There is a growing consensus that, when small cells deployments reach critical mass, the back office systems have to evolve as a collective interworking and information exchange, rather than a series of independent, silo-based systems, as was the case with cellular.
Small cell network intricacies are more critical since the cells are more prolific and closer to each other, so internetworking metrics play a much larger role than in macro cells. Plus, small cells will also have a collection of technologies that differ from their macro partners.
It appears that a trend is emerging that links together three key functions that make up the planning and management of cellular networks, macro and small. They are:
• RF Planning, which uses theoretical models and maps to predict how the signals will disperse from each deployment. This includes coverage and capacity maps, and evaluation of the best locations for future sites and site expansion.
• Performance Management, which imports “Big Data” from the radio network and other sources to establish the actual performance achieved.
• System Test Platforms, which emulate the end-to-end network using a combination of simulation of large numbers of end user devices and a few real small and large cells. These platforms can validate correct operation of new features and products, test overload, and establish the results of changing network configuration parameters.
To address this collectively, associations are forming between company products such as ERCOM’s Mobipass 4G network validation system and InfoVista’s radio planning and performance management tools and evolving for small cell networks. This integration shares data between the radio planning, performance management, and the system test bed, which increases the quality and accuracy of the test bed so it can diagnose real-world issues. It also increases the predicted RF coverage and capacity results of the planning tool.
Further integration comes with such moves as Infovista’s acquisition of Aexio, an RF network optimization software company that handles call trace post processing into its expanding portfolio. Their solution can geo-locate the traffic sources and link these to the macrocells providing service. Small cells can then be precisely deployed to add capacity where known overload conditions exist.