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“Biggest Challenge of 5G will be the Transition” – Donna Majcen, Keysight

As the 5G fever picks up, Voice & Data spoke to Donna Majcen, VP, Global Marketing at Keysight Technologies, on a range of issues. Her message was clear. 5G is a transformational technology, and if communications has to be the backbone for businesses, governments and consumers, 5G is the answer. Globally, organizations are gearing up to ride the 5G wave. Excerpts:

V&D: What is your assessment about 5G? There are some countries and some operators who are saying that they will be having commercial launches, not very far away from now.

Donna Majcen: You know, 4G is still being put out, being developed and implemented, but people are already jumping to the next generation. As there is a financial impact, people have the right to say: I want to get my money’s worth, or, I want to get the best value out of the investments I’ve made in 4G, before I leap on to 5G. There’s an element of the market that’s saying that. But, the majority of the market is really starting to say, okay, how do we make this 5G leap? We know that the need for data is overwhelming the system.

V&D: How is the global picture looking like?

Donna Majcen: The data demand is just becoming a reality so much faster than we even anticipated. Globally, we see a lot of drive, in the USA, Korea, China, and in Tokyo, Japan, etc. We’re seeing major investments, and lots of organizations saying their objective is to be there be in front and be first. People are putting these stakes in the ground, and say, I must be first. The Tokyo Olympics 2020, where we will have the first, real 5G network rolled out, is ready to go.


Donna Majcen, Keysight

V&D: How is Keysight positioning itself for the 5G wave?

Donna Majcen: Keysight is one of the companies that is right at the beginning of the cycle. When investments were supposed to being made in 5G, we understood how important it is for the test aspects, and how would you test it? How are you going to validate? How are you going to make sure about the development work?

We need to partner very early in the alliances and the groups that are going to be working on the standards to really help make choices. Our goal is to say: how we can help any of them to get there? 5G is going to impact every aspect of the industry, whether the autonomous vehicles and the way cars are going to advance to the next stage, or, the medical industry, and where it’s going to be moving in the future, and the ability to have the access to material and the access to information.

All of these aspects are going to be impacted. It’s not just people saying I want to be first, but they’re actually seeing the reality of IoT, industrial IoT, medical, automotive, etc., that are playing together. That is kind of becoming the catalyst in many ways in the speed and the development of the next generation.

When we first started working with companies on 5G, it was more about: let’s make sure we’re working on it. Now, it’s just the speed has been so much quicker! Our introductions had a parallel R&D that we’ve had to do to say, okay, we can help you with the development stage. We can help you with the conformance testing, and we can help you with design validation.

We’ve had to really work quickly to develop the right solutions in parallel, in many cases, in our customers’ R&D labs. As they’re working on their 5G solutions, we’re working on creating the test platform that’s going to support their endeavor, and prove it. It’s been really a fun and challenging environment to work with our customers in this way.

V&D: How is Keysight organizing itself as the number of stakeholders you will have to work with goes up?

Donna Majcen: We really look at it as our goal is to support all the range of customers. When you think about it, you’ve got the chipset vendors. Do you have the right solutions to support them? Do you have the right solutions to support the device manufacturers, and the infrastructure?

We’re really working on making sure that as we’re developing our capabilities, we can support across those areas at the physical level, as well as moving up the stack and being able to do visibility testing, as well. We really want to look at the entire testing requirements around 5G, and not target on one particular area. That’s the important piece of really connecting all the dots across that platform base.

The other piece that we’ve done over the last couple of years is that, we have really changed a little bit of how we are as an organization or structure, and we’ve redesigned around industries. The reason we’ve done that is: how is 5G going to impact so many different industries? How is it implemented, and what are the needs that are going to change, as you think about each dynamic?

We’ve really built expertise around the automotive space, and talking to people there who ask what are the challenges and the benefits 5G will bring? How’s it going to change the automobile industry? How can we support capabilities in that case? We’ve looked at businesses within the IoT space, with very different power requirements, different feature capabilities, and levels of complexity.

Aerospace and defense is another big market where we’ve got focused teams. We’ve really tried to tune our organization, to not just look at it across the entire communications business, but look across each one of the industries. How do you take all the solutions that we are developing, and really tune them to meet the requirements that are needed across each one of those areas.

V&D: What are some of the biggest challenges that you see for the operators to move to 5G? How is Keysight going to help them in that journey?

Donna Majcen: It’s really building out the infrastructure and transitioning over from what a 4G network is, and the complexity of how do you change a 4G network to a 5G? How will the base station infrastructure need to change? How do we make sure we’ve got the right capabilities, distances, etc.? How is the way the base station is set up? All those are going to be big challenges.

For example, if it is the quality of service, then how do you measure the right quality? How do you have the right conformance capabilities and drive test capability, and how do you validate that? How do you build the infrastructure? Is it in large areas? Is it starting in small areas where you really build networks in smaller spots, and then kind of build it up from there?

From our point of view, it’s just figuring out what are all the testing requirements and the conformance requirements. We are validating and making sure we have the right tools to support their investments. That’s one of their challenges: where do they get the money? What’s the financial benefit as they switch to 5G? How do they monetize their investments in 5G? Can you figure out a way to make money, while making those investments?

Because we’re working hand in hand, Keysight can’t just sit back and say: tell me what do you do? We are telling customers: let’s work together and figure out where we need to take things. They’re also sharing their challenges. We will learn about the areas that we want to focus on.

V&D: How important is test and measurement in 5G? Is it different from what it was for 3G or 4G?

Donna Majcen: One aspect is the speed in which it’s being developed. If you go back and look at 3G or 4G, it wasn’t as dramatically different. They were evolutions on top of themselves. So, you could take products that were being developed and use the set of products. Maybe, you can do it more eloquently. We’ll design that or update it, and it felt more like an evolution of a small change.

With 5G, the technology is so different. You can’t just use your own solutions and put the gear together and go, by being just close enough. It truly is a leap in technology. We have to develop full new solutions. So, it’s not an app change or slight hardware change, or adding one capability.

It really is redesigning a lot of the platform. For us, it’s been a much bigger transformation. That’s why we had to lay it down and say, we’re going to work hand-in-hand at the beginning of the development of the standard. You can’t wait till the standards have been designed to create the test solutions.

Customers also can’t use the existing solutions to test. You can’t just take the product that you might already have in-house and get there, because, similar to the whole thing of over-the-air testing, that wasn’t an issue. That’s a different test requirement.

V&D: Does it also mean that you are also investing more in your own R&D efforts?

Donna Majcen: From a Keysight point of view, we have increased our R&D investment dramatically over the last few years. It’s almost a 2X change in our investment dollars that we’ve made since we first became Keysight, when we spun off from Agilent, to today. And, a big piece of that is our need to really drill in on the requirements and the capabilities and get products out as quickly as possible around it. That’s the kind of driving force.  That sort of changed things! With 5G, you really do want to move to 5G. You don’t want to say: you can have areas where there were still 3G and there’s some 4G LTE, and so you have this slow migration.

I wouldn’t say spending has been their biggest concern. Rather, how do I get there first? You can see the companies that get there first are going to get the chunk of the market. That’s been the driving force: how do you get there first, so that you can be most successful? They haven’t really thought if I am willing to make the right investments? As the next wave comes, they’re going to say, how do I make money doing this?

V&D: What’s the kind of challenges your customers like the chipset, infrastructure, or handset guys are facing, and how will Keysight solutions solve them?

Donna Majcen: I think with the chipset guys, it’s, who’s going to get the standards. That’s been a big push as to who can build out the product set first. We’ve ended up where we’ve worked very closely with the development of a lot of our design tools to really support their next generation.

As you move to the rest of the players that are in the market, whether the handset players or base station players, they’re looking at how do they build out those aspects of the infrastructure? They need to understand what tools they’re going to be able to use. Then again, who would be first? Who are they going to part with, and partner with? How are they going to get those solutions out of the door?

We’ve worked across each one of the players. We need to think about the support for each one of our partners that are going out to the market. We definitely see this sort of high-level engagement, where there are the peak customer sets that are saying we’re going to do whatever it takes to be first. They’re willing to make the investment right now, because they want to be able to have the right solutions.

V&D: A lot of assembling is happening here in India of mobile phones. We are also talking about some manufacturing of infrastructure equipment. Is India a big market for you?

Donna Majcen: We see India as a high-priority market. That’s why we’re here with Keysight World, one of our key events, where we’re really trying to be in the center. We see a lot of innovation happening here. We’re really trying to connect to a high volume of engineers, and lots of new companies that are really going after the next generation.

We’re making sure we have the right resources in each one of the locations. Even though we’re a US-based company, about a third of our organization and our businesses, are global. We put our R&D teams and design engineers, and application engineers in locations where we have customers. That’s the only way we’re going to be successful. We really do need to co-locate. We have a strong team here in India, and we’ll work with the team here as they’re developing their next-generation solutions. Whether they’re going to be the first or they want to let other countries take the big steps and follow suit, we are absolutely going to partner with them.

V&D: Everybody’s talking about the stability of 5G. What are your people in the labs telling you about the readiness of 5G?

Donna Majcen: We’ve got the next standards that are ready to go. The standards are being designed. While the products are being designed, and the launches are happening, it is all happening in parallel. That is unique to this market. When you think about the volume of people who are investing in the volume of engineering and brainpower behind this, it will get there. There is no doubt. It really is a sort of a global development effort.
5G is ready, and will continue to advance forward. We need to start thinking about the way ahead, on top of what we’re doing today.

I don’t think anything’s ever finished. Especially, when you have people saying, we’re going to have this ready to go by next summer, and we’re going to have our next-step opportunity at this point. Each person is really each company. The government is saying that we want to make a commitment. This is absolutely crucial. You think back to over the years, whenever there’s that level of a commitment, things happen.

V&D: How much is 5G going to make services more affordable? Is this something which will have an impact on prices? Or, will 5G prove to be costly for the customers?

Donna Majcen: That’ll be the interesting thing, because we kind of talked earlier about the monetary monetization of the whole platform. I’m not sure we know yet, exactly where the key apps are or the key capabilities are, that is going to drive the finances. Is it going to have the ability to grant each individual access to high volumes and speed of data? Or, is it going to be commercial applications, like industrial IoT, or banking, or some other areas that will actually end up carrying the cost associated to this, and allow for the RoI to be worth the needs? Now, all of a sudden a new industry gets formed!

VnD: How secure will be users and their devices on 5G ? What is Keysight doing on that front?

Donna Majcen: There have been a couple of areas. This is an ongoing investment area for us as well. About a year and a half ago, we acquired the company, IXIA, as part of our portfolio. They offer that ability to look at network visibility, network security, and really validating the information, so that customers can make the right decisions and really check to make sure those capabilities are there.

One of the new products that we’ve just come out with is in the automotive space. Automobile works through an IoT device, and the connections are there. But that’s a new for an industry that they’ve never had to worry about security. Now, all of a sudden, when you say how can you tap into a vehicle? There are a lot of different connections that you can have. They need the information that validates one. And, those networks are not open for anybody to access.

If they are, or if there’s something open, how do they validate that they know how to close it and how to reject their information? We’ve just come out with a product to really help. That connects our IXIA solutions with our automotive solutions from Keysight. That’s an area we’re continuously looking at.

I also think that the infrastructure around cloud, edge devices, where you have data, and what data needs to be close to the source, vs. what data can be stored in a more central system, and how you have security across those different networks. That’s another area we’re making significant investments in.

V&D: Do your customers include some non-telco organizations, besides defense, and aerospace, etc.? Are there others who look at T&M solutions for the search for the 5G perspective?

Donna Majcen: The key industries that we are really focused on are the IoT industry, the automotive industry, aerospace, defense and the communications industry. But, let’s look at, for instance, smart medical device that can be monitored from your house. We have a role there. Keysight can help with traffic information and connecting the customers so that they know what’s happening in front of them and when they’re in their vehicle.

V&D: There’s a recent survey, which has been done by Keysight. What was the goal of the survey?

Donna Majcen: We recently did a global survey to make sure that we understand what’s happening in industries around the world. The idea was to get a sense of how quickly do people think they’re going to make investments. And, to understand those companies who want to be at the forefront, those who are going to wait. There was an overwhelming the majority of the companies that we interviewed absolutely felt we’re making this investment, and we think it’s critical to our future.

In many cases, it was “I need to be first”. In the other cases, it was: “If I don’t have the data speeds, we’re not going to be able to do our jobs in the future. So we’re going to move in this direction”.

We saw a lot of feedback in that area. Over 54% of the respondents told us that they’re already working on different 5G technologies. The second biggest thing was: they’re looking for industrial applications like automotive, electronics, etc., which was a big surprise. When asked what do you think is going to be the biggest impact, it was mostly reliability and low latency. The survey revealed that there is an anticipation that consumption will definitely go down. It’s interesting to me is the fact that only 2% said it will not deliver significant impact. It just means everyone believes 5G is going to be as dramatic as we think it is.

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