Marie Hattar
Chief Marketing Officer

Putting Cellular IoT to the Test

August 31, 2017 by Marie Hattar

The IoT is already revolutionizing the entire alphabet of industry sectors, from aerospace and agriculture to transportation and water, and cellular connectivity is taking IoT to the next level. With cellular-enabled IoT devices, it’s possible to deploy connected devices in any location where they can connect to a 3G, 4G or other cellular network.

The range of applications that this makes possible is huge: smart energy meters that automatically report readings, building management, autonomous vehicles, domestic healthcare devices, and more. Cellular connectivity is ideal for devices and applications that need low-power, wide-range communications, and have infrequent data transmission requirements. So it’s no surprise that deployment and use of cellular IoT devices is set to explode: according to Ericsson's Internet of Things Forecast, there were some 400 million IoT devices with cellular connections at the end of 2016, and that number is projected to reach 1.5 billion in 2022.

But this in turn raises a question. As these millions of smart connected devices are deployed around us – in shopping centres and department stores, hospitals, municipal areas, airports, manufacturing plants, cars and elsewhere – we need to be able to rely on them to reliably perform the functions they’re designed for, without glitches or connection drop-outs. And this cannot be taken for granted, because of the range of conditions and environments in which the devices are being used. Variables that will affect the device’s performance include the distance from the nearest cell base station, the number of other devices connecting via a given cell, interference from other sources and more.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) consortium has already recognized that with the ongoing increase in smartphone and cellular IoT device usage, cell capacity could become a problem. As such, the consortium has stipulated that the standards being developed for 5G must support a connection density of 1 million devices per square kilometer.

Pushing cells to the limit

But while we wait for 5G to be ready, how should current LTE carriers prepare their networks for the connectivity needs of new cellular IoT devices? Even though today's LTE networks have high capacity, the combination of increased mobile data from smartphones and unpredictable bursts of IoT device traffic could overwhelm them, causing dropped connections and outages. If we are to trust networks of cellular IoT devices, the stability and reliability of LTE networks cannot be left to chance: it must be guaranteed.

This is why we’ve recently introduced IxLoad Wireless, a high-performance LTE test solution for cellular IoT-enhanced Machine Type Communication (eMTC) and Narrowband IoT (NB IoT) technologies. These new technologies are defined by 3GPP to help manage the device and connection density expected with IoT, and lay the foundation for 5G.

IxLoad-Wireless generates real-world traffic enabling network equipment makers and carriers to fully test the performance of their LTE components and networks. It can emulate both the network and IoT user equipment (UE) to test IoT network nodes in isolation, or to test the entire IoT ecosystem.

Of course, to effectively validate the performance of devices and networks in the lab, the emulated test traffic needs to closely mimic real-life network traffic. IxLoad does this by simulating IoT network traffic details, such as signaling and messaging for Power-Save Mode and eDRX (extended Discontinuous Reception), where a device stays inactive for set periods of time to extend battery life.

Test performance is critical to validating the expected density of IoT devices. Offering both hardware and virtual test platforms, IxLoad-Wireless enables mobile operators to fast-track roll-outs of capacity to serve the explosion in cellular IoT reliably. Find out more about Ixia’s LTE and cellular IoT test solutions here