For mobile telecoms operators the number one objective is delivering an “acceptable” quality of service to their customers. Achieving this seemingly simple goal means they must continuously work to ensure geographical coverage, network capacity (both access and core), network performance (both access and core) with minimal interference – and they are heavily reliant on the Regulator to assist in this.
The primary challenge is that even if all the drive-testing and network analytics indicate that the network is performing well, the user experience at the handset might not agree and if your customers aren’t consistently getting the quality of service they expect, then they may turn to a competitor.
The real technical challenges come from aspects that often can’t be seen and, therefore, can’t easily be managed, such as RF interference from other operators and third parties – the network seems to be performing well, but these external signals are wrecking user experience and you don’t even know it, but the users do and they are not happy!
The irony is further compounded by the fact that quite often it’s an operator’s own network that might be the cause of problems – if an antenna is over-powered or misaligned, this can have a significant impact on the performance and coverage in an area and as cells get ever-smaller to cope with higher speeds, the chances of having an issue between adjacent cells increases significantly.
Moreover, drive-testing, local static testing or Network IQ capture and analysis can only provide data on what the network was like at that specific time, on that specific day and network usage profiles changes constantly, so this information can be out of date before it has even been analysed.
Perhaps more importantly, having paid $millions for a license and many $millions more for infrastructure, Operators are constantly challenged to maintain their service level agreements to customers, while keeping pace with skyrocketing user demand. So, with vast amounts of money, and reputations at stake for these operators, ongoing network optimization and rapid fault isolation is absolutely critical.
It is well understood that traditional truck rolls and onsite engineering assessments are costly and can strain availability of engineering resources. But when planned network capacity is reduced as interference increases, knowing where to start in fault diagnosis is critical.
Furthermore, as a result of the proliferation of smaller, denser cells needed to deliver 4G and 5G whilst, at the same time existing test and measurement equipment and traditional drive-testing is not adequate and not scalable, another way of remotely identifying the root cause of network performance issues is essential – and, ideally, the ability to remotely correct or isolate the fault.
For confined areas, such as sports stadiums and city centers, multiple transmission sources can also lead to spectrum use conflicts. Short-range equipment such as microphones can cause harmonics and interference. Conflicts between safety staff and other radio users can also be an issue and there is a vast number of cellular customers packed into a small footprint, who all expect a high-quality service.
Aspects like volume also impact capacity and performance in these venues and optimizing networks within this and other increasingly complex spectral environments is an ongoing challenge that will continue to stretch resources and expertise.