Excerpt form Dave Chambers Report ThinkSmallCells | 25 October 2016

SON Conference Logo This niche event hosted in London focuses on Self-Organising Networks, providing an annual checkpoint on progress and developments. Due to a conflict with another event, I was only able to attend partially, but believe I caught the overall atmosphere. I’d suggest SON for mobile networks continues to progress but adoption seems to be at a similar pace to self-driving cars – inevitable in the long term, but nobody wants to be first to hand over complete control at the moment.


General Impressions

The presentation room was packed – almost standing room only at times – but accommodated perhaps 100 people. So while this isn’t a huge extravaganza, it has attracted a few more delegates than expected.

The event has been running for some years, and I had thought would gather more momentum and interest over time. In previous years, standalone SON vendors have taken us through a range of features and optimisations with clear results. This year saw fewer independent SON vendors visible, and the major equipment vendors don’t participate. So instead we saw companies in adjacent technical areas pitching in.

SON Conference Presentation

Some operators still developing their own SON solutions.

In the past, we’ve heard from pioneers such as SK Telecom who had developed their own SON solutions in the early days of LTE. With several mature 3rd party SON products available today, perhaps you wouldn’t expect to see this home grown approach still required.

Elisa, a leading and highly innovative operator in Finland, explained how they had done just that. Their own SON platform has given them huge flexibility and responsiveness, allowing them to deploy eight new SON use cases during 1H16 of which the fastest took just one day.

Of course, C-SON vendors who were present, such as PiWorks, would prefer that their platforms are used. Some are making progress – for example, Cellwize have achieved notable success with wider deployment across the Telefonica group. What’s also happening may be that the major RAN vendors have provided enough capabilities for now, but I still believe an independent third party C-SON vendor is an important strategic decision to ensure flexibility of equipment vendor choice in the future. HetNets will comprise products and technologies from a variety of vendors that all need to be coordinated.

SON Integration Box

One difficulty when adopting a new C-SON solution is interconnecting it to all the various base station subsystems, which might include a variety of legacy equipment with older/outdated interfaces. This is also an issue when adding new vendors into the mix.

Comarch, a Polish company with growing operator customer base for their OSS/BSS solutions, introduced their SON Integration Box to solve that issue. It’s a new concept, acting like a router that interfaces between C-SON and multiple different radio equipment vendors. It converts SON messages to support older legacy base station equipment without the need for the C-SON to directly support such a wide variety of protocols. They explained how some of the OSS interfaces into these systems, especially the older ones, are extremely awkward and non-intuitive. The nirvana of an industry-wide common standard OSS interface remains a utopian dream.

Comarch partnered with Cellwize and support all the major RAN vendors. I was told it would be relatively straightforward to add in additional RF vendors – perhaps simplifying the introduction of new small cell vendors into the wider SON environment of a network.

My concern would be that the C-SON would probably need to know more about the capabilities of each small cell product for maximum system performance, but this could be a relatively quick and easy method of integrating new vendors in the future.

I was much more skeptical about their claim that we may not need passive RF planning tools in the future, forecasting that SON and OSS would provide all those functions.

Cellwize Comarch Cooperation

Closing Thoughts

SON technology is to be found in a wider range of telecom networks today, from Wi-Fi, Small Cells, Macrocells through to the backhaul and fixed wireless/wired connections. Perhaps a dedicated conference on the topic will become less relevant in the future, and the topic will become embedded in other events, but in the meantime it remains a popular enough event to justify continuation. A vendor independent SON orchestration solution seems to me to be important enabler for HetNets.

Small Cell vendors have pioneered many of the SON automation functions in the past, from self-installation, self-optimisation, self-healing and optimisation. It’s good to see these techniques being adopted and become more mainstream, simplifying what otherwise would be enormously complex manual management of the system.

While I don’t see SON replacing the planning side of network expansion, surely it can’t be long before many more of the day-to-day reconfiguration parameters are managed automatically.

Read full report here.