Increasingly aggressive time-to-market, quicken network rollout, increasing move towards digital technology and the proliferation of new equipment sites brought about by ever cheaper technology is dictating that traditional phased testing approaches are no longer effective both in terms of approach and time.

e2E has increasingly used test automation as part of its heritage satellite testing activities and also as part of it communication ground systems integration and test activities.

Use of automation has seen to result in significant benefits particularly when concurrent sites are being rolled-out, integration cycles are being reduced and standardisation across nodes is required. This will only increase as networks comprising more node assets are increasingly being funded and notably in respect to networks involving the introduction of innovative delivery platforms such as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), High Altitude Platforms (HAP) and small satellites such as cubesats. To align with these advance technologies requires that testing improvements are made.

e2E has recently been responsible of defining, managing and conducting test campaigns that use test automation scripts at the core in order to assist in the system integration and test of a global satellite communications network. These networks encompass numerous equipment nodes across both the space (i.e. satellite) and ground (i.e. IP communications) segments.

Test automation is being factored in at the initial design stage and is now being used successfully as different nodes get introduced, often in parallel with each other and at dispersed locations. This automation covers configuration aspects, actual test execution, result analysis and enhanced results presentations to enable anomalies to be quickly identified and corrected.  

The testing automation is reflected through our NEATTMtesting innovative process-based approach and testing architecture. The presentational aspects have in particular been given much attention in order to enable results to be quicker reported and interpreted. Such presentation includes aspects such as traffic performance analysis across the network. Actual tools integrated can be developed on a case-by-case basis dependent on customer preferences. For example, we have specifically adapted our NEATTMtesting architecture to encompass the Virtual Spirent Test Centre software installed on Linux Servers and at the request of the client. Other traffic tools and applications that have also been integrated include IPERF, Wireshark and VoIP software client/server capabilities. All integrated tools can be quickly customised to address specific client needs thereby ensuring the network is tested in a consistent way and that results are as expected. Although tools can also be changed, the overall approach remains consistent providing further advantages when a number of programmes are being tested.

The following diagram shows a typical communications network configuration comprising numerous sub-systems, equipment and applications all being driven by the NEATTMtesting test automation engine.  

NEATtesting

The test automation control within NEATTMtesting can also be driven by other wider system engineering tool-sets such as the HP-ALM and HP-UFT tool-sets. HP-UFT (formally QTP) is increasingly being used in the Industry but the NEATTMtesting approach also enables other third party tools to be integrated. The HP-UFT tool has been used to provide both GUI-based and API-based testing.

Ultimately, the capabilities of the equipment being stimulated and/or tested determine whether real benefits are obtained from test automation. For example if the equipment is processor intensive without an operational GUI then API based automated testing could be a more productive approach.  Conversely, for equipment where acceptance is heavily dependent on the GUI would favour testing through stimulation/testing using GUI based automation.

Adapting the NEATTMtesting approach that encompasses automation has shown that productivity has been greatly improved due to the speed of the test execution process. Also, overall testing lifecycle durations have been minimised.

NEATTMtesting has also been seen to be beneficial when use of the equipment under test is limited or restricted due to other integration activities going on concurrently with other formal testing being progressed for various development and test teams. Using the NEATTMtesting automated test scripting approach enables test to be run with repeatable results, unattended and during times when equipment access is at a minimum. This test automation has typically been used for overnight testing meaning that results are available to the test team fo the next morning shift.

In summary, the NEATTMtesting approach will result in the following key benefits in respect to communications equipment testing:

  • Gains in the quality of testing with consequential improvements in system robustness and reliability;
  • Allows testing to be more objective, deterministic and repeatable;
  • Ensures results are assessed against unambiguous criteria;
  • Gives a greater accuracy in testing from reducing the possibility of human error and making the test execution less dependent on an individual’s capabilities;
  • Promotions a more comprehensive test programme. Automated testing is more likely to enhance the need for “what-if” scenarios than traditional manual testing approaches;
  • Manpower is optimised by the application of skills at times where they are most needed;
  • Reducing the need for staff resources to travel to different sites hence better containing travel/subsistence costs.
  • Increased test coverage and quality made possible by being able to repeat the same test scripts for different network configurations and in parallel;
  • Quicker development of regression test suites giving higher confidence on the delivery of new hardware/software releases on equipment.
  • Automated production of test reports with test procedure executed and corresponding results clearly presented and immediately generated on completion of test execution. Such reports can be easier and quickly made available for review by engineering teams and Senior Management.

As previously mentioned, e2E has been testing satellite user terminals via its dedicated lab facilities since 2010. Current difficulties in both long terminal development and onerous testing have led to the establishment of our Software Terminal Development Environment (STDE) within our Test Laboratory. This STDE is used by e2E to develop and test its own future NEATTMaccess terminal variants.  

e2E has suitable in-house facilities and capabilities to test early prototype and post production satellite terminals. Through the use of our STDE, we have established a corresponding test architecture that has automation at its core. In this test automation environment, the National Instrument (NI) PXIe Controller System along with LabView and TestStand test software is connected and can be interfaced to any external devices (e.g. signal generator, modem, Zynq board, etc.). The interface can be GPIB, Ethernet, SPI or USB as appropriate to the device under test.

The benefit of this automation process is that it enables any multiple of tests to be executed, results to be easier distributed and investigated. Each individual test follows a set sequence and depending on that outcome then other tests can be automatically initiated and executed thereby significantly reducing testing time and resources.

Our terminal test system architecture has been built to introduce a PXI environment where the physical characteristics of the signals generated by the prototype satellite terminals can be quickly measured to verify that they are within defined signal level requirements.