Reducing the burden of operator interoperability testing

If you have ever wondered why the latest handset is not available from you current operator, it may be because they are still IOT testing the device. Operator Interoperability Testing is the major bottleneck in getting new products to the market as network operators insist on rigorous in-house testing before allowing terminals to gain access to the network.

In Taipei recently the WiMAX Forum announced an innovative new initiative that aims to reduce this burden on operators and terminal manufacturers and broaden distribution channels by reducing the IOT burden.

The Open Retail Initiative aims to drive the proliferation of WiMAX devices sold through retail channels: the retail model is another key innovation of the WiMAX industry that contrasts the more traditional approach of mobile operators.

As a device first registers (authenticates) with a network operator it sends information (Certification Reference Number) to the operator that allows the operator to interrogate a database maintained by the WiMAX Forum that includes details that confirm the capabilities of the terminal based on independent end-to-end IOT testing performed by WiMAX Forum certification labs. The operator then knows, in advance, what capabilities the terminal can support and hence the device can then be provisioned and maintained using over the air Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA-DM) protocols.

While many in the mobile industry consider WiMAX to be a niche technology, this initiative demonstrates that the WiMAX industry continues to be innovative and delivers new ideas that challenge the traditional mobile business models. The benefits for the consumer are clear as the link between the operator and the terminal provider can be broken freeing the user to purchase products based on their needs and attractiveness of the products. It is important to note that there is nothing WiMAX specific about the certification and OMA DM approach and so we may see similar schemes for 3G and LTE.

It is clear from discussions happening at the LTE World Summit this week that the problems with device availability that we saw in GSM and WCDMA will also impact LTE. The fragmented spectrum allocations for LTE and the vast range of device form factors also complicates this dynamic. Frequency bands being used for LTE include 2.6GHz, 2100MHZ, 1900MHz, 700MHz and others driving a need for multiband terminals. Operators also need to offer a wide portfolio of devices from basic USB dongles, through handsets and feature phones to iPads and laptops. The IOT testing burden will be significant and has potential to delay devices getting to the market. A scheme such as the one established by the WiMAX Forum has clear benefits for the terminal vendors, operators and consumers.

Graham Bell, expert in Communication and Electronic Systems at PA Consulting Group

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