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RAN Automation as a Pivot of 5G Success

by Guang Yang | Mar 08, 2022

Since the first 5G commercial services were launched in 2019, global mobile operators have explored new services and business models, while also facing new demands and challenges. To improve operational efficiency and better monetize the network, mobile operators have raised an increasing requirement for network automation, particularly on the 5G RAN automation.

5G is driving a new way to differentiate.

Strategy Analytics’ OECD Mobile Voice and Data Price Benchmarking service have seen that operators are increasingly differentiating these services both at the 5G level and from 3G/4G/4.5G services and encourage higher spend through headline speeds. Offering speed-based price tiers within unlimited data portfolios and encouraging users to upgrade for the full 5G experience has been a common trend in Finland and used by Vodafone and Telefonica O2 in their unlimited plans in many markets in Europe.

The model of speed-based price enables mobile operators to provide differentiated services to improve the ARPU, while also generating strong demands for network experience. According to Finland’s regulator Traficom, the proportion of SIMs with a data plan offering (peak) speeds over 300Mbps increased from 3% in June 2018 to 13% in June 2021. 

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The increasing demand for a higher tier of mobile data speed requires mobile operators to improve their network experience continuously. Therefore, the mobile broadband network needs to be flexibly optimized according to the change of traffic pattern and experience requirement. Considering today’s mobile network often consists of multiple technologies, multiple carrier frequencies, and multiple network layers, network intelligence will be a must-have to perform the optimization. For example, the best carrier frequency can be selected for an individual user according to the intelligent prediction for coverage, experience, and spectral efficiency, based on the historic records and real-time data of signal strength, channel condition, traffic distribution, etc.

5G is shaping the world of work in the New Normal.

As pointed out in the blog of my colleague Gina Luk, the shift to hybrid work is just the beginning. We believe that a workplace is no more defined by its physical or geographical boundaries but by what happens in it. Meanwhile, enterprise digital transformation is demanding advanced connectivity technologies to meet the requirements in terms of latency, reliability, and flexibility.

From a mobile operator perspective, we are seeing a wave of 5G SA network launches in 2022. Operators 5G Standalone (SA) can bring new revenue from a broad range of enterprise services including significant profitable growth in coming years. End to End Network Slicing, with security and privacy guaranteed, is vital for supporting the new digital services for enterprise customers.

When mobile operators deliver various 5G B2B applications to enterprise customers, the RAN automation platform can provide unique value to meet business needs, such as flexibly allocating resources according to the traffic dynamics, guaranteeing the end-to-end SLA requirement, etc. The RAN automation platform can enable intelligent SLA site planning, where parameters are dynamically configured and models can be adjusted flexibly in response to service changes. Real-time network optimization can also be achieved to guarantee service quality, based on real-time monitoring and intelligent prediction for SLA parameters.

RAN will play a critical role in operators’ net-zero journey.

With more and more countries, regions, cities, and companies establishing carbon neutrality targets, it is time for mobile network operators to make a clear commitment to net-zero emissions. Today cellular base stations account for 45 to 70 percent of the total energy consumption of a telecoms network. For example, Vodafone reports that base station sites use 73% of the total energy that Vodafone Group consumes.

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Therefore, improving the energy efficiency of the radio access network is critical for operators to reduce overall carbon emissions. In our recent report The Journey Towards A Net Zero Mobile Network, we discussed technical solutions for mobile operators to improve mobile network energy efficiency. It can be seen that many energy-saving solutions require the intelligence and automation of radio access networks. Either traffic pattern based energy saving, coordination between carriers, cells, and technologies, or the smooth user migration from legacy technologies to the latest technologies relies on the analytics and optimization of RAN parameters. Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a key role in the process, such as predicting the traffic load change, assisting the decision to switch off devices, optimizing the network parameters to guarantee the network quality is not impacted by the switch-off, etc. Big data analytics, collected from live networks, is the foundation of AI solutions for network energy saving.  

RAN Automation under the spotlight

During MWC 2022, leading vendors, such as Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia, have released their latest RAN automation solutions. Huawei introduced its IntelligentRAN platform, which could be a sample to understand how a RAN automation platform works. This platform is under the umbrella of Huawei Autonomous Driving Network (ADN) and focuses on the automation of radio access networks. The platform introduces Mobile Intelligent Engine (MIE) that consists of MIE-RT (Real-Time) and MIE-NRT (Non-Real-Time).

Huawei’s MIE platform with an architecture of splitting RT and NRT can reach a good balance between efficiency and flexibility. As an integrated solution, unlike those O-RAN architecture based solutions, Huawei’s MIE can efficiently leverage RAN intelligence and manage all RAN elements. Meanwhile, the open interface to 3rd party platforms can provide operators with the necessary flexibility.

The value of autonomous networks has been broadly recognized by telecom operators. With the large-scale 5G rollout, RAN automation is becoming a must-have for mobile operators to reduce operational costs and build new revenue streams. Various RAN automation solutions are emerging in the market. Considering the fast time-to-market and low integration cost, Huawei’s MIE platform could be a strong candidate when operators select the RAN automation platform.

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