With a little history and a bit of mystery, National Instruments (NATI) has been working hard to build anticipation for its newest test instrument for mobile device makers and chip designers. Today’s release of the world’s first RF vector signal transceiver was literally an unveiling – the launch was proceeded by an advertising campaign that showed a veil covering an unknown product (the mystery) and a reference to the company’s LabView product that “redefined instrumentation” 26 years ago (the history).
The NI PXIe-5644R combines a vector signal generator and vector signal analyzer into one PXI instrument. It’s a software-based product that can be programmed in the field by the user. “It is a much more empowering view of what you should expect out of your instrumentation,” says Luke Schreier, NI’s senior group manager for automated test. “The idea of fixed functionality has changed to where software personalizes everyone’s experience. We see instrumentation going the same way.”
Schreier says that 26 years ago, NI’s LabView software began to change the testing process from a vendor-defined experience to a user-defined experience. “This product takes that a step further by not just allowing you to customize this software, but change the way the instrument works…by changing the firmware,” he says. “When you’re doing very complicated measurement … sometimes you need the additional performance of making measurements in the hardware.”
National Instruments says the NI PXIe-5644R will help chip designers and device makers cut time-to-market by spending less time on the testing process. “Qualcomm (QCOM) is already using it to see major improvements; tests that traditionally took maybe a month to get done can now be done in about a day,” says senior product manager Matt Friedman.
Time-to-market has never been more important, says BrightPoint’s (CELL) chief marketing officer Larry Paulson. “If a manufacturer misses a buying peak like back-to-school or Christmas, it’s like missing a whole half-year.”
Paulson also notes that testing is an increasingly important part of the total cost of a mobile device. He says that the jump from testing devices for 2G/3G networks to testing for LTE/multimode networks has led to an increase in overall device testing cost of 200%-300%. “That scale will peak at some point and then start to ease itself back down,” says Paulson, adding that he does not think the peak has been reached yet.
National Instruments says it wants to help manufacturers control both costs and testing time. The company says the NI PXIe-5644R is ideal for testing both LTE and 802.11ac. “802.11 ac is the new hot standard that we expect in … devices by Christmas,” says Friedman.
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