Deploying a network in a public venue requires meticulous planning and execution to guarantee optimal performance on a large scale. One of the main challenges is identifying and resolving issues before they impact end users. In this article, we propose a comprehensive approach to wifi field testing that involves conducting extensive network tests after deployment or upgrade, both at scale and under load. Additionally, we recommend creating a scaled-down replica of the network in a laboratory environment to test any changes before implementation. This approach, widely adopted by leading public WiFi providers, aims to ensure a seamless and reliable network experience for end users.
Step 1: Lab Testing
The first step involves replicating a smaller version the new network or upgrade in a controlled laboratory setting. This includes incorporating new access points (APs), controllers, and switches. A series of tests should be performed to evaluate scalability, stability, density, consistency, performance, interoperability using real devices, and the handling of multiple Quality of Service (QoS) traffic streams. This step ensures that the network is ready for deployment by identifying any potential issues and verifying its readiness for real-world usage scenarios.
Advanced features such as role-based access control, WiFi security profiles, and user prioritization can also be tested during this step. For example, security personnel or coach devices may require higher priority access than audience members viewing live streaming video. Mobility scenarios, such as roaming at scale with and without background load, can be tested to ensure smooth transitions between access points. Additionally, custom splash pages (captive portals) can be tested to provide a tailored user experience based on specific games or seasons. Various sign-in options, such as social media or email address sign-in, can also be evaluated.
Step 2: Field Testing – Without Background Load
After a successful lab testing phase, the next step involves deploying a scale testing tool in the field. Test locations should be selected based on the venue’s characteristics, such as different gates in airports or various sectors in stadiums. Predefined test cases should be executed to assess various parameters and generate standardized reports. This stage of testing confirms that the network meets performance expectations and has passed the initial phase of field testing.
Coverage tests should be conducted during this phase, testing from different locations within the venue. High-density areas, such as concession lines and center field seats, should receive particular attention. The captive portal or guest WiFi functionality should also be tested to ensure smooth onboarding for users. Additionally, load generated during this phase can be used to test the presence analytics engine, which collects valuable statistical data for a different use case.
The tests conducted in this step include scale tests, performance tests, consistency tests to evaluate the network’s ability to provide consistent minimum throughput to each client, coverage tests, multi-QoS traffic tests, and more.
Step 3: Field Testing with Load
Following the initial field testing phase, the network should undergo further testing when the venue is occupied with background clients. This can be scheduled during non-critical events, such as practice matches or early-round matches between unseeded players in case of tennis stadiums. The same tests conducted in step 2 should be repeated to verify that the network delivers optimal performance under load. Successful completion of this step ensures that the network is fully prepared for peak usage scenarios.
During this phase, interference tests are also conducted to assess how the network performs in the presence of background load. This is crucial for identifying and mitigating potential issues related to interference.
By following this systematic approach to network testing, organizations can proactively address potential performance issues, identify and resolve network shortcomings, and ultimately provide end users with a seamless and reliable network experience. Through comprehensive lab testing, field testing without load, and field testing with load, organizations can optimize network performance and ensure a high-quality user experience in public venues.