Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have recently seen a significant increase in network traffic due to subscribers’ addiction to mobile data services, presenting a considerable barrier to sustain MNOs’ bottom line – in fact, according to Nielsen, 2011 saw an 89 percent increase in mobile data consumption. Even more growth is expected over the next year, which will continue to increase the amount of network traffic that MNOs must manage.
Although not a recent development, this growth has forced MNOs to increase their network capacity by migrating their TDM backhaul to Ethernet. However, while attention was focused on gaining backhaul capacity efficiency, the bottleneck of mobile data traffic has shifted to the Radio Access Network (RAN). As consumers come to expect and demand 4G/LTE, migrating RAN to LTE is seen as an obvious and straightforward solution.
Nevertheless, because LTE will take years to be rolled out and configured in all markets, MNOs must face their current RAN optimization issues head-on or risk degrading their customers’ quality of experience (QoE). Moreover, MNOs are struggling to manage their growing arsenal of networks (2G, 3G and now 4G) with existing resources, and therefore are in need of an easier and more cost efficient strategy to simultaneously augment current network capacity and assure customer experience.
The concept of a Self-Organizing Network (SON), which is steadily growing in recognition and popularity, optimizes the management of all RAN operational phases. Despite initial push back, SON is a natural – if not necessary – solution to solve RAN complexity; it automatically configures network systems, allows capacity gains, maximizes performance and remediates network glitches and degradation.
How SON Works
While network performance and capacity have historically been optimized by Network Operations Center (NOC) engineers, the concept of allowing a network to organize and optimize itself was first introduced in the RAN a few years ago. SON technology, at the most basic level, automates the maintenance and management of MNOs’ networks, including the configuration of cells and network parameters, replacing the constant attention from RAN engineers that has historically been required.
This innovation was initially met with a general industry fear that engineers would be replaced by computers, but SON is now becoming more widely accepted, as it allows RAN engineers to more effectively grow and improve the reliability and capacity of complex networks while maintaining a tight budget. As such, SON helps contain OPEX by increasing current employees’ efficiency and the resulting profitable mobile services. Today, it is clear that SON will be a mandatory tool for any MNO that wants to maintain a competitive edge in the market.
Paving the Road to Self-Optimized RAN
To be clear, SON is not just one solution, but the concept incorporates multiple use cases in the areas of configuration, optimization and maintenance. Because there are many aspects to a complete self-optimization solution, MNOs must aim to implement their optimization framework based on best-of-breed technology solutions for precise use cases – likely from a variety of vendors. In addition, as product managers must achieve short time-to-market and maintain a competitive edge, industry standards, such as those defined by the Next Generation Mobile Network Alliance (NGMN), have become increasingly important and are now a key requirement for every SON solution.
More specifically, an MNO would benefit from the use of SON technology in the following ways:
Realizing these benefits requires a step-by-step approach to fine-tuning existing processes. It is therefore critical that MNOs’ SON framework offers four key principles: the ability to detect where optimization will have the widest impact within a given network; algorithms that can be leveraged to successfully suggest the optimum configuration of the network; capabilities to work in an open or closed loop system; and access to “before and after” dashboards to demonstrate and confirm benefits and fine-tune the optimization process.
What This Means for the Future
Overall, the organization of RAN practices around the concepts of SON is proving to be a necessary solution for MNOs looking to manage multiple networks in a cost-effective manner. With the ability to plan, configure, operate and optimize multiple networks, SON eliminates congestion in a given network, offering high QoE and improving an MNO’s business model. Though the amount of networks currently being managed by each MNO may seem daunting, SON simplifies RAN capacity optimization and can help operators become more competitive in the communications market.
Cyril Doussau de Bazignan is the Worldwide Product Marketing Director at InfoVista
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