Evolution of RAN – A Spotlight by TelecomDrive.com
RAN or Radio Access Network is quite central to the idea of communications – also referred by many as the heart of the telecoms ecosystem – RAN is an integral part of today’s evolving telecom operator’s business model and as customers look for better connectivity experience – RAN needs to do more with less and enable better opportunities realization for operators.
Ofer Gottfried, Flash Networks CTO speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the way RAN is getting evolved and what role is being played by Flash networks here.
What are some of the big trends that are happening in the RAN space that can help telecoms move up the value chain?
Telecom operators are facing the challenge of coping with a massive increase in mobile traffic as a result of the explosion of mobile devices, proliferation of network apps, growth of streaming video and the roll out of the Internet of Things. The subscriber quality of experience is threatened at a time of increased competitiveness and cost pressures. As a result, there is a need to generate revenues, and optimize network operations.
Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) provides a new ecosystem and value chain, enabling operators to open their Radio Access Network (RAN) edge to authorized third-parties, allowing them to have more flexibly, and to rapidly deploy innovative applications and services for mobile subscribers, enterprises and vertical segments. Applications such as connected vehicles, e-Health, industry automation, augmented reality, intelligent video acceleration, gaming and IoT services can each benefit from MEC.
However, as a result of these applications massive data flows are generated “at the edge” by devices and sensors that spin off volumes of raw and intermediate data while multi-media content and services are also congesting the RAN by moving closer to end-users.
To manage this increase in network congestion, there is a need to accelerate delivery of mobile video and other content based at the Mobile Network Edge, either at backhaul aggregation points or in the RAN.
What are some of the innovative solutions that your organization is bringing forward in this direction?
Flash Networks’ xtraAir solution enables operators to serve 20% more subscribers with the same level of service on the RAN using the same infrastructure by utilizing patented technology to maximize radio spectral efficiency. There are three different techniques of optimization utilized by xtraAir that can ensure the best possible utilization of RAN resources:
Signaling Optimization – Inefficiencies in the mobile internet are eliminated by streamlining and orchestrating the data traffic to reduce the number of signaling messages. These optimization techniques can reduce data signaling events by 5%-15% and reduce RF load. By influencing traffic flows at the network core the increased efficiency is automatic and all signaling traffic is optimized. The result is that mobile operators can support 20% more users with the same resources.
Video Optimization – In addition to creating network congestion due to the sheer volume of video, ABR or adjustable bandwidth mechanisms used by YouTube, Netflix take over network resources potentially degrading other mobile data services such as messaging, Facebook and LinkedIn.
xtraAir’s real-time bit-rate adaptation adjusts video streaming to reduce bandwidth requirements, and therefore improve network performance and capacity utilization. In most cases, video quality is monitored to ensure there is no degradation in image quality. More transactions utilizing the same recourses also leads to faster browsing speeds, and overall better quality of experience for other data services.
TCP/IP Optimization – TCP/IP optimization enables download acceleration by overcoming inherent protocol inefficiencies and dynamically adjusting transmission rates based on real-time network conditions.
xtaAir’s TCP optimization boosts network speeds by up to 50% with a small footprint and a simple implementation, providing a fast return on investment. Since TCP increases the network speed as a percentage of current speeds, videos will start faster and suffer less stalls.
In addition to supporting more connected users with the same RAN resources xtraAir provides an improved user experience with browsing and download speeds increased by up to 50%.
What are some of the challenges that you see in this space and how can these challenges be resolved?
Mobile Networks are expanding in sheer volume and size. In 2015, 62% of the population worldwide had a mobile phone, and this percentage is expected to grow to 69% by 2020, according to Cisco VNI Mobile.
In addition, the weight of the content passing through mobile networks has increased. More extensive 4G LTE network coverage provides users with faster speeds enabling subscribers to engage with more image- and video-heavy content, such as mobile gaming. The average smartphone user will consume 8.9 GB of data per month in 2021, according to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report.
There are also new machine to machine applications on the rise using IoT technology that could dramatically increase the demand for network connectivity. The number of connected devices will rise up to 38.5 billion in 2020 according to Juniper Research, and the number of cars connected to the Internet worldwide alone will grow to 23 million. Although growth has been slow to date, largely due to the fact that IoT requires a complex ecosystem, new business models and new use cases, there are many encouraging signs, from multiple vertical sectors, that growth has started to accelerate.
Besides the sheer increase in volume, there are several factors that can lead to increased network congestion and a degradation of the customer experience including:
Busy Hour Traffic – There are predictable traffic spikes due to web browsing and streaming video during rush hour commuting and after work hours. Although busy hour traffic accounts for most of the variability in demand for network resources, due to telecommuting, and the immediacy and convenience of mobile devices, buys hour demand fluctuations are having less of an impact on overall network traffic.
Mass Events. There are typically surges in traffic due to sharing images using social media at massive sporting and entertainment events at huge stadiums. In addition there can be spurts of mobile data activity during elections, and national holidays and the first day of school. Other events that have network-wide impact are iPhone and Android software updates which due to the sheer volume of data traffic can provide a heavy load on mobile networks.
Built-in Inefficiencies. Mobile networks have built-in inefficiencies which slow down all types of data traffic all the time. The TCP/IP communication protocol stack is inefficient for mobile communications, which can slow down web page loading and video streaming. In addition mobile apps can clog networks with an excessive amount of signaling.
According to Google, in 2015 smartphone users had an average of 36 apps installed. Every time subscribers use an app on their smartphones, they connect to the wireless data network via the RAN. Based on Flash Networks’ results from a live operator network, when Facebook, Skype, and WhatsApp are running in the background over a twelve hour period, they communicate unnecessarily with the network server 68 times, or about six times per hour. For a carrier with 10M subscribers this could result in 600 million unnecessary messages per day, resulting in network congestion and lower network availability.
What is the evolving role of RAN that you see – especially in a 4G advanced or 5G / IoT network scenario?
Even with the additional capabilities of 5G there can be too many radio connections, a high demand for video streaming and a low utilization of available throughput contributing to network congestion. Maximizing the use of RAN resources will enable operators to delay requirement investments by streamlining and better orchestrating data traffic for maximum signaling efficiency.
How can operators strengthen their existing RAN infrastructure in a cost effective manner?
In order to cope with the increase in mobile data traffic most efficiently, operators need to squeeze as much capacity as possible from existing network resources. Orchestrating data and signalling traffic at the core could be the most practical solution. Making the most of the existing capacity is always a wise strategy, and optimization will always be necessary in order to cope with the mobile data tsunami.