Keysight takes test virtual, targets 5G

Article By : Brian Santo

Keysight is introducing a new software-defined test platform called PathWave, designed to unify the somewhat fragmented IC design workflow. The first application tests on PathWave will be for 5G products.

Keysight Technologies is introducing a new software platform it devised to stitch together the poorly connected development stages in the electronics product cycle into a unified workflow. The first industry application Keysight will address with this platform, called PathWave, will be 5G systems.

From banking to bookselling to basketball, there’s barely a human endeavor that hasn’t become data driven from beginning to end. An exception, oddly enough, is electronics manufacturing.

Electronics manufacturing is data driven, to be sure. It’s the beginning-to-end part that is problematic; data from any stage in the simulation-test-verification workflow doesn’t transport well to other stages. For example, manufacturers need to compare data from design simulations against test data from manufactured parts, but doing so is far from easy because EDA systems and test systems don’t speak the same language.

“I come from an EDA background,” said Todd Cutler, vice president and general manager of Keysight's Design and Test Software division, “I’ve heard about this from customers for years. You’re a design engineer, you get a prototype built and you do some tests on it, and you want to get that data and compare it to what you think it was supposed to do–that’s the simulation. Believe it or not, even these days, that’s really hard to do. The data’s in different formats, stored in a different way. Our customers spend a huge amount of time trying to correlate the predictive behavior with actual behavior.”

The question is how to deal with the data to provide a seamless bridge between design and test, and perhaps include manufacturing in the workflow as well? Cutler said Keysight believes providing an answer is a big opportunity to save its customers a lot of time and money.

Keysight describes its answer, PathWave, as a software defined development platform that integrates design, test, and verification into a single workflow. PathWave is an open, scalable, and predictive software platform that integrates hardware and software at every stage in the product design workflow, according to the company. It includes design software, instrument control software, application software, and productivity software combined with an open development environment. The system is designed to provide a consistent user experience, common data formats, and control interfaces. It will also be cloud-based, for those customers who might want that option.

The bit about common data formats is the key to the product, Cutler said. Not only is simulation and test data frequently stored in different ways, EDA systems and test systems represent data differently. In order for design data to be used in a test environment (and vice versa), Keysight is normalizing not only how simulation and test data are stored, but how they are formatted when collected in the first place.

The platform is designed to support any number of specific tests of any number of applications, using software and hardware from anyone involved in the design workflow.

Keysight has been writing software for its testers on behalf of its customers all along, but with the introduction of PathWave, writing software is going to be where Keysight’s value-add is, Cutler said. That will include not only test programs, but analysis software as well.

If PathWave is going to work, Keysight is going to need the cooperation of the EDA companies. Cutler said Keysight has relationships with all the major EDA vendors, including Cadence, Mentor, and Synopsys.

It’s also going to need to attract other T&M companies. To that end, PathWave’s APIs are open, so that not only can customers write their own software (as many have been doing all along), so can third party vendors. “We have very well-defined APIs,” Cutler said. “There will be software and other hardware that will come from third parties or from our customers. It will be easy to do; it will be just like the Amazon Echo in your home."

“Open also means open source,” he continued. For example, he said, “We have a sequencer that controls test. The engine that runs that will be available in open source form, so customers will be able to modify it.”

Keysight also felt it was important that PathWave be scalable. “We’ve designed it from the ground up for the web. You can run it on a PC or you can also run it on a server. You can run it in a bunch of locations. You can use it on a PC, or a Linux machine, or can run it on a tablet, or even your phone,” Cutler added.

The first element of PathWave, PathWave Analytics, is available now. The next two elements, PathWave FPGA for programming FPGAs, and PathWave Test, for setting up tests, will be coming out some time in March or April. The company expects to keep building on the PathWave platform for years to come.

The first application tests Keysight will build on PathWave will be coming later this year, and they’re going to be for 5G systems. Cutler said 5G is a particularly good fit for Keysight. “There’s a huge need for scalability. With 5G you have steerable antennas, which means they’re all phased arrays, which means you have a lot of channels. You can have a phased array of 8, or 64, or 2048. All of that means you need scalable solutions.”

The company has already set up a design center to support PathWave development, in conjunction with Georgia Tech (the lab is located on Georgia Tech’s campus). Should Pathwave take off, Keysight is prepared to hire as many as 250 engineers over time for the operation.

Keysight has been collaborating with the University of California San Diego to develop phased array antennas for 5G systems. This antenna has 256 elements. Source: Keysight, UCSD

Brian Santo has been writing about science and technology for over 30 years, covering cable networks, broadband, wireless, the Internet of things, T&M, semiconductors, consumer electronics, and more.

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