Testing the future

by david.nunes
Moukadam BahaaIssue:North America 2009
Article no.:11
Topic:Testing the future
Author:Bahaa Moukadam
Title:Vice President Marketing
Organisation:Sunrise Telecom
PDF size:196KB

About author

Bahaa Moukadam is Sunrise Telecom’s Vice President of Marketing. Throughout his two decades of experience in the industry, he has held key roles in executive management, product management, marketing, business development and engineering. Mr Moukadam worked as the Vice President of Next Generation Networks at Spirent Communications after the company acquired Netcom Systems, where he headed product marketing. Prior to Spirent, Mr Moukadam worked at Hewlett Packard (now Agilent), Wandel & Goltermann Technologies (now JDSU), and Telex Computer Products. Bahaa Moukadam holds a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Missouri.

Article abstract

Test equipment, after years without fundamental change, is evolving rapidly to keep up with advances in network technology and to help manufacturers and network operators deliver the next generation of network services. The coming generation of test equipment will be standards-based, small, handheld, software-driven, field reconfigurable devices – easy to use, but capable of performing complex tests and resolving complex problems – if not immediately, by communicating the test results instantly to headquarters for more advanced diagnostics and technical support.

Full Article

Test equipment must evolve continuously to stay one step ahead of the technologies it’s designed to test. Except for becoming smaller and better integrated, test equipment has not changed fundamentally in 20 years. In the next five years, test equipment will undergo a major transformation into a full-featured appliance, sophisticated and elegant, yet rugged and intuitive. It will appear simple to the user, but will execute complex measurements that drive, coordinate and apply ‘judgement’ to a host of activities and processes. This transformation in test equipment – the advancing technologies, the changing workforce and growing consumer expectations – will accompany and mark a turning point in the delivery of how we live, work and play in the future. Home of the future Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ 2007 prediction of a “connected experience 24 hours a day” is becoming a reality as homes become not only connected, but highly integrated. Gates envisioned home networks with PCs, music players, game consoles, and media centres linked to one another and the Internet. In this home, TV screens throughout the house would allow people to stay connected, for example, to their football games as they move from room to room, without missing a single play, or to project movies in their children’s room and download them to their cars before driving to see the grandparents. This vision, according to Parks Associates, will become a reality within the next 10 years. Higher bandwidth and a more robust foundation for wireless technologies will support a new definition of on-demand services. In the next five years, on-demand will be defined as delivering whatever consumers want (voice, video, music, books, photo libraries, TV, movies, and so on.), when they want it, where they want it (inside or outside the home), and how they want it (cell phone, notebook, high-definition TV, PC, media player, and so on.). In the past five years, the nature of the hybrid/fibre coax (HFC) network has undergone significant changes, from analogue to mostly digital. In the future, multi-system operators (MSOs) will use an all packet-based IP network to stream only the data desired by each individual, at the time they want it and to the device and location they choose: a genuine on-demand experience. This will radically change the broadcast model used today with HFC networks, where customers pick and choose from an enormous range of options, to a narrowcast downstream on demand model, where data is transmitted only to a specific list of recipients. This will allow MSOs to adjust their compression and channel utilization for more efficient and dynamic networks. For test equipment manufacturers, these changes require the development of test appliances that intelligently and quickly aid in rolling out and maintaining advanced services. Test appliances will be smarter and able to anticipate potential problems for a number of constantly changing scenarios. Unlike analogue networks, where technicians needed only a signal level meter (SLM) and television set to troubleshoot the entire network when customers reported ‘snowy’ pictures, test appliances will have to execute a host of complex tests to resolve issues. In fact, in digital networks, the very nature of the problem has changed from snowy pictures to either pixilated or tiled images, or a complete loss of picture. In digital networks, changes in network performance levels can go virtually undetected until the picture fails. Today’s test appliances let technicians take measurements and solve basic problems quickly and seamlessly, in much the same way as using an SLM, but on extremely complex systems. While performing highly sophisticated tests, these appliances will be increasingly intuitive and easier to use by technicians of varying skill and experience levels, from the installer running wires to a home, to service technicians, and to technicians troubleshooting and fixing problems. When issues cannot be solved simply, test appliances will transmit relevant information to more experienced technicians who can resolve the problem and send back a solution. To maintain service levels in the future, every field technician will need the ability to make accurate measurements of the network performance wherever they are, collect the data and transmit it instantaneously to the network operations centre for analysis and action. This constant vigilance requires test appliances that both perform sophisticated tests and serve as communication tools. Built-in 3G wireless communication interfaces will transform test appliances into workforce productivity tools. As tests are completed, the equipment will send the results to a central server for data analysis, collection and trending. Every technician will have instant access to real-time and historical data that will speed troubleshooting by providing step-by-step, online help. Web-based tools will provide a macro-view of the street and neighbourhood, allowing technicians to ascertain whether a problem is in the network or at the premise before going on-site. Using IM (instant messaging) or other built-in communications interfaces, technicians will communicate via voice, e-mail and other means, eliminating the need to carry PCs, cell phones or other gadgets. Work orders outlining the next day’s assignment, transmitted overnight to the appliance while the technician sleeps, will eliminate the need for daily trips to the central station. GPS systems will identify the fastest routes, help avoid construction and traffic delays, and enable supervisors to quickly locate personnel with supplies or specialized expertise and dispatch them to new locations, streamlining operations and saving truck rolls. To improve performance, managers will be able to analyze metrics like time per site, tests performed, signature capture, and end-of-testing timestamps. However, discussion of the future of test equipment would not be complete without addressing the move toward environmentally friendly testing. The most obvious and simplest change service providers can make is to equip field technicians with energy efficient vehicles, including hybrids and electric vehicles. In addition, innovative, energy efficient solutions that take advantage of the newest technologies to optimize efficiency will become a de facto part of every field technician’s arsenal. In the near future, stand-alone test sets will virtually disappear from the field. Test sets will become increasingly modular and software driven, so that an initial hardware investment can adapt to a variety of test requirements and evolve with telecommunications technology and applications. This will eliminate the need to replace outdated equipment, reducing waste not only for service providers, but in the manufacturing process as well. In addition, mobile test sets will make use of greener, rechargeable and longer lasting batteries, which may eventually even be replenished using solar power, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and further reducing environmental impact. Optimizing energy efficiency will help telecom suppliers reduce their environmental footprint, cut costs and make communications more affordable for everyone. Test appliance design will evolve to help MSOs control capital expenses. Modular test appliances built on open systems will lower costs and ensure that technicians have access to best-in-class solutions. Smaller and designed to mimic the look and feel of common handheld devices, the appliances will be customized seamlessly while maintaining a standard, intuitive user interface, reducing training costs and improving productivity. The continuous speed of technology evolution is a constant challenge for test equipment manufacturers. By designing a new generation of test appliances, test companies will help MSOs deliver the home of the future.

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