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A vertically integrated approach is presented to evaluate the performance of cognitive radio (CR) systems. The approach consists of three pillars: measurement, modeling, and emulation (MME). This integrated approach enables the reproduction of the radio environment in laboratory conditions and aims to guarantee the same performance results as one would obtain in the field. This article provides a detailed explanation for each pillar along with state-of-the-art overviews. Finally, a test bed based on the MME approach is presented.