There is no denying that consumers, whether individual or business-related, are driving the massive expansion of mobile data consumption supported by enhanced HSPA+/LTE networks and services. Any performance issues at the device or network level (and the corresponding customer dissatisfaction) quickly find their way to the media with wide circulation. Given the increased complexity of LTE (with its multitude of new enhanced features and requirements), rigorous testing of all equipment before market introduction or deployment is becoming even more important.
Comprehensive lab-based performance and interoperability testing of devices and network equipment, where real-world environments and scenarios are replicated, enables suppliers to develop and launch products that meet end-user expectations. It is no surprise that performance testing for a complex LTE environment has to be a multifaceted process. Any rigorous testing regime needs to consider interoperability, data rate and throughput testing, impact of signaling, audio quality, as well as antenna and radio performance.
- Interoperability: Different countries have unique frequency band availability for LTE. Additionally, LTE devices must continue to interoperate with legacy standards when necessary. LTE equipment will need to undergo performance testing to ensure that it can work effectively in noncontiguous frequency bands and across several networks and countries, including support for data roaming.
- Data rate and throughput: LTE-A standards will enable data rates of up to 3Gbit/s per sector, delivering the equivalent of a fixed-line broadband experience to the end user. Achieving data rates up to 3Gbit/s over a mobile network poses a huge challenge for the wireless industry and will require thorough pre- (and post-) deployment testing to ensure maximum throughput and end-user satisfaction.
- Signalling: The number of subscribers and applications are increasing. This, in turn, is generating huge amounts of data and signaling traffic between the handset and the network. With so many users and applications, it is imperative that service providers understand the potential impact of mobile applications on the performance of a device.
- Audio quality: LTE has been predicated on the promise of high-speed mobile broadband access, but subscribers will still expect to make voice calls on their devices, so audio quality needs to be assured. The success of services like HD voice and voice over LTE (VoLTE) depend on device and network performance, and audio quality performance testing is a critical component of LTE testing.
- Multiple antenna and radio configurations: With the advent of LTE, many new multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) antenna configurations have become part of the standard and, therefore, the testing regime. All these configurations must be tested under varying RF conditions and parameters to ensure quality of service.
With the rapid development of LTE standards and equipment, the market is focusing on performance testing in addition to LTE-specific conformance and interoperability testing. Many operators have cited performance as a defining element in the deployment of their network. If performance testing programs are designed to consider a wide range of performance issues, then LTE -- with its promise of superior levels of quality and performance -- will have a much better chance of successful deployment.
Paul Beaver is products director at Anite.