The evolution of networks from 2G to 3G and now to 4G has resulted in an increase in the technological complexity for handset testing and equipment companies. With the advent of 2G-and 3G- enabled handsets, antenna configurations used to be simpler and data protocols could be tested in a lab. However, the test instruments for evaluating 4G smartphones need to match the transmitting and receiving characteristics such as signal fading and multipath. In this context, over-the-air (OTA) testing has emerged as the preferred T&M method for 4G devices.
Handset testing has also evolved from manual to automated testing systems. Earlier, when the number and types of handsets were few, manual testing was the preferable option. Over time, with the increase in the number and variety of handsets, the preference has shifted towards automated testing. The reason for this shift is the high efficiency and reliable results of automated testing.
Additionally, the change in handset dimensions over time has also led to a change in the process of handset testing. Earlier, there used to be feature phones that were very heavy and consisted of multiple components on multiple printed circuit boards (PCBs). In stark contrast, smartphones today are sleek and slender in design, thereby requiring a totally different and more complex testing process.
Further, the time-to-market for handsets has come down considerably. This means that the market witnesses a new launch every other day. Currently, there are thousands of different smartphone models, each comprising different features, designs and functions, and thus requiring different handset testing techniques.
Given the surge of smartphones in the country in the last few years, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has made the testing and certification of mobile phones (including 2G, 3G, CDMA and 4G) mandatory. To this end, DoT had proposed rolling out a mandatory testing and certification of telecom equipment regime of handsets in the country, under which about 70 top mobile brands (represented by The Mobile Association [TMA]) would have to start mandatory testing of mobile phones by October 1, 2018. However, in a recent letter to DoT, TMA has requested for extending the deadline by one year, on account of “lack of infrastructure, limited test labs, final portal not ready and the absence of a single window for certification”. As per TMA, a hurried roll-out of the new equipment regime for mobile phones would affect sales during the upcoming festive season. The manufacturers also believe that implementing such a regime immediately may impact their local manufacturing costs.
Challenges and solutions
A key challenge in handset testing is the synchronisation of input and output (I/O) into a single test system. The modern handsets have multiple I/O including radio frequency (RF) front ends for receiving various cellular communications, connectivity and navigation standards’-specific signals. In order to test such a complex device, a multiple RF I/O tester is required.
Secondly, continuous development of the handset design and features calls for a complementary upgrade in the T&M of handsets. Quick upgradation of hardware is extremely challenging from both a time and cost perspective. Manufacturers should look at software-centric test architecture for a faster upgradation and reduced costs.
The way forward
Emergence of newer and advanced technologies is keeping handset manufacturers on their toes as they have to keep on innovating and delivering the best quality devices to consumers. This, in turn, creates challenges as well as opportunities for test developers. While the testing methodology has advanced significantly over the years, the quality and performance standards have also become more complicated/cumbersome and stringent.