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IRCICA Creates a Telecommunications Test Platform for Industrial and Academic Research

It comes as no surprise that the wireless industry continues to make major evolutionary steps, and that drives the proliferation of communication devices. This presents new challenges for the development and testing of new systems to meet the ever increasing demands of the telecommunications marketplace.

To address these challenges, IRCICA (Research Institute for Software and Hardware Components for Information and Advanced Communication) in partnership with the University of Lille and IEMN (Institute of Electronics, Microelectronics and Nanotechnology), CNRS, France, has developed a telecommunications test-bench platform that can serve the needs of both academic research and industry. This test bench is a part of the IRCICA’s Telecom Platform. Its goal is to provide a flexible Hardware and Software environment for real time testing of prototype telecom systems before deployment on a larger scale, thereby ensuring systems’ interoperability in the real world of Heterogeneous Wireless Networks.

The Telecom Platform is managed by Rédha Kassi who, along with a small team of engineers and technicians, can provide R&D expertise to external laboratories and companies for complex experimental works. The Telecom Platform equipment represents an investment of nearly $4M. This unique academic platform in Europe offers a large set of advanced scientific equipment for the development of new radio modules and communication systems, up to the millimeter wave range. It is particularly suited for wireless ad hoc or mixed radio-fiber networks, for smart objects and sensors towards the Internet of Things. It provides a large facility for temporal, frequency or vector analysis, design and characterization of innovative analog or digital communication systems up to 110 GHz. The Telecom Platform targets the generation and analysis of complex signals (UWB, OFDM, CDMA, QAM, etc.) and standards to demonstrate new concepts for wireless communications. These features allow users, as engineers and researchers, to accomplish their technological projects in the field of telecommunications. ”Our aim is to provide a reliable test bench to the scientific community and industrials. Keysight equipment has allowed us to successfully accomplish this mission,” declares Rédha Kassi.

Real-Time Open Multiuser RF Communication Test Bench with Controlled Channel

One of the flagship projects of IRCICA is the open RF test-bench platform developed by engineers Rédha Kassi and Bernard Verbeke, and Ph.D. students Román Igual-Pérez and Viktor Toldov under supervision of Professor Laurent Clavier. “As a researcher, I need to confront my theoretical conclusions and algorithms to real environments. This platform offers such a possibility,” confirms Professor Clavier. This test-bench provides the user with the possibility to develop and test his hardware and software solutions in the field of Digital Signal Processing, MAC-layer algorithms or Source and Channel coding in a controlled environment. The user solutions are implemented on FPGA cards connected to Keysight instruments, carrying out the functions of the entire RF communication process. One of the most significant features of this test-bench is the flexibility. The user decides the parts of the RF communication link involved in the specific test process. Different test bench scenarios are described below.

The data generated by an FPGA card pass through the Keysight PXB Channel Emulator (see the diagram above) which aims to simulate the different aspects of the RF channel (i.e. multipath, Doppler frequency shift and shadowing). All these modifications are done with baseband signals. The communications remain isolated from external noise and interferences, and also totally controlled by the user.

One of the advantages of the Keysight PXB Channel Emulator is the possibility to allow multiple nodes to communicate within the same simulated channel. Since these external nodes share the common simulated medium, the user is able to evaluate his algorithms in realistic conditions under contention between the different nodes.

To complete the radio communication system, the test bench can be extended by adding the Keysight RF equipment as PSG Vector Signal Generator (modulator) and PXA Signal Analyzer (demodulator). In this setup, the baseband data provided by an FPGA are modulated and sent through the real wireless medium. Then the RF signal is demodulated by the PXA and the baseband data can be modified by the PXB Channel Emulator. Therefore, after confirming the developed system in a controlled environment, the user can proceed to the tests in a real environment, with real sources of interference from radio channel. The user also can choose the frequency band as well as the appropriate design of the RF system components (antennas, amplifiers, mixers …).

Moreover, a logic analyzer and oscilloscope can be connected to the system to act as a debugger. The user can apply different criteria to evaluate the algorithm under consideration (for example, Bit Error Rate (BER), Error Vector Magnitude (EVM), spectral shape of the signal or constellation analysis). Therefore, the Telecom Platform offers a flexible and reliable test bench which allows the user to concentrate on the development of algorithms.

Large Possibilities for the Test Bench

With the IRCICA’s telecom test bench the user can integrate algorithm or hardware components in the complete wireless transmission system and make use of the system results.

The non-exhaustive list of measurements capacities of the test bench is provided below:

  • Real time characterization of a complex transmission and/or receiver system from baseband generation to RF transmission;
  • Real time characterization of transmission/reception system from demodulation to data recovery with options to analyze the RF signal at each stage of the channel (EVM, power measurements), the digital signal (BER, eye diagrams, jitter measurements), and mixed signals;
  • Characterization of Link Robustness versus Real Time RF Channel Emulation;
  • Physical Test of Interoperability in heterogeneous sensor networks;
  • Test the non-linearity of an amplifier on the communication channel and hard/soft correction;
  • Test frequency and phase synchronizations;
  • Clock stability test;
  • Data packet structure optimization;
  • Estimation of the impact of the component thermal drift on the transmission;
  • Development and evaluation of new coding and decoding algorithms.

The IRCICA’s test-bench is the result of significant work of the development team. “I have had the opportunity of working in this project from the beginning and I noticed its evolution. This project allowed to me to develop my skills as engineer,” notes Román Igual-Pérez, Ph.D. student. “I am glad to participate in the development of the test bench. Using the Keysight equipment helped me to better understand the principles of telecommunications in practice,” added Viktor Toldov, Ph.D. student.

Keysight Technologies Plays a Key Role at IRCICA

Keysight has been working with the IRCICA lab since its creation in 2006 to provide the latest test equipment, and has provided application expertise and support in the development of the Telecom Platform. Indeed, 85% of the gear in the lab is Keysight test equipment, which is used for:

  • Generation of complex analog, digital, and mixed signals;
  • Time and frequency domain analysis of analog, digital and mixed signals;
  • Real time baseband channel emulation and MIMO analysis;
  • Optical communications.

Leading the Way

The IRCICA Telecom Platform Lab continues to be a valuable asset that provides important collaboration between industry and academia. For manufacturers it provides a way to cost effectively test new designs and reduce the time it takes to deploy new products in the marketplace. For students the lab is a resource for testing and understanding new techniques and theories. Along with the state of the art test equipment from Keysight Technologies, the IRCICA lab will lead the way for new telecommunication technologies that we can only now just imagine.

IRCICA Resources:

Keysight Resources:

Keysight’s Electronic Measurement group is now Keysight Technologies