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Challenges in Self-Optimizing Networks for LTE-Advanced Standards

Siti M. M. Maharum, Aimi S. A. Ghafar, N. Fisal, Rozeha A. Rashid, Faiz A. Saparudin


Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Telecommunication Technology Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Skudai, Johor, Malaysia email:{marwangi.maharum|aimisyamimi@fkegraduate.utm.my, sheila|rozeha@fke.utm.my, fasraf2@live.utm.my}

AbstractSelf-organizing network/s (SON) base technology was promoted by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN). Therefore, SON has been introduced since in 3GPP Release-8, Release-9 and currently included in Release-10 framework since it is an excellent solution that promises improvement and market potential for future wireless networks. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview on SON in advanced wireless networks such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) and LTE-Advanced. Although SON promises several advantages for both network operators and users, there are still challenges need to be faced especially in implementing self-optimizing network in reality. As part of the paper discussion, only SON self-optimization use cases are zoomed in for further explanation and detailed discussion. Keywords-Self-Organizing Network/s (SON); Rel-8; Rel-9; LTE-Advanced; Self-optimization use cases.

I.

INTRODUCTION

Self-organization is a system that consists of both structure and functionality. All the entities involved within this system are well arranged in particular manner and interact among themselves to fulfill the purpose of the overall system [1]. A system which is self-organized may not have any external or central control entity, but the controlling managements are distributed and localized among the entities within the system. Some examples of bio-inspired organization structure are; ants tend to find the shortest path to the food sources, and birds will organize themselves in structured swarms to fly back to their nest during the evening. In every deployed wireless networks, optimization activities are certainly needed and must be done continuously and constantly. Therefore, most of the wireless network operators use human workforce for the operations, administration, and maintenance (OAM) activities; including planning, analyzing reports, indentifying problems, improving network mechanisms, and also for the optimizing decision. As a result, OAM activities will contribute several percentages to the operational expenditures. To overcome problems related to capital and operational expenditures, the network operators are now looking towards having a self-organized network which introduces three important elements such as self-configuration, selfoptimization, and self-healing.

In brief, one of the 3GPP standardization goals is to support SON features in multi-vendor network environment. Thus, SON was already included in the first release of LTE (Rel-8) where it covers several aspects of self-configuration use cases such as automatic inventory, automatic software download, automatic neighbor relations, and automatic physical cell identity (PCI) assignment. Additional use cases such as coverage and capacity optimization, load balancing optimization, RACH optimization, and mobility robustness optimization were later discussed in second release of LTE (Rel-9). Besides that, energy savings and interference control were also included in Rel-9 framework. The detail on SON use cases description can be found in [9]. Due to various SON-related aspects, the use cases will continually expand and improve to be later discussed in the following LTE standard releases, for examples Rel-10 (LTE-Advanced), Rel-11, and so forth. The subsequent parts of the paper are organized as followings. In the next section, we will discuss on the motivations towards having SON in mobile radio networks, Section III describes the mechanisms involved in SON concept, while Section IV reveals SONs advantages. The individual use cases in SON self-optimization are treated in Section V. Afterwards, the challenges in making selfoptimizing network a reality in LTE-Advanced are addressed in Section VI. Finally, we will conclude the paper in Section VII. II. DRIVERS FOR SON

As technologies become more advanced, there is a need of self organization network for next generation networks. Therefore, SON is extensively discussed in 3GPP standardization for both LTE and LTE-Advanced. There are three main factors that drive towards the need of selforganized networks [3],[5],[10]; complexity, number of nodes, and homogeneity. The more advanced the technology, the more complicated its parameters. As networks grow from 2G to 3G and now entering the 4G wireless network, operating parameters of base stations tend to change rapidly. Therefore, an efficient solution is in demand to make sure the networks serve the consumer needs with excellent performance. Therefore, such technology needs extra effort to be included inside the optimization processes or else, the operational expenses will keep rising due to the network complexity although there is no guarantee for adequate network efficiency.

Figure 1.

Self-organizing functionalities [12]

Besides that, recent arrival of femto- and pico- base stations for example is required in promising greater coverage especially in LTE-Advanced. However, it had led to the growing number of nodes and thus, sufficient effort is needed to manage the increasing nodes with less human involvement. Therefore, traditional OAM approach may be hard and would not be able to handle this rising volume. Finally, most of 2G, 3G, 4G and further next generation might be operated in parallel within some time. Using separate OAM system is not a good choice while utilizing new OAM system would affect system stability and add huge extra costs. Therefore, all these factors play important role in moving towards the necessity of having a network that is self-organized. III. CONCEPT OF SON

start to initialize its radio configuration by configuring its neighbor list and coverage parameters before entering the operational state. B. SON Self-Optimization This element is highly needed during operational state with the purpose of maximizing network performance and reducing operational expenditures. After eNB has completed its pre-operational state, it will start to optimize the operating procedures. Within this state, neighbor list, coverage, and capacity will continuously optimize and these optimization functions can be located in OAM or/and eNB. To ensure SON reliability, the eNB must be equipped with capability to automatically detect any network changes and apply appropriate optimization algorithms in order to adapt with the changes. C. SON Self-Healing With self-healing functions, any detected failures or damages are possible for correction and healing processes. A base station that is equipped with this mechanism is able to detect any failure conditions and will automatically launch appropriate actions to counter the undesirable conditions. Also, this functionality is seen as a combination of both automatic troubleshooting and the resultant network optimization [8], that may guarantee the subscribers with satisfy level for grade-of-service (GoS) and quality-ofservice (QoS) [5]. For instance, it has been discussed in [10] that selfhealing of SON Rel-10 will perform correction on the affected network elements based on analyzed fault management, alarms, notifications, and self-test results. IV. ADVANTAGES OF SON

There are three elements to construct SON. The elements are self-configuration, self-optimization, and selfhealing. A. SON Self-Configuration This element covers pre-operational state and triggered when an intentional event occur. For example, when there is a new network feature introduced within a cell or unknown user equipment (UE) wants to join the network site, the selfconfigured mechanism will automatically configure the installation process of newly deployed entities in order to achieve basic configuration for system operation. Besides enabling fast installation of evolved NodeB (eNB), this automated mechanism also allows new eNBs to be integrated via plug-and-play method. Clearly, on-site operations and settings can be eliminated by having selfconfiguration function. In Fig. 1, we can see that self-configuration functionality will start as soon as a SON base station is powered up where configuration of IP addresses for both eNB and OAM took place as a first step. Next, eNB will connect with an access gateway (aGW) and authenticates to the network. Then, eNB will download all the required software and operational parameters. Soon after completing these steps, eNB will

SON is seen as a way to improve OAM by reducing installation and management costs. The costs can be reduced by applying automated mechanisms such as selfconfiguration, self-optimization, and self-healing on the operational tasks [4]. Therefore, by having a self-organized network, both operational expenditure (OPEX) and capital

expenditures (CAPEX) can be reduced by minimizing manpower usage for manual configuration process. Besides that, SON also allows for simplification and optimization of network tasks [3]. According to [7], SON enables optimization of network elements and physical resources besides extending the equipment lifetime. Again, these matters can reduce CAPEX. Self-organized based networks have the ability to configure and optimize automatically where these functions are done by the core network. Therefore, human involvement in management process can be reduced and thus minimizing human errors during OAM manual monitoring. Finally, by having self-optimizing and self-healing mechanisms, user may experience improved signal qualities as the network parameters are well optimized when there is interference and quality degradations are mitigated from inaccurate planning or equipment failures [2]. V. SON SELF-OPTIMIZATION USE CASES In this section, the discussions will only focus on SON self-optimization use cases where each use case will be further described along with its possible solutions. There are seven use cases in self-optimization as described in [9]. Here, the function of self-optimization is to monitor and analyze input data continuously before any optimization decisions are made according to the implemented optimization algorithms. Finally, corrective actions will be executed based on the evaluated analysis to ensure the system status meets a specified target. A. Coverage and Capacity Optimization (CCO) In this use case, the aim is to provide a network with optimal coverage and capacity. Therefore, both idle and active mode of (uplink) UL and (downlink) DL must be provided with LTE coverage to allow users to access the coverage continuously without awareness of cell borders. Although the main concern is more on coverage optimization, its algorithm must also consider the impact of the whole network capacity. As reference, the indicators for insufficient coverage and capacity problems are call drop rates and traffic counters respectively [9]. One possible approach of this use case is by using Planning Tool to adjust radio parameters concerning the coverage and capacity problems. Next, the adjusted parameters will be sent to CCO function for updates and use in the deployed system [12]. Due to cost factor and limitation in solving a problem, CCO is proposed to have the lowest priority when there are other use cases that can be used to improve the network performance [14]. However, this use case was not completed in LTE Rel-9. B. Energy Savings Network operators are looking towards network that is energy saving as they can cut their operational expenses. Therefore, the objective of this use case is to achieve energy savings for example through switching on and off cells when necessary. Such approach requires Home evolved NodeB (HeNB) to have dynamic activation and deactivation

as it is utilized not within the whole period of time. However, problem arises in deciding when it is the suitable time for HeNB to be turned on and turned off without giving any negative impact to the neighbor cells. Luckily, there are alternative ways for energy savings options as discussed in [11]. First is by reducing high transmission power for the deployed area since this approach would not affect the whole network capacity. Thus, through automated sensing of a cell status, power adaptation can be made based on UE measurements for 24hours a day although the amount of energy saved is slightly lower compared to the previous approach. Besides that, several antennas in multi-antenna system can be switched off for the purpose of energy savings. SIMO and MIMO can also be chosen as the transmission scheme based on the deployment of a cell. Other than that, beam forming is also a choice for maximum coverage achievement with minimum transmission power. C. Interference Reduction The objective of this use case is to reduce interference by automatically turn off the unused home eNBs especially when users are not at home. As interference is reduced, network capacity is possible for improvement. It is expected that both network quality and capacity can be increased through interference reduction. Since HeNB is in uncoordinated manner and could decrease the capacity of macro network, this proposed solution, called dynamic activation and deactivation of HeNB, is helpful in reducing interference between HeNBs and macro network. However, this SON use case was not also completed in LTE Rel-9. D. Mobility Robustness Optimization (MRO) Handover (HO) is an important process for allowing UE to switch to another cell that provides excellent network coverage and quality. Therefore, HO parameters settings must be well managed as incorrect settings may result HO ping-pongs, HO failures, and radio link failures (RLF). However, the major concern of this use case is to minimize the number of HO in order to reduce RLF that are visible to the users and will directly affect users experience and network resources. The remaining consequences are also in this use case concern because they may degrade the system performance. Thus, the second objective is to minimize inefficient use of network resources due to unnecessary HOs [9]. The possible way in HO optimization is to avoid HOs to the non-suitable cell. Besides that, the MRO functionality which is located at the eNB SON entity must be fully equipped with detection mechanism of HO failures that was previously mentioned. The examples of concerned mobility parameters in optimization are hysteresis, time to trigger (TTT), cell individual offset (CIO), and cell reselection parameters. Since MRO final target is to have an optimized end-user performance and system capacity that is applicable for all radio technology, only algorithms and parameters will be varied according to specific technology [13].

E. Mobility Load Balancing (MLB) Optimization The objective of this use case is optimizing HO parameters to counter unbalance traffic load while minimizing number of HOs required for load balancing at the same time. It is important to make sure that the objective does not affect user QoS. MLB optimization is expected to increase system capacity while having balanced cell load by hand over UEs from congested cell to less congested cell. According to [16], there are three scenarios where load balancing is necessary. The first scenario is overlapping coverage as shown in Fig. 2(a) where two cells with same size overlapped with each other. The load balancing can be carried out between both cells by not considering the location of UEs. Second scenario is hierarchical coverage (shown in Fig. 2(b)) where two cells with different sizes overlapped with each other. In such scenario, the load balancing must be carried out from cell B to cell A. Meanwhile, only UEs that are located within the overlapping coverage will be considered for load balancing from cell A to cell B. The last scenario is neighboring coverage (shown in Fig. 2(c)) where only a portion of an area in one cell overlaps with another portion of area that belongs to another cell. Therefore, only UEs that are located within the overlapping area will be considered for load balancing process. However, since MLB optimization requires HO mechanism to achieve balanced traffic load, the system performance can be improved with the cost of overhead caused by the HOs. Thus, users will experience delays and performance degradation.

F. Random Access Channel (RACH) Optimization RACH is an unsynchronized uplink channel used for initial network access and to achieve uplink time synchronization. Basically, there are three main problems involved with RACH. First problem is the probability of RACH collision due to its settings. Such collision will negatively affect call setup delays, handover delays and data resuming delays from UL unsynchronized state. Other than that, network capacity would be limited due to the reservation of RACH on the UL resource blocks. Last but not least, limited coverage and low preamble detection probability will arise as the consequences due to poor RACH configuration. In RACH optimization use case, the objectives will be divided into two. The major objectives are to minimize UEs access delays and to minimize UL interference due to RACH. The earlier objective can be done by ensuring the incoming signals possess sufficient power that could be detected by the base station. The latter can be achieved by limiting the base station from utilizing high power which may produce interference to the neighboring base stations. The secondary objective is to minimize interference among RACH attempts by determining a call parameter that will only be triggered in high-speed cell condition and by configuring the neighboring cells to alleviate frequency or sequence overlaps. Therefore, RACH optimization function must be able to estimate access probability, denoted as AP(m) or access delay probability, denoted as ADP(m). Both of them highly depend on contention probability, CP and detection missed probability, DMP. Here, CP can be simply calculated at eNB as probability of number of UEs that are successfully granted access from the total number of preamble detected at eNB. However, DMP calculation is a challenge since it is impossible to be calculated by eNB. The problem occurs as the undetected preamble will be considered as noise by eNB detector. Thus, eNB will never know the actual number of preamble attempts sent by the UE and DMP calculation cannot be made to further estimate AP(m) or ADP(m). G. Inter-cell Interference Coordination (ICIC) Performance of a wireless system can be measured through its average cell throughput and cell-edge user throughput. Improving average cell throughput can be achieved by simply boosting up the transmission power to increase the received signal strength. However, such approach cannot be used in improving cell-edge user throughput since users at the cell edges may suffer inter-cell interference due to the increase of transmission power. Limiting the use of resource blocks may reduce inter-cell interference, but if we do so, we will only under-utilize the resource blocks allocated within a system. Therefore, the objective of this use case is to maximize multi-cell throughput with respect to power constraints, inter-cell signaling limitations, fairness objectives or minimum bit rate requirements [15]. In order to achieve the objective, there are two scenarios that must be considered

Figure 2(a). Overlapping Coverage

Figure 2(b). Hierarchical Coverage

Figure 2(c). Neighboring Coverage

To avoid such negative consequences, [6] has proposed a new MLB algorithm with the aim of achieving balanced traffic load and better system performance at minimum number of HO. The proposed algorithm can be used at different frequency and only allows one UE to be shifted towards the other cell at a time to reduce overhead caused by the HO mechanism.

Figure 3(a).

Uplink inter-cell interference [16]

B. Conflict Between Parameters and Goals Some of self-optimization use cases share the same parameters for optimization purposes, but with different goals. For example, to achieve better signal quality, a UE will perform immediate handover process to switch into another cell that occupies better signal level. However, frequent handover will actually lead to fluctuations. Moreover, load balancing would affect the handover parameters since its goal is to minimize number of handover. Therefore, in this case, a suitable algorithm that combines the conflicting goals into a target function based on the operator policy is required. In another example, SONs ability to automatically power down certain base station would actually beneficial for energy saving purpose. However, this power reduction may affect transmission performance of several UEs located at the cell edges since inter-cell interference from the neighboring cells might take place. C. Data Measurement and Processing The most common issue in data measurement is to decide what type of measurement data need to be collected, at what level the data need to be collected, and appropriate techniques to be used in collecting the data measurement. Soon after the required data were successfully collected, there is another challenge in designing the best processing method that is efficient in handling erroneous in the measurements reports. D. Developing Algorithms Statistical approach is used in developing SON algorithms since there is incomplete information and no promising strategy to improve specific problem in a situation. Finding exact approaches in handling problems are challenging and not yet available as there is large parameters space and factors, e.g incomplete, delayed, and faulty feedbacks which need to be considered when designing an optimal algorithm. Besides that, trial and error method in altering real network parameters and deploying new algorithms is prohibited as it is too risky, requires extra effort, and may result in undesirable performance. Moreover, the result analysis could only be done after certain period of time since adequate data collection is highly required in order to compare the network impact with the previous impact of initial conditions. E. Evaluation Features In radio performance evaluation, we can rely on simple network topologies such as hexagonal grids and both homogeneous users and traffic distributions. Although it might be easy, we cannot simply reuse the same performance of evaluation assumptions of previous related designs because SON system design must be forwarded looking to cater to future changes. Else, the design would not be reliable. Also, very specific data bases of a particular area are highly required towards planning real network tasks. Moreover, trying to design self-optimization system on real

Figure 3(b).

Downlink inter-cell interference [16]

which are known as uplink inter-cell interference coordination and downlink inter-cell interference coordination. In the first scenario as shown in Fig. 3(a), cell A cannot differentiate the received signals whether it is a transmitted signal from UE A or it is an interference signal from UE B since both UEs are located at the cell edges while belonging to different cells. In contrast, a different scenario is shown in Fig. 3 (b), where a UE at the cell-edge may receive another signal from the neighbor cell which is actually an interference signal. Such cases happen when the UEs at the cell-edges occupy the same physical resource block (PRB). Therefore, intercell interference coordination is essential in both scenarios for interference control besides increasing the cell-edge user throughput and system capacity. However, this use case was not completed in LTE Rel-9. VI. CHALLENGES IN IMPLEMENTING SELF-OPTIMIZING NETWORKS

Although, self-optimizing networks are highly in demand, there are still several challenges in implementing this type of network in reality. These challenges were discussed in [4] and [7]. A. Reliability There should be an improvement for system operability under multi-vendor environment through self-optimization functionality. That is the reason why measurements and performance data for different vendors must share the same language so that the network analysis and troubleshooting can be done easily. However, most of network vendors would prefer to have their own self-optimization functionality so that they can easily monitor their network based on their decision. Besides that, one of the aims of SON is to minimize human intervention by replacing it with automated operations. Therefore, we have to be sure that the control decision must be reliable and operate autonomously.

network scenario is prohibited since it is a complex investigation. In order to do so, we require expensive data bases and complex simulators but yet the investigation will still result in lack of generality. To counter the problem, what we can do is by having several simulations at different locations but of course, this way is time consuming and requires high computational requirements. For the time being, the best approach to derive a feasible method for evaluation is to enhance the existed system evaluation assumptions for each use case. For instance in simulating load balancing, only simple models could be used to simulate heterogeneous spatial and temporary UEs distributions. VII. CONCLUSION AND PROSECTIVE FUTURE WORKS Self-optimizing functionalities promise huge benefits towards having reliable and optimum mobile networks. However, the benefits are not without challenges in making them a reality in wireless networks. From the previous discussion, we can conclude that self-optimization use cases must be coordinated together due to dependencies on each other. Therefore, general priority shall be provided for individual use case to solve the conflicting goal and parameter. When priority is set, several use cases would be operated at the same time based on the priority ranked to improve a system problem. Other than that, self-optimization use cases that have no conflict in parameters and goals can be combined in an algorithm for optimization. For example, it is possible to develop an algorithm that is able to reduce interference in a system while saving energy simultaneously, e.g through adaptive power control. Alternatively, what we can do is by analyzing parameters related to ICIC and CCO use cases, where latter optimizing algorithm can be developed for the purpose of inter-cell interference management. As a result, cell-edge throughput would be improved and users can easily access the system coverage optimally without any awareness of cell boarders. Interference issues due to the existence of huge number of femtocells (deployed in ad-hoc manner) in our network has led to many problems as femtocells introducing severe interference among themselves and create more cell-edges within a macro network. Therefore, finding the best approach to alleviate such interference is still an open research and there are many opportunities for future innovative works towards overcoming these issues. In short, one way to achieve current trend on green mobile networks is to realize practical self-optimizing networks. However, discussion on use cases such as interference control, RACH optimization, and CCO will be continued in LTE Rel-10 due to their slower progress in radio access network (RAN).

ACKNOWLEDGMENT The authors would like to thanks the CoE in Telecommunication Technology Group for their support in realizing this research project. The work is financed by Zamalah/Institutional Scholarship provided by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and the Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia. REFERENCES
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