The telecom test and measurement (T&M) industry has benefited immensely from the rapid evolution of communications networks. The shift from voice-only networks to integrated networks comprising voice, video and data made it imperative for telecom operators to adopt advanced T&M solutions in order to deliver superior quality of service and network coverage to their customers.
The next wave of growth in the telecom T&M market is being driven by the proliferation of connected devices equipped with advanced wireless capabilities. The emergence of internet of things (IoT) as a key revenue generating strategy for all major telecom operators has created new business opportunities for the T&M industry as well. Operators need advanced testing solutions that can validate the performance of every constituent device in the IoT value chain in order to reduce the costs associated with product malfunctions, repairs, replacements, product call backs and repeat production. The aspects of IoT architecture that need to be tested are its usability, energy requirements, security, connectivity, performance, compatibility and conformance to regulatory standards.
The Indian telecom T&M market has grown significantly in tandem with the growth in the global markets. Currently, the second-largest telecommunications market in the world, India is on the cusp of a digital revolution with ever-increasing smartphone penetration and data subscribers. To support the expansion of 4G long term evolution (LTE) services, operators are relying on the T&M industry to achieve higher capacity, peak data rates and spectral efficiency. As per industry estimates, the Indian telecom market is poised to grow from $4.28 billion in 2015 to $6.69 billion by 2020, at a compound annual growth rate of 9.3 per cent.
A look at the key growth drivers and emerging trends in the Indian T&M space…
Focus on subscriber retention continues to fuel demand for T&M
The dynamics of the Indian telecom service industry have changed significantly in the past two to three years. All the major operators are under severe financial stress. Moreover, hypercompetition in the market has made it almost impossible to charge higher tariffs. Getting more subscribers on board is also not yielding any tangible benefits to operators since new subscribers are usually low-ARPU users. In this context, it has become extremely important for operators to retain their existing subscriber base and improve their ARPUs by turning them into committed data users. The T&M industry is helping operators deliver better network coverage, superior data performance and greater uptime to consumers. T&M equipment is being extensively used by network operators to deliver high quality data transmission at each stage of the network life cycle – production, research and development, and service assurance.
5G fuels market momentum
The Indian market is set to witness the introduction of 5G services in line with the global timelines. All the major Indian telecom operators are devising strategies to develop 5G frameworks and awaiting allocation of 5G spectrum for trials. While 5G has the potential to digitally transform the country, it is more than just an incremental technology to 4G. Its deployment will require massive technical and infrastructure upgradation of core and radio networks, and spectrum. These transformations will be highly complex and capital intensive in nature. On the device front, vendors will have to take into account the fact that the scope of 5G technical variants is much wider than that of 4G. Vendors will have to simultaneously optimise the key aspects of handsets (such as power consumption and antenna technology) operating on three non-stand-alone 5G variants – time division duplex (TDD) for mmWave, TDD for mid-band and frequency division duplex (FDD) for low band. 5G technology will also bring in a set of challenges related to T&M in terms of design, validation and manufacturing, thereby generating demand for a new and advanced testing infrastructure in the near future.
Rising demand for testing of IoT products and solutions
IoT is a network of physical objects that are embedded with software to collect and exchange data. Compared to other architectures, IoT requires a combination of hardware, sensors, connectors, gateways and application software in a single system along with real-time analytics capabilities. This complex architecture of IoT systems mandates various types of tests across all system components in order to ensure high levels of scalability, performance and security of applications.
According to software major Infosys, the tests required for IoT architecture are edge testing, protocol and device interoperability testing, security and privacy testing, network impact testing, performance and real-time testing, and end-user application testing.
Edge testing is necessary to ensure that the various components are well coordinated at the edge of the network. Communication protocol and device interoperability testing is needed to assess the ability of the IoT system to seamlessly interoperate across different standards and applications. Security and privacy testing should be done to check aspects such as data protection, device identity authentication, and encryption/decryption. Network impact testing involves measuring the qualitative and quantitative performance of a deployed IoT application by simulating a range of mobile network conditions in a controlled lab environment. Meanwhile, performance and real-time testing covers aspects such as timing analysis, load testing, real-time stream analytics, and time-bound outputs. Finally, end-user application testing involves the testing of all functional and non-functional use cases of an IoT application, including user experience and usability testing.
Enterprises find it quite challenging to execute these tests for IoT systems, primarily because the related subsystems and components are owned by third-party units. Besides, the heterogeneity of the real-world environment, and diverse and complex use cases demand strong test capabilities.
While IoT brings a new level of complexity to performance monitoring and testing, the technology also presents business opportunities for the T&M industry. Testers must adapt to new platforms and techniques to ensure that they are able to address the challenges of testing IoT devices and applications in order to deliver the best experience to end users.
Rental T&M gains traction
Till a few years back, rental T&M constituted a relatively small part of the total test equipment market in India, with the majority of the operators opting for direct purchases. However, the value proposition that equipment rentals present has now started gaining attention. The rental option helps operators avoid huge capital expenditure, and address issues related to long delivery lead times and rapid obsolescence due to advancements in test equipment technology. The rental option is particularly being adopted in the case of short-term testing projects when there is uncertainty about the equipment being used continuously over its lifespan. Renting also gives the flexibility to switch to the latest equipment without incurring significant investment in the upgradation and maintenance of equipment. Besides Indian firms, several global test players have entered the Indian rental T&M market over the past few years.
Shift towards SDN, NFV and cloud-based testing solutions
The T&M industry is gradually moving away from the traditional hardware-centric testing approach to a testing architecture based on software-defined capabilities. The latter approach extends the functionality of complex hardware to applications and allows test engineers to accelerate deployments and solve issues in real time. Meanwhile, the industry is witnessing increased uptake of virtual testing solutions, popularly known as lab-as-a-service solutions. Under this framework, operators and network equipment manufacturers can license testing solutions on a subscription basis, rather than paying for physical equipment. This also enables them to test their networks against cybersecurity threats more frequently, thereby preventing potential damage to their businesses.
Another emerging trend is cloud-based software testing, which allows organisations to cost effectively develop and maintain several in-house testing environments that simulate real-time situations. However, the uptake of cloud-based testing solutions is limited due to concerns around security and lack of standards. Since the applications and data are stored by third-party vendors, developers have concerns regarding data loss, phishing and data integrity under such testing.
The way forward
The Indian telecom industry is increasingly becoming software-oriented, with almost all devices now embedding advanced software in their architecture. Going forward, the launch of newer technologies such as 5G, the increasing uptake of smart devices and the government’s focus on digital transformation are expected to create growth opportunities for advanced T&M equipment and solutions.
It is imperative for the T&M industry to keep pace with the innovations in the technology space and the resulting complexities. T&M system designers should work towards providing faster, repeatable and best-in-class testing environments while keeping the overall test costs per unit low for end consumers. The Indian T&M industry should therefore strive to build a testing architecture that moves along the technology curve while enabling the integration of older technologies.