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Solving the

Challenges of
Cellular RAN
Management with
Modern networks are becoming increasingly characterized by a mix of subscribers using a
wide variety of applications each with their own usage type and quality of service (QoS)
expectations. The ways that subscribers use wireless communication networks varies
dramatically between the various subscribers. Each subscriber is unique with individual
characteristic uses for voice and data services. Usage patterns for subscribers tend to be
determined by various demographic factors including age, occupation, whether they are
corporate or commercial subscribers, whether they are pre- or post-paid, and where they live,
among other factors.
When it comes to services, each can be split into those offered by

However, other aspects of extreme non-uniformity compound this

operators and those from OTT service providers. Devices on the

challenge for operators, as illustrated in Figure 1.

networks may not meet the traditional definition for subscribers

but can also be Internet of Things devices. These in turn may be
fixed wireless or mobile. And, depending on what each is doing,
will determine the demands it will place on the network and the

Figure 1. Aspects of extreme non-uniformity in modern cellular networks





resulting expectation of what constitutes satisfactory QoS. There is

even a trend toward providing service to subscribers with missioncritical requirements, such as emergency-service first responders. All
this adds up to a vast range of usage characteristics between the
multitude of subscribers using the network.

Extreme Non-uniformity in Cellular Networks

The extreme variation in characteristics for the various subscribers
using the network and the applications they use are two examples of
the non-uniformity challenge that modern network operators face.

White Paper

For example, todays operators typically have a highly complex

This shows that half of the data is consumed in 0.35% of the

network comprising different access network types spanning 2G,

networks geographical area. This non-uniformity adds additional

3G, and 4G, and sometimes in Heterogeneous Network (HetNet)

complexity to optimization. Extreme demand non-uniformity

configurations. The infrastructure will often come from multiple

means that site density will be similarly non-uniform. Often an

equipment vendors, each with their own vendor-supplied

operator must resort to HetNet solutions with micro- and pico-

performance management and optimization solutions. In some cases,

cells and in-building solutions, for example, adding yet another set

some of the network elements may be virtualized and sometimes

of challenges to managing and optimizing more network layers.

the radio access elements may be centralized, adding complexity

The parameterization of this heterogeneous RAN serving a highly

to the challenge of managing performance. There is a risk that the

non-uniform and dynamic subscriber population increases the

networks heterogeneous nature means that the solutions used to

optimization challenge more than ever before.

manage and optimize them are also disjointed and heterogeneous.

If this occurs, it also adds cost and complexity to the networks
management and optimization.
Time is another dimension of extreme non-uniformity. Networks
encounter performance issues on vastly different timescales. At one
extreme, performance will fluctuate from minute to minute as the
subscribers move around and utilization varies. For example, short
timescale variations are also caused by equipment outages. At the
other extreme, utilization will change over a course of weeks and
months. This arises from the growth in demand for data driven by
ever more sophistication in smartphone apps. Some of the increased
demand can only be addressed by capital expenditure (CapEx)
investment, but in other cases the CapEx investment can be avoided
or deferred by optimizing the radio access network (RAN).

A Practical Approach to Optimization

A practical self-organizing network (SON) solution must have a
variety of characteristics that allows it to address the challenges
encountered in managing and optimizing todays RANs. For
example, a complete SON solution must be able to address the
need for optimization on multiple scales. In the time domain, for
example, this includes the very short timescales arising from the
changing subscriber behavior during the day along with shortterm infrastructure failures and impairments. It also includes the
longer timescales of dealing with the trends in changing subscriber
behavior. In the spatial domain, the SON solution must employ
surgical precision to deal with localized phenomena, such as transient
congestion or changing subscriber characteristics throughout the day.

Another facet of extreme non-uniformity is location. Voice and

Coupled with this is the need for a wider view to find solutions that

data services consumption varies significantly by location. For

improve performance across larger clusters of hundreds of cells.

example, a study performed by Viavi Solutions evaluated how

data consumption was distributed around a network. The network
was divided into 50 m2 tiles and adding the total data used by all
subscribers in each tile. Figure 2 shows how demand for data is
distributed between the different cells.

A SON solution that cannot discriminate between the varying

needs of the subscriber population and different applications will
have limited scope to act. The QoS expectations will vary radically
between the different types of subscribers. At one extreme is smart
meters, providing background readings characterized by small

Figure 2. Extreme non-uniformity in network usage by location

amounts of data infrequently and high tolerance to latency in

fixed locations.
The other extreme is the critical first responder who needs higher

90% of the data is

consumed in less
than 5% of the area

data rates with low latency and very high reliability in unpredictable
locations. When a SON solution offers visibility down to individual
subscribers, it can direct performance for the best result. It can use

50% of the data is

consumed in less
than 0.35% of the

the information about the type of subscriber, where they are, what
services they are attempting to use, and what constitutes satisfactory
QoS for that service. It can use that information to make decisions
about how to configure the RAN for routine operations.
Coupled with the need for subscriber awareness is the ability to
calculate the subscribers locations with sufficient accuracy to

2 Solving the Challenges of Cellular RAN Management with Next-Generation SON

determine the problems location. Location awareness facilitates the

optimization, for example. Self-configuration is another area that

shaping of radio resources to deliver services where needed and in

benefits from self-learning. One goal of self-configuration is to

a way that subscribers will notice an enhanced service. This requires

ensure that a new resources configuration, such as a site or carrier,

the ability to geolocate significantly more accurately than cell-level

converges to its optimum quickly. If a SON solution can determine

resolution and, in fact, must be to building-level accuracy, as shown

from past experience what parameters are suited to a new resource,

in Figure 3.

it will reduce the cycle time for convergence.

Figure 3. Estimates of the mobile locations are required to

building-level accuracy

A flexible SON solution can redesign the network for specific

operator goals which will vary from region to region, depending on
such things as the subscriber numbers, terrain, available investment,
and local competition. Sometimes operators place importance on
certain performance measures, for example, some mix of coverage,
quality, and capacity. Other goals will be more business related,
such as providing the best quality of experience (QoE) for certain
differentiating services. At the extreme, the goals will be financially
based, for example, reducing operating expenses (OpEx) by saving
energy. Ultimately operators are dependent upon revenue to
underpin their business operations. In turn, a SON solution must
be revenue- aware; that is, it must satisfy the subscribers need for
service with sufficient QoE to prevent churn yet also allow them to
consume, and pay for, the services they want. Thus a flexible SON is
also a revenue- aware SON.

As well as being able to tune performance to the subscriber, services,

and locations that are most critical for the operator, subscriber
visibility enables you to respond to impairments and failures to
mitigate their impact on high-value subscribers, especially VIPs and
emergency services workers.
The capability for self-learning is a key attribute of a SON solution,
because how the network and the subscribers using it behave and
respond to changes is complex. This coupled with the wide variety
of networks in existence mean that the ways that each network
responds to changes will, to some degree, be unique to that network
and subscriber base. A SON solution must acknowledge this and be
able to learn from experience, which can be achieved in a variety of
ways. For example, self-learning can take into account the historic
behavior of the network and the subscribers to anticipate the future.
This allows it to change the configuration preemptively to deal with
demand changes throughout the day, because the highest load
typically occurs at a similar time each day.
It also has applications for special events, such as sports games
or concerts, where behavior is unusual with respect to a normal
day; but there is similarity between network behavior during the
different events. Self-learning also encompasses the ability to make
exploratory changes, understand the response to those changes,
and use that information as part of future decision- making. This

Selected SON Examples

There are many examples of how SON is evolving to satisfy use cases
in ways that address the points described in the previous section.
Here we review some of these use cases.

Subscriber-aware self-healing
A typical use case for SON systems is self-healing, which detects
the failure or impairment of one or more network infrastructure
elements, taking carriers or sites out of service either completely or
partially. Some users previously served by the impaired infrastructure
will be unable to obtain service due to being in a transient coverage
hole. Other users will be able to obtain service from nearby cells that
have not been taken out of service. The impact on those users who
have lost service is clear and significant. The impact on the users still
able to obtain service will be less serious but can still be significant.
For example, the remaining infrastructure will be carrying more user
traffic, which can lead to congestion that affects users not previously
served by the failed infrastructure, as their serving cell is carrying
more traffic than before the impairment. Another phenomenon is
that some users will now get service from cells receiving lower signal
strength or signal-to-noise ratio (S/N). Therefore, they may be unable
to achieve the same high data throughput as they did previously.
Not only can this negatively impact the user experience, it can also
compound the congestion problem described above.

implies a stateful SON and has applications in coverage and capacity

3 Solving the Challenges of Cellular RAN Management with Next-Generation SON

Self-healing can mitigate these outage effects by managing and

Figure 4. Helper cells (green) in the standard self-healing response to

extending the coverage of the remaining infrastructure to provide

mitigate outages at the cells shown in red. Critical subscriber is served by

rescue coverage. This self-healing involves identifying donor cells and

circled cell.

making changes to their parameters to extend their coverage into the

areas not serviced due to the impairment. Increasing the power of
the common pilot channel (CPICH) or reference signal will temporarily
increase coverage along with uptilting antennas. Together these
changes provide rescue coverage for the users that would otherwise
fall into a transient coverage hole.
This traditional type of self-healing can mitigate coverage loss arising
from impairments to the network infrastructure. However, this
remedy is a resolution for the general population. Modern cellular
networks dont serve one subscriber type using a single service.
Rather, they serve a heterogeneous mix of subscribers from prepaid to post-paid, corporate and retail subscribers, with low and
high utilization. Some networks even carry traffic with missioncritical applications like emergency services for first responders. The
applications that subscribers use are now diverse with widely varying
requirements on what performance measures, for example, data rates
and retainability will constitute reasonable QoE. The applications
that subscribers use are diverse with widely varying requirements
on what performance measures will constitute reasonable QoE. For
example, subscribers using e-mail are more tolerant of data rate
variations and occasional dropped connections than subscribers using
voice over LTE (VoLTE) services. Service degradation can also impact
service level agreements (SLAs) for mission-critical users.
When self-healing responds to a network impairment without
considering the subscribers it serves, it can sometimes have
significant side effects. For example, a donor cell is adjusted to
increase its coverage and additionally serve subscribers who
otherwise no longer have service. However, if an emergency-service
worker is being served by that donor cell, the effect of reconfiguring
the network to mitigate the outage can induce congestion on that
donor cell, resulting in congestion that negatively impacts the

Introducing subscriber awareness reduces the impact on key highvalue subscribers. Subscriber-aware self-healing uses information
about the active subscribers on candidate donor cells before allowing
them to be modified to provide rescue coverage. Candidate donor
cells serving high-value subscribers are excluded from the list of
donor cells that can be optimized to provide rescue coverage. Also,
self-healing addresses the risk for congestion arising from the rescue
coverage and its impact on high-value subscribers. This approach of
excluding cells providing coverage to high-value subscribers is shown
in Figure 5. The candidate donor cell restricted from being changed is
shown in orange.
Figure 5. Helper cells (green) and a cell that is blocked from being
a helper cell (orange) because it is serving a high-value subscriber.

emergency-service first responder.

Other effects may also impact the high-value subscriber. For example,
subscribers being served by less optimal cells can result in increased
power in the system. The increased interference in the system often
lowers S/N and impairs the ability to achieve higher data rates.
For example, Figure 4 shows a network where two sites, marked in
red, experience an unplanned outage. The cells marked in green are
those that self-healing identifies as donor cells. Self-healing detects
an impairment in the cells ability to provide coverage and applies
changes to the donor cells to provide rescue coverage. In this case,
an emergency-service first responder subscriber is located within the
coverage area of the cell marked with a red circle.

4 Solving the Challenges of Cellular RAN Management with Next-Generation SON

By identifying that a cell is serving a critical subscriber, and thus

A synthesis of SON and subscriber-centric optimization

preventing that cell from helping to provide rescue coverage, the risk

We have described the integration of per-subscriber data with SON

of that subscriber experiencing congestion is reduced. Restricting

a cell from being a donor cell because it is serving a high-value
subscriber has other advantages. For example, the radio signal quality
often improves for high-value subscribers by reducing additional
interference introduced into the system, as illustrated in Figure 6. This
shows the cumulative distribution functions of the pilot-received
S/N for the emergency-services first responder. This distribution
is shown in various scenarios, such as for the normal, pre-outage
scenario along with the unmitigated outage scenario. The impact of
the outage significantly degrading the S/N is clear. This degrades the
ability of the first responder to achieve higher data rates and may, in
extreme circumstances, threaten the ability to maintain a connection.
It shows the impact of regular self-healing for the first responder.
The self- healing provides some improvement; however, there is still
some degradation from the S/N achieved prior to the impairment.
However, once the subscriber-aware self-healing is deployed the
S/N returns to pre-impairment levels, or even improves marginally.
The improved S/N occurs in addition to other positive factors for the
critical subscriber, such as resilience to congestion stemming from
excluding the serving cell from the list of candidate donor cells and

use cases to yield enhanced capabilities, such as the subscriberaware self-healing. This is one example of how limited amounts of
per-subscriber data can be used to enhance classic SON use cases.
However, there are degrees to which per-subscriber data can be
used within SON. For example, subscriber-centric optimization can
predict the impact on the subscriber base of supposed parameter
changes. Therefore, it can select new parameterizations across whole
clusters of dozens or hundreds of cells for substantial performance
improvements. This concept is described in the white paper:
Harnessing Subscriber-Centric Optimization for the Next-Generation
of Self-Organizing Networks. This approach can deliver double-digit
improvements in a wide variety of performance measures that are
critical to the subscriber experience. Operators can configure the
optimization algorithms to reflect their goals for the network region.
Subscriber-centric optimization is a powerful capability that doesnt
fit neatly into traditional SON use cases, because it optimizes large
clusters of cells at once leading to longer cycle times than making
changes with traditional SON use cases. Using subscriber-centric
optimization as part of a real-time self-healing solution is compelling

without being modified to offer rescue coverage.

because the approach has proven it can achieve coverage goals. A

Figure 6. Cumulative distribution functions of pilot Ec/N0

cells on which subscriber-centric optimization was performed, and

for emergency-service first responders in various scenarios.

the changes to the CPICH powers and antenna tilts actuated to the

case study that demonstrates this deals with a cluster of over 350 3G

network significantly improving the average RSCP for each cell.

Figure 7 compares the RSCP distribution before and after actuation.
In addition to significantly improved received signal strength, service
utilization increased by 23%.
Figure 7. Distribution of mean RSCP per cell in the optimization cluster
before and after subscriber-centric optimization, showing a significant
increase as a result of the optimization activity.

Subscriber-aware self-healing relies on a data feed from the

infrastructure indicating which network elements are providing





service to the critical subscribers. The feed can be monitored during

RSCP (dBm)

an outage so that in cases where critical subscribers are moving


around an impaired region of the network, the self-healing can adapt

dynamically to the movement and dynamically update the candidate
donor cells list in response to it.

5 Solving the Challenges of Cellular RAN Management with Next-Generation SON




Subscriber-centric optimization plays a role despite the fact that

One example concerns optimizing particular service types because

longer cycle times are required than for standard SON use cases with

of their resilience to adverse conditions like jitter or their high

localized scope. In self-healing, especially when critical subscribers

probability for dropped connections. For example, subscribers rarely

are involved, reacting to the impairment as soon as possible is

notice a transient connection drop while using an e-mail application,

essential, therefore, using pre-calculated subscriber-centric solutions

but they usually notice connection failures that occur during a VoLTE

is the solution. A key capability of subscriber-centric optimization

call. Selective optimization capitalizes on the different characteristics

is its ability to optimize what if scenarios by supplying optimized

between the critical subscribers and general subscribers, making

parameters to scenarios where network elements impairments

changes to improve service where VoLTE services are often used

are simulated. In this way the impairment is mitigated before

while maintaining performance where they are seldom used. This

customers actually experience them. Therefore, parameter designs

approach can improve performance for the target application while

can be precalculated and stored until required, using the strength

maintaining performance for other network users.

of subscriber-centric optimization. As soon as the impairment is

detected, the appropriate precomputed parameter design is retrieved
and deployed to mitigate it instantly.

Selective optimization towards critical subscribers

As well as tuning network parameters toward the applications being
used, when and where they are used, subscriber-centric optimization
can tune performance so that its gains are focused or biased toward
particular groups of critical subscribers. This is in contrast to the

A case study illustrates this where an operator wanted to improve

VoLTE connection retainability while maintaining performance for
other connections. Figure 8 shows how the optimization improved
significantly the RSRQ for the VoLTE connections. Here the
distribution of RSRQ (signal to noise ratio) is shifted to the right for
VoLTE connections which results in better quality.
Figure 8. Cumulative distribution shift in the function of S/N (RSRQ)
for VoLTE connections before and after optimization

subscriber-aware self-healing which can avoid situations that often

degrade performance for critical emergency-service subscribers. In

contrast to degradation avoidance, subscriber-centric optimization


finds configurations that improve performance and coverage for selfhealing, but prefers configurations that provide optimal performance


for critical subscribers.


This selective optimization technique clearly has applications in

self-healing, where optimization gives preferential consideration to


critical subscribers. However, there are wider applications for using

subscriber-centric data. Optimization can be focused on any group





of the subscriber population. For example, affording preference to

subscribers depending on the services they use, the tariff they are
on, whether they are roamers, where they are located, or whether
they are indoors or outdoors. Table 1 gives more optimization
examples based on connection type.
Table 1. Different connection type classes in which different optimization



Table 2 shows the performance measures changes for VoLTE and

all connections after actuating the optimized network parameters.
Notice the improved S/N after optimization, showing a 20%
improvement in retainability while other measures remain flat, which
was exactly what the operator wanted to accomplish.

focus can be provided.

Connection Type

Example Use Case

Critical subscriber

Improve service for first responders, missioncritical workers

Service type

Improve service for VoLTE and video connections


Optimize connections in specific buildings, for

example, corporate headquarters


Ensure good service on specific roads or on trains

Subscription type

Customized QoS for corporate customers, roamers, pre-paid, post-paid, and others


More resilient connections to support subscribers

in vehicles

Device capability

Service tailored to those devices unable to use

other network layers

Table 2. VoLTE performance measures before and after optimization

show that optimization improvement is successfully targeted at VoLTE
retainability, as required






Accessability (VoLTE)






Retainability (VoLTE)



Mean throughput



6 Solving the Challenges of Cellular RAN Management with Next-Generation SON

Bringing subscriber-centricity to other SON use cases

Problem and opportunity detection

The previous discussion demonstrated how subscriber-centric data

Modern networks are large and complex. Some of the SON actions

can enhance the self-healing SON use case. Other use cases similarly

with maximum impact also require substantial computation power.

can be enhanced with per-subscriber data. For example, a key

While running SON use cases across the whole network all the time

coverage and capacity optimization (CCO) application is to minimize

may seem ideal, in reality it requires a substantial computation

occurrences of locations with poor coverage. Typically this use case

investment. To avoid this massive computation capability investment

employs network statistics to detect coverage holes and then to take

requires a selective optimization approach. Some scenarios are

corrective action to close them. However, in the absence of per-

naturally selective; there is only ever value in applying self-healing

subscriber data, the holes location can only be crudely located to the

when a network is experiencing an impairment, and this limits the

precision of the cell coverage area.

computational investment. Other scenarios, however, require more

The algorithm employs exploratory changes to incrementally improve

coverage, often requiring several iterations before finding the
optimum configuration. Conversely, when data for each subscriber
are available, these can be exploited using the CCO process, which
calculates the locations based on where the data were generated.
When the data include signal strength and quality measurements

nuance like during congestion manifesting as packet delay, loss, or

exhaustion of physical radio resources across large network areas and
can vary from hour to hour or even minute to minute. Given that
computation resources are limited, the issue becomes determining
the best way to deploy the optimization resource to mitigate
the congestion.

as well as events that characterize poor coverage, these locations

Coping with this problem requires a solution that can detect

will provide additional information about the coverage hole. By

instances of congestion, characterize the extent that it presents a

considering the coverage holes location along with the antenna

problem for subscribers, and prioritize them for by being addressed

directions, the SON algorithm can calculate which sector or sectors

by coverage and capacity optimization mitigation. For example, the

can best address the coverage hole. The benefit of this is that it

degree to which the congestion is prevailing can vary from highly

significantly reduces the number of iterations required to find the

transient congestion to constant capacity exhaustion. A series of

optimum solution.

fleeting capacity exhaustion events will be less serious than more

The selective-optimization concept also applies to use case

prolonged congestion.

enhancements where impaired coverage can be selectively addressed

Another consideration is the connection types affected by the

based on the connections they affect. For example, coverage holes

congestion. Impacting high-value subscribers is more concerning

for critical subscribers or particular services or locations receive higher

than impacting lower-value subscribers; whereas, the impact to

priority than connections not meeting these criteria.

mission-critical subscribers is the most serious. Similarly, degradation

Per-subscriber data and the selective-optimization concept can

enhance other SON use cases, such as the mobility robustness
optimization (MRO), which selectively focus on too early, too late,
and wrong cell handovers that affect critical subscribers. They also
focus on specific connections rather than the whole subscriber
Yet another example is the automated neighbor relations (ANR) use

on VoLTE connections is more serious than a similar impairment to

connections used for background e-mail. It is important to consider
the degree to which a problem can be mitigated. Some congestion
problems can be alleviated through optimization. Others may exist
in highly optimized areas where further optimization adds little
or no extra capacity. The former case is an ideal target for a SON
optimization. However, in the latter case, nothing is gained by
applying a SON solution to the problem.

case that creates neighbor lists to increase the likelihood that phones
can find neighbor cells to which they can hand over to or add to the

Figure 9. The critical quadrant is the target that problem

active set quickly to reduce instances of dropped calls. Selectively

and opportunity detection seeks to find.

considering appropriate neighbors of critical subscribers in preference

will perform successful handovers.


to regular subscribers increases the likelihood that critical subscribers





Potential SON impact


Potential SON impact






Potential SON impact


Potential SON impact


Potential Impact

7 Solving the Challenges of Cellular RAN Management with Next-Generation SON

The capability to discern the clusters that are most deserving of

Realizing a flexible and effective SON

optimization attention requires several factors. Subscriber-centric

In summary, a comprehensive SON solution must be able to address

data are needed to understand whether high-value subscribers are

affected and the types of service that are impaired. It also requires
the ability to estimate the mitigation level that might be achieved,
which in turn requires a predictive capability so that the need to
perform full optimization up front is not required. This is the basis
for problem and opportunity detection; the ability to detect network
problems with the most meaningful impact on subscribers to focus
mitigation efforts on areas experiencing problems with the greatest
potential to significantly improve.

a range of poor network performance issues flexibly to address

the operators business priorities. It should deal with transient
impairments while maintaining and improving the network in its
nominal state. It has to address problems on a range of scales, from
solving localized problems with surgical precision to driving up
performance across whole clusters. Furthermore, it should reduce
its cycle times by predicting the impact of the changes before
making them and should also learn how the network responds to
optimization. The granularity of visibility down to the resolution of
the individual connection event along with its location enables the

SON on the path to 5G

solution to focus on driving performance that simultaneously gives

The move toward 5G forces the industry to grapple with some

subscribers the most appropriate QoE for the services they are using

significant challenges. Adoption of LTE Advanced by the industry

while employing the necessary revenue-awareness for the operators

brings complex new features where SON offers significant

opportunity. The Carrier Aggregation feature provides an additional
dimension where optimization benefits from looking beyond each
individual carrier in isolation. Here SON must consider the devices
capabilities to determine which devices can exploit the aggregation
and to what extent. Doing so maximizes the value of the carrier
aggregation and significantly increases the networks capacity The
Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) feature of LTE Advanced is an

business case.
These characteristics are solid foundations for many aspects of the
5G networks of the future. Wider ranges of applications including
mission-critical and high data rate, low latency applications will
require a solution that can respond dynamically to which services
are in demand, by which subscribers, and in what locations. SON in
the access network and orchestration in software-defined networks
in the core network will converge toward an end-to-end SON which

example of coordinated transmission and reception schemes that

improve cell-edge performance and raise network coverage. However,
these features can place large demands on a fronthaul network

recognizes and exploits the fact that changes in one part of the
network effects other parts of the network. The ability to exploit this
will be a hallmark of the SON of the future embedded within the 5G

the more they are used.Thus the need to optimize coordinated

networks of tomorrow.

transmission and reception utilization to achieve RF performance

goals while remaining within the fronthaul cloud capacity constraints
will become a capability of future SON systems.

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2016 Viavi Solutions Inc.

Product specifications and descriptions in this
document are subject to change without notice.
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