The sheer complexity of 4G LTE is likely to encourage more mobile operators to deploy self-optimizing technology (SON), according to the 4G Americas trade association.
4G Americas expects that 250 LTE networks will be live by the end of the year. As operators grapple with coverage issues, adding density to the networks -- and supporting services like mobile video and Voice-over-LTE -- a network that can help to optimize capacity and signal reach becomes helpful.
"To tackle this challenge, most, if not all, major mobile operators worldwide have or are planning to deploy SON features," the group states.
Self-optimizing networks work by detecting problems in the radio network and trying to move resources around to fix the issue. As such, SON technology can perform multiple tasks, such as automatically detecting when a site is down and routing users to the next-best cell, or enabling cells to share bandwidth when network capacity is limited.
Some self-optimizing features are already built into Releases 8, 9, and 10 of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) LTE specification. Operators have mostly currently deployed Release 9 of the 4G spec and some are now moving towards adding Release 10 -- a.k.a. LTE-Advanced -- features on their network.
4G Americas has just put out a whitepaper on the updates in Release 11. Some of these include:
- Automatic Neighbor Relations
- Load Balancing Optimization
- Handover Optimization
- Coverage and Capacity Optimization
- Energy Savings
- Coordination between various SON Functions
- Minimization of Drive Tests
Operator interest in self-optimizing networks has extended beyond the standards bodies into the commercial zone as well. This may be easy to understand when you look at how long it takes for 3GGP specifications to move from the page to the cell site.
In the US, for instance, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) deployed SON technology from Israeli startup Intucell across its network. John Donovan, senior EVP of AT&T technology and network operations, said of Intucell's technology in February 2012 that it had shown "as much as a 10 percent improvement in call retainability, 10 percent improvement in throughput speeds, and 15 percent reduction in overloading" in tests. (See AT&T's No. 1 SON.)
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) bought Intucell in January this year for $475 million. It incorporated Intucell's smarts into its Quantum SON Suite, which has just won a Light Reading Leading Lights award for best new mobile product of 2013. (See Cisco to Buy AT&T's Favorite SON Startup and Light Reading Announces 2013 Leading Lights Winners.)
The SON Suite is rising for Cisco: Jared Headley, senior director of marketing in the company's service provider mobility group, tells us that over 20 Asian operators are currently testing the technology out.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading