Market Analysis

Self-optimization (SON) is the future of cellular networks

"The Self-Organizing Network (SON) solution boosts network management efficiency and the quality of customer service."

Mobile operators are planning to switch from semi-automatic network optimization to full self-optimization. Why?

A.V. The heterogeneity of cellular networks makes them increasingly complex to manage. Operators have to deal with a multitude of equipment vendors, network components, technologies and frequencies. They have to manage different types of network simultaneously (2G, 3G, 4G, WiFi) and to aggregate as many as 5 spectrum bands (for 4G).
And customers insist on tailor-made services and uninterrupted availability!
The SON solution provides a global, unified view of the network configuration, real-time access to complete and accurate data, remote intervention functions, and automated use of available tools. Its three principal automatic functions are self-configuration, self-optimization and self-healing.
These make operational network management substantially more efficient, resulting in a higher level of customer service and satisfaction.
The system exploits the native features of recent network equipment or additional software used parallel to the network.

More precisely, what can these three functions do and how are they used?

A.V. In practical terms, self-configuration is a very important when deploying new sites or frequencies; it speeds the commissioning operations.
Similarly, self-regeneration healing considerably reduces the time needed to deal with sites subject to incidents. It even helps compensate the coverage "holes" that appear when such sites are inoperative.
Self-optimization is useful in many situations. For example it can simplify the network challenge of major sporting events such as the Tour de France cycle race, since the network adapts automatically to the "displacements" of traffic as the competitors move ahead. After the event, the technical crews recover the network in its original state.

What are the main benefits of this new technology for the operator?

A.V. The most important gains are in terms of Quality of Service (QoS) and accessibility: less voice break-up, better data rate adaptation, better coverage, and so on. Achieving excellent QoS without SON technology requires a lot of manual effort in exchanges and in the field. SON technology can reduce operating overheads by almost a third!
To verify the reality of the cost savings, each function is tested on a zone previously configured to serve as a reference. We measure the improvements in terms of network access, QoS, coverage and energy consumption.
In Tunisia and France, we have observed user bandwidth improvements of around 20% and a 50% reduction in call drops due to lack of handover areas .
SON can also be configured to adapt the energy consumption (day/night, special events, etc.). These tests are repeated on all our different networks. 

Will the introduction of service classes up to radio access level be possible only with 5G?

A.V. In fact, this is already partially possible with LTE.
The idea of classes of object - service and/or user - can be illustrated by the following example: the network will differentiate between a static object requiring Internet access at 1Gbps and a vehicle equipped with 200 sensors and traveling at 130 km/h whose bandwidth and mobility requirements are much more exacting. This distinction between object classes enables the SON system to adapt the network to objects' requirements.

What is Orange Group's position as regards SON?

A.V. SON is still not fully mature. We are still testing it in several countries where we operate.
Deployments will run from 2015 to 2017. Not all our countries need all functions, it depends on their context. We are in the process of referencing the network parts that could benefit from SON automation.
Europe and Africa will be given priority, in zones where we already have a good 3G network and where we are rolling out 4G.

Does the installation of SON require new skills?

A.V. Managing modern cellular networks requires high-level radio skills. This know-how is indispensable and we must continually enrich it in anticipation of new technologies such as 4G and WiFi. Data analysis skills (Big Data Analytics) are also essential.