Self-Optimizing Networks: Removing Risk and Adding Value

A Stratecast Executive Industry Positioning Paper Tim McElligott
Senior Consulting Analyst – Global OSS/BSS Strategy February 2014

The paper highlights current use cases for SON. One such technology available today is the self-organizing network (SON). While the concepts behind SON are applicable to any network type. service assurance. in December 2008. Whereas Release 8 of the 3GPP standard focused primarily on specifications and use cases for automated inventory. with manual processes and human labor. This automation could include applications for any or all of these categories: data collection and analysis. It also looks at work being done to extend the application of SON beyond 4G and beyond the radio access network (RAN). software $467. All Rights Reserved. Before exploring this expanded scope. This whitepaper provides an overview of the current iteration of SON as defined by 3GPP and others. optimization. but in the current business and competitive environment. these concerns must be addressed and overcome. which will likely become prevalent in mobile networks over the coming years. CSPs must leverage technologies that support automation. The basic concepts of this specification’s early release still hold. highly dynamic mobile data traffic. the paper covers the challenges to managing heterogeneous networks (HetNets). SON: THE IDEAL AND THE REAL The concept of the Self-Organizing Network (SON) was first described in Release 8 of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) technical specifications for UTRAN-based LTE systems. Lack of automation increases costs and prevents effective responses to rapid changes in network load and customer experience. and capacity management. repair. and the breadth of requirements and capabilities has grown in parallel. No business could hope to respond to dynamic growth the way CSPs need to respond. network device configuration. particularly. It also addresses some of the concerns CSPs have over automation in their network domain. often called the self-optimizing network. However. This paper shows some of the ways that might be done. These concerns are well founded. this whitepaper focuses primarily on radio access networks (RAN). traffic management. However. Finally. this paper will review the current state of SON. which communication service providers (CSPs) spent more than a decade doing. 2 . provided technologies like SON can render these HetNets cost effective and manageable. To whatever extent possible. and looks at what features may be added to make SON a more comprehensive solution that goes beyond a focus on network performance. Their best option is automation.Self-Optimizing Networks: Removing Risk and Adding Value EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Getting lean. was a necessity that brought the cost of doing business down to a level that allowed CSPs to compete and remain profitable. the need to define an expanded scope for SON has steadily grown more urgent.4 million Projected Outdoor  Drive Test Equipment  Market by 2019 WILL SON CURTAIL  IT’S GROWTH? Source: Frost & Sullivan © 2014 Stratecast. it has left them with few options for responding to the incredible growth of network traffic. The definition of SON by 3GPP was in response to calls by CSPs to increase automation and avoid the operational issues in 2G and 3G networks.

▪ Self-optimizing networks improve coverage by maximizing the utilization of network elements. but also support ongoing work for developing one of the more coveted. SON allows mobile operators to design networks that consume less power by automatically and temporarily shutting down unused capacity when not needed. the features and capabilities described above can be segmented into three categories of the Self-Organizing Network: self-configuring. as well as energy costs within wireless networks—a significant contributor to overall operational expenses. SON began to take on new dimensions in later releases. The goal of these use cases was to address problems in manual optimization processes. namely. and conserving the power required to run them. small cells and other RAN elements. particularly regarding optimization. but trepidation-inducing automations in networking: the self-healing network. . These efforts stand on their own. It could also reduce the severity and duration of 3 © 2014 Stratecast. A self-healing network mandates stricter data integrity and real-time visibility in a network that is changing dynamically. as well as the configurations of their neighbor and adjacent cells. All Rights Reserved. inconsistency and lack of responsiveness to dynamic changes in network conditions. This category of SON leverages auto-discovery and ANR to allow network elements to discover their place in the network. and improve mean-time-to-repair and service quality. Thus. configurations. CSPs worry about a lack of control over the troubleshooting process when they lose their frame of reference for the configuration at the time a particular event occurred. automated deployments of base station. It concentrates on automatically responding to a growing body of parameters that need to be set and reset in response to changing requirements in traffic. Energy savings management allows mobile operators to design networks that consume less power by automatically and temporarily shutting down unused capacity when not needed. “ ” ▪ Self-configuring networks typically focus on pre-service. It also lets them adjust an element’s configuration and relationship to its neighbors. capacity. radios. and the health of other network elements. ▪ Self-healing networks respond to service degradation or system failures by automatically adjusting parameters. However. Early optimization efforts focused on mobility. These concerns are being overcome and will be discussed later in this whitepaper. coverage. self-optimizing and self-healing. these responses increasingly need to include parameter changes related to customer experience and end-user usage patterns. across the RAN and between neighboring nodes. emergency coverage. This will become increasingly important as small cells and heterogeneous networks proliferate. power consumption or physical antenna tilt. SON also focused on reducing costs associated with manual drive testing. based on factors such as time-of-day demand. environmental conditions.Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan downloads and physical Cell ID assignment. This self-healing function will change the dynamics of troubleshooting networks. and load balancing.

other groups seek to extend the depth of SON’s capabilities. ▪ Distributed SON: In this type of SON (D-SON). and at network authentication. USE CASES EVOLVE Initial use cases for SON. automated network configuration changes will react to customerbased parameters. ▪ Hybrid SON: Hybrid SON is a mix of centralized and distributed SON. All Rights Reserved. actions or processes external to the network. ▪ Centralized SON: In centralized SON (C-SON). optimization and healing. CSPs began to ask how the benefits they envisioned for LTE SON could be applied to their existing 2G and 3G networks. combining elements of each in a hybrid solution. optimization use cases were limited to using network data to adjust network parameters in radio and transport networks. and is normally supplied by the network equipment vendor manufacturing the radio cell. and reconfigurable antenna systems. Understandably. This implies a certain degree of localization of functionality. In recent work— such as that from the SEMAFOUR project. in which a user can be connected to multiple base stations. in order to allow a broader overview of more edge elements and coordination of. C-SON systems provide increased scope for the use of input data from beyond the network. load across a wide geographic area. 4 . Ultimately. which is a consortium created to develop a unified self-management system—use cases for future networks have been identified. functions are more typically concentrated closer to higher-order network nodes or the network OSS. © 2014 Stratecast. automatic traffic steering. thus increasing the breadth of SON to new technologies. defined by 3GPP. At the same time.Self-Optimizing Networks: Removing Risk and Adding Value service-affecting outages. Likewise. none included data. due to the need to inter-work with cells supplied by different equipment vendors. C-SON systems are more typically supplied by third parties. Distributed. centralized or hybrid. at set-up parameters for radios and transport technology performance. Capabilities such as traffic steering will become more important as heterogeneous networks that include small-cell and offload technologies become more widespread and require better integration with core networks. SON can be implemented in any or all of three different configurations. functions are distributed among the network elements at the edge of the network—typically the ENodeB elements. These include resource management for supporting dual connectivity. for example. Traffic steering can be impacted by another 3GPP enhancement known as dual connectivity. SON configuration use cases looked at hardware installation and testing. dynamic spectrum allocation and interference management. This also cries out for better resource management. were LTE-centric and focused on three main functional areas: configuration.

All Rights Reserved. both technically and commercially. Outside of the industry standards. An algorithm created for automatically fine-tuning the network to maximize the customer experience cannot achieve its goal without including data sets born of that experience. “ ” SUBSCRIBER GEO-LOCATION Before there was 4G LTE. This is very important. even before 2. Engineers are also considering what role policy managers will play in the network. Leaving SON purely to industry specification groups results in slower progress towards increased automation. Using only network data means decisions will be made based on the tweaking of technology. although there is no reason these technologies cannot be included in the process today. It also created pressures for SON to cover more. As suppliers in the mobile industry identify their strengths and unique approaches to managing RANs. and opens the door to opportunity for independent third party software supplier to establish offerings that go beyond the standards definition of SON. SON should and does continue to evolve. Network planners must prepare for the domino effects of autonomous network elements reconfiguring themselves at will. Engineers will no longer design cell sites based almost exclusively on coverage and capacity projections. before 3G transformed both the network and customer usage by introducing highspeed mobile data. These areas include efforts to both extending SON capabilities and the long established processes within CSP organizations. Not incorporating these technologies is unnecessarily leaving valuable information and business-affecting capabilities on the table. to necessary change. They must take neighbor relations to a new level.Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan BEYOND DEFINITIONS AND THE FUTURE OF SON The initial buzz around SON gave the industry a name and a validated approach for increasing automation in wireless networks. An algorithm created for automatically fine-tuning the network to maximize the customer experience cannot achieve its goal without including data sets born of that experience. but it also flies in the face of proclamations by CSPs that they are customer focused and working to deliver the best customer experience. and how to incorporate the rule sets of policy managers into the automation process. self-configuring networks completely change the dynamics of network planning. Drive testing involves the costly practice of 5 © 2014 Stratecast. . This delay stresses equipment providers’ ability to respond. and learn to master the real-time analytics of data from many additional sources. but will design dynamic networks that include small cell technologies and support Wi-Fi handoffs. they bring to light many areas beyond the network that impact or could be impacted by SON. albeit based on parameters and rules set by network engineers. That is why geo-location and customer experience analytics will play an important role in future iterations of SON. For example. Most of the triggers currently defined are based on network performance parameters.5G—there was drive testing. as well as what parameters will be used to trigger them. Extending SON also means going beyond the network.

geo-location allows them to be much more efficient in the process by providing the data that allows a SON to apply only the necessary resources to solve a problem. but positively. to one that takes full advantage of SON by incorporating customer experience data into its automation and optimization processes. “ A full SON that includes geo-location and customer data also changes the dynamic for the customer care organization. More centralized test systems and smarter devices have helped lessen the need. it also helps CSPs understand the value of those customers. in conjunction with the proliferation of small cells. business decisions regarding the re-allocation of resources. Geo-location also works hand-in-hand with customer experience data analytics to add a deeper dimension to self -optimization. since it would be couched in service and/or business terms rather than technology terms. The value portion of such a customer experience view would also require a tight integration with O&M. SON inherently delivers benefits in the way of improved network performance. and actual customer experience. Much of the granularity allowed by customer-centric SONs relies on the deployment of small-cell technology. subscriber location. It was the best option available in the early days of mobile for evaluating coverage. Part of the mission of SON is to eliminate or significantly reduce the need for drive testing. for a more direct impact on the customer experience. which presents challenges of its own. However. and it has held that distinction to the present day. When CSPs are ready to automatically shift resources in reaction to poorly performing network segments. Coupled with input from O&M systems. Customer care representatives will be able to better characterize a service-effecting event when interfacing with a customer. are allowing CSPs to get much more granular in identifying trouble spots in a network. All Rights Reserved. to a tool that takes full advantage of customer experience data by leveraging that data in its automation and optimization processes. CSPs can therefore make value-based. capacity management and network utilization. These improvements indirectly. UTILIZING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE The proof of a CSP’s commitment to customer centricity may lie in its willingness to move SON beyond its current role as a network performance tool. but a more strategic use of geo-location technologies and analysis can help further reduce drive testing. 6 . This type of SON would focus primarily on corporate business users. Geo-location technologies. The proof of a CSP’s commitment to customer centricity may lie in its willingness to move SON beyond its current role as a network performance tool. making connections and measuring performance. affect the customer experience. subscriber value. functionality and systems designed specifically for the ” © 2014 Stratecast. The customer experience aspects of SON should include subscriber usage patterns.Self-Optimizing Networks: Removing Risk and Adding Value loading a vehicle or vehicles with devices and test gear to travel through the coverage areas of a given network. or revenue-based. This deeper dimension is one that enables decisioning systems to incorporate precise data on which customers may be affected by a problem in the network.

and lead to the best performing networks. Customer-facing systems such as billing. for example. The overall small cell market is forecasted by Frost & Sullivan to experience a 61 percent compound annual 7 © 2014 Stratecast. nor are any two business models. They will also be those algorithms that can incorporate unique CSP requirements. Take. service delivery and service fulfillment could be part of a SON solution. SON suppliers must offer customization services. as part of a CSP’s SON solution. along with SON’s core network function. much like developments in the burgeoning Big Data market. or even productized. compared with just the macro networks alone. algorithms designed primarily for network performance will fail to have the full effect on the customer experience and the business. it follows that algorithms cannot come from a cookiecutter design. CSPs should look for algorithms with the broadest scope. versus what the network thinks it needs for optimal performance Provide access and context for SON to customer service departments Force the interworking of network and IT. No two networks are exactly the same. which incorporate key data from pertinent IT and operations and monetization (O&M. No two algorithms are created equal or are likely to generate different results regarding handoff success rates. These small cells can be any combination of femtocells for indoor coverage and picocells for outdoor traffic hot spots. So. $7.76 billion Projected Market Size  for Small Cell  Technology in 2016 SON COULD  ACCELERATE THIS  GROWTH Source: Frost & Sullivan THE CHALLENGE OF MANAGING HETNETS The term HetNet indicates the use of multiple types of access nodes in a radio access network. CRM. order management. most accurate and insightful conclusions. . working in conjunction to deliver increased coverage and capacity. And. So. as well as provide CSPs the option of customizing their own algorithms for SON. could be used to: ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ Proactively manage service level agreements Target optimization at the most valuable coverage areas Target optimization at the most valuable customers Base policies and parameters on what the customer wants and does. HetNets refer to the combination of macro cells (traditional cell towers) with small cells. and the algorithms that support them can become an area of differentiation. All Rights Reserved. also known as OSS BSS) functions. solutions suppliers will be able to differentiate themselves based on who writes the best algorithms.Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan customer experience could stand to be more tightly integrated. The winners will be the algorithms that deliver the fastest. an algorithm or set of algorithms that drive hand-off optimization between cells. As stated above. which is beginning to happen in other parts of the business LEVERAGING CUSTOM ALGORITHMS AS A SOURCE OF DIFFERENTIATION All that has been said so far points to SON use cases. And.

Extending the 3GPP concepts for SON to all generations and makes of equipment can be expedited by a platform that supports true multi-vendor capabilities. They are all a part of the overall concern. there will be little room for exceptions when it comes to managing SONs. and faster new service introduction. making centralized management increasingly difficult. self-optimization and self-healing.Self-Optimizing Networks: Removing Risk and Adding Value growth rate through 2016. Managing current multi-vendor. But also. and grow to approximately $7. configuration. See Frost & Sullivan Report: Small Cells: A Big Component in Future Mobile Networks. 1 2 See Frost & Sullivan research report: Analysis of the Small Cell Market: Small is Big.76 billion. Not all networks will be LTE. However. MULTIVENDOR SUPPORT MUST BE REAL AND COMPLETE Although many equipment suppliers claim to be multi-vendor in their management support of like mid-term restraint on small cell deployment. and the neighbor lists within them. many new suppliers of small cell technology are expected to enter the market. Small cells must therefore meet the requirements for being part of a SON. Part of the reason SON is a priority is that it is estimated to achieve a 55 percent savings in capital and operational expenses when deployed. small cell technology provides many more access points—often less secure access points—to the network. From a cost perspective. December 2012. and CSPs do not want to delay its introduction by including difficult-to-manage heterogeneous networks in the rollout. Automated configuration and self-healing in particular require a higher level of consistency in the parameters used to evaluate performance and commands that control changes in multiple vendors’ equipment.1 The drivers for deploying small cell technology include: a potential lower total cost of ownership. is complex enough. Wireless is inherently more prone to eavesdropping and jamming. Adding small-cell technologies to this already complex environment magnifies the complexity.2 Security and privacy are of concern on two fronts regarding small cells. and managing the associations between them. and allow for remote and automated configuration. as well as device tracking. This is because SON is seen as a priority and a competitive advantage. if network costs are not better managed. optimization and maintenance—are strongly held. multi-technology RANs. All Rights Reserved. improved data traffic management—despite the amount of data traffic growing to 6. and some to a certain extent are. increased coverage. Nor will all networks or even segments of networks be on the same generation of technology. and with good cause. little else matters.3 Exabytes of data per month by 2015. However. CSPs cannot afford to deploy technologies that require return visits for maintenance or for eventual upgrades. A truly independent management layer also can aide in evaluating the efficacy of applied policies and changes on both a real-time and long-term basis. And. complexity can be managed. as mentioned above. 8 . Management will get even more difficult when open-source technologies become more prevalent in small cell environments. which Frost & Sullivan analysts have said they must. While more than 60 percent of the small cell market share is divided among three leading companies. which is losing control over the management of their infrastructure. SON itself is seen by some as a short. February 2013. © 2014 Stratecast. ACKNOWLEDGING AND ADDRESSING CONCERNS ABOUT AUTOMATION IN NETWORKING The concerns CSPs hold about automating critical aspects of their networks—such as planning and engineering.

the current CSP business model will begin to break down. All of this points to a need for mature SON solutions. Most important. and would require re-evaluation. Without more automation and better self-optimization. will cause CSPs to seek out third parties that have a track record of supporting both their business and network objectives. Others call for better back-out plans or ways to override the system. Some CSPs are calling for options within the automated flow that allow for manual confirmation of certain changes in configuration. . that they have a reliable real-time view of the network. This combination of the need to move quickly. CSPs lack an accurate baseline from which to begin troubleshooting problems when things go wrong. CSPs won’t be able to hold back the equally large and sophisticated Internet companies that will grow impatient waiting for CSPs to build networks to support their innovative services. still. Data integrity is also a long-standing and ongoing concern. CSPs also recognize that their network management processes were not designed for a fully autonomous system. which encompasses all the new applications. coupled with concerns over SONs’ impact on manageability. CSPs cannot afford to continue manually supporting a network that will comprise hundreds of thousands of HetNet devices. if necessary. CSPs lack an accurate baseline from which to begin troubleshooting problems when things go wrong. “ ” 9 © 2014 Stratecast. All Rights Reserved. services and devices the market is likely to see in the coming years. This causes CSPs to seek granular control and supervision of their algorithms.Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan multi-vendor integration is still a concern. CSPs also have to consider the unknown. CSPs are uncomfortable allowing the automation of certain network functions and processes when they do not feel. not just algorithms. Nor can they support the kind of data volume growth the industry expects.

and. Conceived as a network technology for optimizing performance. Big Data. And. and the multi-vendor.Self-Optimizing Networks: Removing Risk and Adding Value THE LAST WORD From its emergence in 2008. 10 . It will require a SON that incorporates all the other business and customer aspects discussed in this paper. they will begin to see SON increasingly as a business solution. by any standard. A closer proximity of IT and network functions will drive the CSP transition to higher © 2014 Stratecast. Given the broad potential scope of SON. but also profitability and the customer experience. Ideally. Tim McElligott Senior Consulting Analyst – Global OSS/BSS Strategy Stratecast | Frost & Sullivan tmcelligott@stratecast. customer value. turning small cells into true HetNets. SON has grown into one of the critical technologies that CSPs have at their disposal to manage the on-going growth of highly dynamic mobile data traffic. Therefore. All Rights Reserved. and not treating IT and OSS as mere data feeds into a networking process. customer experience. should all be part of a comprehensive SON solution. as CSPs look beyond the limited use cases and network technologies of standards-based SON. and programmable radios. The small cell market is projected to be huge. one day. business assurance. ANR. Geo-location. which can be managed cost-effectively and achieve the expected boost in coverage and capacity. SON now represents a strategic shift that can positively impact not only network performance. Frost & Sullivan expects a 61 percent CAGR through 2016. CSPs should give serious consideration to evaluating SON solutions from an independent third-party supplier. However. transforming HetNets into a more broadly effective next-generation RAN will take more than automation. multi-technology management and optimization capabilities that will ultimately be required. will take automation. and considered on par with network utilization. CSPs also should consider finding a partner with the services experience to help transform management and optimization practices and procedures in tandem with new SON technology introduction. incorporating more IT functionality and resources into SON would entail true integration into a comprehensive SON solution.

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