Blog

5th April 2016

Small cell planning challenges

One of the major challenges mobile operators face today is the growing demand for network capacity driven primarily by new data services.  Network capacity, however, is an expensive resource, and can be physically limited by numerous factors, like available radio bandwidth, signal power and interference. Supply and demand need to be carefully balanced to enable excellent service while still preserving the bottom line.

The only practical way to address these challenges is through the use of small cells – small radio transmitters that can be deployed practically everywhere, from street lamps and bus stops to buildings and rooftops. Small cells are cost-effective and relatively easy to install.  Due to rapidly growing network traffic and capacity demands, small cells are expected to outnumber conventional macro cells by a factor of 3:2 in tomorrow’s mobile networks.

Despite their benefits, one downside of small cells is that backhaul connection costs account for up to 50% of expected Capex for small cells, while it’s less than 25% for conventional macro cells. This is another aspect that needs to be factored into network planning.

Return on Investment
For this reason, operators have a multi-dimensional problem to solve in order to achieve maximum ROI. The main questions that need to be considered are:

  • Where are the actual capacity bottlenecks within the network?
  • Can the small cells be connected cost efficiently?
  • How will the small cells integrate with the macro cell network?

Only the right combination of the points above will deliver the maximum return on investment.

Simply placing small cells where there are cheap backhaul connections may not meet the capacity demands of the network, while placing small cells anywhere there are capacity bottlenecks may drive up costs on the backhaul side, which in turn lowers ROI.

Apart from that, how does a service provider actually locate capacity bottlenecks? Macro cells typically provide coverage across several square kilometers, while the range of a small cell may only be 100m or less. Hence precise traffic information is required in order to ideally position small cells.

Solving the backhaul problem with accurate Radio planning
TEOCO’s solution portfolio offers the perfect combination to address the above points, helping service providers achieve maximum ROI by finding the right balance between low backhaul connection costs and providing a strong network signal to as many customers as possible.

TEOCO’s ASSET Design is an automated network design tool that enables the optimization of macro cell network designs and the addition of new small cell sites. It has been specifically designed to address all of your small cell needs.

The backhaul connection problem is solved with ASSET Design by identifying traffic hotspots, and then predicting the cost/benefit impact of each small cell on the macro network. ASSET Design does this by analyzing critical network data, including geo-located traffic maps and the various backhaul connections available within the network (including types and costs). This is combined with highly accurate prediction models that have been specifically designed for small cells, paired with up to date, high resolution cluster maps, and of course a view of the existing macro network.

How to determine the right amount of cells
Adding new cells to a network will most certainly increase capacity, generally speaking.

But how do you determine the right (minimum) amount of cells that will meet the desired planning criterion or even multiple planning criteria? ASSET Design provides the ability to clearly define critical traffic and capacity goals, while still considering issues like cost and network interference (and, of course, the available backhaul options).

ASSET Design determines the minimum number of cells required to meet traffic expectations, while at the same time minimizing interference. If certain budget or backhaul constraints have to be met, ASSET Design will work to find a solution within the necessary constraints. If it’s not possible to meet certain criteria under the limitations of certain constraints, for example if the budget doesn’t allow for offloading a certain amount of traffic, ASSET Design will point to the hotspots and recommended an alternate solution.

VIP customer planning
VIP customers can require special attention.  SONAR, TEOCO’s financial analytics solution, provides valuable, detailed per-cell customer metrics like revenue, roaming and so on. This information can be included as another data source for small cell planning and optimization, while also providing added intelligence for customized use cases that can be addressed by ASSET Design.  This is especially helpful when operators have particular customers, businesses or even regions that require a superior level of service or need to meet other key criteria.
A few possible use cases include locating small cells:

  • So they relieve existing macro cells as efficiently as possible
  • To provide the best ROI
  • Where they will cover the most users
  • To capture the most revenue
  • To improve CQI

These metrics can vary greatly, depending on the area of interest and technology. For instance, a LTE cluster in a dense urban area will have different inter-dependencies than a 3G hotspot next to a high school, and so on.  ASSET Design can take these metrics and parameters into account, to further optimize and customize the network.
An automated approach is well suited for testing the millions of configuration possibilities in today’s mobile networks, and has proven to provide solutions that perform 20% to 30% better than those performed by an engineer.  To save time, money and resources, look to TEOCO’s ASSET Design and other ASSET radio planning tools to improve your network planning and performance.

Author: Paul Dolejschi, Subject Matter Expert – RAN Planning

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