Need for Wi-Fi test equipment on the rise
Olga Yashkova- October 9, 2012Mobile operators are facing significant capacity and coverage challenges due to the quick adoption of smartphones as well as an increased usage of data indoors. Wi-Fi technology became the most popular solution for cellular offload because it is inexpensive, unlicensed, and widely available. Offloading traffic in high-demand areas from both cellular to Wi-Fi hotspots will increase the performance and capacity of the network with the added advantage of reduced cost to provide data for mobile operators.
Service providers (SPs) are currently working on an offload strategy to provide carrier grade Wi-Fi. Although this technology has been around for a long time, the quality of service it offers has been very inconsistent. Historically Wi-Fi has been offered for convenience by hotels, coffee shops and certain other places; however this is changing as operators need to offload the traffic as much as possible to clear up the capacity of their cellular networks. In addition, they want the offload procedure to be as seamless as possible. If the Wi-Fi experience is not acceptable, the user would not blame the hotel or a coffee shop for the poor Wi-Fi network, but blame the current SP that can result in customer churn. Currently, SPs and vendors are still looking at the signal strengths. Unfortunately, though, these do not show how many users are already on the network and how congested the network is or even whether it is configured correctly beyond the access points. Industry players, such as Ixia, have emerged with a solution by presenting traffic over the air and measuring the performance that the user actually receives from the Wi-Fi networks.
Another solution is the 802.11 ac standard, which incorporates the latest technologies from the 802.11n standard to provide higher throughput. It is expected that 802.11ac-enabled products will first enter the residential market by the beginning of 2013. Later, products will emerge in the enterprise and carrier grade Wi-Fi markets. This trend is expected to introduce a new set of testing solutions in performance testing of 802.11ac products. Currently, 802.11ac test solutions are primarily used in the R&D stage, but are expected to shift to the quality assurance (QA), manufacturing and field tests applications as the market matures.
With the increased adoption of multimedia applications by consumers, the demand for Wi-Fi test equipment is expected to be on the rise as well. According to Craig Mathias, a principal with the mobile and wireless advisory firm Farpoint Group, quick adoption of streaming media (voice and video) by consumers creates a significant volume of traffic that can put a tremendous strain on enterprise and especially home networks. Having functional verification of that kind of capability specifically for capacity will be crucial when testing Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi technology is expected to offer tremendous opportunities to test equipment vendors in the years to come. According to Frost & Sullivan’s latest analysis, the global Wi-Fi test equipment market reached $159.4 million in 2011 and is expected to reach $442.6 million in 2018 growing at CAGR of 15.7 percent from 2011 until 2018.
Chart 1.1 represents the global revenue forecast for the Wi-Fi test equipment market for 2011, 2014 and 2018 in millions of dollars (source: Frost & Sullivan analysis):
To conclude, Wi-Fi offers tremendous opportunities to test equipment vendors. Obviously, this technology is here to stay and be the primary mechanism for offloading the exploding data traffic. Wi-Fi test equipment is the crucial element that will enable SPs to successfully and flawlessly offload mobile data and multimedia traffic thus ensuring positive quality of experience.
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About the Author
Olga Yashkova is program manager, measurement & instrumentation for Frost & Sullivan.