Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and emerging protocols are changing the landscape for mobile developers. They impact the feature sets and performance of BSC and BTS equipment to over-the-air administration, management systems, PBX interfaces, Wi-Fi convergence platforms, and handsets. Testing options have not kept pace with the development of new mobile solutions. Now, however, there is a better testing environment that speeds the product development cycle, lowers cost, and reduces time to revenue.
Until now, developers had only two options for testing new devices in a real-world network: build a test network or simulate network activity. To build a network, the company must acquire an MSC, a BSC, a BTS, home and visitor location registers (HLR/VLR), interfaces to the PSTN and PBX equipment, and application servers. This equipment is designed to support millions of subscribers, so the company pays high-capacity prices for it even though there will only be a handful of active devices on the network at any given time. In addition, traditional cellular network equipment is difficult to deploy and configure--most systems require forklifts or cranes to put in place, and the various components must be integrated and configured on-site.
When building a test network is not an option, network simulation equipment is the only alternative. Some developers spend 10-15 percent of the total development time creating simulators to test products. Simulations can check the accuracy of protocol implementations, but they can't provide real-world interoperability testing on a live network. As a result, a product can "test" in the lab but they may have significant problems when put into live operation on certain networks.
A better solution
The optimum test environment is a real mobile network. Today, a network-in-a-box (NIB) provides a real-world network in a lab-oriented package. Initially developed to support small numbers of subscribers in remote areas, these mini-networks incorporate a BTS, BSC, MSC, (HLR/VLR), PSTN and PBX interfaces, and application servers to enable true functional and load testing for new mobile network devices.
NIBs offer several key features that address the challenges of earlier testing alternatives:
- Compact size and low weight--A NIB can be lifted by two people and installed in a standard 19" rack or on a tabletop.
- Cost effectiveness--A NIB is priced low enough that smaller facilities can afford one.
- Low power consumption--A NIB's power budget is well within reach for even smaller development labs.
- Simple deployment--A NIB can be deployed within two or three hours by lab personnel, so companies don't have to schedule a visit from the network equipment vendor's onsite support team.
- Full testing functionality--A NIB supports all standard testing parameters and statistics for easy analysis and troubleshooting.
- Easy configuration--A NIB offers full configuration of all system level parameters on both BSS and NSS ends, making it easy to perform multiple iterations of tests or multiple test cycles. In addition, its high integration minimizes manual cable changes.
- Multi-band service--A NIB supports the full range of mobile frequency bands so devices can be tested for any service, carrier, and market.
- Local switching--A NIB offers local switching to eliminate the need for traffic to move out to a macro network for switching. Rather, it allows devices in the lab to communicate solely within the testing environment without the need for additional switching hardware.
- Basic and value-added services--A NIB supports basic services such call forwarding, call waiting, call hold, call transfer, handover, roaming, connectivity to other networks, and data services. In addition, it will support value-added services such as prepaid calling, SMSC, AuC, EIR, and text-to-voice, as well as optional voice mail services.
- Modular design--While compact, a NIB has a modular design that allows the addition of new services, in order to protect the investment while allowing testing of new innovations over time.
One additional advantage of a semi-portable device such as a NIB is that developers and marketing groups can use it for on-site customer demonstrations. In short, NIB systems are a much simpler solution for performing real-world testing of mobile devices, ensuring that new solutions will work in the real world while reducing costs and time-to-market.
About the Author
Gilad Peleg is Vice President of Marketing for the Network Systems Division, LGC Wireless.
He has more than 15 years of experience in the telecom industry. Before joining LGC, he was vice president of marketing at Alvarion's Cellular Mobile Business unit. He holds a B.Sc. in Electronic Engineering from The Technion, The Israeli Institute of Technology, and an MBA from Tel-Aviv University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org