Last week, I finally cut the cable. Yes, I'm referring to my landline phone and TV cable. I have been threatening to do this for more than a year and it finally happened. Why this, as some would say, drastic action? Like many people today, I use my cell phone (actually, iPhone) as my primary communications' device. Whenever my landline rang at home, it was always a telemarketer or someone I didn't know — why keep paying to be annoyed? And in the spirit of going completely wireless (especially since HDTV will be available over the air by February 2009 and I don't watch much TV), I decided to go back to what everyone did years ago — get an antenna. So, I went out and purchased a large VHF/UHF antenna to put in my attic (yes, I'm a real electromagnetic geek).
Since then, I have talked to several people about what I did. To my surprise, many of these people are considering doing the same thing. Maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea! In my quest to understand this motivating factor, I detected a societal change occurring right before our eyes. What is fueling this trend toward wireless? Wireless just makes sense. It allows us to live free, untethered lives and keep pace with business and personal pursuits. This has precipitated an avalanche of wireless standards targeted at addressing these needs. And wireless is being adopted in so many different industry segments that previously were neglected — I know I like having Wi-Fi connectivity on my boat. If you can think of an application, there is a way to integrate wireless.
This craze for wireless technology sounds great until you are the one responsible for testing this new product. In fact, as demand escalates for these products, test times keep asymptotically approaching zero while functionality trends toward infinity. If that weren't enough, try and find a piece of test equipment that can test all these disparate functions — on one platform — while getting faster as time goes on.
Many hail a software-defined architecture as the be-all and end-all to meet these challenges. It's a step in the right direction, but only if the user can define the functionality. While many traditional boxes are entirely vendor-defined, virtual instrumentation offers a different approach by promising user-defined instrumentation. For example, National Instruments' customers are using NI LabVIEW software and the PXI platform to customize the software to meet their needs rather than relying on their instrument vendors to get around to it. Such an approach allows these engineers to solve challenges such as prototyping emerging wireless standards before they ever even exist.
As icing on the cake, LabVIEW and PXI take advantage of multicore processors to keep pace with industry trends for increased speed of test. Unlike traditional test equipment that gets slower and slower relative to the latest and greatest test equipment on the market, multicore processors provide a path for your test system to keep pace — and even get faster — as more cores are developed.
So, if your traditional test equipment is too slow, makes you feel confined and does not have the flexibility to grow, why not try cutting the cable and upgrading to the new?