SON in LTE: The what, the where, and the why
Operators today are urgently looking for practical, cost-effective ways to deploy LTE and reduce the time to achieve a strong return on their investment. Self-organizing networks (SON) can be a powerful ally in this effort.
The need for SON in LTE is market-driven. More subscribers use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets than ever before. And with mobile video growth exploding, mobile data is now being used in phenomenal amounts. At the same time, competition is fierce and average revenue per user (ARPU) is declining.
With the cost and complications of radio optimization during 3G deployment still fresh in operators’ minds, it’s no wonder they are feeling the pressure. How can they roll-out LTE quickly, meet user expectations for service levels, support the huge amount of high bandwidth applications and services traveling over their networks, and do so while controlling costs?
SON can help.
The densification issue
Operators who have already deployed LTE now have to address the sheer weight of data traffic on the modern mobile network. Densification using small cells becomes a key factor to address the heavy-traffic hotspots in LTE networks. By adding small cells to the LTE network in a HetNet, operators can ensure that users receive a high quality of experience even in busy hotspots at peak times. And SON addresses many of the issues that arise with densification and the ability of macro and small cells to co-exist.
Optimization and automation – the way ahead
Operators understand the value of network optimization, as it covers 3 of the most important elements of the RAN performance: coverage, capacity, and quality of service. Without optimization there would be a lot more dissatisfied customers! Optimization is a continuous, cyclical process that covers planning, configuring, measuring, and tuning network resources. Self-organizing NetworksSON brings cost control and speed to the table by automating this process.
Optimization overall helps operators:
- make more of existing spectrum
- extend LTE network coverage and reach rural areas
- increase throughput and reduce interference in urban locations
- deliver the best possible balance of performance, coverage, and capacity
Additionally, automation using SON helps operators:
- find the balance between network traffic changes and optimum use of resources
- improve mobility and handovers (VoLTE is more sensitive to mobility performance, for example)
- tailor site settings uniquely
- simplify the HetNet configuration
Lower costs and reduced time to market
According to Analysys Mason, when operators implement LTE SON at deployment stage they can save as much as 25 percent of their roll-out costs through streamlined planning and deployment.
Self-organizing Networks also helps operators move fast and reduce time to market. The key factors are the plug-and-play self-establishment of eNodeB network interfaces plus automated discovery of RAN nodes (MME, neighbor eNodeB, security gateway and management system). SON helps operators reduce the number of drive tests typically required to measure service coverage and call stability – traditionally an expensive exercise. All of this contributes to reducing the time it takes to deliver a higher quality of service (QoS) to users.
Reduce OPEX and improve QoS
When operators deploy LTE with SON in the beginning, they enjoy additional advantages down the line. SON simplifies operations and reduces OPEX by reducing the number of repetitive tasks, site visits, errors, and network outages, and it reduces the need to manually coordinate between network areas. And with the enhanced QoS that SON makes possible, operators can increase customer satisfaction and reduce churn. Alcatel-Lucent R&D teams have estimated that self-configuration delivers at least 50 percent reductions in network installation and commissioning field operations costs and that SON lowers total network costs by 20 percent or more. It is fair to say SON is a technology whose time has come.
Alcatel-Lucent 4G LTE solution webpage
-  Analysys Mason Research Viewpoint -- SON solutions for 3G and 4G networks: deployment options and business benefits, November 2013, Mark H. Mortensen and Chris Nicoll.
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