Hospitals are known as an unfriendly wireless environment. Where a typical office network can support a couple of wireless devices per worker with one access point, hospitals are large buildings with thick concrete walls, requiring hundreds of access points to keep mobile devices connected. In addition to phones, hospitals house thousands of other wireless devices – from smart beds to infusion pumps – that require a persistent connection for patient safety and staff workflow. MRI and CAT Scan machines add to the challenge by generating huge electrical transients that can disrupt Wi-Fi transmission.
Now we’re replicating those difficulties right here at Voalte. We recently moved from almost entirely manual testing to a largely automated process. We did it by hiring a team of dedicated, in-house engineers to create the Voalte Test Lab with custom-built tools that run on networking hardware from several different vendors. Their mission: Create an architecture that simulates the network environment and roaming behaviors in a hospital, and find ways to disrupt it.
According to QA Test Automation Engineer Jim Bass, who brings decades of experience in functional and stress testing from Emergin and Telematics, “We needed to simulate situations such as when a nurse goes into a bathroom with a patient for five minutes, or if someone brings their iPhone into an elevator where it is out of touch with access points, or when a charge nurse is walking from one station to another, roaming from access point to access point and possibly switching Wi-Fi bands. Once we created that type of environment, we built automated stress tests to punish the system.”
One method of punishment developed by Jim and QA Test Automation Engineer Michael Nagy involves forcing iPhones to “roam” by programmatically changing the power level on different access points. Other tests involve flooding iPhones with text messages or voice calls, then dropping access points coincident with activating roaming and interference simulation.
Through this exhaustive testing at the Voalte Test Lab, we can build highly resilient products that work across a wide variety of customer networks before we even get close to a hospital installation. Using a sophisticated test methodology and hardware from various wireless network companies such as Cisco Systems, Meru Networks, Aruba Networks and Enterasys, we have a much deeper understanding of how future Voalte releases will work on a wide variety of customer networks.