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Optimizing Test Strategies for a New World of Wi-Fi

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The emergence of use cases for work from home (WFH), small business, hospitals, factories, IoT, and the onslaught of Covid, elevated Wi-Fi's importance, making it the new global wireless workhorse. This seismic shift requires a completely new approach to testing. Learn about the new generation of testing solutions that address this challenge.

Best effort. That about sums up expectations of Wi-Fi among daily users. In the coffee shop? Airport? The park? Our homes? We take what we can get. Some networks are better than others, but in the end, it’s always been “just Wi-Fi.”

Lately, the emergence of use cases for work from home (WFH), small business, hospitals, factories, and IoT, and the onslaught of Covid, has elevated the importance of Wi-Fi, pushing it into the role of global wireless workhorse for our generation, and we expect, for the future. Yet, for all the performance demands being placed on Wi-Fi, it is tested infrequently and inconsistently. This stands in stark contrast to mobile networks, which are tested extensively by operators.

But this is changing. The rapid evolution of use cases, introduction of Wi-Fi 6/6E, rivaling 5G tech and Wi-Fi’s anticipated convergence and harmonization with 5G represent a sea change. The latest tech advancements see Wi-Fi all grown up, with new responsibilities and expectations, and all the complexities of a mature, sophisticated technology. Especially for indoor environments, Wi-Fi 6/6E has the potential to rival what 5G can deliver, at a fraction of the cost.

Considering the COVID-19 impact on Wi-Fi in the wireless ecosystem – which won’t likely change post-pandemic – service providers (SPs) will need to “up their game” to deliver the performance and QoS required to continue the productivity gains and economic trends established pre-pandemic. But offering bulletproof performance requires operators to adopt unprecedented, advanced testing and validation strategies.

In this new era of Wi-Fi, there’s no more room for error. Performance issues won’t just get a shoulder shrug. They’ll impact business revenues. Degrade user experiences. They’ll affect the bottom line. Meanwhile, competitive pressures will intensify at an accelerating velocity. Speed to market for a host of new devices with expanded feature sets will drive competitive battles. Just as importantly, it will necessitate a completely new approach to testing.

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Competitive pressures will intensify at an accelerating velocity. Speed to market for a host of new devices with expanded feature sets will drive competitive battles. Just as importantly, it will necessitate a completely new approach to testing.

Goodbye disaggregation, hello results

In a previous post, octoScope founder (and now Senior VP of Wi-Fi Products with Spirent) Fanny Mlinarsky, discussed the rising urgency to streamline and automate Wi-Fi testing. Homegrown, multi-vendor testing shops based on garden-variety test products just weren’t meant for scale. Originally, within the more confined requirements of Wi-Fi’s earlier incarnation, they got the job done. But now, with Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E offering customers 5G speeds and latency, based on a new set of standards, it’s a non-starter.

Today, Spirent recognizes a critical opportunity to evolve from slow and expensive DIY testing to turnkey, configurable Wi-Fi test suites that deliver a seamlessly integrated testbed. All without prohibitively large and expensive chambers typically employed for performance testing that comprised previous approaches.

Evolution to a unified approach to Wi-Fi testing

It should be noted that a unified solution does more than just streamline processes – it impacts business outcomes.

Moving ahead, operators and device makers don’t want to buy test equipment – they want to buy results. And they need them as quickly as possible. Testing is emerging as not just a checkpoint before launch, but a driver of innovation itself. Wi-Fi 6 won’t be possible with a best-effort approach. It must be about maximizing performance results and getting them to market rapidly with advanced unified solutions.

Wi-Fi testing strategies for success

Spirent recognizes five key strategies for Wi-Fi 6 testing that merit serious consideration:

  • Rely on solutions, not boxes. Originally, Wi-Fi testing was considered so complicated that some companies skipped it all altogether. Those that did conduct testing relied on a range of customized solutions they set up and managed on their own. Now, however, attempting to apply the old playbook to today’s testing requirements simply won’t deliver the performance, speed and efficiency demands. Look for standards-based, end-to-end high-performance testing solutions that harness products, technologies, and expertise in one unified approach. This should also be easy to integrate and built for specific types of devices, and scale for rollouts or deployment complexity. When you have the right solution for the job, the right results follow.

  • Emulate real world environments. It’s not enough to anticipate Wi-Fi 6 traffic patterns in testing, they must mirror what will be encountered outside the lab. Isolating devices via a multi-chamber approach and injecting actual traffic or impairments for repeatable results is the first step toward planning for unknown trouble scenarios that previously only turned up after a product shipped. Testing environments must accurately represent real-world applications and experiences. That means modeling applications, conducting over-the-air connection testing, and focusing on latency impacts along the way.

  • Optimize for mesh testing. As mesh networks become more commonplace, there is an opportunity to greatly improve connectivity throughout the home and enterprise. But with users and devices moving constantly within fixed environments, optimizing connections at any given moment across multiple access points in a range of structural environments poses a major challenge. The ability to emulate a limitless number of environments, simulating distance, obstructions, motion and more will be critical in ensuring top performance. Especially as the market awaits approved standards to design against.

  • Automate for comprehensive and rapid results. Global consolidation of lab space through next-gen automation has become a growing need in testing as the size of some Wi-Fi test systems are often quite large. When customers purchase multiple units, they face serious space constraints. Additionally, the complexity of comprehensive Wi-Fi testing has reached a stage where next-gen test automation must be incorporated for continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD). Automated test suites must encompass a range of channel and traffic emulation for validating the device performance of YouTube video, video conferencing, gaming, security cameras, factory automation, and so many applications in daily use within wireless environments. Cutting-edge lab and test automation are now Wi-Fi testing table stakes.

  • Account for scale requirements in testing. One size does not fit all for Wi-Fi testing, making it ideal to have a choice of pre-integrated testbed systems that can meet exacting needs, regardless of the project testing scope. Where one customer might only need to simulate a few client devices, another might need to do this for 50 to 100 devices by adding instruments and software. The ability to merge specialized products with advanced automation can deliver best-in-class testbed creation that is easy to deploy, can be sized for specific requirements and is extendable as future demands necessitate.

Wi-Fi’s new role in WFH, along with new use cases for small business, hospitals, factories, IoT, and Wi-Fi 6’s promise, all represent a world of opportunity where this ubiquitous connectivity tech finally stands on its own as a highly capable, and highly performant solution for complex devices, services and access environments. But Wi-Fi’s full potential can only now be achieved with an evolved and holistic advanced test strategy that mirrors the ambitions of the technology itself.

Learn more about Spirent’s octoBox automated wireless testing solutions.

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James Kimery Headshot
James Kimery

VP of Product Management, Spirent

In this role, James Kimery leads the product management organization in the company’s Connected Devices Business Unit encompassing wireless service experience, channel emulation and OTA testing, and mobile-based location testing. Prior to Spirent, James was a Director of Marketing for NI’s Wireless Research and SDR businesses which entailed leading NI’s advanced wireless research initiatives while also managing the company’s software defined radio business including the Ettus Research subsidiary. Before joining NI, James was the Director of Marketing for Silicon Laboratories' wireless division. As Director, the wireless division grew revenues exceeding $250M (from $5M) and produced several industry innovations including the first integrated CMOS RF synthesizer and transceiver for cellular communications, the first digitally controlled crystal oscillator, and the first integrated single chip phone, AeroFONE. AeroFONE was voted by the IEEE as one of the top 40 innovative ICs ever developed. James also worked at National Instruments before transitioning to Silicon Labs and led several successful programs including the concept and launch of the PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation (PXI) platform. James has authored over 50 technical papers and articles covering a variety of wireless and test and measurement related topics. James holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (MBA) and Texas A&M University (BSEE).

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