Putting 5G Mobile Devices to the (Field) Test
Wondering if 5G mobile computers, tablets and 2-in-1s are really going to help your front-line workers the way you hope? Our engineering team did some empirical studies they want to share.
It’s impossible to miss the excitement around 5G, especially in the enterprise space. 5G mobile device shipments have exceeded almost every analyst forecast in every region. And, now that Zebra has launched the 5G-enabled TC58 touch computer alongside the 5G-enabled ET45 rugged tablet and ET85 rugged 2-in-1 tablet, the buzz among our global customer and partner communities has really picked up – as have the questions about what 5G can really do for front-line workers and the IT teams supporting them. So, we thought we would get some insights from our engineering team about how the TC58 performs in a real-world 5G environment since it’s the newest kid on the block.
Here’s what Tilak Kesavapillai, Director of Engineering, Enterprise Mobile Computing at Zebra observed in his global field testing…
Your Edge Blog Team: We know that it’s standard operating procedure to conduct several rounds of advanced engineering testing on each new Zebra product, and to retest them throughout their life cycle. But why were you so focused on empirical testing for the TC58?
Tilak: We like to do empirical testing for all products so we can better understand what customers experience. We design our products for mission-critical enterprise use cases, where “good enough” is not good enough. So, it’s critical we get out in the field and see for ourselves that our products are truly living up to the expectations of front-line workers, IT teams and other business leaders under real-world operating conditions.
Your Edge Blog Team: How did you test the 5G experience with the new Zebra TC58?
Tilak: We took the 5G TC58 into different regions around the world to validate it with different carriers, in different network topologies and geographical topologies, with different radio access technologies (RAT). The number of variables we had to consider for validation was so huge, the only way we could be confident in the 5G performance of this mobile computer was to get out there and test it in ride-along or daily use scenarios.
For example, we ran focused throughput experiments in New Jersey and Dallas with Verizon and AT&T 5G networks. Our 5G device testing was also carried out in various markets across Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific where 5G networks have already been deployed.
Your Edge Blog Team: Without getting too technical, what types of specific tests do you run each Zebra device through to ensure they meet our high-quality standards and our customers’ high standards?
Tilak: High level, the tests assess everything from the 5G registration experience to data services behaviors. We measured data throughput in different cities with different operators with real live 5G networks using static and mobility tests, which normally give different average throughput. We operated in good and poor coverage areas to verify multi RAT coverage. And mobility handover with inter band, inter RAT, and inter frequency was verified with use cases such as using an app during mobility and studying how the app responds. We also played videos while on the move to see the quality of video and scanned barcodes and transmitted captured data while stationary and mobile.
Apart from throughput, we also verified how the TC58 performed from a voice call and data sharing perspective in real mobility scenarios. For example, we looked at how well connectivity was maintained and data transmissions were completed when moving from one location to another in a car, making sure to transfer large data files during mobility, which is representative of those who store data on Zebra devices while working in the field in remote areas and transfer data while driving back to the office. Passengers tested the TC58 along with competitive devices and reference Zebra devices. We also studied how signal strength varied during these tests.
Your Edge Blog Team: Did you test non-Zebra devices as well to see how they compare on the same networks with the same use cases?
Tilak: Yes. We did parallel tests with non-Zebra, commercially available devices alongside the Zebra TC58 mobile computers. That’s the only way we could truly understand the customer experience and talk specifically about how our devices compare to others. Spec sheets don’t tell the full story.
Your Edge Blog Team: How did the TC58 perform? Can you share specific metrics?
Tilak: At certain U.S. locations, Zebra’s 5G devices have performed at more than double the speed compared to 4G platform devices. This included the TC58. At other locations, we have seen three times faster download performance. In Europe, we have seen 5G devices perform at double the speed of 4G devices on average – and at much higher rates in places where carrier aggregation is absent for 4G devices.
Your Edge Blog Team: Did you also test other devices while you were in the field with the TC58?
Tilak: We did, and we confirmed that our existing and upcoming 5G devices have download speeds roughly 10% to 40% higher than comparable commercial 5G devices that we tested. Zebra’s 5G device speeds were also two to three times faster than 4G LTE platforms. These Zebra 5G platforms take advantage of carrier aggregation to deliver higher throughput compared to 4G platforms.
Your Edge Blog Team: Can you translate what these findings mean in the real world? What will a front-line worker be able to do with a 5G device that they can’t with a 4G device based on what you and the team confirmed?
Tilak: Our 5G devices will be faster in some locations, especially where there is no carrier aggregation support for 4G platforms. 5G device users will also experience faster download speeds compared to 4G devices. In other words, they will be able to download their saved data much faster and elicit faster responses from their applications and data.
Your Edge Blog Team: It sounds like there is value in 5G devices for customers who choose to transition to them sooner than later.
Tilak: That’s right. We’re excited to see how customers and their front-line workforces react to the increased performance. As 5G infrastructure features continue to evolve, there will be even more short and long-term benefits to 5G enterprise devices, and a strong return on investment.
You can learn more about the Zebra TC58 here. You may also find these other resources helpful:
Ask the Expert: What’s Next in Wireless Technology? And How Will It Impact My Enterprise Mobility Strategy?
Ask the Expert: What Is 5G Network Slicing? And How Can It Improve My Business Applications?
Ask the Expert: Should I Upgrade My Workers to 5G Devices in 2021? And, If Not Now, When?
Cisco Leader Agrees: The Pandemic Subtly Accelerated and Dramatically Altered Enterprise Adoption of 5G
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