The capabilities of new technologies, new features, or new services must be first verified in a lab environment where special network conditions are tested. The testing is carried out in an isolated network environment using user equipment (UE) simulators or precommercial devices connected to a complete radio access and core network. Although such lab setups do not accurately reflect real network environments, they do allow the verification of fundamental functionalities and objectives.
Lab testing may include:
radio connection setup and tear down procedures;
user authentication and subscriber profile management;
end-to-end user services provision;
radio link allocation and utilization;
and data bearer performance.
The results are essential factors for network planning decision-making. It is crucial to have a test tool that can connect and control existing and, even more importantly, precommercial mobile devices, since the new technologies or services being tested might not yet be available commercially.
Such a tool should be able to trace the RF interface and run application layer service tests to collect essential key performance indicators (KPIs).
It is required that the tool supports both classic modem connection and network adapter connection methods as well as smartphone tethering.
Network planning is the initial stage of a network or new technology deployment. The overall goal in any wireless system is to maximize coverage and capacity while fulfilling the agreed quality of service targets. The increasing adoption of smartphones in the market and, consequently, traffic growth require mobile operators to further invest in the network; hereby, the planning phase is crucial to focus and optimize such investment.
The network planning stage starts with several critical business strategy decisions, including defining the objectives for coverage, capacity, quality, and costs. These objectives are necessary for the link budget calculations.
Once the link budget has been established, the actual planning phase begins. This includes coverage and capacity planning using propagation prediction; frequency and/or code planning depending on the technology; and, finally, the network configuration and dimensioning.To support the planning stage, there are several solutions available that can assist in verifying the objectives and trim the processes.
After the successful implementation in the lab, a geographically limited field trial is conducted to test performance in a real network environment. The same detailed tests performed in the previous phase (lab testing) are now run in a real radio environment.
In a field trial, it is possible to verify the essential link budget parameters that are related to the transmitting and receiving side of the equipment; among these parameters are sensitivity, transmit power, and path loss. The field trial will also provide an opportunity to evaluate base station antenna models and site design models. Such trials also enable mobile operators to collect accurate RF coverage information that can be used to trim the propagation models applied in the planning tools. This may include measuring the multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) performance of LTE.
Friendly User Trial
If a group of users is involved in a trial – e.g. as part of a friendly customer project – the network load can now also be taken into account, enabling more realistic tests for service quality targets. This requires the ability to measure end-to-end service quality (QoS) on voice, video, and data from a real end-user perspective with commercial user equipment such as smartphones.The full range of information, from application to radio layer, coupled with powerful analysis tools is required to extract and statistically process the collected measurements. This allows mobile operators to draw conclusions about the objectives for the network performance and the perceived end-to-end quality of service.