Five test and measurement predictions for 2017

-January 11, 2017

It’s a brand new year! And you know what that means- new year resolutions, hitting the gym, and making predictions for the year to come!

This blog, Test Cafe, is focused on modular instrumentation and other disruptive architectures. But it’s time to step back and look at T&M (test and measurement) as a whole to choose some of the interesting trends for the year to come. Here are my Top 5 predictions for 2017.

Industry succumbs to MADness.  No, I’m not talking crazy.  MAD as in mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures.  I expect some significant ones this year.  Why? Just look at financials of many of the players.  Slow growth but quite profitable. In fact, you can argue that the industry hasn’t grown as a whole since 2012. This stasis makes it difficult to move the needles on market share. On the other hand, industry profits are healthy, valuations are at a high, and many of the large players have a nice cash reserve. So, if you can’t move market share by pouring R&D on the problem, maybe it’s time to look at buying someone to get you there. Most of these acquisitions will be “bolt-ons”. That is, a large player buying a smaller player, but leveraging its channel and infrastructure to gain disproportionally more profit. But don’t count out larger plays as well.  As the industry tools up for 5G, some unusual partnerships may emerge for attacking what will be the next growth engine in T&M.

5G ramps up.  I’ve covered 5G extensively in 2016, and expect much more in 2017. 5G is a test vendor’s dream- mission critical and difficult. When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, ”Because that’s where the money is.  Well, banks and communication testing, but I'm not good at tech.” (Some details of that last quote may not be entirely accurate.)  The T&M industry waxes and wanes to the communication waves that flow through it. We’re now experiencing the doldrums between 4G and 5G. But 5G promises to ignite T&M again. And it is very difficult: mmWave, massive MIMO, huge bandwidths, challenging processing, and a race to deploy.  I’ll throw IoT (Internet of Things) in as well. 5G can rearrange the market leaders in RF and communication test. Expect to see many new 5G test products this year.

Disaggregation of instruments.  If you expect to be a major player in 5G, the old product categories won’t cut it. While much of communications has been single channel to date, this all changes with 5G. Whether it’s massive MIMO at lower frequencies, or beamforming at mmWave frequencies, single channel is out. 5G will require many channels and a whole lot of processing to test. For various technical reasons, I expect to see 5G test solutions assembled from modular parts- front ends, data converters, and processors. Plus, a lot of software. The obvious method will be to use industry standards such as PXI or AXIe to deliver these solutions. Indeed, that is my prediction. Remember the truism- MIMO means Modular Instruments Meet Opportunity.

Security testing gets serious.  It’s difficult to pick up a paper these days without reading about another cyber security fail. Whether it’s Target, the DNC, Sony Pictures, Yahoo, or the US federal government, there’s another major hack succeeding that shouldn’t have.  And, the way technology is trending, our exposure is only becoming greater. Autonomous transportation, the electrical grid, and IoT ubiquity will conspire to make a hacker’s paradise if things don’t change. And we don’t need hackers to have things go wrong- the Tesla automatic braking system failed in a dangerous situation that ended with a fatality.  My sense is that 2017 is the year where software security gets taken seriously.  I expect all sorts of L4-7 firewalls to be tested and deployed. IoT security will finally get real. Lastly, there will be growth in testing of safety-critical systems, such as those on planes, trains, and automobiles.

Power management to the people.  The ubiquity of mobile devices, phones, tablets, laptops, and (soon) IoT devices means that battery life will be more critical than ever. To meet expectations, we will need better batteries, better components, and better power management techniques. All these things need test and measurement gear to develop. I expect to see a continual increase in power management and test through 2017.

That’s my Top 5 list for 2017. I’ll report back at the end of the year on how well my predictions worked out.

See also:
•    5G to disrupt test and measurement market
•    Merger-mania: Has test and measurement gone MAD?
•    Why do users buy test gear?  - Part 1

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