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Surge in Demand: Promising prospects though some challenges remain

September 30, 2011
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 The Indian test and measurement (T&M) industry continues to chart  growth. The T&M market was valued at around Rs 8.61 billion in financial year 2010-11. Of this, the telecommunications T&M market comprised 25 per cent and was valued at around Rs 2 billion. Telecom service providers are continuously investing in expanding their network to support the ever-increasing mobile subscriber base, thus giving a push to the demand for mobile and broadband testing devices and solutions.

The recent rollout of 3G services and the proposed introduction of broadband wireless access (BWA) services have created an additional requirement for testing equipment. Wi-Max and long term evolution are technology platforms where the success is directly linked with the end-user experience. The migration of these technologies from concept to design to volume production demands efficient methods of authenticating the integrity and quality of subscriber handsets. T&M equipment manufacturers are now increasing their radio frequency test capabilities in India for developing these technologies.

The increasing need for data communications and various data-intensive applications calls for faster data speeds on wireless networks. This demand has led to the evolution of a higher Ethernet speed from the earlier 1/10 GB to 40/100 GB now, creating a demand for a new type of testing solution for service providers and networking vendors.

Moreover, operators seeking to deliver advanced video services like video-on-demand, HDTV, internet video, mobile video, IPTV and addressable advertising over carrier grade Ethernet are investing heavily in such test equipment. This is because video is a real-time service that is highly intolerant to delays and packet loss in the network. This calls for consistent quality assurance from the operators’ side, especially for more sophisticated services like IPTV. Further, the testing performed in labs and during installation is not enough. Although such tests significantly reduce the incidence of problems, they do not cater to the challenges faced when these services are deployed in the field. In such a scenario, operators require systems that can provide continuous monitoring from the moment IPTV services are launched. Moreover, these T&M tools help in reducing operating costs significantly.

Mobile internet also provides a growth opportunity for the T&M industry. Large and small enterprises as well as consumers are now demanding any time, anywhere, always-on internet access to use services such as internet banking, stock trading, web surfing, videoconferencing, m-banking and m-health. A user will avail of these services only when their reliability and quality are assured. To ensure this, it is important to have a measurement solution in place that baselines these technologies for meeting user demands.

At another level, cloud computing and virtualisation are also responsible for driving the T&M segment. Software-based solutions are gaining prominence. T&M equipment manufacturers are placing greater emphasis on software to make easier-to-use, faster and more accurate measurements. Since such software-based testing equipment use PCs, the same hardware can be used to test any of the standards, such as GSM, GPRS and CDMA, by simply changing the software.

Another recent trend in telecom T&M is a heightened demand for protocol analysis-based network optimisation solutions. This trend comes from the new radio access network environment, including cell breathing and power management in universal mobile telecommunication systems. The introduction of multi-input, multi-output, and beamforming also needs continuous monitoring in order to capture the rapid variations in the network.

The increasing number of towers to handle mobile traffic has raised concerns regarding the possible health-related effects of electromagnetic emissions from these towers. Here, T&M companies could play a crucial role in managing the radiation and ensuring they remain within limits.

Operators are trying hard to leverage these opportunities by deploying highly automated provisioning, fault rectifications and workflow management, along with a state-of-the-art operational support system. Most operators in India are transitioning from a circuit switched core to a flexible, scalable and resilient core based on internet protocol. To enable this core, operators are building a lab environment for testing the devices with an aim to deploy rigorously tested high-availability solutions.

Despite huge opportunities for T&M devices and solutions in India, the sector is still plagued by a number of issues and challenges. T&M equipment manufacturing remains a key area of concern. India manufactures much less equipment than China. As a result, the majority of Indian companies prefer to import equipment. Other factors like non-availability of locally manufactured vital components, lack of government and R&D support, ever-increasing labour costs, inadequate infrastructure and bureaucratic delays add to the overall cost of manufacturing. Basic components such as surface mounted devices/ semiconductors/integrated circuits, large structure inspections, microprocessors, field programmable gate array chips, memories analog to digital converter/digital to analog convertors, cathode ray tube and liquid crystal display are totally dependent on imports.

Taxation issues within the T&M market are yet another roadblock. If a product is manufactured in India, raw materials such as electronic components and mechanical parts that need to be imported attract customs duty ranging from 5 to 10 per cent, apart from countervailing duty (CVD). However, if the same product is imported, it attracts zero customs duty and the companies only pay the CVD. Thus, local manufacturers lose the cost advantage, despite trimming the foreign exchange outflow and providing local employment.

Pricing of the product offering is another area of concern for the T&M sector. Despite high demand for their products, Indian T&M manufacturers always need to offer competitive prices. For example, even though the demand for 3G testers has been on the rise, their prices have been moving southwards, leaving the manufacturers with narrow margins, and thereby, little motivation.

Shorter turnaround time is one of the other problems faced by manufacturers. With the turnaround time (concept to design to volume production) increasingly becoming shorter due to market competition, new and efficient methods of verifying the integrity and quality of handsets and similar products are required by handset makers. With elements of design regularly being developed in different places, it is important to have common industry-standard test tools that enable groups to share information and resolve problems quickly.

Moreover, the rapid rate of technology change means a faster cycle time for new products entering the verification stage. Testing also needs to match the pace of innovation in the handset segment. With the entry of smartphones, involving a range of technologies and capabilities, it becomes very essential to have innovative T&M solutions to test each of these advanced features before they reach the end-users.

As far as telecom operators are concerned, neither do they spend enough money on testers nor do they undertake the required periodic testing of networks. T&M is considered an extra expense rather than a strategic investment. This poses major challenges in meeting the quality of service and quality of experience (QoE) requirements. The real challenge is to have a network that meets all these requirements, and this challenge can only be met with high grade testing equipment.

Further, with the advent of new technologies like Ethernet and next-generation-based solutions, vendors are left with little choice but to replace their existing test equipment with new enhanced versions.

Going forward 

The explosive growth of the infotainment industry, and the increasing focus on mobile phones, broadcasting, and chipset design and manufacturing will influence growth in the telecom T&M business. Number portability and competition from new operators have prompted existing operators to improve their service, which has led to an increase in the demand for testers. Further, with successful delivery of next-generation services like 3G and 4G, service providers have shifted focus to T&M solutions to provide end-user QoE to their customers.

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