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Self-Organizing Networks (SON) has grown rapidly among operator communities as they look for cost effective ways to improve overall network capacity, efficiency and quality. As 3G and 4G networks mature, centralized-SON (C-SON) is the ideal solution to give these technologies a new lease of life and boost speeds and coverage.

The hype surrounding Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) has been gaining momentum and the same could also be said for Self-Organizing Networks (SON). Both technologies in their own rights have been major buzz phrases, but little has been discussed about them working in parallel. This article will explore the driving forces behind self-organized network management in both the developed and emerging markets and why SON’s true home is in the cloud.

The main goals of NFV are to create virtual, flexible and simple mobile networks. In return they reduce the cost to upgrade, run and maintain networks and accelerate time to market. By decoupling network functions from the hardware, NFV allows for network savings by reducing the need for costly hardware upgrades and allowing for greater flexibility and interoperability. Virtualizing mobile networks will eventually help operators reduce lead times and provide faster delivery of new services and functionalities.

NFV is an opportunity to overhaul the landscape of telecoms and change the competitive dynamics of the industry. Open standards can help fuel collaboration, innovation and higher quality services through increased competition. But virtualization can require complex network management – something that SON can help simplify.

The rise (and rise) of SON

Although SON, as an automatic closed-loop optimization solution, is still a relatively new technology it has been evolving rapidly. Early versions of SON were basic, single vendor, single technology solutions that were reactive rather than proactive. They played very much a supportive role to guide manual optimization, highlighting areas of the network that need attention and maintenance. But now SON solutions are rapidly becoming more sophisticated, enabling multi-vendor and multi-technology optimization through a single and centralized solution.

SON has grown rapidly among operator communities as they look for cost effective ways to improve overall network capacity, efficiency and quality. As 3G and 4G networks mature, centralized-SON (C-SON) is the ideal solution to give these technologies a new lease of life and boost speeds and coverage.

C-SON automatically optimizes operators’ networks to deliver capacity when and where it is needed most. It extends coverage and improves network quality and as a result delivers improved Quality of Service (QoS) for subscribers. Additionally, it reduces network complexity by delivering network optimization through one single solution, eliminating the need for multiple optimization tools.

These solutions are capable of reacting to real-time changes in network conditions and matching capacity, coverage and quality to individual user needs. The fundamentals behind true C-SON are: self-configuration, self-optimization and self-healing.

As with any great technology, SON is continuing to evolve. One of the latest developments has been its capability to utilize user-specific data. It can take into account network conditions and intelligently optimize mobile networks in real-time.

Network Virtualization

The way people use their mobile devices is changing, and is becoming more and more video-centric. It is expected that video consumption will have reached 79 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2018, and with this growth comes extreme pressure on mobile network bandwidth. Virtualization of the RAN is one way that could help combat and manage the huge increase in mobile data that operators will experience. Putting RAN in the cloud, or Cloud RAN, will add intelligence to the EDGE and enable the network to respond dynamically, on-demand.

SON works by optimizing the RAN – therefore with RAN moving to the cloud, it makes sense for SON to follow.

Evolve with SON-enabled Network Virtualization

Following SON, NFV is still a nascent technology which is likely to develop even more over time. But with more operators looking to move their networks towards virtualization, it makes sense for SON to reform its optimization software to NFV’s principles and methodologies. As mobile networks become virtualized it is vital that SON can also work within a virtual environment, so it makes sense for SON automation to be virtualized as well.

However, network virtualization can be difficult to manage because of increased complexity. SON can solve this by simplifying the network management behind it. Virtualizing SON and making it NFV compatible will enable the centralized control of the network, merging the benefits of both NFV and SON to provide ultimate network management.

Emerging Asia-Pacific Markets

NFV when combined with SDN can offer a range of benefits that are attractive to developing and emerging markets. The complementary technologies will provide significant benefits by allowing operators to use off-the-shelf servers, operating-system software – through virtualization to cut network capital and operating expenses.

Cloud software by nature is highly open, which fuels a healthy ecosystem and supports heterogeneous networks. Open source projects’ use of collaboration helps to drive cost down, prevent vendor “lock-in” and can provide better overall quality of experience to subscribers.

SON could also play a vital role in the management of mobile networks in developing markets. It is expected that in the coming years there will be faster adoption of mobile broadband in developing and emerging markets as their economies continue to expand. SON’s ability to increase network capacity, efficiency and quality could prove a pivotal cost-effective solution in these areas.

The Real Benefits for the Operators and their Subscribers

When it comes to NFV, much has been discussed about the operational and financial benefits to mobile operators. The technology could result in the increase of application and service innovation, as the cost of trying new things is driven down in a virtualized network since there are no costly hardware upgrades. And, since heavy investments are required when implementing dedicated hardware, failure is not an option, and therefore operators are less willing to introduce riskier services.

However, network virtualization will enable network savings. Thereby making testing and delivery easier – and allow operators to introduce much lower scale services, which still generate revenue. This in turn could increase service innovation through increased competition, driving new services to benefit subscribers and strengthening customer loyalty.

SON on Cloud and the Future

NFV and SON are technologies that when working together can help improve mobile network management dramatically. They both have positive impacts on the quality of service that subscribers receive, and increase innovation in the market. Although the timeframe for true virtualization of mobile networks is still undecided, with NFV pioneers like Alcatel-Lucent and IBM promoting Cloud infrastructures such as the CloudBand™ Ecosystem, BlueMix™ and SoftLayer® initiatives, it’s safe to expect industry adoption to increase. Open communities with vendors and developers working together will inevitably help NFV get to market faster. With the realization of RAN virtualization, the movement of SON automation from the Cloud goes to follow in order to support the dynamic management of future networks. Therefore, it is vital that SON providers look beyond the mobile networks of today. And instead, look to what they will become in the not so distant future – on the operator cloud.

About the Author

Daniel Dribinski Co-founded Cellwize and spearheads the technology behind Cellwize’s Product. His immense experience it telecommunications, specifically Radio Access Network expertise is one of the secret spices that separates Cellwize SON from the rest. Over his 15 years in the industry he has provided strategic technology consulting for many international Tier1 operators. He has applied his unique methodologies in RA network, planning, optimization, capacity and quality to enable CapEX savings and improved OpEX.

Prior to Cellwize he co-founded Triangulum, Services Company, with Sasi, previous to which he held senior positions at Schema, Orange (NYSE:PTNR), Motorola (NYSE:MSI) and Altel.

Daniel holds an MBA in Strategic Planning from the University of Derby and a M.Sc. E.E in Radiotechnics from the Telecommunication Engineering Institute.

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