What’s different about 5G system design, we have been told over and over again, is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tweak just the digital hardware, or just the RF componentry, or just the software, and achieve an optimization of overall system performance. The dependencies among each of those elements of the design are too entangled; change something here and there might be unintended consequences there. Juggling everything in a 5G system is an exceedingly complex proposition, and several companies are trying to provide tools that make the task easier for designers.

MathWorks is one. The company has introduced its 5G Toolbox, which provides standards compliant waveforms and reference examples for modeling, simulation, and verification of the physical layer of 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) communications systems. Engineers using 5G Toolbox can use it to design algorithms and predict end-to-end link performance of systems that conform to the 5G Release 15 standard specification, the company said.

The company previously released similar toolboxes supporting the LTE and WLAN standards. The new 5G Toolbox also includes support for Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and near-field communications (NFC).

The three tools in the 5G Toolbox are end-to-end link-level simulation, waveform generation and analysis, and golden reference design verification. The tools are linked, but the use cases for the three tend to be associated with different types of engineers, observed Ken Karnofsky, senior strategist for signal processing applications at MathWorks.

“The end-to-end links-level simulation is for the communications system engineer architects who are trying to understand the trade-offs, or to understand where they can add proprietary technology to improve performance, or make sure that if they do something, they can evaluate whether it will conform to the standard and assess changes in system performance characteristics, for example when they change transmitter or receiver algorithms,” he added.

“The waveform generation and analysis is used by everyone, but we’re seeing a trend, driven by these new technologies, that the RF engineers and MIMO antenna designers need a stimulus that is standard-compliant and represents the wideband characteristics of the standard signal,” Karnofsky continued. “We have building-block implementations of the various algorithms. Baseband engineers can look at it and understand how it’s all working, but RF engineers or test engineers, they just need a waveform real quick as a stimulus for their testing.”

The third tool is golden reference design verification. Karnofsky said, “That’s typically for a hardware engineer, an FPGA or ASIC engineer who’s trying to do a hardware implementation of an algorithm. When you go from idealized algorithm to hardware implementation, you have to make sure those implementations are good.”

The tools in MathWorks' 5G Toolbox can constitute the foundation of a workflow for designing and testing 5G products. Source: MathWorks

The tools in MathWorks’ 5G Toolbox are listed as separate tools. Nonetheless they are integrated, so the same data can be used for multiple purposes throughout design and test, which can help speed the overall design process.

The company refers to the 5G Toolbox as “the foundation of a design workflow that helps wireless teams rapidly develop, prototype, and test designs.” Asked about this, Karnofsky said, “I talked about the digital or DSP engineers versus RF engineers working with their own tools and in their own silos. That’s one type of integration that needs to be bridged. The nature of some of these 5G technologies – such as power amplifiers and the massive MIMO antenna arrays – they are inherently bringing together those two things – they have to be designed together. You can’t have a DSP point tool and an RF point tool.

“Then there’s the testing,” he continued. “You can develop the tests, run them in simulation, and then reuse that test strategy by plugging in an RF instrument, and now you can get something that transmits or receives a signal over the air. That is a big productivity gain too. That it’s all open code makes it easy for test development engineers to start developing their tests in parallel with the design process – they can try something out in simulation before they have hardware available.”

The 5G Toolbox is now available.

EDN editor-in-chief 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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