One of the top goals that every telecom operator aspires to is consistent service, and a big part of that consistency is tied to how well you can coordinate with other networks to offer high quality roaming service for your customers. Perhaps more so than in the past, users don’t want to comb through a lot of fine print about where their in-network coverage begins and ends—they simply want to be able to use Gmail while they’re out and about in the world without experiencing any glitches or service anomalies.
While it’s a telco operator’s job to arrange for robust roaming networks, it’s the test engineer’s job to make sure that that roaming service actually works. Because of all of the moving pieces involved (potentially even including legacy 2G/3G networks), this can be a particularly cumbersome and time consuming type of service verification. Luckily, we’re here to help. Today, we’ll go over some of the challenges that come with verifying roaming service, as well as the best methods that testers can employ to overcome those challenges.
To keep customers happy while traveling in or out of their country of origin, all the mobile phones in an operator’s portfolio need to interoperate in partner networks. Subscribers need to experience the same look and feel for the same applications regardless of whether they’re roaming or not. For example, subscribers still need to be able to access their voicemail whether they’re within the boundaries of their home network or not. Ideally, if both parties in a given call are in the same country or region, the entire call would be routed through the local network, rather than the home network (this is what's known as a “local breakout case”) in order to avoid delays and save on transport costs.
On top of that, some countries also present the possibility of 2G/3G voice roaming. This is more likely to be implemented in wide, geographically diverse countries like Canada and Germany—places where building out a radio network that crosses the entire country would be too resource intensive for one operator to take on. In this way, operators can share radio coverage and maintain their own core networks while still supporting all the commercially available mobile phones with their various applications and firmware.
This is a fairly complex situation to begin with, but the collaborative nature of this type of service offering adds extra wrinkles. Testers need to be able to navigate potentially dozens of partners’ networks, each of which will involve its own unique equipment and standards. They may even offer slight variations in the way that end users interact with applications and calling functionality, meaning that adjustments will have to be made to ensure that those differences don’t reach your users, and testers will have to be on the lookout for this particular type of anomaly. All in all, testers typically wind up having to expend considerable resources and time to verify roaming service.
Okay, so how can testers best tackle the challenges we outlined above? One solution that we’ve seen working well in practice is automation. If you have the software support to be able to do so, you can use 2 standard, out-of-the-box mobile phones to set up a testing infrastructure that spans two countries (or two distinct regions)—in order to ensure that you’re not completing your calls on your home network. With 2 sim cards and either Android or iOS devices networked together with your automation software, you can run through hundreds of use cases overnight in order to make sure there are no anomalies or service outages for out-of-network users attempting to make voice calls, access web applications, access 2G/3G networks (if applicable), etc. For each scenario, you want ensure not just that the call or other action is successful, but also that it’s completed without bugs, latency, noticeable jitter and packet loss, or anything else that might cause users to become disgruntled.
Using out-of-the-box devices here is crucial, since the goal is to replicate the conditions under which your users will actually access your roaming service. Since you may have to verify the same set of functions for a large number of potential networks (i.e. each different roaming partner you work with in any given geography), automation isn’t just for show—it’s a practical necessity for completing tests in a timely manner within budget. Plus, it can help to ensure that you have reporting on the test outcomes in a format that can be easily analyzed and shared both internally and throughout partner organizations. This helps to build in the possibility of collaboration and creative problem solving inter-operationally.
Roaming in a Larger Context
Obviously, for most telco operators efficient service verification is enough to improve ROI on its own—but because of the collaborative nature of roaming functionality, high-quality, automated roaming tests can have real benefits beyond the test lab. For instance, sped up test flows can help you to set up new partnerships and establish new roaming agreements faster than ever before. By the same token, they also empower improved cooperation and inter-operational problem solving for partnered network operators. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—this kind of automation also enables you to:
- Enlarge your roaming network more quickly
- Encourage mobile network usage among subscribers
- Promote global app development (due to improved visibility across geographies)
- Help your roaming partners to detect bugs in their own service
Though the testing implications for roaming service don’t particularly intermingle with other testing areas, the business implications of these tests can be considerable. To the extent that automation empowers telco operators to improve quality of service and time-to-market for roaming service, it can play a big part in making your network more robust and efficient.