Every physical device made by Ericsson is a piece of complex technology, but they all have one thing in common – they all have to work, no matter what the conditions.
An antenna deployed in Sweden will have to withstand snow, sleet, bitingly cold winters and long periods of rain and damp weather – that same antenna deployed in Senegal will need to deal with an annual average temperature of 35 degrees and occasional tropical humidity, and every single component has to work as intended, regardless of where it is placed.
The process of ensuring that everything goes according to plan begins at the Ericsson Test Technology Center in Rosenheim, Germany, where materials and components are constantly being put through their paces before being added to different prototypes and products, eventually ending up in a verified design that is ready for production.
A major aspect of testing for antennas is environmental durability, and wind load is one of the most important factors in antenna design. As the antennas are often very exposed at the top of masts, they need to be able to stand strong, even when buffeted by extremely strong winds.
This presents a variety of challenges – they must be robust, but not so heavy that they need specialized transport, or massive steel structures to support them.
Every adjustment in shape or form must be tested to see if it delivers an improvement on previous designs, and wind load management is one of the areas that has seen some major developments over the years.
Ericsson’s antennas are subjected to extensive testing in wind tunnels, with every minor design adjustment minutely scrutinized to see if it has the required effect. The products are tested from all angles with air flows of varying temperature and humidity to see how well they cope.
The result is a wind load data sheet that allows communications service providers (CSPs) to make informed decisions based on highly accurate test data.
Teamwork key to testing
Being part of the testing team is probably one of the most enjoyable and rewarding jobs at Ericsson – every day, the highly-skilled members get to come up with new ways of using state-of-the-art technology to probe for any weaknesses in materials or designs.
Led by Christopher Lynch, who is Head of Verification & Test Systems, the team sets a high benchmark for everything they do – put simply, there can be no compromising on quality.
“In order to be able to test, build and deliver antennas and products with the highest aspirations on quality, performance and technology, we need to be able to test, verify and prove all the requirements of the products,” he says.
Antennas are designed to be both very robust, yet sensitive, pieces of equipment and despite the tests taking place in a lab environment, Christopher and his team do their best to make sure that the results are as real as it gets.
Tests are carried out in real time and performed according to the ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) 30 019 and IEC60068-2 standards.
The tests are usually carried out in three phases – Incoming inspection, environmental & electrical tests, and a final inspection.
In the incoming and final phases, the antennas are tested for PIM (passive intermodulation) and scattering parameters (S-Par), and there is a visual inspection before and after the environmental and electrical sequences to see if there have been any changes caused by the tests.
The tests themselves are comprehensive, measuring how the units respond to mechanical elements, temperature, humidity, wind load, durability, water and dust ingress, sunlight and UV rays, salt mist and noxious gases.
Shaken, not stirred
The last step of the process is often testing the finished product for transportation to ensure that it arrives at its final destination in perfect working order.
The products are packaged up and subjected to repetitive shaking to ensure that all the components stay in place, even if they have to be transported over rough terrain in a truck or van to their final destination.
Such testing often reveals different ways of packaging and securing materials for transport, which makes a valuable contribution to reducing waste.
Results become the roadmap
Do some components and products fail the some of the tests? Absolutely – the whole point of many of the tests is to keep going up to and beyond the point of failure, which is often at a point far beyond what they will be exposed to outside the lab.
The test results provide invaluable feedback to product designers and engineers, enabling them to make their future creations even more durable and providing them with a roadmap of how to do so.
Key to getting there as quickly as possible is the involvement of the Ericsson Test Technology Center as early as possible. There is little point in developing something all the way to a prototype if a key component is not fit for purpose, so involving the test team early in the process ensures that development teams get valuable early feedback to keep them on the right track.
Data drives confidence
The result of the tests is not just high-performing durable products that will keep working at a high level throughout their life cycle – it is also encapsulated in a vast amount of data that CSPs can analyze and use when making investment decisions.
The adherence to well-regarded industry testing standards makes it easy to compare and contrast different solutions and to see what represents best value for money in terms of both capital and operational expenditure.
When it comes to the value of the work done by the Ericsson Test Technology Center in Bavaria, don’t just take our word for it – put it to the test. Request their results from your local Ericsson representative and see for yourself how extensive testing is not a hindrance on the road to success – instead, it is a vital part of it.
Ericsson Antenna System
Ericsson Test Technology Center