not necessitate detailed knowledge of the propagation channel, such as angle-of-arrival. Instead, they are tailored to examine end-to-end communication performance, focusing on aspects like the network's energy efficiency. These testbeds facilitate real-time signal processing to assess algorithms that demand instantaneous interaction between the network and user equipment (UEs), a capability not achievable through offline methods.

Advancing 6G Testing: Exploring Communication Extenders with Farran

Farran’s FCE-XX family of communication extenders stand out as highly economical and cost-effective means to enhance the frequency performance of mm-wave signal analysis systems. In the evolving landscape of 5G and 6G networks, the utilisation of frequency up/down conversion can significantly reduce time-to-market and costs of product development. Farran’s FCE-XX extenders boasts seamless compatibility with industry-leading test and measurement equipment from major OEMs, including Rohde & Schwarz, Keysight and National Instruments, among others. This ensures a reliable and efficient integration into your testing setups, allowing for precise and accurate measurements with the trusted performance of renowned equipment providers.

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