Major Trends in the RAN: An Analysis of What Service Providers Need to Consider

By Special Guest
Tanya White, senior product marketing manager with Amdocs Network Solutions
  |  June 01, 2016

The radio access network lies at the heart of your subscribers' network experience, and for better or worse, is the basis of how satisfied they are with your mobile service. In this year's State of the RAN report we looked at the impact of the dramatic increase in data usage and the emergence of major trends that service providers must be aware of and prepare for.

It isn't all doom and gloom. The report highlights both challenges and opportunities, and describes the steps service providers need to take to address each one. The following is a preview of three of the trends highlighted in the report.

As data grows at more than 100% every year, the RAN is under attack.

The volume of mobile data traffic across cellular networks is growing across the world at 60 to 120 percent year-on-year for almost every service provider globally. The challenge is that any breathing room gained from LTE (News - Alert) buildouts is short-lived – as soon as any new capacity is delivered, it is consumed. This trend is the de facto driving force as service providers struggle to deal with this seemingly never-subsiding capacity crunch. While increasing smartphone penetration is the foundation upon which this phenomenon is built, it is the level of activity by over-the-top applications such as video that is the real defining factor in mobile data growth consumption.

By improving the utilization of existing resources and leveraging mobile offload, service providers may be able to limit the need to constantly build and provision additional capacity. With this more sustainable approach, they will be able to better manage their capital expenditures on the RAN infrastructure and adapt without resorting to feeding the beast of demand.

Some service providers see call drops four to five times higher on VoLTE than 2G/3G.

The maturity of VoLTE is improving all the time, which is how it should be since this technology is commonly considered to be the future of voice. VoLTE remains an important and strategic service for service providers, offering the promise of turning off 2G and/or 3G services, together with all the subsequent operating expenditure savings. It also offers the potential of providing differentiated and higher quality voice services to benefit service providers and subscribers.

For some service providers, VoLTE call drop rates can be up to four to five times higher than for calls made over legacy technology. VoLTE quality of experience may be impacted by the difficulty in measuring the VoLTE mean opinion score, as well as the actions needed to diagnose issues such as collecting and correlating end-to-end network insights and acting across network silos. For engineers who are used to circuit-switched voice, this represents a step change in the level of effort required to manage and optimize the network such as KPI accuracy, troubleshooting, tools, and differentiation between VoLTE session initiation protocol and OTT SIP, something that must be factored in from day one of any VoLTE deployment.

With 46 VoLTE networks already launched, service providers need to start taking concrete steps to ensure the best quality VoLTE service possible. This requires aggressive tuning of the end-to-end LTE network (RAN, EPC, IMS) to make it voice ready, as well as making changes to the troubleshooting processes to resolve teething problems more rapidly.

It is evidently possible to dramatically reduce the dropped call rate and launch VoLTE with higher quality when service providers take a thorough end-to-end approach to optimization. Yet failure to act or adopting a business as usual attitude will impact the quality of experience of voice – a previously stable service – and slow down the transition to all-LTE networks, which will hit both the top and bottom lines.

Seventy-five percent of network traffic in cities is in building.

A staggering three quarters of network traffic in cities now originates indoors. And even with the years-old trend of younger generations spurning landlines in favor of mobile devices, the rapid rate at which this has occurred has taken the industry by surprise. Despite people increasingly switching to Wi-Fi while indoors, this rise continues unabated. When faced with patchy Wi-Fi at home or work, many subscribers simply switch to their faster LTE connections.

The major issue with in-building traffic is that during times of network congestion, indoor coverage is the first victim, with up to one quarter more network issues being experienced compared to outdoor users.

But the dominance of in-building traffic within cities is a trend that is unlikely to change, which enforces a number of imperatives for service providers. First, they need to develop a greater understanding of the real-world patterns of demand, coverage, and congestion, so that they can effectively target network optimization efforts to problem areas. Second, they must increase the roll out speed of in-building technologies such as distributed antenna system DAS, Wi-Fi, and small cells (femto, pico, micro). And third, over time, the macro networks will have to be densified with the addition of more small cells to allow for better penetration of mobile signals.

Edited by Maurice Nagle