Faster Testing Could Mean More Certified Wi-Fi

By Eric Griffith

October 24, 2006

A new suite from Azimuth promises to cut automated Wi-Fi certification testing time by two thirds — even for non-PC products without a user interface.

This won't be news to members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, but the rest of the world should take notice: a new test suite from Azimuth Systems of Acton, Massachusetts promises to cut the time it takes to test Wi-Fi products by two thirds, a move that could mean more certified products on shelves next year.

"We think this is an important event for the industry," says Jeff Abramowitz, vice president of marketing for Azimuth. "This will enable more efficient testing for members of the Alliance, for products that are traditionally more difficult to test."

He's talking about the non-PC devices here -- the "application-specific devices" (ASDs), sometimes called "headless" products, that often have no screen or user interface to speak of. That can mean anything from phones to gaming consoles to consumer electronics to media players to cameras — items that may not have expansion slots, but will have room to run an embedded, lightweight application for testing.

The AzCert Wi-Fi Certification Test Suite will be used at all of the Alliance's Authorized Test Laboratories (ATLs) around the world. The methodology it uses was developed by a task group within the Alliance formed back in 2004. "The goal was to establish a certification methodology for these devices — but it turns out the methodology can be used for other, more traditional devices as well," says Abramowitz. Thus, it's not just about the ASDs — the test will be used across the board on all Wi-Fi products.

The Alliance is providing all its members with the free code to make Device Under Test (DUT) software that generates Wi-Fi traffic that can be used in a test. Vendors have to port it to their products to go through the test (unless some chip vendors or others do the port for them, as this test will also be used on reference designs from the chipmakers). The code may or may not be present on the product when it finally ships to end users, as its only purpose is to create traffic measured by the AzCert test's ADEPT-WFA Capture Engine sniffer. Once it senses the auto-generated traffic, a management tool is activated to run the complete Wi-Fi certification test using the existing Alliance testbed of products.

Azimuth is already working with Taproot Systems to create a reference design with the DUT software that can run on Wi-Fi enabled smartphones. The company already makes WLAN software for mobile phone operating systems like Symbian OS 9.x.

The time required to test a single device depends on the number of things a product will be certified for by the Alliance, but for the basics (a single band radio with WPA2 security), Abramowitz says testing takes four to five hours.

Karen Hanley, senior marketing director for the Wi-Fi Alliance, says the efficiencies of the new test really are there from the start. "Previously, if a test was customized [for an ASD] it took more man hours just to get ready," she says. Abramowitz adds that the prep time in such a case could be weeks, not days or hours, depending on the product.

The AzCert test Capture Engine runs on the ADEPT-WFA product from Azimuth, which all the Alliance ATLs started using for testing earlier this year. Azimuth will also sell vendors tools to help them ensure a passing test at home before submitting to the Alliance labs. While the DUT Validation Tool software will test to make sure the product runs as it should for the specification, Azimuth's Director software upgrade will automate the process of testing multiple products. And of course, it will work with the Azimuth W-Series chassis, the boxes that act as a mini clean room to mitigate any Wi-Fi interference.

No products have been certified by the ATLs yet (the labs are still training with the software), but Azimuth expects the first to be announced soon. And just how many more certifications can we expect with this new system? Abramowitz didn't have specific numbers, just expectations, saying the increase "could be fairly dramatic as the faster turnaround is expected. And the ease [of use] should bring the cost to members down as well."

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