Communications service providers look to test solutions

Wireless and landline telecommunications companies and service providers face significant challenges in rolling out, maintaining, and upgrading their networks and infrastructure to support multiple data-communication standards while maintaining the highest levels of quality for voice and data traffic. So, too, do enterprises maintaining their own networks. They need assistance in the form of instrumentation, software, and services.

Companies are facing particular challenges contending with virtualization and network transition. Consequently, virtual probes are helping to maintain visibility. Other products that companies can use range from protocol analyzers and emulators to handheld instruments that remain invaluable when a technician needs to track a problem down to a particular copper wire—and the handhelds are getting a boost from cloud computing.

New approach to service assurance

“For the communications services providers (CSPs), subscriber experience is paramount,” said Karen Emery, vice president of product and business strategy at the Spirent Communications Service Assurance Business Unit. “Their end customers demand anytime, anywhere, any-device services, and high quality is table stakes. Their demand for the latest capabilities is almost insatiable. To meet this demand, the CSPs are changing the way they approach service assurance and service experience.”

To assist these customers, Spirent offers the TestCenter Live 8500 (Figure 1), which Emery described as the first virtualized service assurance probe in the industry. Although the primary customers for Spirent’s products and services are the CSPs, Emery added “… our goal is to help our customers improve the experience of their subscribers, so our focus is on holistic customer experience.”

Figure 1. TestCenter Live 8500 virtual-probe deployment
Courtesy of Spirent Communications

Emery said that proactive network management can offer CSPs a competitive advantage, but being proactive requires focus and investment. “Fortunately,” she said, “technologies like virtualization, and our solution in particular, are evolving to deliver and support more complex services requiring greater amounts of bandwidth.”

When asked about key challenges customers are facing, Emery said, “All of our customers are currently considering virtualization. One of the key challenges facing CSPs moving toward NFV [network functions virtualization] and SDN [software-defined networking] is how to continue offering a superior customer experience while the network is in transition. Our virtual probe supports service assurance for virtualized network elements but uses a consistent interface with our traditional hardware solution. It is fully integrated into our OSS [Operations Support System] and allows our customers to begin virtualizing parts of their network while maintaining visibility across the network to ensure a holistic customer experience.”

She emphasized some key features of TestCenter Live 8500, including ease of use and flexibility. “The virtual probe is fully integrated into the existing Spirent TestCenter Live solution, so there is no new learning curve for the technicians using the system,” she said. “In addition, CSPs can monitor their entire network, both physical and virtual assets, with one system.” And finally, she said, “The 8500 is easy to instantiate when needed, so CSPs have the added benefit of turning up service assurance at the same time new services are activated. This flexibility means CSPs can offer the best possible experience to their subscribers.”

Voice and data test

GL Communications offers voice and data test solutions for T1, E1, T3, E3, OC-3/12 STM 1/4, and wireless applications, many centered around the company’s Message Automation & Protocol Simulation (MAPS) platform. MAPS supports emulation of Mobile Application Part (MAP)—an application-layer protocol used in core networks to provide services to mobile users—as well as other protocols and interfaces.

Speaking of the company’s recently announced Enhanced GSM Protocol Test Suite, Jagdish Vadalia, a senior manager for product development, said in a press release, “The Global System for Mobile (GSM) is the global standard for mobile voice and data communications,” adding, “GL has solutions for the analysis and emulation of entire GSM network interfaces.” The suite includes the company’s GSM protocol analyzer as well as protocol emulators. “GL’s MAPS MAP supports emulation of all the GSM and UMTS MAP interfaces,” he said.

He added, “The test suite also provides GSM network monitoring capability on the TDM network, and the analyzer monitors calls progressing through GSM networks from a central location via a web interface along with the powerful and customizable reporting tools. The GSM protocol analyzer also supports GSM-R, a proven European mobile communications standard for railway operations used to carry railway-specific voice and data services according to EIRENE (H 22 T 0001 2) and ETSI TS 102 610 specifications” (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Enhanced GSM protocol test suite
Courtesy of GL Communications

GL also has debuted its GSM Network Surveillance software for identifying, segregating, and analyzing different types of GSM mobile calls over TDM and IP transport networks. GL’s network monitoring and diagnostic system can provide key performance indicators, failure analysis, and call trace capability and more.

Vadalia said, “GL provides a variety of solutions for network-wide monitoring and surveillance. The solution consists of intrusive and nonintrusive ‘PC probes’ for TDM, VoIP, and wireless networks. Probes deployed at strategic locations in a network transmit and collect voice, data, protocol, statistics, and performance information and relay this information to a central/distributed network management system (NMS)—called NetSurveyorWeb.”

He added, “GL’s network monitoring and diagnostic system can be used for billing verification, remote protocol analysis, and traffic engineering. It also can provide key performance indicators, failure analysis, and call trace capability. A service provider or an equipment manufacturer must have the means to perform the aforementioned surveillance tasks cost effectively, remotely, automatically, and nonintrusively. Fortunately, the network backbone contains a wealth of information that can be monitored and collected to support these activities.”

Other recently introduced products from GL include T1 E1 Express PCIe analysis and emulation boards (Figure 3), which can monitor T1 E1 line conditions such as frame errors, violations, alarms, and clock (or frame/bit) slips. The boards support comprehensive analysis and emulation of voice, data, fax, protocol, analog, and digital signals as well as echo and voice-quality testing. The boards are available with a GUI for Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems with support for almost all existing T1 E1 analyzer applications.

Figure 3. T1 E1 Express PCIe analysis and emulation boards
Courtesy of GL Communications
Software and modular hardware

Tektronix Communications announced in April the addition of two new solutions, GeoSoft and GeoBlade, to its GeoProbe family. GeoSoft is a software-only, or virtual, probe that has been developed in response to a number of carrier needs, including the move toward virtualized network environments.

GeoBlade combines elastic software and modular hardware to cope with the demands of today’s massive data traffic growth while providing the opportunity to scale at speed whenever needed. GeoBlade has the capability to support data transfer speeds from 10 Gb/s to hundreds of Gb/s, collecting and correlating massive amounts of data in real time.

Commenting on the announcement in a press release, Said Saadeh, who leads the GeoProbe product team at Tektronix Communications, stated, “There is a common misconception in the probing market that a one-size-fits-all approach exists. Our experience and years of learning from our existing probing business tell us that this is a fallacy as no two operators’ needs are ever the same, and the requirements of tomorrow will be substantially different from what they are today.” He added, “This announcement demonstrates our understanding of the new market requirements of virtualized networks. We understand that network infrastructure is changing and growing.”

For its part, Ixia announced earlier this year that it is leveraging virtualization to help enterprise IT departments ensure security resilience. The company said its BreakingPoint security resilience solution now is available as virtualized software. Offering an elastic deployment model, the new BreakingPoint Virtual Edition provides enterprise IT departments with the high-fidelity, real-world validation that vendors and service providers use to ensure network security resilience.

Ixia also released a study1 finding that virtualization technology could pose hidden dangers within enterprise networks, with only 37% of survey respondents reporting that they monitor their virtualized environments in the same manner as their physical environment. Nevertheless, the study finds that virtualization adoption will continue over the next two years, with companies maintaining or increasing their monitoring capabilities.

In other news, at the Mobile World Congress, JDSU highlighted products that help service providers optimize the quality of LTE, mobile-video, and virtualized networks. The company introduced a scalable, real-time performance monitoring and problem segmentation solution for Ethernet networks, and it upgraded its Video Service Assurance product line, creating a software-based solution that monitors operators’ video services end-to-end from the video source to the end device as part of a multiservice assurance solution.

Handheld testers meet cloud

Fluke Networks recently unveiled Link-Solutions, a combination of network testers and cloud-based reporting. Based on Fluke Networks’ LinkRunner and LinkSprinter hand-held network testers, Link-Solutions provides a cohesive way for PC and front-line technicians, field-managed IT teams, system integrators, and VARs to conduct copper, fiber, and Ethernet tests and then manage their test results—regardless of which testers they used—via a unified cloud-based dashboard.

And EXFO announced that it has entered into a reseller agreement with Teletech, an Australian telecom test equipment manufacturer, with regard to the latter’s TS125 Remote Far End Device digital line test set. This reseller agreement paves the way toward a solution for operators and contractors with existing methods and procedures in place where the use of a far end device (FED) complements their copper-pair quality testing.

Figure 4. MaxTester 635
Courtesy of EXFO

Coupled with the EXFO MaxTester 600 series—in particular the MaxTester 610 and MaxTester 635 (Figure 4)—the use of the FED reduces the number of truck rolls needed to change the state of the far end of the circuit when performing measurements to assess the copper circuit quality. The EXFO MaxTester 600 remotely controls the FED, instructing it to place short, open, or any other terminations at the far end of the copper-pair circuit to properly conduct measurements.

Malcom Basell, CEO, Teletech Pty. Ltd., said in a press release, “The Teletech TS125 Remote FED perfectly complements EXFO’s MaxTester 600 series and extends the range of copper-pair quality tests by removing the need for repeated travels to the far end of the line. When completing tests, the MaxTester automatically controls the TS125 to ensure the line is always terminated correctly.”

“By leveraging Teletech’s reliable expertise with FEDs, EXFO now is poised at a vantage point in the industry to provide a fully comprehensive solution for copper-pair quality testing,” said Étienne Gagnon, vice president, Physical-Layer and Wireless Division. EE


  1. The State of Virtualization for Visibility Architectures, Ixia Research Report, March 2015.

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