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T&M Outlook: Aiming for a technology-neutral business model

September 25, 2018
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By Vishnu Goel, Independent Telecom Consultant

The purpose and direction of the test and measurement (T&M) sector is to serve its user industry in such a way that the quality, productivity and profitability of its users improve continuously and consistently, and there is a balance between the cost of measurement and the cost of conformance. One simple rule concerning the T&M industry is the famous tailor and carpenter rule: “Do the measurement twice, but cut the cloth only once.” This reflects the stringency of accurate measurement so that reworking and redesigning can be avoided. Accuracy, resolution, repeatability and consistency of measurement are needed. Extensiveness and intensiveness of testing have to be balanced harmoniously. The importance of these parameters is dependent on the stage the end-user product is at – prototype, design, manufacturing and time-to-market – and on different stages of the network life cycle. In India, networks have evolved and changed, completely driven by newer technologies, regulations and market churn. Obviously, the expectations from the T&M industry to measure the performance as well as the conformance aspects have changed accordingly.

The telecom-related T&M space constitutes approximately 25-30 per cent of the total T&M industry globally and that ratio is maintained in India as well. The share increases  during new technology roll-outs. For instance, 4G peaking, large-scale fiberisation, synchronisation binge, or say 100G deployment as the mainstream. The market also peaks when the telecom regulator allows the roll-out of new networks by service providers and new standards are set by the Telecom Engineering Centre.

There is always a product or service/solution based on a blend of hardware and customised software usually coming to the rescue of the user. In industry parlance, it is usually called an IBT (incremental business test) solution. Examples can be a call drop base transceiver station test solution or advanced test equipment for stress test on the synchronous digital hierarchy network.

Several expert small entrepreneurs have exploited cloud test. Even large public sector units have put the test data on the cloud. Multiplicity of technologies and the necessity to protect intellectual capital will encourage cloud-based testing and storage. Basically, the T&M vendor will evolve into a business partner as testing expertise is leveraged for business transformation.

Telecom service providers and regulators, even manufacturers and system integrators, find T&M vendors of great value. They bring unique expertise on test and IT together with telecom and serve as a critical resource for all stakeholders across the value chain. Regulators often find a telecom T&M vendor more knowledgeable than the network equipment manufacturer itself. There is increasing expectation from the authorities to check the parameters thoroughly well ahead of their induction into a network. So the point of interface, channel interference and business continuity tests are required on top of the performance specs test. This becomes a contentious issue between the vendor and the communications service provider. The government is trying to define the organisation architecture so that a good responsibility/revenue model can work. Sooner than later, some business model will be created that is India-specific, but brand-and technology-neutral.

As the Indian telecom network evolves and the transmission speed increases, T&M also needs to change. Multiple input multiple output testing, wireless-to-wireline migration, fibre-to-the-home and synchronisation testing of high accuracy and internet of things-related resilience will be required. Tests will be increasingly checking the cognitive speed, and resemble video games and graphics. Increasingly higher speeds of 5G will necessitate these test beds to be comprehensively configured and solution centred. Some initiatives have already been taken at various Indian Institutes of Technology and expertise centres of the international companies in the country. Further, with software-defined networking and network function virtualisation becoming the norm, automated testing will be required in these environments. The government is also building the right foundation as it does not want to miss the 5G bus. For that to happen, training in T&M support and technology will be crucial.

The nature of the T&M industry in India is largely global and highly concentrated. In spite of having touched the 1 billion-plus subscriber base and with 100-odd local assembly units, the T&M demand profile is very opportunistic and driven by a few deals. The global hardware resold here can be at best value wrapped with support capability, automation and engineering, and technical expertise. People have tried local assembly, or board stuffing of some inexpensive boxes. The production of T&M boxes will be commercially feasible if the local ecosystem like design and rapid prototyping is around. We have now a few start-ups working on these business opportunities and will see some successes in capturing the overseas market for locally produced boxes.

The global T&M industry has gone through massive re-organisation and restructuring in the last decade and thankfully most of these turbulences are behind us. India can use its massive telecom network, growing middle class population and large number of entrepreneurs to its advantage.

 
 
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