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Testing Wireless Systems

Leveraging automated testing tools

Wireless devices provide users with freedom, convenience, and flexibility. But as their dependency on wireless devices grows, users are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality and performance of wireless networks.

Today's service providers are aware of these concerns and are making big changes to ensure their wireless networks live up to customer expectations. This includes changing their approach to quality assurance (QA) testing. Service providers now recognize that they must test both the device and the network to maximize performance and interoperability. Service providers also have realized something else: How they approach wireless system testing can profoundly impact the quality of their wireless solutions.

Wireless Means Greater Complexity
Wireless devices and the networks in which they coexist are exceedingly complex. Service providers must keep pace with innovation and the demands of the marketplace by constantly building new features and options into their network services. Many service providers also have global clients, which can require managing large-scale, campus-wide deployments with hundreds of access points, intricate physical layouts, and even more intricate security protocols. Such systems must be sufficiently robust to guard against packet loss, plus they must be able to meet stringent interoperability requirements, as they often incorporate devices from many vendors.

Amid short product cycles, surging complexity, and steadfast competition, the list of items to test grows. Yet service providers seldom have enough time to test everything on this list - such as all the combinations of encryption on their larger deployments. Without 100 percent test coverage, however, they risk missing something critical in the testing process. Whether that is a device feature or a compatibility issue, customers will have a problem that needs to be fixed - and making a repair in the field will cost them time and resources.

Steps to More Efficient and Effective Wireless System Testing
Most organizations need to change their view of system testing before they can successfully move forward with wireless system testing and make it part of their standard testing protocol. First, they can no longer view system testing as simply packet routing. The operation of the network, configuration, speed, and packet quality can all dramatically affect the applications that run on them. Second, these systems/integrated solutions do not use the network simply as a delivery mechanism, but rather as part of the application. Changing this mindset is the first step to more efficient and effective wireless system testing, and more important, better quality solutions.

The following tips can further help service providers approach wireless system testing in a more strategic manner. The goal being to ensure that devices not only work as designed, but also work as part of a larger system, a completely integrated solution.

Conduct System Testing in Parallel with Feature Testing
Within the product cycle, organizations typically start with feature and logic testing, and then progress to system and scenario testing. By testing in a linear fashion, however, organizations risk running out of time and skipping aspects of the system testing that can have a dramatic impact on customers. After all, if a customer's device does not interoperate with another vendor's device, then a system issue is just as problematic as a feature bug.

One recommendation is to start system testing much earlier, in parallel with device and feature testing. System testing reveals different issues than feature testing, and no matter how new a product is, organizations need to test it and test for both aspects. By testing as much as possible from both perspectives, organizations will be able to more quickly identify and resolve defects. The benefits are not only greater efficiency and coverage, but a better quality product produced in less time.

Determine Which Tests Are/Should Be Manual
To get the greatest return on automation, organizations need to intelligently evaluate tests to determine which ones are best suited for automation. They can start by understanding why a test is done manually in the first place. Are testers performing it manually because they have no other option? Or, do they believe that the tester is adding value? Typically, the answer is none of the above. Most people simply do not believe that they have the time or permission to change.

The first tests to evaluate for automation are those that are menial and repetitive, and performed for every build. The second set of tests or processes to consider are those involving large numbers of devices that must be set up, and in which testing consists of orchestrating numerous commands in a specific order or simultaneously. By having a tool that can rapidly and reliably execute these tasks time and again, organizations can save large amounts of time. In addition, such targeted automation can provide organizations with significant productivity and coverage gains, resulting in better quality.

Identify Which Tests Need to Be Repeated with Every Release
Once organizations can identify the tests that must be run for each engineering build, they should target those for automation. Automation is an equal opportunity tool and can be leveraged for the most rank and file tests, not only for regression testing.

Organizations should focus on automating the tests that they execute numerous times over the release cycle. These might be menial, repetitive tests, but organizations increase their risk of error by performing them manually. After automating these tests, organizations can set their sights on automating the more complex test cases.

Design for Testability
Organizations can make dramatic strides in testing efficiency - and thus quality - by having developers design for testability. This requires getting development groups involved in testing or at least making them aware that their decisions - such as changing the name of a programming object - ultimately impact testing. When software is designed in a way that makes testing easier, developers and testers can truly work as one team, dedicated to producing a quality product.

Make Quality the Goal, Not Automation
When organizations don't experience productivity gains from automation tools, often it's because they are focused on the wrong result. Organizations typically create automation initiatives with automation as the goal, when quality really should be the goal and measure of success. After all, the fact that an organization has automated 1 million test cases is meaningless if customers are complaining about quality issues.

Organizations therefore need a quality metric that's tied to a business value, such as customer satisfaction, and not simply a number denoting how many test cases they automated. With this data, they can pinpoint where (in the cycle) automation delivers the greatest return, both to the business and to customers. They can then make better, more strategic decisions about implementing automated testing tools - and automate the right things.

Automated Testing Tools for Wireless System Testing: Measuring Results in Quality
Wireless systems are typically plagued by more manual testing and lower coverage than traditional wired systems. Service providers and other organizations can leverage automated testing tools to tackle these issues and produce higher quality products in less time and with fewer resources.

More Stories By Chris Bowlds

Chris Bowlds is a solution architect at Fanfare Software. Chris has nearly 12 years of high-tech industry experience, having worked in tech support, QA, development, professional services, training, and sales.

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