Network Emulation in the Lab vs. Real-World Network Testing

Posted by Judy Jones /

When evaluating your application for deployment, it is critical to know exactly how it will respond to a variety of network conditions. In some cases, this means going out into the field in search of live, real-world testing scenarios that can be used to test app functionality and user-friendliness.

Problematically, though, those real-world testing scenarios often come up short—on the one hand, it’s nearly impossible to test all of the different potential network impairments during field testing, simply because reality doesn’t always play by our rules. Likewise, it is similarly limiting to rely solely upon the LAN to effectively account for all real-world network conditions that the app will endure once deployed.

Attempting to subject your app to a variety of potential impairments out in the field could take days or even weeks, and ultimately result in data that can’t be properly evaluated and relied upon because it wasn’t controlled in the first place.

Network Emulators Bring the Real-World into Your Lab’s Controlled Test Setting

A network emulator can help you evaluate your app under realistic network conditions without subjecting you to extensive simulation tactics out in the field. Network emulators can be used in the controlled setting of a laboratory for efficient, effective data collection. In addition to providing reliable network conditions is the convenience of a controlled environment, deploying a network emulator rather than using the LAN or live field-testing has the following benefits:

  • Intuitive graphical user interfaces allow interns and other non-expert staff to quickly learn how to use the tool and successfully conduct testing.
  • For fast, repetitive testing, a network emulator can be used to automate such testing tasks.
  • Test scripts allow convenient, cost-effective re-creation of test scenarios when further examination is needed.
  • Re-runs for testing failures are initiated by a simple keystroke.
  • When testing mobile apps, network emulators are easily combined with device emulators to test device-level variables, including WIFI capabilities and cellular networks.
  • Regression tests and tests of new functionality are streamlined.
  • Functional replication of the end-user (customer) environment so that defects can be detected early in the test cycle.

Simply put, a network emulator lets you bring the real world into your lab, where you can effectively and securely evaluate your app’s performance in the face of adverse conditions. Standard network emulator features include impairments, filtering, modifiers, and routing.

  • Impairments include delay, packet loss, jitter, fragment, and bandwidth restriction. Since video streaming is now a large part of traffic, video-specific impairments such as Active Video, FEC, and Over-the-Top dynamic conditions have become vital.
  • Filtering separates traffic into different flows of traffic. Then, different impairments can be applied to different flows. For example, jitter could be applied to the voice traffic flow, while other impairments applied to other flows. This creates higher fidelity emulations.
  • Modifiers allow the tester to corrupt field values and alter packet delivery information in order to evaluate how the app responds to the stress.
  • Routing forwards packets out of the emulator using Ethernet bridging, IP routing, and interface mapping.

There is simply no realistic way to organically experience all of these different network adversities in a field test in with the same effectiveness and convenience as using a network emulator to accomplish the task. Today’s end-users demand a reliable, fully functional app experience across all network conditions, so a comprehensive, full-scale testing process with a network emulator is the logical choice—but it doesn’t have to be conducted in a vacuum.

Consider the benefits of utilizing a network emulator in the lab, but schedule real world testing out in the field for comparison. After all, it can never hurt to have additional real-world app performance information before making the decision to launch a new application in today’s competitive marketplace, where your end-user expects nothing less than a perfect experience.

For more information on how a network emulator can help you evaluate your app under real-world testing conditions, contact the professionals at IWL.

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