Reality Check: Not just small cells, smart cells


Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reality Check column. We’ve gathered a group of visionaries and veterans in the mobile industry to give their insights into the marketplace.em>

In 2002, Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics set an all-time baseball record winning 20 games in a row. In the process Beane’s “moneyball” concept revolutionized the sport, changing its thinking, its planning and its economics.

What Beane and his team had realized was that among the wealth of data produced on player performances, certain indicators were a better guide to overall success than others. What’s more, those indicators cost less to acquire than some other traditionally associated with success. Beane put together a low-cost team that topped all his most important indicators and went on that still unmatched winning streak.

What has all that got to do with mobile network planning? It’s all about the data analysis. Today’s self-organizing networks produce and analyse a wealth of data on a macro scale. But as LTE networks begin to roll-out and the small cell plays its part in the heterogeneous network configurations of tomorrow, the amount of data being produced will rise exponentially.

Re-planning, re-configuring and adjusting a network to deliver the best possible quality of service cannot be undertaken manually – it needs to be automated, but to do that you need the tools to analyse the data and you need to understand – in moneyball terms – the indicators that give you the best result for the investment.

Recognizing, interpreting and acting correctly on performance data in LTE hetnet configurations will be the key to success for the network operator planner. The bad news is none of their existing SONs are designed to work with the data explosion that will happen when hundreds of small cells are dropped into city center macro networks.

The small cell layer of the hetnet in a major city center will likely produce more data in an hour than has previously been the norm across some entire country-wide macro networks.

Identifying and understanding that explosion of performance statistics and their exact relevance to quality of service has the capability to revolutionize network planning and quality of service. In particular, the ability of the small cell to provide data on network quality indicators at such a local level could yet prove to the most powerful quality of service tool ever provided to the network planner.

Small cell layer data is, by its very nature, smart data that is very specific to a location – be that a shopping mall, a train station, an office block, or maybe just a busy crossroads. As a result, network planners will be able to see and react to capacity issues with pinpoint accuracy by identifying and understanding incidents of dropped calls, failed hand-offs and failed hand-ins.

However, small cell layer data does not live within its own bubble. It needs to be considered alongside information from the macro-layer SON – and indeed with all the layers of a hetnet configuration. The ability to understand the interaction between the layers and what effect an adjustment in one part of the hetnet has – if any – on service within a neighbouring or over-lapping part of the network will help determine the most successful implementations and roll-outs.

As was demonstrated by the moneyball concept, sometimes small adjustments in planning methods can deliver big results in performance – both in terms of service delivery and, most importantly in economic efficiency.

Therefore the efficient integration and management of a small cell layer within a macro network can deliver cost-effective increases in coverage and capacity exactly where it is needed and consequently provide a much faster return on investment than is traditionally the case with network planning.

What’s more, the benefits don’t end with simply coverage and capacity in hard to reach or busy locations. The smart data that operators will get from the small cell layer about their customers and their locations is another potential goldmine. Indeed, data from the small cell layer can become a powerful new tool to trigger and support the introduction of new operator-provided location-based services and new revenue sharing models with other application providers.

And just as importantly, with the data from the small cells, operators will be able to closely monitor the effect that the introduction of those services has on data consumption and quality of service within the network.

The data explosion from the small cell network stands to revolutionize how planning teams set about building and maintaining the best network, in much the same way as moneyball changed the way baseball teams are put together. There may not be a Hollywood movie in mobile network planning, and not many radio engineers look like Brad Pitt, but the planners that best understand and manage the small cell layer are going to be the stars of the future.

Simon Brown joined IP.access as CEO in March 2011 and is charged with leading the company to become the world’s pre-eminent vendor of small cell solutions. With over 20 years of holding senior positions in the telecommunications industry, Brown brings a wealth of experience which will further strengthen IP.access’ position in the global telecommunications market. Formerly as Nokia Networks VP Sales and Marketing EMEA, and prior to that as VP and GM of a number of Nokia Networks Business Units, Brown generated stunning growth and impressive operational business performance, taking Nokia to a leadership position in many of the regions in which he worked. Prior to IP.access, Brown worked as CEO of Telsis, and earlier as CEO and GM of NeuStar NGM (formerly Followap, where he was COO). Brown is currently Chairman of Movirtu, the leading provider of Mobile Identity Management solutions.

About Author

Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”