Test that Mesh

By Eric Griffith

April 25, 2006

Azimuth's testing platform has scripts to put multi-hopping mesh access points through their paces. Plus: Wi-Fi Certification testing could move out of independent labs.

Engineering test equipment maker Azimuth Systems of Acton, Massachusetts wants to make sure that the mesh network that may be in your future, be it in the office or outside and citywide, is up to snuff.

The company this week introduced a suite of mesh-test software scripts that run on the Azimuth W-Series platform, a combination of a chassis with blade modules coupled with a radio-proof enclosure where products are placed for testing. The product emulates motion between devices, providing repeatable testing with the right scripts.

Azimuth's Vice President of Marketing, Jeff Abramowitz, says the new scripts will address a number of mesh-specific characteristics such as multi-hop throughput, roaming and fail-over when a node goes down, making sure security settings don't impact performance, and that multiple BSSIDs perform properly for security's sake.  Add to that voice call capacity and quality for Wi-Fi phones. "Now it's not just about throughput, but latency, as you add different hops," says Abramowitz.

"Even more important is adding background traffic," he says. "Same as we flood an access point with traffic from clients, we can test a client device talking to an access point and inject background noise of additional clients to see if the access point bogs down. That's particularly important in metropolitan-sized networks."

The mesh testing software suite is priced at $11,000, which only seems high until you consider the fact that a W-Series set of products runs between $100,000 to $200,000.

Azimuth is also the preferred partner now for equipment used by the Wi-Fi Alliance for interoperability testing, or at least it will be soon, as the ADEPT-WFA product the Alliance test labs will be using just shipped this month. Other customers probably won't be able to get it until July. Abramowitz says, "It's now a mandatory part of the testbed," which will help the Alliance in the testing of what it calls "application-specific devices," meaning non-PC products with Wi-Fi, such as handsets, gaming handhelds, and other consumer electronics. "This way, the smaller devices can test their Wi-Fi with a standard process and do it efficiently," he says.

There's a possibility in the future that the testing by the Alliance might not even require a third party lab. Azimuth's W-Series chassis has the ability to record its results in an encrypted format, and the company says it could lead to vendors testing their own equipment and submitting results to the Alliance for Wi-Fi Certification. It would certainly save time and money.

"Once the approving bodies have confidence in it, that's how they'll go," says Abramowitz.

Meanwhile, Azimuth is quick to point out that the 802.11t standard for repeatable testing of WLANs we wrote about yesterday is not just available from the competition at VeriWave, which yesterday announced scripts for its traffic generator to check Wi-Fi performance. Abramowitz says that list of primary metrics for testing according to 11t "looks like the test on our script page for the W series. There's a lot of overlap." Which isn't surprising, since the chairman of the 802.11t Task Group in the IEEE standards body is an Azimuth employee. (VeriWave's CTO is also active in the 11t Group, which probably won't have a finished specification for testing until 2008.)

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