By Gavin Hayhurst, Head of Product Marketing, TEOCO

It is estimated that by 2024 the number of 5G mobile subscriptions will rise to around 1.9 billion worldwide. With new 5G networks being announced almost weekly, market and consumer expectations are soaring. This means CSPs need to have the right tools in place to monitor service performance at every level of this new technology. One of the most critical contributors to these insights will be location data. In the world of real estate, it’s often said that 3 key criteria determine financial success: location, location, and location.  The same could be said for 5G.

Best Laid Plans
Mobile networks are massively complex – and 5G has taken it to a whole other level. But after so many years of planning and investment, what, you may ask, could possibly go wrong?

For starters, it isn’t like the other ‘Gs’ before it. 5G uses several types of spectrum. One of them is the high-band spectrum, which supports millimeter waves. This powerful but temperamental wavelength has never been used for telecom services. Millimeter waves can carry a lot of bandwidth but getting them to work properly requires an urban army of strategically placed indoor and outdoor small cells – ideally within direct line of sight of each device. One misplaced pile of snow, illegally parked truck, or quickly growing shrub can wreak havoc on signal strength. And that’s just the beginning. Add in all the other new 5G network technologies, devices, markets, and services – and you can clearly see the challenges at hand.

The rollout of 5G technology on a large scale requires an upgrade from the traditional approach of network and infrastructure planning and assurance, towards a more location-oriented approach.

Why Location Matters
After millions of dollars invested and heightened expectations, operators must now closely monitor coverage and device performance to better understand the customer experience and how the network is being impacted – especially in these early days.  With all these moving parts, geo-intelligence, which is the ability to analyze and correlate usage data by location, will be critical.

Below are the top three ways geo-intelligence can be leveraged:

1) Network Performance & Virtual ‘Drive Testing’
Most service providers are beginning to create an analytics toolbox for assessing network performance. With 5G, it is especially important that one of these tools can analyze and correlate information onto a 3-D, map-based view, so CSPs can fully understand the big picture and what’s at play.

For instance, let’s say you notice that there has been a big increase in traffic across three cell sites. Typically, you would assume they need to be upgraded. But with geo-analytics, you can see that the increased traffic is coming from a shopping mall. Dig a bit further into the mapped data and you may find that it is coming from CCTV security cameras that were recently installed. From this information, you are able to deduce that it doesn’t make sense to upgrade three cell sites that are a mile away, and if you just install a well-placed small cell, you will be able to offload all that traffic from your macro-cells and the signal will improve.

Location has an impact on network usage and performance – especially with complex 4G-5G handoffs. Usage maps, when paired with ML-based statistical analysis and insights, can provide valuable information about network coverage, traffic, interference and more. In fact, operators can use real-time usage data paired with geospatial data to generate 5G virtual ‘drive tests’ – giving operators the ability to analyze new cell site coverage and performance, including 4G and 5G handoffs, instantly – without the need for expensive and time-consuming traditional drive tests.

Virtual drive tests can capture high-level metrics – and even troubleshoot complete call flow signaling of dual connectivity 4G/5G calls, answering, and investigating questions like, what are the average dropped call rates in specific locations? And where are data rates lower than expected?

2) User Experience
Along with new 5G services will come higher customer expectations – often in the form of contractual obligations. Service level agreements will be front and center with 5G, which means operators will need to have a full, end-to-end view of the user experience – especially when it comes to troubleshooting and SLA enforcement. What happens when your VIP customers go to the 20th floor of their high-rise office building? Will their Zoom call suddenly drop? Are their devices getting bumped back to the 4G network? And if so, why? Is it because the 5G network is congested? Is there a poor radio connection? Are the network handovers missing or broken? There could be many reasons – and geo-analytics can help provide the answers.

5G is built for enterprise customers, and for them, services can no longer be ‘best-effort’. Enterprise customers will want to monitor service conditions because their business is on the line.  VIP dashboards that provide an at-a-glance analytical view into SLA metrics will eventually become table stakes, providing alarms when SLAs are breached; constantly analyzing performance to ensure they are getting their promised data rates, that dropped-connections are below set thresholds, and so on.

3) Device and Service Analytics
Another question to ask is, which devices and services are being used in which locations and when – and what demands does this put on the network?  A plethora of new 5G devices are about to enter the market; an estimated 160 million by the end of this year, according to Ericsson. From the latest handsets and wearables to IoT chipsets and sensors – this tsunami of 5G connected ‘things’ are going online. While 5G is known for its scalability, what happens in real life – as people and their things move from one place to another – or from 4G coverage to 5G, and back again?

Operators will need to understand things like, what impact is the new iPhone 12 having on video streaming – versus the iPhone 11? It’s a new phone with a bigger screen, does that mean people are using more data? Or perhaps there has been a change in the network, and you want to know how this is impacting service. If a new MIMO capability has been launched, an operator may want to see all the devices that have this capability and ask, how are they performing?  How were they performing two weeks ago before the change? Has the data rate gone up, has it gone down?

The ability to create heat maps, where CSPs can drill down into specific locations to get insights into average data rates, dropped call rates, or high and low areas of usage for performance investigations, as well as for location and density analysis of 5G-capable devices, will be critical for efficient 5G expansion planning.

Device capability analysis gives service providers a way to slice and dice all the information by a network feature or by a device type or manufacturer or whatever you want to get insights into what’s working and what’s not.

RAN Geo-analytics insights with Mentor
Mentor is TEOCO’s multi-technology RAN geo-analytics and optimization solution. It leverages network measurements paired with geolocation-based machine learning algorithms to deliver advanced network optimization, troubleshooting and subscriber experience analytics across 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks.

Mentor monitors, analyzes, and optimizes RAN performance. It also troubleshoots issues and provides carriers with a view of the subscriber experience. Its extensive analytics capabilities drive insights across devices, subscribers, and locations. It’s all underpinned by our geolocation engine, leveraging innovative positioning techniques based on detailed topographical maps, which also include transportation and building data.

When it comes to subscriber analysis, Mentor is fully GDPR compliant, with built-in functionality for securely protecting your subscribers’ privacy while still providing the valuable information and insights operators need.

To learn more about how Mentor’s geo-analytics capabilities can help ensure 5G success, download our brochure.

Gavin Hayhurst, Head of Product Marketing, TEOCO