SON in a multi-technology, multi-vendor world

Celcite started life as a services company, helping tier one mobile operators in the US with their resource needs. This experience on the front line of a mobile operator’s network operations gave Celcite invaluable insight into what keeps the network operations team awake at night. Networks were becoming increasingly complicated, evolving from being a one-technology one-vendor environment, to being multi-technology and multi-vendor battlefields.

Understanding what was happening, why, and which piece of the network puzzle was to blame was becoming an overwhelming task for the operator’s engineering teams. The time pressure facing engineers to get to problems quickly and fix them so that their customers can have a better experience was a significant challenge.

The usual solution for an operator would be to increase numbers of engineers at the same rate as their growth in data traffic and complexity. However, that would have meant huge pressure on oepx. Operators faced a simple choice – hire more and more engineers just to keep the lights on, or automate processes. With new technologies and new vendors making their way into networks, it became clear to Celcite that that operators were going to need smarter solutions to manage the network more efficiently. It was against this backdrop that Celcite built its customised optimisation and self-performing solution (COPS).

The benefits of a single optimisation system to a mobile operator are clear. There are a lot of disconnected solutions in the network which are generating gigabytes of data, and engineers which benefit from having one single platform or solution to that need to be able to quickly identify the root cause of a problem whenever there is a network issue. By bringing automation into the equation, Celcite understood that the future was in smart tools which help operators do what they need to do with the same number of engineers.

Back in 2006 Celcite recognised that operators needed a single view of their entire RAN operations. But this can make for an extremely complicated picture – you can’t just plug in an out-of-the-box solution, because every operator has different realities and different challenges. A complex, multi-vendor network needs to be stitched together into a single automated self-optimising network, and that requires an intimate understanding of the realities of managing all these different elements. It’s not easy which is why we don’t see many players in this space.

The Celcite COPS solution connects to numerous data feeds, bringing a lot of data – something the company calls Automatic Intelligent Correlation. Celcite believes that this is a big differentiator for the firm; the COPS solution not only brings together all these feeds but also correlates the data, and makes sense out of it.

The fundamental concept was that to be able to manage a network efficiently. A network optimisation engineer has to look at a lot of parallel and interconnected systems; they have to look at the performance data, the configuration data, gigabytes and terabytes worth of data. The challenge is to efficiently get access to all of the data, to be able to do cause analysis and then figure out what’s going on in the network.

Celcite’s solution to the problem is to automate. We started off tailoring the product for GSM networks, before integrating UMTS, and then also a host of different vendors on top of it. This vision to automate the RAN and create optimising and self-performing solutions continues to guide Celcite and points to its future direction – Self-Optimising Networks (SON).

Telecoms analyst firm ARCchart estimates that up to 60 per cent of all tasks performed by a RAN optimisation engineer can be automated. If implemented in full, ARCchart believes, SON can save a typical tier one carrier nearly 37 per cent in OpEx and 18 per cent in CapEx in future RAN infrastructure.[1] Celcite moved into self-optimising networks around a year ago and we recently deployed this solution for an operator in Latin America that it is now seeing some interesting results.

While a SON architecture can be centralised, distributed or a hybrid of the two, the tendency towards multi-vendor environments adds real complexity to the management and optimisation of the RAN. In a distributed SON architecture, where the SON algorithms are run in the network nodes and the nodes exchange SON related messages directly with each other, the ability to work seamlessly across equipment from a range of equipment manufacturers is critical. Without this, SON can end up fragmented and not deliver the promised capex and opex savings.

Celcite focused initially on where its immediate experience lay and looked at solving the problems that operators are facing today in their 3G networks. There has not been a major focus on SON on the UMTS and GSM so far, despite the fact that more than 98 per cent of subscribers are still on these networks. Operators will have to continue to manage them for the next decade and, to be able to manage them effectively they will need to use a SON solution.

Celcite started with SON on UMTS and expanded that onto LTE and GSM—so the very DNA of our approach to SON is multi-technology and multi-vendor.

[1] ARCchart, Self-Organizing Networks: Market Analysis and Forecasts (November 2012)

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