Whether it’s purchased by acquisition or at auction, there’s no doubt that spectrum is one of the most costly investments to be made by operators. The more spectrum an operator has licensed, the greater the complexity of their wireless network. In the short term, additional spectrum will greatly improve performance; however, with the growth of today’s networks, it’s easy to overlook how well the spectrum is being utilized.
Even with the enormous amounts of spectrum the FCC has doled out, in reality, many wireless networks are not nearly as optimized as they can or should be. Operators still have difficulties delivering optimal data speeds, a problem compounded by network growth.
The traditional response to these problems has been to attack the sickness rather than the warning signs. In other words, a time-strapped operator may recognize a dropped call issue or a poor performing KPI and attempt to fix that problem, but they may not be able to proactively seek out the greater underlying cause. For various reasons – many of them (cost, time, resources) admittedly valid – operators are forced into being reactive, chasing failures rather than systematically seeking out degraded areas. They are too focused on fixing these failures, rather than getting a higher-level view of the network so they can better understand how failures are impacting the way spectrum is utilized.
This approach may have worked years ago, but it’s simply not going to cut it in a world that’s quickly moving toward VoLTE and next generation networks. Networks require clean and uninterrupted service, and every bit used for error correction is a bit not used to deliver data. Add in the complexity of frequency layers with varying propagation characteristics, carrier aggregation, DAS, small cells, and even legacy BDAs, and the issue of maximizing spectrum efficiency becomes a daunting task.
Here are a few strategies operators can employ to ensure they are getting the best bang for their spectrum buck:
Be proactive, not reactive
Maximizing spectrum efficiency requires moving from a reactive to a proactive approach. While it’s still extremely important to know where the failures are, it’s easy to ignore areas that might not have primary KPI issues. Just because blocks and drops look good may not mean the air interface is being maximized for customer traffic.
Networks should be monitored 24 hours a day, not just when a potential issue arises. While this may require some additional investment in resources and tools, it will ultimately pay off in a more efficient, effective, and valuable network that is primed for the needs of both today and tomorrow.
Embrace the data
Data monitoring should be a key component of this proactive plan. There is an immense amount of data available to help operators identify low efficiency issues; however, sorting through the data and taking action on it can be a tall order, especially when everyone is so busy blocking and tackling. Gathering and making sense of that data must be a priority. This information can be extremely valuable in helping to identify why a call was dropped, or where a network is experiencing high noise due to high capacity. Understanding the secondary KPIs will help decode the precursors to future problem areas.
Go for true optimization
True wireless network optimization is not about hitting a build-plan number, but rather ensuring the network is running its best today and is well situated for things to come. As such, operators must get away from having a myopic view of their network in favor of taking a long-term approach. Look at the network at a higher level to get a sense of how everything works together.
Finally, as an operator, ask yourself a series of questions:
- How can my network become more spectrally efficient?
- How can interference issues be identified and mitigated?
- Is my network where it needs to be for an impending VoLTE rollout, carrier aggregation, or the next killer application?
- Am I getting the absolute most out of my network, or is there more that I could be doing to ensure that it offers the best service available?
— Matt Dooley
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