NI VP touts platform approach to 5G prototyping

A universal platform of hardware and software will be instrumental in developing prototypes of next-generation 5G technology, according to Eric Starkloff, senior vice president of marking for National Instruments, speaking April 25 at the Brooklyn 5G Summit.

The summit was held April 24-25 at the MetroTech Center at NYU Poly and presented by the IEEE Communications Society and IEEE.tv in conjunction with the NYU WIRELESS industrial affiliate member companies. It provided participants an opportunity to investigate the latest trends and best approaches for implementing 5G wireless technology.

“I don’t spend every day in depth on this technology,” Starkloff said, “but it is exciting to be here and get a glimpse of the future.”

National Instruments is thought of as a test and measurement company, he said, but test and measurement would not be the focus of his presentation. Instead, he would address the prototyping of the next-generation 5G wireless technology through the use of a universal platform of common hardware and software.

He began with two side-by-side images of St. Peter's Square—the first at the time of the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and the second of Pope Francis in 2013. The second image suggests thousands of people streaming real-time high-definition video using and smart devices.

There is an insatiable demand for bandwidth, he said, driven by people such as those in St. Peter's Square as well as intelligent wirelessly connected devices that constitute the Internet of things. There are now, he said, more intelligent embedded systems than people in world.

More than being a test and measurement company, NI offers a business based on a platform for graphical system design and prototyping that's configurable and synchronized in real time, he said. The platform represents the same combination of underlying components found in embedded systems, and you'll find the platform serving the base on which advanced imaging systems such as an optical coherence tomography system that a dentist would use. The platform can similarly serve in robotics and autonomous vehicle applications, and you can use the same platform as a prototyping test bed for wireless technology.

Starkloff next commented on EDA visionary Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, whom he described as the father modern EDA, having been a cofounder of Cadence and Synopsys.

Starkloff described a concept developed by Sangiovanni-Vincentelli that describes a platform-based design approach. The image of an hour glass represents the approach, in which the top of the hour glass is the application phase mapped to a common API at the narrow neck at the middle of the hour glass. The bottom of the hour glass represents the physical implementation of a system. The idea is to create abstraction between the application software and the hardware implementation so software can be written without the programmers knowing many of the details of the hardware.

Starkloff described Apple and its developers as constituting a great example of this approach. Developers can write a whole set of applications that can run on different hardware. Using a standard set of APIs, application software—such as a tuning app for bagpipes—can be created without much knowledge of underlying hardware. “Anyone can write for iOS or Android without needing to know much about the underlying hardware,” he said.

“Why does this matter to this community?” he asked the attendees at the 5G Summit. Because, he answered, the same approach can be used to explore wireless technology and its contribution to 5G, including research into massive MIMO implementations. It will enable the creation of platforms for research into new algorithms that can not only be simulated but implemented in hardware enabling real-time prototyping that permits rapid design iteration.

NI's implementation, he said, is the NI LabVIEW RIO heterogeneous environment, including processor, FPGA, and tightly integrated I/O. With this approach, he said, a researcher can take an algorithm, see if it is functionally working, and move it onto a real-time processor to evaluate its deterministic real-time performance. The platform approach, he said, allows experimentation in the partitioning of the algorithm's execution across the processor and the FPGA—”a powerful concept.”

With such an approach, he told the 5G summit attendees, you can start with a simple system and subsequently expand it into a massive MIMO implementation while preserving your software investment.

“Our goal is to lower barrier to prototyping,” he said, especially in pioneering areas where you don't have all the theory worked out and will need to iterate.

He cited several specific examples, including an NI and Lund University collaborative effort on the development of a test bed capable of prototyping a massive MIMO system.

In conclusion, he said, 5G will employ a range of new technologies from millimeter-wave communications to massive MIMO, and researchers will need results early to facilitate the iterative approach critical to defining these new technologies, adding, “It's exciting for me and exciting for our company to be part of that.”

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