National Instruments Corp. (NASDAQ:NATI) has been primarily known by engineers and scientists as one of the premiere test and measurement equipment companies. In my nearly 25 years experience in high tech, I’ve spent a lot of time in many labs, and have seen National instruments gear in nearly every one of them. While National Instruments customers like SpaceX, Max Planck Institute, and Ford get most of the attention, National Instruments is starting to garner attention in the 5G wireless research market with its new offerings. National Instruments rethought the entire value chain in 5G research and prototyping, which could very well disrupt companies like Agilent Technologies. If you want a deep dive, you can read our white paper (free) here. Otherwise, read on.
If it’s not blindingly obvious, the growth in connected devices, whether it’s smartphones, tablets, cars, connected homes or wearables will create a future shortage in the required bandwidth. With each successive standard, whether it was 2G, 3G, 4G, 4G LTE, LTE-A, came more bandwidth to apply to more devices at faster speeds. It takes literally a decade to create and deliver reasonable “research to prototype” for each major jump in wireless technology, and that’s where National Instruments comes into play.
To create that 5G standard, National Instruments has created a new way to research, develop and test 5G software-designed radios for researchers and scientists. NI’s LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite takes what is currently done in three, complex, uncoordinated steps with multiple software tools and incompatible hardware and combines it into an integrated, manageable, contiguous workflow with compatible hardware. The classic three step flow looks like this:
- Algorithm development: Done by the research team with standard tools that generates a floating point model of the radio.
- System (radio) mapping: Done by the system (radio) design team done with exotic, hand-crafted and non-standard tools that generates design specifications.
- System (radio) implementation: Done by an implementation team with many, non-standard tools that generate the code required for hardware.
My analysts and I believe the current state won’t deliver on the 5G mobile experience end users demand. We want our 3D movies on our tablets, we require image libraries on our phones, and we insist on real-time visualization for our wearables. Fulfilling 5G expectations necessitates a new and different approach to designing these communication systems. 5G is way too complex to tackle with an outdated approach.
National Instruments new design flow still uses the three basic steps, but enables collaborative teams and a single, cohesive tool chain leveraging standard hardware:
- Algorithm development with LabVIEW: Done by a collaborative team or single design team with a single, cohesive tool chain enabling iterative modeling.
- System (radio) mapping with LabVIEW: Done by a collaborative team or single design team with a single, cohesive tool chain enabling rapid hardware mapping and exploration.
- System (radio) implementation with LabVIEW: Done by a collaborative team or single design team with a single, cohesive tool chain enabling the “model” on hardware.
You don’t have to be a scientist or researcher to see that with National Instruments’ approach, the teams and the tools are shared every step of the way. Net-net, NI’s new approach could save researchers loads of money and speed up time to prototype and test. In an environment where even a six month advantage is the key to success, this is huge. To be fair, NI’s competition like Agilent Technologies are improving their point products in one of the three steps, it appears only NI thought to pull them altogether. NI’s approach to 5G reminds me of Henry Ford’s approach to designing cars and mass production methodologies during the buggy-whip age.
Again, if you want a deep dive on NI’s new approach and tools, you can read our white paper (free) here. We reference Agilent Technologies, Alcatel-Lucent, BEEcube, Lund University, Nallatech (a subsidiary of Interconnect Systems), Nokia, NTT Docomo, Nutaq, Pentek, and the Technische Universitaet Dresden.