Organizations should adopt internal testing and verification procedures that certify all changes to infrastructure and client devices in a lab prior to rollout in production environments. These procedures and testing ensure that most wireless connectivity and performance issues will be identified in a lab environment and corrected prior to rollout. This will greatly improve network stability and reduce downtime.
In addition, since Wi-Fi utilizes a shared medium, understanding the capabilities and limitations of your client device base will enable network engineers and architects to design a solid solution that meets ALL client requirements in their environment. Unfortunately, this also means that the wireless network typically must be designed to support the least common denominator as far as client devices are concerned. Knowing device limitations will enable an organization to identify, prioritize, and appropriately budget for device replacement as well as integrate new requirements into device sourcing events.
Consider including the following types of tests in your procedures:
- Client Basic Association Test - assess the ability of the client device to establish a connection to the network using the applicable authentication and encryption methods approved for use.
- Radio Coverage Association Test - assess the ability of the device to re-establish a network connection after moving outside of the AP coverage area then back into the coverage area.
- Radio Strength Test - assess the RF signal strength and signal quality of the client device.
- Radio Interference Test - verify the ability of a device to remain associated to an AP during periods of interference at varying levels.
- Radio Scan Test - assess the ability for the device to scan only a subset of channels to improve active scanning performance and reduce latency during association and roaming.
- Radio Poor Signal Test - assess the ability for the client device to establish a network connection in an area with poor coverage to determine effective receive sensitivity and coverage boundary.
- Radio Roaming Analysis - assess the performance of the device when roaming between multiple APs using the applicable authentication and encryption methods approved for use. Hint - breakdown the roaming into several sections to determine where delays may be occurring (probing, association, EAP, EAPoL key). Also look for anomolies including de-authentication or dis-associations.
- DHCP Roaming Analysis - assess the client DHCP behavior and performance during network roaming (including DHCP renewal behavior).
- Application Behavior Testing - verify the ability for the application to function correctly under the given scenario, sometimes also referred to as User Acceptance Testing (UAT). This can also identify performance problems due to incorrect application design or development (typically due to strict application timers designed to work over low-latency wired local area networks, not wireless networks).
- Network WAN Latency Test - assess the client and application performance given varying WAN latency (if the RADIUS or application server is remote across a WAN).
- Network WAN Load Test - assess the client and application performance given varying WAN load (if the RADIUS or application server is remote across a WAN).
- Network WLAN Load Test - assess the client and application performance with varying levels of WLAN clients on the same access point or channel.
- Network WLAN QoS Test - assess the client and application support for QoS traffic classification, marking, and prioritization over the air using 802.11e and IP DSCP.
- Battery Life Test - assess the battery life of mobile devices under various load conditions, usage frequency, and battery ages.
- Radio Power Save Operation - assess the interoperability and performance of the device with various power save modes of operation (PS Polling, U-APSD, PS Multi-Poll).
- Device Sleep / Hibernation / Screen Lock Behavior - assess the behavior of the device after being placed into a sleep, hibernate, or screen lock state and brought back awake.
Also, document the procedures in a clear, concise, and detailed fashion to ensure process repeatability. This will allow the organization to establish consistent testing processes, establish netwok and device performance baselines, and allow comparison of new results to historical results. Repeatable and well-documented procedures will also allow process handover to new staff members as roles and responsibilities change, as well as aid in network troubleshooting should the procedure need to executed by an untrained employee at a remote site in an emergency.
Upon execution of each test case, the following data points should recorded, analyzed, and included in test reports (may vary between tests):
- Infrastructure hardware models, software versions and configurations deployed (perhaps grouped into configuration "releases" similar to common software development practices)
- Client device operating system version, supplicant used, software versions, and driver versions
- Functional test scenario observation of results
- Multi-Channel packet capture and analysis
- Automated protocol analysis (includes high level wireless statistics, such as retransmissions, channel utilization, etc.)
- Spectrum analysis
Organizations should invoke these testing procedures in the following circumstances:
- Wi-Fi infrastructure code upgrades
- Wi-Fi infrastructure configuration changes
- Device software upgrades (OS, driver, or supplicant)
- New device deployments
- New application deployments on wireless clients
Revolution or Evolution? - Andrew's Take
Defining, implementing, and regularly executing wireless network and device verification procedures can be time consuming but can drastically improve network uptime and performance. The initial cost of time, labor, and investment in professional tools will quickly be recouped through the elimination of support incidents, subsequent resource utilization and loss of business. As wireless networks continue to grow more complex and client diversity explodes with the "i-Everything" and BYOD trends, investing time up-front in client testing and verification will reap dividends with improved network stability and should reduce support expenses in the long-run. It will also make your network users (and management) happier!
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