mmWave channel sounder provides measurements in milliseconds

April 19, 2017 // By Julien Happich
Platform-based systems provider National Instruments together with telecom services provider AT&T worked together on the design of one of the world’s fastest and most accurate tools for 5G Millimeter Wave (mmWave) channel characterization.

Channel measurements can show how signals reflect off of, or are blocked by, objects, such as trees, buildings, cars and even people.  “Utilizing mmWave spectrum for mobile 5G presents many challenges which we believe can be solved,” said Marachel Knight, senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, AT&T. “We identified early on that designing and real-time monitoring of mmWave spectrum needs to be much more precise than today’s cellular systems. With the help of NI’s flexible hardware and software platform, AT&T developed a new type of channel sounder and we’re using it to develop highly-advanced models that will work for our network.”

Nicknamed internally within AT&T as the “Porcupine,” the channel sounder is the first of its kind and is proprietary to AT&T. It provides real-time channel parameter measurement and monitoring capability.

The channel sounder, designed by AT&T, utilizes an architecture based on NI’s mmWave Transceiver System. This one-of-a-kind design provides several key advantages. It allows angle-of-arrival (AoA) measurements that would typically take 15 minutes or more to be completed (using pan-tilt units) to be performed within 150 milliseconds and display the results in real-time.

The channel sounder uniquely captures channel measurements where all the data is acquired and processed in real-time. Other channel sounding approaches capture raw data and post process to characterize the channel while only giving one-measurement every 15 minutes. The “Porcupine” on the other hand can provide about 6,000 measurements in that time. It’s like capturing 15-minutes of action with a video instead of a still photo. A video tells the whole story, while a photo just shows a moment.