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Network lifecycle automation for 5G and CBRS

October 24, 2020 |

By Julian Lowe, Business Development Director, and David Nathan, VP for Radio Engineering Solutions at Infovista

In anticipation of the mobile internet, video streaming and gaming capacity crunch, MNOs are rolling out extra network equipment in the form of new sites or introducing new technologies. Most are committed to 5G but operational efficiency is also hugely important as they struggle to contain costs while networks grow alongside capacity.

These issues can’t be considered in isolation or on a one-off basis. So the big questions MNOs are – or should be – asking are: 1) how they can support 5G in this transitional period; and 2) how they can future-proof and streamline their operations so they can monetize them more smoothly, something that advances in network lifecycle automation have the potential to aid.

Supporting 5G in the interim

The last thing MNOs want is 4G downtime while they migrate to 5G systems. Careful planning helps, of course. But let’s take a quick look at some of the interim solutions.

One option is dynamic spectrum sharing, which we recently reported on in our blog. An innovative technology, DSS lets operators use existing 4G infrastructure and spectrum for initial 5G in a way that doesn’t compromise performance for existing customers. As part of the 3GPP Release 15, DSS was made available last year and is supported by a number of leading infrastructure providers. With DSS, operators can allocate portions of the 4G LTE spectrum that they are already using to 5G NR allowing users to coexist in the same frequency band/channel at the same time.

Another option, at least in the USA, is CBRS, which we wrote about last month. A recent CBRS auction introduced a new spectrum that can be used by MNOs for both coverage and capacity. The CBRS Priority Access Licenses (PAL) will provide immediate benefits, especially when used with the GAA frequencies that are generally available to all. However, to achieve better operational efficiency, operators must streamline processes and consolidate their OSS/BSS software ecosystem, and they need systems that provide better integration and levels of automation compared to today’s solutions.

Joined-up planning and automation

This is where network lifecycle automation (NLA) comes in. We’ve already started to work with MNOs on automated processes for most reporting tasks, such as producing marketing coverage maps. But we’re looking to automate network operations throughout the entire network lifecycle, especially for users on Band 48 (CBRS).

The impact of automation in network planning is twofold.

Firstly, many labor-intensive tasks are only performed rarely, reducing their inherent benefits. Coverage maps are a good example.

Secondly, without automation, the level of effort and risk of errors remain high. With the right NLA setup, key repetitive network planning and engineering processes can be automated, reducing effort while increasing speed and efficiency. This means engineers can focus on deploying better networks rather than routine work and operational costs come down.

One challenge is that processes increasingly require huge amounts of data to function correctly. So access to accurate data and the full digitization of the network is becoming much more important. This last point dovetails nicely with finding the best testing solutions, but we’ll have to save that for another day.

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