Back in 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its National Broadband Plan as a blueprint to increase Internet access in the US. In its opening comments, the plan compares broadband to electricity in the 1900s: "a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life."
One of the most ambitious goals laid out in the plan is the expansion of mobile broadband spectrum to 500MHz by 2020 -- a goal that is not yet being met. Why is this additional broadband so important?
It all goes back to end-user demand for faster Internet speeds and more reliable quality of service (QoS). For mobile operators, spectrum is like land for the real estate market; it's finite. That's why real estate agents always harp on the value of location. If you don't have enough land, it's impossible to expand as your needs evolve. You may not always have the option to build an addition to your house.
For mobile operators, the problem is similar. A lack of spectrum means little chance of being able to meet the growing broadband demands of customers. So what can they do? The solution lies in better network optimization, allowing operators to work more efficiently with their existing network assets to better manage network performance. That's like ensuring that the land they own is well-utilized, and that any amenities they build are truly used by all residents.
As in real estate, mobile operators can also increase the density of their networks. For property owners, that means building up to make room for more residents. For mobile operators, it means increasing the number of access points on existing spectrum, via small cells or additional towers.
In fact, by optimizing the density of the network, it is possible to materially increase the ROI of the new deployed network assets. In recent examples, it's been found that the ROI could be improved by at least a factor of two when small cells are designed correctly.
Anticipate the next wave of network innovations
Another reason network optimization is an appealing solution right now is that next-generation networks are still undergoing formative changes. More spectrally efficient network technologies like VoLTE aren't yet mature enough to completely replace established, inefficient legacy networks like 2G and 3G. Once VoLTE reaches that point, mobile operators will be able to improve the spectral efficiency of voice calls by 30% to 40% as compared to legacy 3G networks. And, while 5G deployments could expand spectrum by up to 60GHz -- well beyond the current ceiling of about 3GHz -- those are probably still another half-decade away.
Another option for mobile operators is to acquire other telcos, or to share network assets with other operators, in order to increase their access points, expand the density of their networks and even throttle high data users, thus reducing content traveling across their networks. Obviously, all of these solutions prove challenging to implement from a business, legal or commercial standpoint.
So, we return to network planning and optimization.
With the fierce pace at which networks are densified and new network technologies are rolled out, it is becoming increasingly important for mobile operators to improve the efficiency of their plan-build-operate cycles. Not only are the cycles accelerating, but also these processes are being increasingly integrated. The traditional curtain between the network planning team and the network optimization team is being lifted as we speak.
Together, integrating network planning and optimization functions makes the most sense in the context where the exact same objective is pursued: improving network performance and capacity where needed (and only there). And, through real-time, predictive network intelligence, operators are able to make better use of their existing network assets, thereby reducing capex and opex.
The increased efficiency of an integrated network planning and optimization process is not the only benefit. The other very clear one is the ability to optimize the capacity delivered by all new network assets. This not only comes with an obvious economic benefit, but it also improves the spectral efficiency of the network.
After all, it's not as though the spectrum shortage issue is a new one for mobile operators -- there's been speculation about an upcoming deficit for years. By getting ahead of the curve and deploying an end-to-end, unified network planning and optimization strategy now, before next-generation networks are fully deployed, operators will be well equipped for the capacity and performance challenges of tomorrow, when networks are even more complex.
— Bernard Breton, SVP, Americas & APAC Sales and Chief Marketing Officer, InfoVista, special to The New IP