A Waterloo startup that wants to improve the experience of wireless users was able to punch well above its weight thanks to a digital testing lab hosted at the Communitech Data Hub. The flagship product for Aterlo Networks is Preseem – a quality-of-experience measurement and improvement appliance for fixed wireless internet service providers (ISPs).

Aterlo CTO Scot Loach says that many fixed wireless ISPs – in smaller markets in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa – have difficulty delivering a great experience to their customers using wireless network equipment. Preseem can help those ISPs discover where their systems can be improved.

The problem was that Aterlo, operating out of Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre with a handful of people, couldn’t purchase or lease the equipment necessary to rigorously challenge and validate their appliance at the higher loads.

Enter CENGN.

CENGN – the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks – is a federally and provincially funded organization that brings together the advanced networking industry, academia and government, to support Canada’s small/medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as they seek to validate their solutions for commercialization. CENGN operates four data centres in Kanata, Ottawa, Toronto and the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo. It’s a multimillion-dollar program that puts experienced personnel and state-of-the-art equipment in the hands of SMEs.
It was a perfect fit for Aterlo.

Aterlo offers a two-part solution to smaller ISPs and their customers. When added as a network appliance, Preseem can inspect digital traffic for such quality-of-experience indicators as throughput, latency and packet loss, to determine where internet quality is poor.

As well, Aterlo leverages traffic queuing technology to improve the user experience under congestion. Loach says that the average home user who might be video streaming, browsing or using VoIP is likely using older-style tech that treats all packets the same way. “So what happens is those Netflix packets queue up along with voice over IP, along with web browsing packets and it makes the internet feel very slow once it’s reached the threshold.” Aterlo’s technological solution differentiates and prioritizes interactive traffic over bulk traffic.

Loach says ISPs who use Preseem tell him call centre calls about “slow internet” are dramatically reduced. Aterlo wanted to know if its product would work at high network rates – 15 gigs to 20 gigs – but, “We just wouldn’t have had a way to test that, short of putting it into a customer network and hoping that it works,” Loach says.

Then Loach heard about CENGN. Aterlo was approved for access to the testbed, and to the $50,000 in Ontario Centres of Excellence funding to support their Next Generation Network project. In the corner of the basement of the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo is the high-security server lab that Loach calls “kind of amazing.” He was also impressed with the CENGN staff: “They really know their stuff in terms of doing the kind of project management and lab hardware setup that needs to be done for this.” The test actually went better than expected, and with some time remaining in their six-week access period, Aterlo got approval to see if Preseem could handle even higher throughputs.

Mauro Rossi, Director of Advanced Technology Platforms for Communitech, said many of the companies using the CENGN testbed have software they want to run. Aterlo stood out because they needed to test hardware: “They were able to test it in this environment that is not open to the public, push the limits on their hardware and see how to re-architect the product if necessary. They really had great success and validated their product performance.”

Rossi says that there is a rolling intake for the CENGN program, until March 2022, with Communitech offering its support services to those considering CENGN: “If companies are looking to commercialize their products in a cloud multi-tenancy environment, and they’re looking to stress-test their products or services to identify how to scale their applications, to be able to deal with more traffic, then the CENGN program is perfect for them.” Applicants can also count on the additional support that Communitech can provide in terms of mentorship, data innovation, tenancy and advocacy.

Lisa Klimstra, Business Engineering Manager for CENGN, says the goal of the company is to develop Canada’s ICT sector by helping SMEs overcome a commercialization challenge through “accessing our testbed infrastructure at no charge as well as our project management, engineering support and marketing support.” Klimstra says, “You can think of it as a supervised sandbox.” CENGN also trains professionals and students on operating and leveraging the most advanced networking technologies through its CENGN Academy.

Klimstra said that traffic generators are used to “. . . hammer their application to ensure that their systems’ speed, accuracy and reliability will continue to operate as they expect before they go to market with a large-scale deployment. They can really monitor the behaviour of their platform very granularly to understand how increasing traffic flows for each function will affect their solution.”

Klimstra said that “Aterlo is a perfect example of a company that came to CENGN with a goal in mind, and they were not only able to achieve their project goal, but they were able to accelerate it and test it at higher speeds.”

Although CENGN doesn’t differentiate among its four data centres, the Waterloo tech ecosystem is appealing: “It is truly a pleasure working with the very collaborative and supportive Communitech Data Hub. They are such an asset to Waterloo Region’s thriving tech ecosystem and deliver meaningful services and programming that complement CENGN’s offering beautifully.”

For Loach and Aterlo, the CENGN testbed was an essential solution: “It allowed us to validate what our product could do. That wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. We would have to cross our fingers and hope.”

Loach advises that any SME that has a product or service that needs significant testing before going to market should consider the CENGN option: “Most companies, definitely small to medium companies, could not afford to build that lab. So if there is something you need it for and it’s not something that you can just do in Amazon’s cloud or something like that, yeah, I think it’s really valuable.”