Building a robust wireless infrastructure to support smart cities with Small Cell Networks

Current operator networks are quickly being outstripped of capacity and space on the towers supporting wireless service. This is a concern for operators because data usage increases as services expand. As SMART cities and M2M appear on the horizon, how can carriers manage this evolution and transition to advanced networks? Fortunately, options do exist.

Offloading the macro network is and should be a priority. It is costly to add RF layers to towers.  Ancillary costs to support additional RF layers must also be taken into account. A more cost-effective tactical approach is to surgically insert small cell networks into critical areas of the macro network where subscribers spend most of their time. Small cell networks can consist of high density Femto, Pico and DAS systems, which target a specific area. These small cell networks provide solid coverage, good data speeds, offload macro cells and provide good quality of service, all which ultimately improves customer experience. In addition, small cell networks set the stage for the development smart cities.

A small cell network is designed around the city, like a wireless dome over the city, to provide contiguous coverage. Small cell network technology lends itself to small equipment, which can be placed on light poles or corners of buildings or virtually anywhere, and it can be disguised as necessary to match the ascetics.  Once the wireless dome is over the city, the Smart City and smart Services come into play. Services such as security cameras for police, oversight of crossing walk signals, waste management sensors notifying a dumpster is full, smart utility meters and even smart vending machines all become possible. All these smart applications and many more can be integrated into the city’s wireless dome.

Once a smart city or any small cell network is built, it now must be managed. Given the multiple layers of our current networks, performance and quality can be challenging. The challenge lies within the interoperability of the multiple layers within a macro network. Layers like GSM, UMTS, and multiple UMTS carriers, LTE and now small networks are all added to the mix. However, tools do exist to mitigate these challenges through network optimization, automation and self-organization.

Optimization means obtaining the highest performance out of the network as possible. To do this, operators need to utilize the information that resides in the OSS, switches, RAN, CDR’s, etc. All this data can be captured and used to optimize networks. The days of drive testing are gone. Drive testing is antiquated and limited in its use for collecting real data. Objective data collected directly from the network allows the operator to see the call from origination to termination and at all times between. Utilizing automated tools, the operator can overlay the performance data over a geographic map to paint a picture of network performance. The operator now has the data needed to manage the network from the MSC to the RAN and all systems between, not just one area of focus. This approach allows operators to see the ENTIRE network, managing it appropriately, balancing capacity and spending OPEX and CAPEX more efficiently.

Automation is now coming to fruition. Automation allows a system to make decisions and change parameters in the network without human intervention. Most automation is built on a rule-based approach, “if you see this then do that”. This approach works well and allows control of the action to be designed by engineers to ensure that the appropriate response to a situation occurs. The benefit of automation is the network quality is maintained, performance is managed every minute and it allows resources to be redeployed to other projects. This type of automation is relatively new and focuses primarily on RF systems, yet it is only a matter of time before this approach will be E2E.

Self-organizing networks are also relatively new and utilize a linear approach which is similar to automation. An Intelligent Self Organizing Network (iSON) is a much more advanced software solution that is just around the corner and will support LTE. An iSON is artificial intelligence built over a small cell network operating system, which allows the small cell network to make decisions based on algorithms. No defined network configuration is required. The network device (Femto cell & LTE ) measures the surrounding RF environment and builds a Q-matrix. This matrix includes all the information about the RF environment.  Unlike other matrixes, a Q-matrix uses Q-Learning, one of the reinforcement learning techniques. The unique logarithms used by a Q-matrix to update, modify and handle information, allows intelligent decisions to be made maintaining performance and quality. If additional femto cells are added, the more experienced femto cells share their Q-matrix by downloading it to new cells jump-starting the learning process.

This approach allows an enterprise femto cell network to operate as a cohesive, single unit as each femto cell shares information amongst the group. As the environment changes, the iSON adapts to the environment, autonomously managing the performance and quality.

The benefits of an iSON are many, but the most important are: autonomy, constant adaptation to the wireless environment, true automation, no rules to build and simplicity from installation to turn-up.

As service and customer satisfaction demands and network complexity increase, operators must migrate towards automation with their tools and performance systems. The interoperability of systems are critical to the success of operators. As cost increases and ARPU decreases, operators will need to turn towards automation and intelligent systems to recoup their investments. This will not be an easy transition as it is a fundamental change that will require operators to relinquish manual control of the network. In spite of this, the rewards of automation are significant. Automation and intelligence can and will improve performance, reduce cost and provide real-time management of complex wireless networks.

Eric Moore, Chief Operating and Technology Officer of Axis Teknologies (www.axisteknologies.com), has over 20 years of wireless experience in senior management with Tier 1 wireless providers in the USA and Canada such as Cingular and Tellus. Eric has extensive hands on experience in with GSM, TDMA and NGN technology as well as E911 network compliance. Eric holds a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He is also a Certified Management Accountant. emoore@axisteknologies.com

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