Check your Batteries (and Your VoIP)

By Eric Griffith

June 28, 2006

The leading Wi-Fi testing companies have new software suites, one for assuring voice services and another checking to see how Wi-Fi impacts battery life.

The two companies vying for vendors and carrier dollars to test Wi-Fi wares continue to issue new software suites to check different facets of WLANs.

VeriWave, maker of the WaveTest 90 and WaveTest 20 traffic generators, is selling a VoIP QoS Service Assurance Test. The goal is to peg the service level a WLAN can support, measured with an R-value or Mean Opinion Score (MOS) of 0 to 5, both values used to measure the quality of phone calls.

The test can assign background traffic to APs to see how it impacts the call quality -- or it can look in the opposite direction, says Eran Karoly, vice president of marketing at VeriWave. "If you make access points and want to limit the number of calls per AP, you can see what the capacity is for other traffic like data, without degrading voice traffic," he says. "It's goal seeking — allocating traffic with guaranteed service levels for calls."

The tests include a Vocera Call Badge capacity test. Vocera's badges are worn by employees and used to make and receive hands-free speakerphone calls anywhere within the service area of the WLAN running the Vocera software. However, testing to make sure a network is capable of handling the extra VoIP traffic the badges generate has usually been limited to taking a number of badges, putting them in a room, starting them, and making an individual listen to the quality of each to see if it got choppy as more traffic was generated. Karoly claims he's heard of it taking weeks. VeriWave now can create emulation of the Vocera traffic, letting an enterprise or vendor test how well Vocera works with their equipment without having to first make the investment in the badges. "Now they can do optimization without having 20, 30, 50 Vocera badges in for the tests," he says. "They save time and costs, and find more issues earlier in development."

VeriWave's VoIP QoS Service Assurance Test is out now and costs $6,250. It runs on both versions of the WaveTest system.

Azimuth Systems, with its Faraday cage W-series chassis and blades for testing equipment, now in use by the Wi-Fi Alliance for testing 802.11 equipment interoperability, has tests for VoIP, mesh, even Cisco compatibility. Its latest looks at a factor becoming more and more important as Wi-Fi migrates to phones and other non-PC devices without a user interface or even a keyboard: battery life.

"This is all part of a big move from a niche industry where Wi-Fi was a nice toy for geeks to Wi-Fi becoming a generic part of networking," says Graham Celine, senior director at Azimuth.

This Wi-Fi Power Consumption Benchmark Suite checks how fast the juice is sapped while Wi-Fi modes are live. The goal is to let vendors know how they can optimize a product design and "power consumption algorithms to help extend the battery life," according to the company, by showing how Wi-Fi specifically impacts it.

The effect on battery life can be impacted by the distance of a device from the access point. Consumption may be small right near an AP, but completely different on the other side of a house or building, whether using a VoWi-Fi phone or a Nintendo DS. Unassociated items can pull quite a bit of juice as they probe the air for a connection. They can also tie the battery test to data and voice usage on the network. The W-Series helps emulate that distance in a repeatable fashion.

"Our architecture lets vendors add other parameters, such as standby modes or consumptions from LCD screens, manually," Celine says. "Our scripting environment can let them do it with different factors, such as turn-off times for a screen. This is valuable for ISPs so they can set up usage models and cascade them. Set product to idle for five minutes, then active for two, then idle again, and run it that way until the battery dies."

Chipmakers frequently trumpet their low power consumption, but Celine says that's based on the current drain from the chip. He says the tests with Azimuth are of real-world usage in a typical environment.

The software runs not only on the W-Series but also the VTB-VHS voice handset test solution from the company. No word on price yet, but look for it to become available in August.

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