Mobile network operators know that managing the data deluge requires a suite of tools, from new infrastructure like DAS and small cells to new technologies like carrier aggregation to software that can squeeze more performance out of existing assets. Software that makes the network smarter is expected to be a key theme this year at Mobile World Congress, with many operators looking to software as a way to reduce hardware capex.
One key decision for operators can be the choice between software that is integrated with network infrastructure and software that is compatible with a number of different hardware solutions. Infrastructure vendors like Ericsson, Huawei and NSN all offer SON (self-optimizing network) solutions that collect and analyze data from the network and then make changes in real-time. These solutions are typically integrated with the eNodeBs, the hardware that communicates directly with the mobile device. Meanwhile, software-specific solutions can communicate with hardware from a variety of vendors.
Hardware-neutral solutions can provide more network visibility
“Where the neutral play has its strongest appeal is the ability to get the most out of your assets,” said Neil Coleman, director of marketing at Amdocs. “Can I service better my high ARPU subscribers in this area? Can I change the network configuration to generate more revenues from roaming customers? When the network is just looking closely at itself it doesn’t have the intelligence or the scope to make those kinds of decisions.”
Amdocs recently launched a “hardware-neutral” SON solution for the radio access network. “Amdocs’ SON sits on top of OEM’s distributed SON baked into their eNodeBs, and manages the whole thing,” explained Stéphane Téral, principal analyst at Infonetics Research. Téral noted that Amdocs, which has a strong history in BSS and OSS software, is competing with giants like Ericsson and NSN in the managed services arena. But those companies have broad portfolios of network software, and are advancing quickly.
Ericsson today announced a new network software platform called Ericsson Network Manager. “We have realized that network management systems need to evolve as networks go through major upgrades and changes,” said Thomas Noren, head of Ericsson Radio. “For example, we need to support many, many more nodes in the future as operators densify their networks, we need to provide and enable better tools to reduce opex as operators want to become more efficient, and we need to provide better optimization tools and algorithms so you can optimize performance in the network even more.”
Noren said the Ericsson Network Manager manages the radio network, the transport, the IP, the packet core and the core network. “This enables operators to reduce opex significantly because they will only have one system,” he said. “The feedback we’ve gotten so far is that this is a huge step forward.”
Integrated software can reduce cost and increase efficiency
Once an operator has invested in network software from a given vendor, there can be a strong incentive to use that vendor’s hardware for future network densification. Ericsson’s Thomas Noren said that operators can reduce their total cost of ownership by 50-70% by using hardware from just one vendor in a given geographic area. He added that operators will realize the most value from Ericsson Network Manager when using Ericsson hardware.
“If you want to do more advanced performance management then you use this for Ericsson nodes only, but we can interoperate and work with and have interfaces for other network elements as well,” he said. Noren said that Ericsson also offers a centralized SON solution, not unlike those offered by Amdocs and by Cisco, which acquired SON technology when it purchased Intucell.
“We of course have applications on top of the Ericsson Network Manager that handle centralized SON optimization,” he said. “But more importantly, what other vendors can’t do if they don’t have the network elements themselves, is they can’t distribute SON functionality between the network elements and more centralized functions. If you have for example SON functionality where you want real-time characteristics, which most of the more valuable features have, then you’d rather locate those SON functionalities in the network nodes themselves and then you use centralized nodes for more policy handling and so forth.” Noren said operators will find it much easier to use Ericsson’s solution throughout, but that it can interoperate with those offered by the company’s competitors.
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