In 2018, more users will connect to the Internet via WiFi versus trusty old cable, at least according to current predictions (measurements will tell the full story soon, but I doubt these predictions are wrong).
This prolific use means the WiFi connection will be a critical factor in the quality of experience (QoE) for the largest set of Internet users. QoE is the user’s perception of the network performance and is impacted by both network and application layers. This differs from the traditional quality of service definition many network engineers are familiar with, especially in the case of connections with flexible connection rates, like WiFi.
A WiFi connection could provide an error free link with no dropped packets and maximum throughput of 1Mbit/s; that connection might work great for some online shopping, but load up screen-sharing applications for a client presentation and things likely will go south. Given this scene, the user is apt to complain about their Internet connection, maybe even calling their service provider. Now, that's not because the network didn't perform as expected (i.e., the WiFi connection was operating error free at a given bit rate), but their perception of the network -- or the quality of its services -- didn’t meet their expectations.
This exact problem, including the involvement of the service provider to manage WiFi connections (likely on a device they’ve provided to the subscriber), is playing out with ever-increasing frequency. Service providers face the challenge of operating and managing both their networks and their subscriber’s local WiFi network. Meeting this challenge causes service providers to reconsider prior views WiFi technology, especially when it comes to testing. To this end, the Broadband Forum (BBF) is nearing completion on its first Carrier Grade WiFI Performance Test Plan, currently in draft as WT-398. The test plan includes tests for several key performance areas, including coverage, stability, multiple user support and coexistence.
Testing coverage includes cases to measure the throughput of the absolute performance (AP) and station, as the distance (attention) to the AP is increased. A set of AP targets is included for each distance. In coexistence testing, the AP is subjected to operation in the presence of other WiFi signals (i.e., other networks), that may use adjacent or directly overlapping channels, while again providing absolute performance requirements on the system.
The test plan focuses on providing providers with a tool to evaluate the capabilities and performance of the access points typically provided to subscribers as part of their broadband router or gateway. This gives providers a tool where a set of absolute performance targets can be applied to WiFi testing, enabling apples to apples comparisons between manufacturers, devices and software versions. Service providers can leverage this testing as they roll out new equipment to subscribers, supporting higher speed connections on both the WiFi interfaces (i.e., 802.11ac) and higher speed broadband connections (i.e., Gfast or PON). Coupled with expanding data models for WiFi management and monitoring, the end goal is clear: improve subscribers' QoE and reduce support costs associated with the lWiFi.
The UNH-IOL recently completed a webinar series on WiFi QoE, testing and the forthcoming BBF performance test plan. These webinars provide additional background and technical details on the testing setup implemented by the UNH-IOL. Webinars are available here: New & Expanded WiFi Test & Measurement Assures Performance at the Network Edge and Introduction to Broadband Forum WiFi Performance Testing.
— Lincoln Lavoie, Senior Engineer for Broadband Technologies, UNH-IOL
(Home page photo source: UNH-IOL Facebook)