Are You Overlooking RAN
Configuration Management?

By: Nik Angelov

When the management of a mobile network operator looks at how to improve customer experience, the focus almost always falls on the network processes of fault management and operational health. And indeed, no one would argue that when a fault occurs and services become unavailable, user experience will be impacted—hence the focus is justified. However, fault management is not the biggest factor in the formation of long-term customer perception of what constitutes a great experience. Customers easily forget short and infrequent events when their service is down, but what sticks in their minds are trivial yet persistent issues related to the service underperforming—for example, high latency in loading web pages or lengthy buffering when streaming video and music services.

To truly provide a great customer experience, eyes need to be firmly cast on best-in-class configuration management, specifically on the radio access network (RAN). This is an area of mobile network management that is typically overlooked due to its complexity and demand for high expertise. To assure the performance of a radio link is inherently risky—unlike in fixed communications, the wireless link cannot be fully guaranteed, and it is in its nature to be random. To mitigate this, it is important to ensure that the configuration, for example, the parameters and settings which govern the operation of the RAN, are set in the most optimum way. Why? Because it is this very configuration that will assure mobile services are performing at their best.

The complexity of managing RAN configuration

Thirty years ago, at the dawn of 2G cellular communications, RAN configuration management (RAN CM) was a straightforward operation, performed well and with a full reach to adequately assure customer experience. But things were simple. Mobile networks would use only one radio access technology, have a smaller number of base stations and network RAN controllers, use common radio equipment for all nodes, and provide a couple of main services (voice and text). Additionally, usually only one vendor was chosen to provide both software and hardware for the RAN, or if there were to be two, they would be geographically split and segregated. The complexity of the RAN configuration was low, and the possibilities for design variations were limited. It was easy to appoint and train a small number of engineers to do RAN CM manually.

An example below illustrates the volume of unique parameters in a typical network for the three biggest RAN vendors on the market.

Figure 1: Volume of unique parameters per RAN vendor for a typical network. Source: WIM Technologies

Fast forward to the present, and things look different. Mobile networks operate a mix of up to four different radio access technologies (2G to 5G). The number of services has increased, with data access at the forefront. New base stations are built frequently, and a variety of different node solutions and radio products are installed—small cells, massive MIMO, dynamic spectrum sharing, and more. New verticals are introduced into the RAN mix, like private networks. The level of complexity has now increased so significantly that teams, pressed by tight budgets and increased knowledge gaps, have had to cut corners and focus on just the basic aspects of configuration management.

The main contributing factor to the increase of complexity is, however, the introduction of multiple RAN vendors. This has resulted in the need for a bigger pool of experts to handle the configuration, each individual specializing only on a single vendor. Why is this? In theory, products designed to operate the same radio access technology, for example LTE, should work similarly, as they need to conform to the specification. And they do, however, this only applies to the basic aspect of the operation of LTE. As so many things can go wrong in a radio access channel, a lot of different parameters and settings can be made available to challenge this. Every RAN vendor has a different approach on what to make available as part of their offering. In fact, many use this as an opportunity to differentiate their product from the rest, resulting in a tremendous number of parameters that are available for engineers to set and modify. For a 


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