LAUNCHING 4G SERVICES

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Today, many service providers are seeking to develop and launch services to monetise their new 4G networks. The well documented issues of spectrum and handset availability have been on everyone’s radar from early on. But now with initial coverage in place and a good range of LTE capable handsets on the market, service providers are looking to offerings such as Mobile TV, HD Video & Voice, and VoLTE to engage customers, drive usage and increase revenues. However, the uptake of these services by customers and their subsequent experience using them is tightly coupled with the need to continue to rollout more and more LTE coverage and capacity.

For the first time, LTE brought with it the promise of a simpler infrastructure with easier network integration and lower operational costs – but is this really proving to be the case on the ground? In many cases the integration of LTE sites into the existing legacy infrastructure, and optimisation of a multi-technology network, is proving to be quite a logistics and engineering headache. A survey of European operators conducted by Informa, showed that integration of sites into the legacy network infrastructure and the need for additional sites to provide coverage were major challenges.

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Some of the main challenges Aspire teams are seeing during site integration:

  • Missing sites. Up to 20% of planned sites are not available at cluster handover. This can be a result of issues such as site acquisition, legal problems, or physical infrastructure problems. We’ve seen plenty of instances where structural limits of towers are being reached – particularly where operators are sharing access network infrastructure.
  • Sites build issues resulting from incorrect site design or construction. Although sometimes changes from the original design are required once on the ground to get the site operational, it’s common that the original designs and configurations are not updated retrospectively leading to problems later in the process. A very common example of this is feeder cable length differing from the design, without corresponding changes to base station power output parameters.
  • Interference is a major factor – particularly in in LTE 800 systems. Common sources include external sources (sound systems, CCTV, speed cameras, etc.), as well as internal sources such as poorly built sites. In one market we saw significant levels of interference from public address systems at specific times of the day.
  • Transmission availability and configuration mismatches are commonly cited problems. Shared transmission networks mean added complexity. Lack of end to end ownership for transmission configuration can often result in too many fingers in the configuration pie so to speak.

These types of issues can make downstream optimisation activities challenging and make the provision of a high quality service to customers extremely difficult.

Typical customer affecting problems which are found post-integration include:

  • Coverage holes resulting in customers falling back to 3G. Clearly this is undesirable – customers want and expect to be able to use their new LTE capable handset on the new high speed network. This can also lead to lack of PCI dominance and sub-optimal neighbour relations which impact quality and performance.
  • Degraded accessibility and reduced throughput rates adversely impact end-user QoE leading to reduced customer satisfaction
  • Impact to existing 3G and 2G network quality which needs to be addressed – after all this is where most of the customer traffic is still carried.

Of course ultimately the real impact is on the customer experience of new services. Poor throughputs and high latency lead to less than optimal performance for high profile 4G services such HD Video and Mobile TV, and hamper the introduction of new services such as HD Voice and VoLTE.

So why are these issues happening? When we move up from ground level and take a strategic perspective, we find that there are often a number of factors. The changing landscape in the access network driven by network sharing agreements and outsourcing has added layers of complexity to rollout projects. Coupled with this, operator engineering teams are primarily focussed on managing the existing 3G and 2G networks which most customers are still primarily using. In many cases the people, skills, processes and tools needed to manage the LTE network are not yet in place.In the short term this means reliance on partners with the know how to deliver high quality integration and optimisation activities. In the longer term the management of the LTE network needs to be integrated into existing operations and optimisation processes to ensure a robust infrastructure capable of supporting high value next generation services.In conclusion, the rollout of LTE coverage and capacity is proving not to be quite as straightforward as anticipated by many. There are many challenges to be overcome to ensure that a high quality infrastructure is in place to drive usage and deliver an excellent experience for customers using new 4G services.

To read more on how Aspire can help to Launch, Measure and Improve LTE networks visit www.aspiretechnology.com

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