You could say there’s an inverse correlation between how easy Wi-Fi has made broadband connectivity and how complicated mass market Wi-Fi device testing has become. Consider the plight of service providers and device makers tasked with testing Wi-Fi in recent years: constantly acquiring multiple pieces of testing equipment from multiple vendors, managing integrations, adding more and more test chambers with more antennas, running substantial cabling between antennas and chambers, and figuring out how to properly isolate components for repeatable testing. That was challenging enough when Wi-Fi was a mostly standalone, consumer-focused technology. But with Wi-Fi 6 underpinning new high-performance service offerings and expanding 5G convergence on the horizon, “complicated” can no longer be tolerated when it comes to testing.
This escalating challenge served as the backdrop for Spirent’s recent acquisition of. When I founded octoScope to streamline Wi-Fi testing, the burdens on the teams actually doing the testing were already mounting. Now, with Wi-Fi 6 and 5G poised to join forces to address trends across #WFH, industry 4.0, healthcare anywhere, fixed wireless access, and far beyond, stakeholders simply don’t have time for testing headaches. With that in mind, it’s no longer feasible for service providers and device makers to continue trying to make do with homegrown testbed solutions. Not when profitability, smooth customer experiences and time-to-market are on the line.
It's no longer feasible for service providers and device makers to continue trying to make do with homegrown testbed solutions. Not when profitability, smooth customer experiences and time-to-market are on the line.
Wi-Fi 6 driving new testing needs
The complexity of traditional Wi-Fi testing environments has steadily grown over time. There were roaming, handoffs and mesh networks to be tested across access points and devices using dozens of pieces of testing equipment and hardware from multiple providers. All those devices under test and test systems had to be isolated in an array of chambers and interconnected via hundreds of cable connections, as expanding needs like traffic loading and ever-increasing numbers of antennas were added to the equation.
Wi-Fi 6 and now Wi-Fi 6E, fueled by more than a gigahertz of new spectrum in several countries, introduces even more testing requirements. More capacity, longer battery life, latency improvements, extended range, throughput increases, QoS guarantees, even more users – and it all has to be repeatable across a range of environments.
Service providers and device makers can’t keep running to multiple vendors for standards-based and high-performance testing and they can’t be consumed with managing a complex array of chambers and antennas and the cabling between them. Really, there’s only one way forward: a complete solution that can be deployed quickly and configured for precisely the new testing needs at hand. With Wi-Fi 6/6E, a turnkey, modular approach to testing has emerged not as a nice-to-have, but a necessity.
There’s only one way forward: a complete solution that can be deployed quickly and configured for precisely the new testing needs at hand. With Wi-Fi 6/6E, a turnkey, modular approach to testing has emerged not as a nice-to-have, but a necessity.
Defining a complete Wi-Fi test platform, on-demand
A modern, unified Wi-Fi testing platform built to accommodate traditional and emerging requirements will be capable of delivering channel emulation, testbed automation, full layer 2-7 testing and load testing – but only as needed in the moment. A modular approach addresses the full range of needs any service provider or device maker would bring, from standards-based and pre-certification testing, all the way through to advanced options for high-performance testing. It is supported by highly-realistic channel and network traffic emulation that allows stress testing based on real-world conditions.
Today, Wi-Fi chipset, access point, residential gateway and connected device vendors rightly place a premium on automation and ease of integration to existing systems when selecting Wi-Fi testbeds. In response, a comprehensive testing solution must support automated benchmarking of product performance and validation of functionality and scalability, while presenting simple interfaces and options for integration with existing lab automation.
On the service provider side, operators offering a Wi-Fi service place a high value on automation and ease of use when selecting Wi-Fi testbeds. Their focus is on home and business network environments that “just work” and provide high levels of service that reduce call center inquiries, truck rolls and churn. Delivering this experience at scale to upwards of millions of customers for a range of environments means automated test and assurance processes are a must. In enterprise environments, SLAs for Wi-Fi will increasingly become a reality and pre-deployment testing will go a long way toward ensuring service providers meet promises. From device performance validation and vendor selection to pre-deployment testing, software upgrade testing and recreation of field issues for problem solving, automation will be the common denominator amongst successful Wi-Fi 6 deployments.
The path ahead for better Wi-Fi testing
Modular solutions capable of generating highly-realistic traffic, authentically replicating a range of deployment environments, reducing traditional complexity headaches and supporting automated, repeatable testing scenarios represent the new must-haves for Wi-Fi testing. With octoScope now part of the Spirent family of test solutions, we’re better positioned than ever to offer the industry a one-stop shop for these must-haves, while pursuing octoScope’s original mission of streamlining Wi-Fi testing with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency.
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