Self-Organizing Networks (SON) and MPLS to the Cell Site. How are they connected? (Hint: small cells)

This is a guest post by Nir Halachmi
product line manager, Mobile Backhaul Solutions
of Telco Systems.

The mobile data crunch has created a real need for more and more bandwidth. Since there is a limit to what can be done to defeat physics, this increase in demand has created a need for a new paradigm in the architecture of mobile networks. One possible solution is the “small cell”—a smaller version of the traditional base station in size, cost and transmission power (so the covered radius is smaller too). The magic is that the spectral efficiency of the small base stations is higher, enabling them to send more bits on a specific spectrum bandwidth. Using a higher average transmission modulation than a typical macro cell results in high average bandwidth in small coverage areas over the same frequency band.

As a result of the limited coverage radius and the deployment methodology, the number of small cells will be higher by an order of magnitude than the number of macro cells. This new scale of RAN and mobile networks calls for new types of technologies – dynamic in nature, and able to handle this large scale. Examples of such technologies are Self-Organizing Networks (SON) and MPLS to the cell site.

SON is an industry term for technology aimed to ease the configuration, manageability, optimisation and healing of the radio access networks (RAN). One of the real paradigm changes SON introduces is the fact that the dynamic processes may now negotiate configuration parameters that were only set manually in the past by the operators. This is a major change from the current work done by RF planning engineers who carefully (and manually) engineer and optimise their RF network. Although SON functionality is being integrated as part of the 3GPP standards, there are implementation differences between the different vendors.

Bringing MPLS to the cell site requires similar paradigm changes – getting people to accept a dynamically configured network as opposed to a statically configured one. As packet-based transport technologies are replacing the old SONET/SDH transport technologies, there are few technologies to choose from in the mobile backhaul space. Operators often choose to adopt static technologies as this was the way they used to work with SONET/ SDH networks. This causes some to perceive the dynamic nature of MPLS not as an advantage, but rather as a disadvantage. Is it the time to change that mindset? We at Telco Systems, as well as many carriers, believe the answer is yes.

MPLS brings a compelling functionality advantage to the table. As the core “de-facto” technology, MPLS is a mature, field-proven, and more importantly, interoperable technology. It offers higher service scalability and better security. It also provides the dynamic nature of routing combined with the low delay and jitter performance associated with switching. MPLS was designed to provide high resiliency (sub 50ms using Fast Reroute [FRR] and dual homing, for example) and extend it from the core to the edge, simplifying the network resiliency so operators can avoid switching between the MPLS and Ethernet protection mechanisms. MPLS was designed for very high levels of traffic engineering. In fact, as it has such dynamic and rich traffic engineering capabilities and it can really help to reduce OPEX thanks to its better utilisation of physical infrastructure and its ability to autonomously adapt to changes in the networks.

Up until now, the major claims against MPLS to the edge were higher CAPEX costs, and more complex operations. However, newer solutions can dramatically reduce MPLS price differences compared to Ethernet solutions. Moreover, there is an increasing amount of MPLS-educated engineers who have a better understanding of the technology and its potential to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO), making it easier to deploy than in the past. Market pressure to reduce expenses and increase mobile network scales are a key driver in the increasing demand for MPLS to the cell site.

“Small cells” is a hot topic in the mobile world today as it presents one of the possible solutions to help mobile providers cope with the mobile data demand tsunami. Changing business environments call for changing paradigms that can only be achieved by adopting novel technologies and concepts like SON and MPLS to the cell site. Operators who don’t adopt fast enough may find it harder and costlier to do so further down the road, and may struggle to offer a competitive solution to their customers.

We hope that you’ll stop by our Booth #G3 at Broadband World Forum 2012 to share your views of these options and the way you are planning to integrate them in your network. We’d love to hear the experiences and deployment plans from other operators and mobile backhaul providers such as yourself.

Nir Halachmi is a Product Line Manager for Telco’s Systems, and is responsible for the design and development of mobile backhaul solutions focusing on both cellular and wireless technology as well as QoS, data security and communications. He has spent the past 12 years developing and managing telecommunications products within both the wired and the wireless industries, and has worked across various technologies including Carrier Ethernet, circuit emulation, MPLS, IP, Wi-Fi and WiMAX. He has acquired expertise in cellular and wireless technology, QoS, data security and communications while working with partners and customers to implement various solutions. Nir holds a Master Degree in Computer Science from the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Israel.

The Broadband World Forum 2012 is taking IN TWO WEEKS on the 16 – 18 October 2012 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There’s still time to register your interest HERE

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