By Lincoln Lavoie, Broadband Forum Technical Chair
Poor signal, coverage, and performance – these Wi-Fi ‘experience killers’ within the subscriber network have been exacerbated over the past year or two with the switch to home working and schooling.
A common view is that these components are part of the overall broadband offering. Take slow loading time and the speed of access – the common perception amongst customers is that, when these components fail or falter, it means that their broadband connection is to blame. The two are often synonymous and conflated: people never ask ‘do you have internet?’, it’s always ‘do you have Wi-Fi?’.
Because of this, it’s critical for Wi-Fi performance to meet the expectations of the customer. Customers expect transparent coverage in and outside the home. They expect their connection to just work, without having to worry about the how or why, or be inconvenienced with technical problems or troubleshooting.
What is TR-398i2?
Service providers and operators need adequate tools to manage, to control, and to proactively understand and ensure the Quality of Experience (QoE) for their subscribers. They need the tools to leverage the available technologies effectively. One of the critical routes to achieving this is through devices being deployed into the field as part of providers’ overall service offerings.
Broadband Forum’s TR-398 Issue 2 is the latest release in wireless performance testing. TR-398i2 encompasses a set of performance tests and metrics in different scenarios and focuses on Wi-Fi router performance to help benefit broadband gateway vendors and service providers by lowering costs and improving customer satisfaction.
BBF TR-398i2 “Clean air” setup
TR-398i2 does this by evaluating the capability of an Access Point (AP). Importantly, it’s the industry-accepted methodology that is driving the repeatable test runs between the lab and the devices. This means that it offers an apples-to-apples comparison model between firmware changes and devices. It allows service providers and network operators in the broadband community leveraging new equipment to compare devices by seeing how their performance measures up.
The TR-398i2 Test Plan specifies this “Clean Air” set-up, and what it means for how a provider or operator would go about testing the device undertest (DUT) against the station (STA) and how to measure the performance of the Wi-Fi links. It does this in a way that is directly comparable to what the end user’s or subscriber’s expectation is.
Tailored to service provider requirements
Since the BBF.398 Grade Wi-Fi project began, it has been focused on the carrier’s requirements for carrier-grade Wi-Fi. It’s been centred on direct input from the service provider community within the Broadband Forum on what their needs are regarding performance.
With TR-398i2, for the first time in the industry, absolute metrics (i.e., ‘a device must do better than X to pass the test’) have been set on a testing program, meaning only pass/fail outcomes are possible.
The test coverage of TR-398i2 is also narrowed down to parameters and requirements that operators encounter today and is focused on real-world Wi-Fi deployment scenarios. Wi-Fi technology is broad with many variations, but TR-398i2 focuses on what providers and operators are encountering in their deployments.
It covers Wi-Fi 4 to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11n, 802.11ac and 802.11ax). Focused on two, rather than four or eight, spatial streams. This aligns it with the end user’s actual usage of the technology – an end user’s phone won’t have as many as four spatial streams packed into their phone or tablet. It covers all of the issues a provider or operator would need to consider for something to be carrier-grade, from RF performance, coverage, multiple AP & roaming, capacity & bandwidth, and stability and robustness.