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National Instruments, Skyworks prepare for 5G in sub-6 GHz bands

by Martha DeGrasse 6/22/18

The billions of dollars mobile network operators plan to invest in 5G networks will mean nothing to their customers if smartphones can't take advantage of the new network technologies. Creating components for 5G smartphones is a huge opportunity for chip developers, test equipment vendors and software developers.

This week National Instruments said it is working with Skyworks to test power amplifiers and other front-end components designed for 5G mobile devices. The companies are focused on mid-band spectrum rather than millimeter wave.

"We're working on waveforms below 6 GHz," said National Instruments' James Kimery, the company's director of marketing for wireless research. Until now, most of NI's 5G test announcements have been focused on millimeter wave work, but the sub-6 GHz bands are increasingly important to U.S. companies.


Next month the Federal Communications Commission will consider a proposal to make more mid-band spectrum available to the wireless industry. "Headlining the agenda at the FCC’s July meeting is a proposal to make more intensive use of mid-band spectrum from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz, commonly called the C-band," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote in a blog post. "Other countries are looking at this spectrum neighborhood as a prime resource for deploying 5G, and the United States is moving forward here as well."


Skyworks plans to demonstrate its 5G New Radio devices this month at China's GTI Summit.  The company's standards-compliant sub-6 GHz Sky5 platform includes power amplifiers and receive modules with integrated filtering, as well as a cellular vehicular-to-everything front-end module. Skyworks used NI’s software-defined platform to verify RF and DC performance of the portfolio.

National Instruments also announced a partnership with NanoSemi this month to further extend its testing capabilities for RF front-end solutions. NanoSemi has developed linearization software that complements NI’s existing solutions for power amplifier and RF front-end module testing. 

Makers of RF front-end solutions are expected to face competition from mobile chip giant Qualcomm, which says it is the only company that can offer a complete modem-to-antenna solution. Qualcomm's chipsets dominate LTE smartphones, but that does not guarantee Qualcomm the same position in 5G smartphones.

"If you look at 5G there is not a single vendor that has the patent position that Qualcomm has had in the last three generations," said NI's Kimery. Even the smartphone modem chip, which is Qualcomm's stronghold, could be up for grabs in 5G device designs. 

Featured Research: 3.5 GHz spectrum for 5G

Mobile network operators in Europe and Asia plan to deploy 5G in the 3.5 GHz spectrum bands, but will U.S. operators have the same opportunity? Cable network operators, fixed wireless providers, neutral host providers and even private companies are all expected to be buyers of CBRS spectrum, depending on how the FCC auctions play out. 


The latest CBRS market study from iGR Research  provides an explanation of how the CBRS licensing scheme works and how the technical elements of the new band work. This report includes a forecast of the total number of CBRS nodes expected to be deployed in the U.S. through 2022. The forecasted number of nodes is categorized by Outdoor WISP, Outdoor nonWISP, Inside Commercial, and Inside Residential.

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