Telecom and fiber optics are probably at the bottom of any list as to where to do business in these difficult economic times.
But maybe not. Take Keithley Instruments, for example, which has just introduced several products targeted specifically for these markets. The company, known for its precision instruments to make sensitive measurements (small currents, for instance) in research laboratory settings, is now looking at more industry production products where throughput demands are a key driver. "And we are not looking to replicate what's in the market already," says Mark Hoersten, general manager.
Walt Strickler, manager of the company's Telecommunications Business Team, notes an example of this strategy. "Telecom is not growing at 60% anymore, but in single digits," he says. "But there is more competition and thus the pressure is on to reduce cost" for wireless product manufacturers. With this market maturation, Keithley sees cost cuts possible in testing mobile phones and doing so with less equipment while maintaining high production throughput.
Other factors are also at play to sustain mobile communications growth, such as the migration to advanced communication protocols for wireless phones and devices, which will require more radio frequency (RF) power measurements per device in production. And, in fact, some local regions are experiencing higher wireless growth rates, as in Japan for rapid new architecture adoption, and China where an extensive wireless infrastructure is being put into place.
Specifically regarding potential testing-cost reduction, Strickler says that today every cell phone undergoes a final production test at the end of the line, usually placing a call. Other tests further back up the line include board-level calibration testing which can take upwards of two minutes—an extremely long interval considering production is in thousands of units a day. Key in the calibration routine are the RF tests—including setting the phone's gain controls and storing these settings in memory—which are half the total tasks and the target for Keithley's new Model 2800 RF Power Analyzer. The company is looking to streamline these tests so that eventually even the full end-of-production test could be eliminated. With testing time put at $1.50/min, according to Strickler, saving half a minute, for starters, on RF testing adds up on a line pumping out a million phones annually. The device can also verify audio quality.
The power analyzer fills a niche between a lower-cost power meter (that measures power vs. time, across the whole frequency spectrum but can't distinguish channels) and a full-blown spectrum analyzer (for power vs. frequency, but for more general full-spectrum R&D, not for production setups). The DSP-based 2800 provides power vs. specific frequency bands (for accuracy in RF bands), in automated test sequences geared to production speeds. Test set-ups are included for each cellular phone standard. And at $16,000, device cost is about half that of a spectrum analyzer.
The RF power analyzer is not limited to mobile phone testing. It can also be used for other wireless devices such as RFIC power amplifiers, PDAs, LAN devices, base stations, and even satellites.
For more information on Model 2800 RF Power Analyzer from Keithley Instruments, enter 534 at www.designnews.com/info.