Indoor and outdoor network densification adding complexity to test, measurement and monitoring

As operators around the world enhance and densify LTE networks while starting the task of building out 5G networks, small cells are a key technological enabler in adding mobile capacity and coverage through network densification. With all signs pointing to a massive increase in the number of small cells brought online, what are the implications for the field techs tasked with monitoring radio site performance, user quality of experience and other performance indicators?

Paul Denisowski, an applications engineer with Rohde & Schwarz addressed this question, and discussed other dynamics shaping network densification, in a conversation with RCR Wireless News.

Denisowski agreed that as the number of sites increased there won’t be a corresponding increase in the number of technicians addressing those sites. That means, “People have to work more efficiently,” he said, adding that self-organizing network (SON) technologies can allow “the network [to]take over some of the optimization that was done by humans. The cell techs focus on the trouble ones.”

Another aspect of maintaining QoE in increasingly complex and dense network environments involves using remote monitoring tools to more efficiently allocate assets through a predictive, rather than reactive, approach. “You’ve had traditional companies involved in network monitoring over the past few decades,” Denisowski said. “They were always located in areas where there are very high traffic data interfaces. The problem they always faced was how do you provide low cost monitoring capabilities closer to the actual premise, to the actual customer? How do you get that monitoring out to that point at the edge?”

He pointed to Rohde’s Android QualiPoc smartphone application, which supports voice, data and video test functions, RF optimization and service quality assessment tools. Denisowski said a device equipped with QualiPoc “can actually be embedded in a case, mounted in a stadium or some other facility and you can do that monitoring remotely. I think it’s about trying to get that low cost monitoring capability closer to the edge. I think they’ll be moving away from the larger embedded type of monitoring systems.”

Paul: “There’s a hierarchy of measurements.” signal level of base station; received signal strength. “We can do all of that. The traditional wisdom is that as those metrics get better or worse, quality gets better or worse. It’s a non-linear situation.” throughput can get worse but video quality doesn’t degrade up to a point. “User experience is what matters.” “They care about my calls sound good, they don’t get dropped.” “what really matters from the end user point of view is things like video and voice quality. How do you measure that? It’s very easy to have an automated system that measures received signal strenght.” quantify voice quality and video quality? ‘Weve been innovative. There are ways to do objective testing. You can’t just have a guy walking around looking at YouTube.

In terms of small cell numbers, research from the Small Cell Forum, based on conversations with more than 50 Tier 1 and Tier 2 mobile and converged network operators, indicates of the operators surveyed, 40% “expect to deploy between 100 and 350 small cells per square kilometer in the areas they densify (led by transport hubs, urban downtown regions and business parks).”

Considering residential, enterprise and rural small cell deployments, Small Cell Forum projects more than 11 million deployed by 2025, which is an increase of around 50% compared to deployment figures for 2018.


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